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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)

Pomona Professor to Admit Students to Geology Class On Basis of Race

In a flyer introducing her course on “Southern California Earthquakes and Water,” a geology professor at Pomona College sells her class as an intriguing hands-on look at the unique “tectonic and hydrologic challenges” faced in the Golden State. She then explains how she will exercise racial preference in choosing which students may enroll in the course.

Unlike in most Pomona classes, seats in the earthquakes course are offered on a permission-only basis, which means that students must submit a written request—colloquially called a “PERM”—to the professor seeking “permission to enroll.” The professor sees all of these requests and may choose among them to fill his or her course.

Typically, professors treat PERMs as a waitlist, selecting students in the order in which they submitted their PERM requests. To the extent that preferential treatment is exercised, it is typically used to ensure that students majoring in a particular field of study are able to enroll in courses for their major ahead of others, who may simply be taking them to fulfill general education requirements.

Linda Reinen, who will teach the earthquakes course this fall, plans to use her approval authority to prefer students from marginalized backgrounds, such as non-Whites and low-income students, who she believes will derive “particular benefit” from a smaller and less competitive course.

“I encourage students who PERM this course to indicate how their background, experience, and/or interests could contribute to diversifying perspectives in the course,” she writes. “In resolving PERMs I will strive to identify students for whom the small-section setting has the potential to be of particular benefit. I am especially interested in seeing PERM requests from students of color, first generation or low-income students, international, and students early in their college career (first two years); such students are especially encouraged to apply.” (emphasis original)

Reinen does not explain how preferential approval on the basis of race, income, national origin, or age might provide a tangible benefit in a course on geological science or why the students she prefers stand to benefit more from a small-section class than other students.

Professor Reinen did not respond to the Independent’s requests for comment.

Taking Advantage of Holiday Absences, Pitzer Senate Boycotts Israeli Products

On April 16, a date marking Easter Sunday and the Jewish holiday of Passover, 22 of the 43 Pitzer College Student Senate members voted on and approved an amendment to its “Budget Committee Bylaws” to boycott Israeli products with the entirety of its $270,000+ “Student Activities Funds” budget, which is funded through a mandatory $135 semesterly “Student Activities fee” ($270 per academic year) that the college collects from every Pitzer student and gives directly to the Student Senate.

Only 26 senators attended the vote, which occurred just one week after “Israeli Apartheid Week” during which Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) placed a “mock Israeli apartheid wall” in the center of campus. 22 senators supported the boycott amendment, while 4 abstained, 0 were opposed, and 17 were absent from the meeting.

The updated bylaws, including amended language, can be found in Article III of the bylaws available on the school website. Under the new bylaws, the only restrictions on the use of Student Activities funds are:

“I. Student Activities Funds shall not be used for the purchase of any illegal substances, as defined by all local, state, and federal laws.

II. Student Activities Funds shall not be used for the purchase of any weapons, firearms, and/or explosives, with an exception for kitchen tools, art supplies, and gardening equipment.

III. Student Activities Funds shall not be used for the purchase of any individual single-use plastic water bottles.

IV. Student Activities Funds shall not be used for the purchase of any alcohol and tobacco products.

V. Student Activities Funds shall not be used for the purchase of any gift cards.

VI. Student Activities Funds shall not be used to make a payment on goods or services from any corporation or organization associated with the unethical occupation of Palestinian territories. Products include those products from corporations and organizations as delineated in the boycott list maintained by bdsmovement.net/get-involved/what-toboycott.”

This move to endorse the “Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions” movement shatters precedent at Pitzer College and has already provoked strong reactions from Jewish, pro-Israel, and pro-Palestine student groups on campus.

Mica Laber (CMC ’18), a leader of the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance (CPIA), told the Independent that the circumstances of the vote, occurring “when a significant portion of the student leadership was absent … made clear the intentions to avoid any sort of productive debate.”

