All posts by Will Gu

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

Pomona Students Can Change Gender Pronouns After Student Portal Update

On Monday morning, an update to the Pomona College online student portal added a new feature called “Help Faculty learn your Pronoun,” allowing students to submit or change their preferred gender pronouns in the student directory and other student records maintained by the Registrar.

Besides the binary gender pronouns (He, Him, His, Himself and She, Her, Hers, Herself), the new feature includes the following gender pronouns in a drop-down list for students to submit to the Registrar: “E/Ey, Em, Eir/Eirs, Eirself/Emse,” “Hu, Hum, Hus, Humself,” “Per, Per, Per/Pers, Perself,” “Ze, Hir, Hir/Hirs, Hirself,” and “Ze, Zir, Zir/Zirs, Zirself.”

After submitting a gender pronoun change, students’ preferred pronouns will appear with their names in the student directory, faculty class lists, and the advisee rosters of faculty advisors. According to the online instructions for the new feature, “a Pronoun, is simply what an individual would like others to use when talking to or about that individual. Submitting your pronoun will help Faculty in learning your pronoun and support the proper use when talking to or about you.”

The new interface for changing gender pronouns on the Pomona College student portal. (Click for larger version)

In a message to the Independent, Pomona College’s Information Technology Services (ITS), which maintains and updates the student portal, stated that it was informed of the decision to implement the update in the fall semester of the school year by “students through ASPC [The Associated Students of Pomona College], Student Affairs and the Queer Resource Center (QRC),” “after a discussion with the office of Student Affairs and ASPC.”

For its part, the ASPC hinted at the changes to the student portal last fall, when student government officials circulated a survey evaluating the need “for modifications to the Portal that would allow students to change their pronouns and/or name.”

Representatives from ASPC—the College’s student government—gave the Independent the following statement concerning the student portal changes:

“ASPC worked closely with the Office of the Registrar, the Dean of Students Office, and the Queer Resource Center (QRC) to develop a more efficient and user-friendly system for students wishing to change their gender pronouns and/or chosen name. ASPC and the relevant administrators independently identified the need for a Portal feature to facilitate these changes, and ASPC was asked to assist in the creation of the new feature to ensure that student voices were present in the conversation. Supporting transgender and non-binary students is of utmost importance to ASPC, and we sought their input throughout this process with the assistance of the QRC. We are allied with all marginalized communities and strive to be cognizant of their needs as we advocate for the student body in collaboration with the administration.”

In particular, “the current Student Information System (SIS) makes it difficult to synchronize name and pronoun changes seamlessly in all relevant locations.” In transitioning to a new SIS, the registrar’s office and ITS, with the full support of the ASPC, has declared that having “a mechanism that allows for global implementation of name and pronoun changes” is “non-negotiable,” as the new SIS must be “more conducive to supporting the transgender and non-binary community.”

In a follow-up email to the Independent, ASPC added that “some faculty, including members of the relevant faculty committee, the Student Affairs Committee, were consulted during the process.”

Pomona College Funds Anti-Trump Rally

On Friday, Pomona College’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships informed the Pomona community that it will provide students with funding to participate in Saturday’s anti-Trump rally in downtown Los Angeles.

“We are sponsoring a group of 70 students to go to the anti-hate rally in LA tomorrow morning! Please share with your communities—as of now, this is open for Pomona students only,” stated the Draper Center in a post on its Facebook page. “Read the information on the form carefully and only sign up if you can commit and be on time.”

The form to sign up states “the Draper Center is responding to student responses/needs to engage with our wider SoCal community to unite against hatred. One way this week we will be supporting students is providing Metrolink passes and a group to go to the United Against Hate March starting at MacArthur Park in LA on the morning of Saturday November 12th.”

Information in the form includes a link to the Facebook event page of the protest, named “March in Los Angeles against Trump!” The march’s event page states that “it is our time as a movement to unite and fight back against Donald Trump and what he wants to do to this country!”

Further information on the form included a number to reach an on-call dean via Campus Safety “in event of arrest or other emergencies,” as well as a link to a guide on protesters’ rights.

A similar protest on Friday in Los Angeles resulted in the arrest of 187 adults and eight juveniles, although the Saturday demonstration was described by national media as more “peaceful.”

The Draper Center is Pomona College’s community outreach organization that “fosters mutually beneficial exchanges between Pomona College and the larger community of which we are a part,” according to the center’s mission statement. “We do this by connecting community members, students, faculty, and staff in support of education outreach, community-based research and learning, and other community engagement activities.”

