All posts by Will Gu

College: Student Mentors With Drug Problems, Mental Illness Can Keep Their Jobs

In a meeting with administrators at Pomona College in April, student “sponsors” called upon the college to end its alleged practice of removing sponsors — second-year students who mentor and support incoming freshmen — from their posts on the basis of mental health problems or substance abuse. Asked for comment, the college’s residential life administrators explained that they do not fire sponsors on this basis.

The sponsor program is intended to help first-year students adjust to their first year of college, providing a “safe, welcoming” social group that also enables them to connect with students beyond their class year. On its website, the college describes the sponsor program as “a residential program through which all first-year [freshman] students are housed with approximately 15 other first-years led by two students called sponsors. More recently, sponsors have been sophomores … The main objective of the program is to assist in the transition to college by creating a safe, welcoming and sustainable living environment for all first-years as well as increasing interactions with older students.”

During the forum with administrators, current sponsors claimed that the residential life office had terminated sponsors for abusing drugs or having a mental illness. Doing so, they said, demonstrates a lack of inclusion for students with mental health and substance abuse problems, whose experiences are valuable for incoming freshmen:

“Don’t cut sponsor for substance or mental health reasons – just, seriously, stop … We should value these individuals for their experiences,” they said, according to the transcript.

When the Independent inquired about this policy with college administrators, the Office of Housing and Residence Life responded to “confirm that we do not remove Sponsors based on mental health and/or substance abuse issues.” The office did not say whether this policy marks a change from previous practice or has been the college’s approach in the past.

However, some parents are concerned about the college’s practice. In an email, a parent of a Pomona freshman told the Independent that sponsors should not have a history of mental illness or addiction:

“Given that the primary task of a sponsor is to oversee and care for freshman, full competence should be prioritized,” the parent said. “While Pomona should uphold the value of inclusion, it is not fair or right to burden freshman with a mentally challenged or ex/current drug using individual. All sponsors should be focused on the responsibility of helping freshman. They should be role models which is difficult when mental illness or addiction is involved.”

At the same forum, current sponsors urged administrators to phase out the standard cover letter/resume application to be a sponsor in favor of a student-run selection process, marginalizing the role of college officials in choosing the next year’s crop of student mentors.

They also demanded that the college release the whereabouts of “at-risk” students in each sponsor group to sponsors via an “automated email system,” as well as to “provide some form of compensation, not necessarily monetary, to Sponsor[s] for their work.”

At present, the sponsor role is an unpaid position that is by application only. At the forum, students and administrators alike noted that high student interest in the position is typical.

Pomona Student Senate Backs Student Activists on Campus

Update: The ASPC clarified its earlier statement, disclaiming support for the firing of incoming Pomona professor Alice Goffman, the removal of Scripps College dean Charlotte Johnson, and for demands for disciplinary action against conservative students on campus.

In the interests of representing ASPC’s clarification, the title of this article has been updated.

In an email statement released on Friday, the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC), Pomona College’s student senate, affirmed its support of student activists across the Claremont Colleges, who are variously seeking to shut down free speech, punish conservative journalists on campus, and terminate a Pomona College professor and a Scripps College administrator.

ASPC expressed its “solidarity” with the protests that shut down Black Lives Matter critic Heather Mac Donald’s speech at Claremont McKenna College early this month, a demand for Pomona College president David Oxtoby to denounce free speech and to punish conservative journalists of this publication, the strike of Scripps College resident advisors, and student demands for Pomona to rescind its hiring offer of White sociology professor Dr. Alice Goffman.

“We are writing with regards to recent campus events, including the student-led protests at Claremont McKenna … ongoing conversations around the role of RAs through the demands of the Scripps and Pomona RHS [and] the recent decision of the Pomona College Sociology Department to hire Alice Goffman,” ASPC explained in the email. “These events have disproportionately affected individuals from the most marginalized backgrounds in our community: people of color, working class individuals, and immigrants. We call on the Claremont Colleges to do better in the pursuit of equity. We are in solidarity with students and Claremont Colleges community members fighting for institutional accountability, nuanced discussions, and increased support for students.”