Laber added that “Student Senate leaders should have included the proposed amendment in the agenda prior to the meeting because this is an issue that students on campus are passionate about” and “many would have liked the opportunity to voice their opinions before any vote was called.”

Students from both the CPIA and the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity chapter on campus signed an online petition arguing not only against BDS, but also that the nature of the vote made its passage “unfair and purposefully unrepresentative of the student body.”

Despite the concerns of their peers, Claremont SJP released a statement describing the budget amendment as “an important victory.”

Students Who Said Truth Is ‘A Myth’ Demand Compensation

The authors of the open letter that called objective truth a “myth and white supremacy” and sought disciplinary action against conservative journalists on campus are now demanding compensation for their “labor” from “non-Black allies.”

According to a screenshot sent to the Claremont Independent, one of the authors took to a Facebook group to reiterate his critiques of the email from Pomona College President David Oxtoby that originally prompted the letter and to seek financial support from “non-Black” students and allies beyond the Claremont Colleges.

In that original email, Oxtoby defended the value of free speech on campus and emphasized Pomona’s commitment to “the exercise of free speech and academic freedom” in the aftermath of protests that shut down a scheduled talk by Heather Mac Donald, a noted scholar and critic of Black Lives Matter, at the adjacent campus of Claremont McKenna College.

In his Facebook post, the author blasted Oxtoby’s statement and assailed the “normalization of antiblackness at the Claremont Colleges, particularly Pomona.”

“The response from the president of the College condones hate speech towards Black bodies as a form of free speech, while simultaneously berating those students of marginalized identities who protest for their right to safely exist that [sic] these institutions,” the author wrote. “This college would rather protect the right to verbally degrade Black people than to protect Black lives, especially those of the students at their campus; hinting at the inevitable vulgarity of whiteness and white supremacy.”

“We ask that other Black students and non-black allies from the [Claremont Colleges’] community and beyond to support us with this endeavor to hold our administration accountable,” he continued.

The author went on to admonish his “non-black allies” to pay him and the other two individuals responsible for the original open letter for their “labor.”

“Also ‘allies’ and other folks, if you receive social capital from sharing this letter, you should provide the organizers of this movement with tangible capital and compensate us for our labor,” he urged, appending the usernames for the Venmo accounts of himself and the other authors of the open letter to the end of his post.

Venmo is a payment service app that is used to send money directly to friends and make purchases.

Scripps Alumnae Demand That College Submits to Student Demands

Alumnae of Scripps College are circulating a petition demanding that the college submit to the demands of resident advisors on campus, who announced a strike last week to force the firing of the current Dean of Students and radical changes to campus policies with respect to financial aid, mental health, and residential life.

“We, on behalf of graduates/alumnae(i) of Scripps College, are shocked and outraged at recent events that have unfolded at Scripps,” the petition begins. “We firmly stand in solidarity with the current Scripps RAs’ strike in response to the administration’s lack of response to these events as well as to several of Scripps’ chronic and long-standing policies and practices.”

Last week, Lara Tiedens, the president of Scripps College, refused to capitulate to student demands and took immediate action to replace the resident advisors (RAs), who take the lead in ensuring student safety within the residence halls and handling unexpected emergencies, with regular security patrols.

“This afternoon, a group of Resident Advisors (RAs) informed me of their intent to go on strike effective immediately, and to abstain from all duties including crisis and emergency response, residential life programming, and other assigned duties,” Tiedens wrote in an April 14 email to current Scripps students and parents. “[M]aintaining a supportive, safe, and high-quality living and learning environment for all students is our highest priority, and the College’s immediate focus is on ensuring we have appropriate coverage for the residence halls. To that end, the Dean of Students has developed a plan to ensure that RAs’ critical duties related to safety and student welfare are covered for the duration of the strike.”

Tiedens’ refusal to capitulate to the RAs’ demands does not sit well with the authors of the alumnae petition.