Pomona College President David Oxtoby has previously stated in an interview with the South China Morning Post that he “don’t [doesn’t] think it’s good for universities to take political positions” and, referring to student demonstrations, “if there was any risk of violence or harm to anyone, the school would have to step in and halt proceedings.”

Some students felt that it was acceptable for the college to fund student protesters. “I personally don’t see an issue with it. The school can do what it sees fit as a private institution. I don’t see it as a political move so much as an attempt to help cover the financial costs of political activism. If it allows more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to protest, it’s fine with me,” Eliot Sands (PO’ 20) told the Independent in a message.

Pomona College is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

After Trump’s Election, Pomona Orchestra Can Opt Out of Playing ‘Don Juan’

On Thursday, the Pomona College Orchestra informed its musicians that they could opt out of performing the song Don Juan in their upcoming concert because the piece—which centers around the libertine Don Juan character—could be insensitive to students who were upset by the election of Donald Trump.

“When I programmed Don Juan, the presidential nominees of the two major parties were known, and the smart money was on a Clinton victory…You have worked immensely hard on this piece, and it is a great musical accomplishment…I would prefer not to cancel our performances of it,” the conductor of the Pomona College Orchestra stated in an e-mail to the orchestra. “But I understand that some of you may have serious reservations, especially in the wake of Tuesday’s results, about appearing to embrace a narrative that presents women as objects to be pursued by wealthy males who can get away with it. And I need you to know that I respect those reservations…I extend to each of you the invitation to opt out of our performances of Don Juan.”

“The character of Don Juan was introduced in 1630 Spanish stage work. It was intended as a satirical morality play, the lesson being that, no matter how hedonistically one might live one’s life, sins must be atoned for at the end,” the email continues. “Don Juan is what we would charitably refer to as a ‘womanizer,’ and that with clearer vision we would identify as a sexual predator,” the e-mail states, adding that “the question of how to engage art that has a troubling backstory is always complicated.”

The e-mail added that the orchestra “will try to find guests to fill in any holes that get created…Assuming we still have enough of an orchestra to present the piece, the show will go on.”

Ultimately, no member of the orchestra chose to drop out of the performance, according to an e-mail update.  “I enjoy the music of Don Juan purely for its musical value rather than its programmatic inspiration,” stated a member of the orchestra in a message to the Independent.

The concert set featuring Don Juan will take place on Friday, November 18th and Sunday, November 20th at Pomona College’s Bridges Hall of Music. The Pomona College Orchestra consists of students and faculty of the Claremont Colleges as well as members of the community.

________________

Image: Flickr

Pomona College Resource Center Teaches Students Social Justice Buzzwords

On Thursday night, the REACH (Revolutionizing Education, Advancing Collaborative Hxstories [sic]) committee of the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) organized an event called “How //Not// to Talk Like an Activist” held at The Hive to teach students the definitions and usage of language used by social justice activists.

The event description states, “sometimes it’s impossible to figure out what students at the Claremont Colleges are talking about, even when we’re talking about things that everyone needs to understand. Join the AARC’s REACH committee to discuss how we can break down activist language.” The organizers added that the event will “explore key terms in describing social change and figure out how to make those terms accessible for ourselves and our communities,” and affirmed that “this event is open to students at the 7Cs and centers students of color and allies.” The event description also gave examples of what terms would be discussed: “Intersectionality. Cisheteropatriarchy. Toxic masculinity.”

According to its description, the AARC “works in collaboration with other ethnic groups, academic department and campus offices to sponsor a wide range of educational endeavors.”

The organizers started the event by stating that students sometimes “hear words tossed around and repeat them and sometimes we don’t stop to think what they mean or about how we’re using them to make our change-making ineffective or effective,” adding that the “goal of this event is to break these terms down,” referring to “commonly used buzzwords.” The organizers emphasized that “they are not buzzwords to elevate ourselves above others, but…ways to understand actual problems society has,” and further stated that “it’s not bad that these are being more popularized…but we want to use this event as a way to understand the historical roots of these terms.”

Attendees of the event then broke down into smaller groups to discuss definitions for the following words and phrases: intersectionality, identity politics, structural oppression, safe spaces, cisheteropatriarchy, toxic masculinity, white supremacy, and privilege. Participants tried defining those words in small groups before the actual definitions—drawn from Harvey Mudd College, Columbia University, the Catalyst Project, and the blog Decolonize All the Things (D.A.T.T.)— were revealed.