After the protest against Heather Mac Donald early this month, Pomona College president David Oxtoby reaffirmed the college’s commitment to free speech and expressed his disappointment in the protesters. Pomona’s student senate, however, took a different stance in its email, backing the demands of students who called for Oxtoby to apologize for his statement in support of free speech and to punish conservative student journalists for their coverage in the aftermath of Mac Donald’s appearance:

“Following the protests [against Mac Donald], President Oxtoby released a letter to the Pomona community, in which he discussed academic freedom and free speech, and took a disappointed stance in addressing the events that had taken place on CMC’s [Claremont McKenna College] campus. In response to President Oxtoby’s statement, Black students at Pomona and across the [Claremont University] Consortium wrote a letter to President Oxtoby demanding he apologize for his previous patronizing statement, and affirm that Pomona College does not tolerate speech that projects violence onto its marginalized and oppressed communities, especially Black students. ASPC is in solidarity with Black students at Pomona and at the 5Cs [Claremont Colleges] in their continuous fight for better conditions on this campus.”

Asked by the Independent whether their solidarity extends to calls for administrative sanction against conservative journalists on campus, the ASPC Senates 2016-17 and 2017-18 issued the following joint statement:

“ASPC supports freedom of speech and the rights of student journalists. We also support holding students accountable according to the student code, and the right of the College and students to initiate judicial proceedings against other students who have caused community harm. We support holding all campus journalistic publications to a high standard of journalistic ethics.”

In its email, ASPC also explained that it backs the strike of resident advisors at Scripps College, stating that “Scripps RAs went on strike over the lack of support from the administration …The[ir] letter demands the resignation of Charlotte Johnson as the Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs, improvements to financial aid policies, changes to the Residential Advisor role, and increased mental health support, among other policy changes … We are in solidarity with the RAs’ asks surrounding policy changes.”

Following the hiring of Dr. Alice Goffman as a visiting professor of sociology over two Black candidates, an anonymous open letter demanded that the College rescind its hiring offer to Goffman. Although the College ultimately decided to follow through with hiring Goffman, ASPC is fully behind the students calling for the rescission of Goffman’s offer and backs demands for student control over the hiring of faculty in the future:

“Sociology students are currently protesting the hire of Alice Goffman as a visiting professor in the sociology department. The protests are situated in complaints that department does not support students of color and that Alice Goffman’s scholarship is anti-black and lacks positionality … We urge the formalization of student voices in all hiring processes, including for visiting professors. We call upon the faculty and administration to listen to take the demands of sociology students seriously, and to consider that such escalation to direct actions is the culmination of previous frustrations with the department.”

Despite expressing its full support for these initiatives, one of which sought administrative sanctions against conservative students on campus, ASPC claims to “recognize that Pomona students, much like members of ASPC Senate, may not all agree on how to respond to the aforementioned events. We affirm the value of open community dialogue and the responsibility of student government to listen and seriously consider students’ voices.”  

The ASPC’s budget is provided by a mandatory fee paid by all students. For the 2017-2018 school year, according to a letter sent to all students and parents, ASPC “has fixed its student fee at $355” per student.

Update: Following publication, the ASPC contacted the Independent to clarify its position:

“We do not support firing Professor Goffman, as the College and Professor Goffman have already signed a contract. We support formalizing more inclusion of student voices in future hiring practices for all levels of professors, including visiting professors …

… We are in solidarity with the RAs’ asks surrounding policy changes. We do not support the firing of Dean Charlotte Johnson …

… we absolutely do not support punishing students for being conservative journalists. Rather, we welcome political dialogue on campus. However, if students feel that other students have caused tangible and foreseeable community harm, they are welcome to initiate judicial proceedings, as is their right under the Student Code. We support the right of all students … to initiate judicial proceedings whenever they feel the Student Code has been violated …

… Taking the quote ‘students to initiate judicial proceedings against other students who have caused community harm’ in isolation removes context that clarifies our stance: conservative views do not automatically entail community harm. Conservative views are not a basis for administrative sanction.”

Matthew Reade contributed reporting.

Pomona Sociology Dept. Backs White Professor Despite Student Demands

In a letter sent Friday, Pomona College’s Sociology Department rejected student demands for the rescission of a hiring offer to Dr. Alice Goffman, defending their decision to choose the “legendary” and well-qualified teacher to fill an open professorship in the department.

