All posts by Marina Giloi

Originally from Redmond, Washington, Marina Giloi is a junior at CMC, majoring in Econ-Accounting dual Philosophy, Politics, & Economics. If she's not at the Rose Institute, you can probably find her walking to the Rose Institute, teaching Zumba, or eating at Scripps.

The Problem with Initiation

As clubs, teams, and all kinds of other extracurricular organizations at Claremont McKenna College wrap up recruiting season, many have started holding “initiations”: bonding activities, often centered on welcoming new members and building team camaraderie.

Both objectives are laudable, but the means to accomplishing these objectives lately have run contrary to the best interest of the CMC community. It goes without saying that hazing and forced drinking are outright wrong and prohibited. And we’d like to believe that the majority of CMC club “initiations” are in no way hazing merely voluntary, social events that celebrate new members and the year ahead. In fact, with CMC’s vibrant social culture and general enthusiasm for extracurricular activities, we should hope that many clubs would plan bonding events outside of their normal meeting time. My concern is that we’ve lost sight of the true objectives and greater context when we partake in “initiation.”

The problem with initiations is that they mimic aspects of hazing even when they are innocuous. For example, club members wearing face paint for club initiations is a nod to hazing behavior and is analogous to activities we commonly condemn – activities detrimental to CMC culture. Encouraging new members to act or drink in a specific manner at certain times of an event is an acknowledgment, though subtle, of ritual and indoctrination.

Why is this a problem? Simply put, the fundamentally inclusive environment of CMC that we all value is unintentionally eroded by organization initiations. Initiations run counter to CMC’s pillars of critical, constructive engagement among the student body. At the heart of hazing and initiation activities is the idea that “true,” exclusive membership to an organization can only be earned by undergoing them. Under almost no other circumstances would a student succumb to such logic.

Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College’s (ASCMC) Campus Organization Chair Will Su believes that the majority of initiations are conducted by highly selective campus organizations.

“I would say actually most of the initiations are from our highest per capita [funded] clubs,” Su said. “So that means the really exclusive and high-funded clubs like Mock Trial, Model UN, those clubs are typically the campus organizations we would hear that there is some type of initiation simply because they go through an extensive application process and I guess there’s some sentiment that they need to be initiated into that small group setting.”

What’s more, initiations create problems for leadership. In hopes of creating the best organization possible, leaders look for healthy, positive interaction. Many of the undesirable activities that accompany initiations undercut these purposes. Indoctrination, ritual, and alcohol divide and limit our ability to connect with our new members – people whom we know very little about. Perhaps these concerns have been muted by overt social pressure, e.g. “#initiation” tags on Facebook newsfeeds, but they are real and deserve reconsideration.

The reason I’m writing this piece is because I don’t think CMC club and team leaders are consciously preventing an inclusive social culture. I truly believe that most clubs conduct initiations in the spirit of the admirable objectives of team bonding and fun. But I would encourage them to reexamine their initiations and reframe their treatment of new members in a way that doesn’t echo destructive social phenomena – phenomena that students would reject at face-value.

Writer’s Note: The Claremont Independent requested an interview with Dean of Students Mary Spellman on the issue of club initiation/hazing culture at CMC. Dean Spellman declined to comment on an opinion piece. Dean Spellman also declined to meet off the record with a writer to informally discuss the subject.

[Related: “Initiation in Moderation“]

Update: Open letter to President Gann

On Mar. 1, Editors-in-Chief of the Forum, the Claremont Port Side, The Student Life, and the Claremont Independent published and delivered an open letter to President Pamela Gann regarding the new student media policy that has gone into effect this school year. The response we received was, quite frankly, lukewarm. Though she acknowledged our concerns, President Gann did not indicate any plans to change the media policy’s status quo and instructed us to continue working with the Office of Public Affairs.

Overshadowed by the buzz over “The Pai Memo” and onslaught of articles praising and criticizing CMC’s social scene, President Gann’s disappointing response to our open letter has been largely overlooked. But this is an issue ultimately more important than any school’s party scene. Though it is a Claremont McKenna policy, it impedes student publications from any of the 5Cs from gaining access to and interviews from CMC administrators without jumping hoops through the Office of Public Affairs. Given the interconnectedness of our consortium, one school’s restrictive media policy affects students from all schools’ ability to be informed about fundamental policies and structures that impact student life.