According to its website, the Catalyst Project believes “that racism is one of the fundamental forces keeping systemic injustice in place, and as white people we believe we have a strategic role to play in ending it.” The author of D.A.T.T., in a description of his ideology, states that he is “interested in the complete liberation of all peoples from white patriarchy, capitalism, oligarchy, colonialism, settlement, as well as orientalism.”

Examples of definitions included “a system of power based on the supremacy & dominance of cisheterosexual men through the exploitation & oppression of women and the LGBTQIA”—drawn from D.A.T.T—for “cisheteropatriarchy.” “Privilege” was defined as operating “on personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional levels and gives advantages, favors, and benefits to members of dominant groups at the expense of members of target groups”—based off a document from Harvey Mudd College’s Office of Institutional Diversity.

Samuel Breslow (PO ’18) told the Independent that he thought “the event did a really good job of helping us be more cognizant about carefully articulating what we mean with the terminology we use,” adding that “it can be hard for us, as progressives, to have constructive discourse with conservatives when the social justice concepts that we refer to have been distorted and caricatured by Fox News to the point where they mean something totally different. Using words that have widely agreed-upon definitions can help us communicate more clearly with each other and can help avoid misunderstandings.”

_________________

Image: Flickr

 

 

Safe Spaces: Where Free Press Dies

It is unbelievable how freedom of the press, a right our Founding Fathers so cherished, has eroded in a country that prides itself on its liberties. It is unbelievable how the right to cover an open event, which freedom of the press entails, cannot be practiced on college campuses.

Last week, while trying to cover an open event discussing the role of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (API) community in the Black Lives Matter movement, hosted by Pomona College’s Asian American Resource Center (AARC)—which considers itself a “safe space”—I uncovered the sad state of free press at Pomona College. I was hoping to objectively cover this event, to bring out the little-known viewpoints of the API community on the Black Lives Matter movement. This hope was greeted by resentment and hostility, and I left with one message: Freedom of the press does not belong, and is not welcome, in safe spaces.

The process of stifling free press begins right as a journalist walks through the doors into the safe space. While I was initially welcomed when I asked if I could record the event and take notes, further questioning revealed I was trying to cover the event for a student-run publication. Even then, the event facilitators extended their warm welcome, until it was brought to light that this student-run publication was The Claremont Independent, a conservative-leaning paper. No more warm welcome and no more recording allowed, but I was still permitted to take notes.

The death blow of free press in this “safe space” struck later, when I started to take notes on my laptop just as the event began. As I finished typing my second line of notes, I was informed that note-taking would only be permitted if it was approved by all participants of the event—if even one participant objected to my note-taking, I would not be allowed to take notes. Unsurprisingly, after a blindfold vote, at least one person voted against note-taking, and I was told to stop taking notes. I was told that taking notes made participants uncomfortable, and that I should respect the AARC as a “safe space.” In a subsequent meeting with the director of AARC, I was told the AARC functions primarily as a “safe space” where participants should feel comfortable, and that people’s fears and concerns of an Independent journalist taking notes should be respected in this safe space, adding that the AARC does not want its views advertised to an audience the Independent could reach.

Despite making it clear that speech at this event should make all participants comfortable, attacks on capitalism and “capitalist violence,” the “heteropatriarchal” society, and traits of the “model minority” (like working hard and obeying the law) were left unchecked, without the slightest consideration of whether I, with differing political views, would feel comfortable listening to endless assaults to values which I hold dear. Yet with free press dead, who dares challenge this hypocrisy?

In the college campus “safe space,” with no freedom of the press, there is no check on the lack of ideological diversity, no way for “safe spaces” to promote their messages through an objective third party, and no way for the public to know about and effectively help pressure and protest against the hypocritical “inclusiveness” of safe spaces.

Free press is the restraint that keeps “safe spaces” from becoming “hate spaces” that do not fear whether the stifling of differing views, the silencing of people from different parts of the political spectrum, and the venting and promotion of anger towards certain groups of people, will ever be exposed to and critiqued by the public, where there is no fear whether the public will pressure them to change. Because, without the restraint of free press on safe spaces, the public will simply never know.

Unless safe spaces are made accessible to the free press, journalists need to abide by a new rule concerning reporting in safe spaces: Don’t try. Yet I remain confident, and hopeful, that through the efforts of those who act to uphold our Founding Fathers’ values on college campuses, the rule for journalists will be “Dare to try. Dare to uphold and defend the diversity of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.”