On Thursday, a raucous crowd of student protesters blocked the exits to Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, shutting down a scheduled lecture and question-and-answer session by Heather Mac Donald, a prominent scholar and critic of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Chanting “Black lives matter here” and “no cops, no KKK, no fascist USA,” protesters massed tightly around the exits, blocking fellow students from entering Mac Donald’s scheduled presentation, entitled “The War on Police.” Even faculty members who sought to enter the building were denied, with waves of protesters screaming and resorting to physical force to repel anyone who drew too close to the building. At one point, a crowd of White students screaming “Fuck White supremacy, fuck White supremacy” pushed an elderly White professor away from the Athenaeum entrance.
When the scheduled start time of Mac Donald’s presentation came and then went, the crowds earned a half-victory: Students wishing to attend the event were unable to hear Mac Donald in person, though her presentation ultimately took place over a video livestream more than an hour behind schedule.
“Student protesters have made it impossible for guests to enter the Athenaeum for the Heather McDonald talk this evening,” wrote Peter Uvin, the Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of the Faculty at Claremont McKenna College, in a campus-wide email. “In the interest of safety, Heather McDonald’s lecture will be livestreamed as close to 6:15 PM as possible.”
After Uvin’s announcement, the protests continued to swell. Upon locating the source of the livestream, students stood outside the glass windows and screamed in the hopes of disrupting the presentation. They also gathered outside all the entrances and exits from the building, including the service entrances and fire escapes, to block anyone seeking to enter or exit and to trap the speaker inside.
Protesters targeted observers and student journalists with their ire. White male students watching the chaos were ordered to leave, while journalists — including several from the Independent — found themselves surrounded by a mob seeking to block their coverage. One editor from the Independent reported receiving threats of physical violence for recording video at the scene, while another had to retreat to safety from the mob under the protection of a line of campus security officers.
Protesters also confronted students taking photos on the outskirts of the gathering, demanding that they blur out every person in their photos of the public demonstration.
Campus security was present during the protest, with anywhere from 10 to about 20 officers reportedly on the scene. Though typically unarmed, campus security officers appeared to be equipped with pepper spray in the event of a violent escalation. Despite several direct confrontations with protesters, who pressed forward into officers as they yelled “fuck the police,” the officers remained collected and professional, restraining the angry crowd without resorting to force.
At 7:05 pm Uvin released a statement to the Claremont McKenna community, which criticized the protest’s methods:
“What we face here is not an attempt to demonstrate, or to ask tough questions of our speaker, all of which are protected and cherished on this campus, but rather to make it impossible for her to speak, for you to listen, and for all of us to debate. This we could not accept.”
Uvin went on to emphasize the importance of open discussion:
“Questions about policing, police brutality, crime, and race matter a lot to our society. Yet precisely because these issues are so important, we must be able to debate them, to acknowledge that there exist different analyses and life experiences about these matters, and to listen carefully to each other.”
Uvin ended the statement with a lengthy quote from the recent statement written by Princeton professors Cornel West and Robert George, including the following:
“It is all-too-common these days for people to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities. Sometimes this is done by questioning the motives and thus stigmatizing those who dissent from prevailing opinions; or by disrupting their presentations; or by demanding that they be excluded from campus or, if they have already been invited, disinvited. Sometimes students and faculty members turn their backs on speakers whose opinions they don’t like or simply walk out and refuse to listen to those whose convictions offend their values. Of course, the right to peacefully protest, including on campuses, is sacrosanct. But before exercising that right, each of us should ask: Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it better serve the cause of truth-seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?”
These statements have been adjusted since the story’s initial publication to include Dean Uvin’s statement.
Photo: Jenifer Hanki
Quinn Clarke, Elliot Dordick, Will Gu, and Steven Glick contributed reporting.