After receiving the demand letter from “a pseudonymous email account,” the Sociology Department, in its response letter, refuted the claims of the students and, in line with the response from College administration, reaffirmed its decision to hire Goffman.

The students believe that Goffman—who was hired over two Black candidates—should not be hired because “the national controversy around Alice Goffman’s academic integrity, dubious integrity, her hyper-criminalization of Black men, and hyper-sexualization of Black women does not embrace and align with our shared community values.”

The Sociology Department does not share the students’ sentiments about Goffman:

“We reject the premise that Alice Goffman’s work hyper-criminalizes and hyper-sexualizes African-Americans. In fact, her book is widely regarded as a sympathetic and humanizing portrait of an over-policed community, and has been part of the national conversation about racial disparities in crime and incarceration. There have been, as there always are, scholarly critiques of the book’s methods and findings. Such debate is to be expected and encouraged in the academic community.”

Responding to concerns that Goffman’s hire does not align with the students’ definition of sociology—“[critiquing] elitism and interlocking systems of domination and power”—the Department asserts that the students have a faulty definition of sociology:

“We reject the characterization of sociology as a field that critiques elitism and power. Rather, sociology is a discipline that seeks to uncover the social processes that underlie seemingly individual experiences, which may or may not involve critique.”

The Department also refutes student concerns that Goffman’s critically-acclaimed book, On the Run, and the research behind it, are “racist, sensationalist and unethical,” and that Goffman employs “harmful research methods”:

“The methods of On the Run, while controversial, have not been found to be unethical. The University of Wisconsin conducted an internal review in response to the inappropriately anonymous critique mentioned in your letter and uncovered no wrongdoing. Further, it is publicly known that Goffman shares the royalties from her work with her research subjects and continues to have warm, personal relationships with them to this day.”

While the Department does support “the creation of peer-appointed, influential student positions on the hiring committee” and faculty that better reflects the department’s students, as demanded by the students, it states that such changes in policy are out of the Department’s control:

“We agree that the Sociology Department should better reflect the diversity of its majors. In fact, for years, the Department has sought an additional tenure line for this purpose, but has not been given that support by the administration…we are supportive of the possibility of elected, voting student members of a search committee. [But] [t]his would require a change in College-wide policy.”

However, the Department also believes Goffman sufficiently fulfills the diversity requirement, stating that “Goffman is also known as a legendary teacher, even at this early stage in her career, who works closely with all students, especially students from diverse backgrounds.”

The two other candidates for the position—Dr. Marla Kohlman of Kenyon College and Dr. Katrina Bell McDonald of Johns Hopkins University—have not received controversy for their work, but they have also not been under the national spotlight as Goffman has.

Kohlman received her degrees from Haverford College, American University, and the University of Maryland, College Park. Her work focuses on “institutional frameworks of inequality (gender, race, class, sexuality, etc.).”

McDonald received her degrees from Mills College, Stanford University, and the University of California, Davis. Her work centers around “how life is lived at the margins of society for disadvantaged social groups, such as racial, gender, and class minorities.” She has written a book titled Embracing Sisterhood: Class, Identity, and Contemporary Black Women.

Goffman, meanwhile, wrote the critically acclaimed On the Run, which made the New York Times’ “100 notable books of 2014” list. She received her degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University, and has received the “2011 Dissertation Award” by the American Sociological Association for “the best Ph.D. dissertation for a calendar year.”

Pomona Refuses to Rescind Job Offer to White Professor

Pomona College has decided to follow through with its hiring of Dr. Alice Goffman into the College as a visiting professor of sociology, after students, alumni, and “allies” of the Sociology Department demanded that the College rescind its offer to Goffman in an open letter issued last Friday.

Goffman—who was chosen over two Black candidates—has accepted the offer from Pomona, but the authors of the demand letter called for “the termination of her [Goffman’s] contract…[i]n the case that she has accepted the offer.”

However, according to an email statement sent to the Independent, a spokesman of Pomona College revealed that the College does not intend to terminate Goffman’s contract, and looks forward to welcoming Goffman in the coming academic year:

“We are pleased that this [hiring] process resulted in an offer and an acceptance, and we look forward to her joining our vibrant academic community in the fall as a visiting professor.”