We should not be content with President Gann’s response. Our letter outlined our publications’ and the Office of Pubic Affairs’ pre-existing efforts to work with each other and why even those efforts, under such a restrictive policy, prevented timely, reliable exchanges of information. What’s more, Gann’s response does not address the fundamental problem of having a public relations office be the mediator between all administrative offices and staff and student media. Publications will come and go, but students will always deserve information relevant to their academic successes, job prospects, and personal lives from punctual, fair sources.The new student media policy prevents student publications from fulfilling this requirement.

Changing the policy will be a continuing imperative for the Independent in the next year. Although our publication’s leadership will change, its commitment to upholding integrity and transparency on all 5Cs will continue. It is my hope that we will see this policy changed by the time I graduate next year, even if we are not able to change it under my term as Editor-in-Chief.

Why not just CMCers should care about sexual violence policy

On Mar. 1, we attended the “5C Deans of Student Life Panel on Sexual Assault Policies,” hosted by the Motley and Sexual Assault Awareness and Resource Committee, both student organizations at Scripps. Five deans from each Claremont College were present for the 2 hour presentation, which consisted of the deans’ answers to pre-screened questions and a brief, live Q&A period.

It was an overdue opportunity for administration to engage students directly for a discussion of changes to sexual assault policies across the 5Cs. The discussion covered many questions ranging from “What do you intend to address in the policies?” to the concern that “previous policies didn’t address all [sexual] identities.”

More insightful, however, were the deans of the other colleges’ answers in relation to those of Dean Mary Spellman, Title IX Coordinator and effective spokesperson for CMC’s changes to sexual violence grievance procedures in light of the Dear Colleague Letter. Dean Spellman pointed out that CMC’s sexual violence grievance procedure policy was already “technically in compliance” before the recent changes. However, it became clear from the discussion that the other
deans were taking a strong lead from Spellman’s initiatives.

For example, Harvey Mudd College VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Maggie Browning, said that Harvey Mudd is in the process of revising its grievance procedures after they “took a look at what Dean Spellman was doing.”

Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College have already finalized the changes to their sexual violence grievance procedures. However, the other three colleges in the Consortium are still in the process of revising their policies.

Most of the deans emphasized that cross-campus policies were of particular importance, and it seems that policies are shifting to require that grievance procedures be carried out on the respondent’s campus. Given the frequency that students interact with one another across the 5Cs, the changes to grievance procedure policies on any of the five campuses have implications for any student at the Claremont Colleges.

Dean of Students at Scripps, Bekki Lee, acknowledged, “in cross-campus cases, the learning curve is to know each other’s processes.” It is concerning that any type of learning curve is involved in the context of serious accusations. Such comments point to the need for students from all 5Cs to educate themselves on changes to grievance procedure policies and their accompanying implications, especially in the area of the 5Cs’ differing definitions of consent and incapacitation. For example, CMC’s rules explicitly state that an individual can give consent under the influence, while other Claremont Colleges consider intoxication prohibitive of consent.

According to Dean Spellman, “each institution has its own culture of how to conduct processes. But what is really important is that where we do intersect, we have to be in agreement.”

The burden is now on students to educate themselves on how and where 5C policies intersect and agree. This starts with the sweeping changes to CMC’s sexual violence grievance procedures, and their problems, something to which we have already dedicated several articles, and something from which several 5C deans say they are taking the lead.

Beyond Dean-O-Mite: Chodosh on free speech & more

On December 7th, 2012, the Editors-in-Chief of student publications the Forum, the Claremont
Port Side, and the Claremont Independent had the opportunity to interview Claremont McKenna College’s new President-elect Hiram Chodosh.

The Claremont Independent had asked Chodosh some questions near and dear to our publication’s heart.

We asked Chodosh if he saw himself continuing CMC’s tradition of being a politically balanced campus. He replied that much of that tradition is ingrained in participating in the Athenaeum, saying that a number of campuses are not as politically balanced as they should be. Chodosh pointed out that a large part of education can take place among peers and that, if engaged, diversity of opinion is an advantage. The Athenaeum, Chodosh said, creates that forum for discourse and has a tremendous impact on campus engagement.

We also asked President-elect Chodosh about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s recent change in CMC’s speech code rating from Red to Yellow—whether this change is something that he believes is important, and what steps he plans to take to change the free speech rating as it stands. Chodosh responded that while he was new to the particular context, he believes that it is “very important that there be a strong free speech regime on college campuses.” But, he noted, it is important that the freedom of one person’s speech cannot impede another’s. Chodosh emphasized the need to create a learning environment through the promotion of free speech. Creating a learning moment from offensive speech, entails getting together to talk about the controversies in a way that can produce a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. “It is important that each of us learn our way through these controversies.”

It’s a promising start for our President-elect, but we can only wait to see whether he will properly address the issues of political balance and free speech during his term.