“We are deeply concerned about your callous response to the RA strike, which did not address any of the causes of students’ exhaustion and exploitation, but instead defended an administrator who multiple students have testified is abusive and criticized the strike when many other methods of engaging with administration have been tried by students, but did not prove effective,” they write. “This is a prime example of how Scripps appears to not be genuinely listening or acknowledging the community’s serious and deep state of grief.”

The alumnae petition also complains that the college’s decision to hire additional staff to stand in for the striking RAs could evoke fears of “police brutality” among the student body.

“Scripps’ only real action in response to the strike has been to hire an outside security firm to police the campus, which only serves to instill fear in students, especially students of color who have personally been or have witnessed their family and friends of color being targets of police brutality and criminalization,” it explains.

Attached to the alumnae letter is a “timeline” that demonstrates the “long history of student activism on campus.” The listed events include a “United Against Hate protest across the [Claremont] campuses following the election of another fascist white supremacist,” presumably referring to current U.S. president Donald J. Trump, as well as the student-led protests that shut down a scheduled event with Heather Mac Donald, an expert on urban crime and policing, at Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum. The timeline helpfully notes that Mac Donald “believes the Black Lives Matter narrative is not only false but dangerous.”

Over 200 alumnae have signed the petition, which closes by admonishing the college once more to capitulate to student demands:

“As past students of Scripps College, we demand that there be systemic change at Scripps, pursuant to the thoughtful, well-articulated demands of the current RAs. We stand in strong support of their cause, and would vehemently urge the Scripps administration to listen carefully to the RAs’ voices, and to make a genuine, concerted, and good faith effort to comply with their demands.”

Students Demand Administrators ‘Take Action’ Against Conservative Journalists

In an open letter to outgoing Pomona College President David Oxtoby, a group of students from the Claremont Colleges assail the president for affirming Pomona’s commitment to free speech and demand that all five colleges “take action” against the conservative journalists on the staff of the Claremont Independent.

The letter, written by three self-identified Black students at Pomona College, is a response to an April 7 email from President Oxtoby in which he reiterated the college’s commitment to “the exercise of free speech and academic freedom” in the aftermath of protests that shut down a scheduled appearance by an invited speaker, scholar and Black Lives Matter critic Heather Mac Donald, on April 6.

“Protest has a legitimate and celebrated place on college campuses,” Oxtoby wrote. “What we cannot support is the act of preventing others from engaging with an invited speaker. Our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society.”

In their open letter, the students sharply disagree.

“Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions. It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry,” they write.

“Thus, if ‘our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth,’” the students continue, citing Oxtoby’s letter, “how does free speech uphold that value?”

The students also characterize truth as a “myth” and a white supremacist concept.

“Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples,” they explain. “The idea that there is a single truth–‘the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.”

In reference to the protests of Mac Donald, the open letter explains that engaging with Mac Donald’s speech would have amounted to a debate not “on mere difference of opinion, but [on] the right of Black people to exist.”

“Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live,” the letter claims. “Why are you [President Oxtoby], and other persons in positions of power at these institutions, protecting a fascist and her hate speech and not students that are directly affected by her presence?”

The open letter concludes by insisting that Oxtoby apologize for his April 7 email and issue a new message that the college “does not tolerate hate speech and speech that projects violence onto the bodies of its marginalized students and oppressed peoples.”

The students also demand that the Claremont Colleges “take action” against the staff of the Claremont Independent for their “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.” Taking a step further, they call for “disciplinary action” against conservative journalists from the Claremont Colleges.

“We also demand that Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium entities take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds,” they write. “Provided that the Claremont Independent releases the identity of students involved with this letter and such students begin to receive threats and hate mail, we demand that this institution and its constituents take legal action against members of the Claremont Independent involved with the editing and publication process as well as disciplinary action, such as expulsion on the grounds of endangering the wellbeing of others.”

The letter’s signatories, of whom there are more than 20 at the time of publication, request a response by the afternoon of April 18.

The authors of the letter did not immediately respond to the Independent’s requests for comment.


Update: A link to President Oxtoby’s original email has been added to this article.