The letter’s authors criticized “the flawed process of hiring Goffman,” and called for a student committee that would be “at the forefront of all current and future hiring decisions.” However, in the same email statement to the Independent, the College’s spokesman expressed confidence in the College’s current hiring process:

“We follow a rigorous process when hiring faculty. We are pleased that this process resulted in an offer and an acceptance.”

Although the letter complains that Goffman is “racist, sensationalist, and unethical,” and criticizes the College for hiring Goffman—a White female—over “the two other candidates for this position [who] were highly qualified Black women,” Pomona’s Dean of Academic Affairs, Audrey Bilger, defended the College’s hiring process as rigorous and diversity-minded, as the process “includes a range of activities, from a public presentation to faculty and students to meeting with our faculty diversity officer.”

Goffman is a well-known sociologist who attended the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University for her undergraduate studies and doctorate program respectively, and her book On the Run has received positive critical acclaim from leading sociologists such as William Julius Wilson. On the Run is also well-known in non-academic circles, making the New York Times’ “100 notable books of 2014” list.

Goffman also received the “2011 Dissertation Award” by the American Sociological Association for “the best Ph.D dissertation for a calendar year.”

Students Demand Power Over Hiring After Job Offer To “Racist” White Professor

In an open letter to Pomona College’s Sociology Department, Dean of Academic Affairs, and President, an anonymous group of 128 students, alumni, and “allies” of the Sociology Department demand that the college rescind its offer to hire “racist” and “unethical” Dr. Alice Goffman as a sociology professor and turn over control of future hiring to students.

“We, a collective of Sociology students, alumni, and allies at Pomona College, are writing to express our anger and concern regarding the recent hire of Alice Goffman. Goffman’s hire proves the college’s failure to wholeheartedly address underrepresentation of faculty of color … [T]he national controversy around Alice Goffman’s academic integrity, dubious reputation, her hyper-criminalization of Black men, and hyper-sexualization of Black women does not embrace and align with our shared community values,” the letter begins.

“To this end, we demand … the rescindment of the offer to hire Alice Goffman as the McConnell Visiting Professor of Sociology,” the authors write. “In the case that she has accepted the offer, we demand the termination of her contract.”

The open letter also demands “the creation of peer-appointed, influential student positions on the hiring committee” that place students “at the forefront of all current and future hiring decisions in the Sociology Department.”

One major problem with Goffman, according to the letter, is that she is a White female who was chosen over two Black candidates. “[T]he two other candidates for this position were highly qualified Black women whose critical research focuses on intersectionality and structural inequality,” the authors write. “[This hire] boasts the framework that white women can theorize about and profit from Black lives while giving no room for Black academics to claim scholarship regarding their own lived experiences.”

In a message to the Independent, an anonymous Pomona student who attended presentations by candidates for the position explained “that as someone who went to the presentations, I did think Alice [Goffman]’s was the most coherent and put-together.”

Goffman gave her presentation on “Mapping the Fatefulness of Everyday Life,” while the other two candidates, Dr. Katrina Bell McDonald and Dr. Marla Kohlman discussed “Intersecting Race and Gender” and “Intersectionality: Politics and Praxis,” respectively.

Goffman is known for her work on the impact of mass incarceration and policing in low-income African-American communities, but students believe her work disqualifies her from teaching at Pomona College.

“Her [Goffman’s] methods have endangered her research participants, encouraged the hyper-policing of Black communities, and continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness,” the students write. “Additionally, hiring white faculty who engage in voyeuristic, unethical research and who are not mindful of their positionality as outsiders to the communities they study reinforces harmful narratives about people of color. This practice is detrimental to Pomona’s goal of supporting students of color; we condemn the harm Goffman’s research has caused Black communities.”

The letter goes on to accuse Goffman’s publications of being “racist, sensationalist, and unethical.”

The students also are seeking a formal letter from the sociology department detailing where it went wrong in choosing Goffman for the position:

“We are requesting a formal letter recognizing the flawed process of hiring Goffman and how from now on, student involvement will be central to such decisions. We ask that the faculty committee exercise greater transparency by explicitly detailing the hiring procedure and addressing the lack of communication with students regarding the faculty opening and potential candidates. Since faculty are in positions to influence and inspire the student body, it is very important that students are made aware of and involved in hiring practices that directly impact our college experiences.”

The letter’s authors also claim that the “majority of Sociology majors are students of color” and complain that “the faculty are not at all representative of their students’ diversity.” They also ask for more professors of color in all fields, as it “is deeply concerning [that there are not more professors of color] given that the percentage of students of color has been increasing with each admitted class, with the Class of 2021 consisting of 56.7% students of color.”

Although the Sociology Department does currently include faculty of color, the students are not satisfied, as the hire of Goffman—a White female—will mean that “the Department will have zero women of color faculty members.” (emphasis original)  

The letter claims to have garnered 128 signatures, but this is impossible to verify, as none of the signatories’ names are listed.

“128 names [have been] redacted for individual safety in recognition of the violence inflicted on communities of color by various publications, namely the Claremont Independent,” the authors explain.

The college has until 5:00 p.m. next Tuesday to respond—or else, say the authors.

“Should we not receive a response to our demands,” they write, “we will take direct action.” (emphasis original)

Scripps Students Boycott Dining Hall, Claim Caterer is “Neocolonial,” “Racist,” and “Exploitive”

Scripps students boycotted Scripps College’s Malott Dining Hall during lunch on Thursday in order to protest Scripps’ contract with its dining hall provider Sodexo, accusing Sodexo of racism, exploitation of labor, environmental violations, and management of private prisons. Organized by Scripps student campaign Drop Sodexo, the boycott as well as a simultaneous protest outside the dining hall were aimed at ending Scripps’ contract with Sodexo. Drop Sodexo urged students to eat at other dining halls in the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) during the boycott.

According to the event description, the organizers invited students to “join the Drop Sodexo campain [sic] in protesting Scripps’ contract with Sodexo! This is a boycott of Malott lunch services on the 30th as well as an alternative community lunch event. We want to show the administration that students are serious about ending the Sodexo contract. You showing up to this event will help do that!” Following the boycott, Drop Sodexo claimed success, writing that “Malott was basically empty for all of lunch.”

The Drop Sodexo campaign organized the boycott because it claims Sodexo—a French multinational—is involved in “civil rights abuses…neoliberalism, anti-unionism, substandard food quality…racial discrimination, major class-action lawsuits, ownership of private prisons, and much more.” The students also claim that Sodexo exploits “neocolonial relationships that allow them to acquire raw materials from nations of the Global South.” Drop Sodexo also states that by “continuing business with a company that has such an extensive corporate crime record, we [Scripps] are providing a monetary endorsement for the increasing exploitation of land, people, and communities throughout the world.”

In an interview with The Student Life—the administration-funded student newspaper of the Claremont Colleges –student organizer Rebecca Millberg (SC ’17) accuses Sodexo of having “a history of horrible labor practices and food safety violations and worker exploitation,” adding that “it shouldn’t be hard for Scripps administration to see that it [the contract with Sodexo] goes completely against our values.”

Scripps administration subsequently informed student organizers that terminating Sodexo’s contract before its 2020 expiration could result in over $1 million in “legal fees and a variety of other expenses” that could “reduce funding for other important priorities, such as financial aid and faculty and staff compensation.” In a separate statement in response to students’ calls to end its contract with Sodexo, Scripps administrators stated that “the College does not have a policy of disqualifying contractors based on their client or investment portfolio.”

Drop Sodexo has suggested that “Scripps could choose any number of dining management companies besides Sodexo,” including in-house dining services. But when Pomona College — the flagship institution of the CUC — stopped contracting with Sodexo in 2011, many dining hall staff lost their positions at the College.

It doesn’t help that many of Drop Sodexo’s accusations run counter to Sodexo’s actual track record.

While Sodexo did settle an $80 million lawsuit brought by black employees on the basis of workplace discrimination back in 2005, it has since won numerous awards for diversity and inclusivity, including NBIC’s “2016 Best of the Best Corporation for Inclusion,” DiversityInc’s “2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity,” and Working Mother’s “Best Companies for Multicultural Women.” The French multinational has also recently received awards for sustainability, its commitment to hiring and retaining military veterans, and LGBT inclusion in its workforce.

Drop Sodexo also charges that Sodexo has “a consistent pattern of interfering with worker rights in many states,” and it has criticized the company’s “anti-unionism” actions against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In fact, Sodexo took the SEIU to court for employing illegal tactics to unionize workers, including blackmail and extortion. Faced with the possibility of a highly damaging public relations fiasco and civil liabilities, the SEIU agreed to terminate protests against Sodexo in exchange for dropped charges.

The student campaigners have also criticized Sodexo’s food quality and safety, stating that “to avoid having allergic reactions, many students limit themselves to eating the same foods for each meal because the labeling cannot be trusted.” Malott has been rated as one of the best campus dining halls in the country by the Princeton Review.

According to Drop Sodexo, the French multinational is responsible for the “privatization of the prison industry” and has exploited “unpaid or underpaid labor from private prisons.” While Sodexo divested its investments from American private prison corporation Correction Corporation of America in 2001 — nearly two decades ago — charges that Sodexo has poorly managed private prisons abroad are substantiated, as evidenced by the Sodexo-managed prisons HMP Northumberland and HMP Forest Bank in the United Kingdom.

Sodexo has operations in developing countries such has Colombia, Guinea, Morocco, and the Dominican Republic.

Drop Sodexo did not respond to requests for comment.

Scripps Students Petition for Larger Gender Studies Program—at Pomona College

Students from the women’s-only Scripps College are petitioning Pomona College administrators in an effort to enlarge the Gender Women Studies (GWS) program at Pomona, the flagship institution of the Claremont University Consortium.

Organized by a Scripps first-year, a petition urging Pomona College to devote more resources to Gender Women Studies has already gained significant traction, having obtained its goal of one hundred signatures last Thursday. It demands that Pomona “hire full time professors for the Gender Women’s Studies Program” and “[make] a larger commitment to Gender Women’s Studies to “support women, trans people, non-binary people, and intersectional feminism.” According to Pomona’s website, Gender Women’s Studies at Pomona College focuses on “the intersection of gender with race, sexuality, class and colonialism.”

Another Scripps student, Tiara Sharma, boosted the petition in an opinion editorial for The Student Life, the Claremont Colleges’ administration-funded student newspaper. Titling her piece “Pomona Needs a Real Gender and Women’s Studies Department,” she advertises the petition and affirms its message. Pomona College, she argues, with its vastly larger endowment in comparison with those of the other Claremont Colleges, has “the responsibility to provide students [of the Claremont Colleges] with academic opportunities that they are entitled to,” criticizing what she sees as Pomona’s failure “to fulfill this responsibility in regards to its Gender and Women’s Studies program.”

Sharma—who plans to major in English and “maybe Philosophy”—also complains that the GWS program is not getting “the same resources allocated to similar departments such as Politics, Media Studies, or History.” To this point, she claims that “Pomona has not given its Gender Women’s Studies program department distinction,” as it has “only one full-time professor devoted solely to GWS.” And “as Trump and his administration continue to undermine the right of many marginalized identities,” she continues, a strong GWS program is more important than ever.

Signers of the petition echoed Sharma’s sentiments. One signee explains that she signed the petition “because [GWS is] just as important, if not more [under our] current president, as every other major.”

According to statistics released by the College, however, GWS is one of the most unpopular majors at Pomona College, averaging at a little over two majors per class in the last five years. By contrast, over the same period, nearly 46 students have majored in economics, one of the school’s more popular majors, each year. Also, according to PayScale, GWS majors make an average salary of $39,000, considerably less than the average starting salary of undergraduates—$50,556, as Time reports.

Other students have disputed the petition on different grounds. Matthew Ludlam (PO ’20) told the Independent in a message that “the problem is that this student [the creator of the petition] is under the impression that all colleges should operate similarly … To assume that all colleges need a department that does not forward the goals integral to the college is preposterous,” referring to how Pomona College, as a co-ed institution, has different goals than a women’s-only college like Scripps.

The administration of Pomona College has yet to respond to the petition.

Inside the College #Resistance

Last month, at an event at Scripps College intended to educate students on activism, I learned the art of “solidarity”—helping undocumented immigrants circumvent our nation’s immigration laws, and collectively shouting down opponents in student-led political protests.

Ever since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, protests of his administration and other acts of resistance seem to be happening everywhere and every day, from the streets to the town hall meetings of members of Congress. Participation by my fellow college students in the “anti-fascist resistance” (or, in millennial speak, “anti-fascist #resistance”) is the norm, yet I had been puzzled as to how my peers planned to resist and what exactly the #resistance entails.

I finally had the opportunity to find out when I attended the event held by the #resistance at Scripps College with the purpose of teaching the students of the Claremont Colleges how to “resist the fascist and white supremacist policies being espoused and enacted by our current administration” by “[roleplaying] solidarity actions.” Walking in, I only had two questions that I hoped would be answered: Will the methods of resistance taught be legal, and how is this current administration fascist? I hoped that the former would be answered affirmatively, and that someone would at least attempt to explain the latter to me.

The event began with a discussion led by representatives from the labor union UNITE HERE, who explained that they hoped to teach students about the rights guaranteed by our country’s rule of law. Besides the gimmicky antics of the speakers, who called each other “comrade” and urged “students and [the] community to fight capitalism” in one of their PowerPoint slides, the opening discussion addressed the Trump administration’s deportation of undocumented immigrants and the legal rights of undocumented immigrants in a substantive way. The speakers explained, for example, the differences between administrative and judicial warrants, clarifying that only judicial warrants give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents the authority to search private homes for undocumented individuals, and detailed the legal processes that undocumented immigrants face if arrested.

But this substantive discussion, which lifted my hopes, soon gave way to silliness—the roleplay simulation of ICE arrests, as well as a crash course on how to disrupt and protest in the streets and in the offices of politicians.

To simulate an ICE arrest, some participants (mainly students) were given roles as suspected undocumented immigrants; others were assigned to be ICE agents. When questioned by the ostensible ICE agents, the students who played suspected undocumented immigrants were instructed to pretend to be undocumented—staying silent in the face of ICE commands. This method saddened me; to set a precedent of undermining our rule of law is dangerous, and to expect the people of our country to buy into obstructing law enforcement belittles the decency and respect for the law Americans have. The organizers called this tactic “solidarity”; by pretending to not have documents, citizens and documented immigrants can make it difficult for immigration agents to find the undocumented individuals among them. However, teaching a group of presumably documented students who are mostly citizens how to pretend to be undocumented to show “solidarity” does not seem likely to solve the problems of illegal immigration. The change in content, from explaining the American legal system to obstructing the rule of law, struck me as another example of the organizers’ unconstructive message—teaching students how to hinder the rule of law should not be the answer to perceived injustices—but this message did not end here; the speakers soon started criticizing dialogue, touting uninterrupted protest as a better alternative.

Changing course, the speakers moved to discuss how protests trump dialogue as effective and just means of resisting the Trump administration, even if they block the flow of traffic and affect local businesses. To help students understand how to protest effectively as a “delegation,” the organizers initiated another roleplay scenario. I was assigned to be a member of the “herd,” the backbone of the delegation the role of which is to project numerical superiority. Some students played the role of “speakers,” who deliver the group’s message to a “person of power,” and others played “monitors” and “herders,” who are supposed to keep the delegation together and lead chants whenever the speakers encounter any trouble, which the organizers defined as any attempt to interrupt the speakers from delivering their message, even if it was an offer for constructive dialogue. I was hopeful that my peers would not believe suppressing dialogue is a solution to their perceived problems, but their enthusiasm proved me wrong. Their enthusiasm discouraged me; dialogue, the very foundation of communicating and solving problems with people of different opinions, seems to be shunned now. We simulated storming into a politician’s office and delivering a message, with the monitors leading a zealous chant of “Let them speak!” whenever the speakers were challenged by drowning out any voices of opposition.

After the event ended, I could not help but feel disheartened. Despite the commendable determination my radical peers displayed, it seemed they were willing to shut out dialogue to “deliver their message,” avoid confronting any challenge to their ideas by simply drowning out opposition with chants, and obstruct the rule of law that has served our nation so well. They were willing to divide and label this nation which we all share into groups of “oppressors” and “resistors,” all in an effort to challenge our democratically elected, though apparently “fascist” administration.

After almost two hours of indoctrination and “roleplaying oppression,” I left discouraged with my fellow students’ radical methods and misconceived ideas about the state of America—summarized by a souvenir in the form of a pledge card asking me to “fight back against the fascist policies of this new administration” and “engage in non violent civil disobedience.” However, most importantly, even after those two hours, I still did not have an answer to one of my central questions: “How is this current administration fascist?”


Image: Flickr