Earlier today, Mary Spellman resigned from her position as Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students at Claremont McKenna College. The resignation occurred in response to a protest that took place yesterday, which was centered on the idea that Dean Spellman had not done enough to create a safe space on campus for students from marginalized backgrounds. The protests were catalyzed by an email Spellman sent to a student in response to an article that student had written for The Student Life earlier this week.
“Since 2010 I have been privileged to serve as Dean of Students at Claremont McKenna College,” states Spellman in her email resignation. “Today I am submitting my letter of resignation, effective immediately. I do so with sadness beyond words, because these nearly six years have been the most rewarding and fulfilling of my life, but also with the conviction that it is the right thing to do for the school and the students I care about so deeply.”
Though many students pushed for Spellman’s resignation—including two students who went on a hunger strike—not everyone on campus shared this sentiment. In her email, Spellman notes that one student wrote to her, “You’ve inspired me in my time at CMC. Please stay strong and realize students like me need you to stay here…I will always be honored to consider you a mentor, a role model, and above all, friend.”
Additionally, a faculty member wrote, “I also recognize how much you have worked to make our community more inclusive… I know I join many fellow faculty members and students in expressing my full support and confidence in you as Dean of Students here at CMC.”
Spellman closes her email by stating, “To all who have been so supportive, please know how sorry I am if my decision disappoints you. I believe it is the best way to gain closure of a controversy that has divided the student body and disrupted the mission of this fine institution. Most important, I hope this will help enable a truly thoughtful, civil and productive discussion about the very real issues of diversity and inclusion facing Claremont McKenna, higher education and other institutions across our society.”
Yesterday afternoon, a student demonstration took place at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), where students of marginalized identities demanded administrative officials accommodate their specialized needs on campus. Their demands include a permanent resource center; the immediate creation of two diversity positions for student affairs and faculty; and a general education requirement for ethnic, racial, and sexuality theory; along with over a dozen other demands listed in their original letter to President Hiram Chodosh sent earlier this year. The demonstration’s organizers include the CMCers of Color, the Brothers and Sisters Alliance (BSA), Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), Asian Pacific American Mentors (APAM), and GenU.
At the demonstration, students vocalized their demands, emphasizing that they want everything done on their own terms.“We don’t want a center for free speech meant to educate white students,” one protestor asserted. “We want a center that supports marginalized students first and foremost.” When students demanded that President Chodosh commit to giving them a temporary and eventually permanent space on campus, he initially said that he could not commit to a temporary space, but is working on a permanent space at this time. But after about 5 minutes of students speaking out against him, President Chodosh said he would love to transform the Hub, CMC’s student food store and central lounge, to provide them with a temporary space. In a swift, executive decision, CMC Student Body President Will Su dedicated part of the student government office as a temporary space, ordering the administration to give these studentsa permanent space immediately.
“To the administration as a whole, we require greater diversity in our faculty and staff,”stated the protest leader. “The need for such programs to educate the student body is eminent [sic] by the numerous microaggressions felt by students of color.” Students of color called out racially-insensitive professors for making them feel unsafe. “We want mandatory and periodic racial sensitivity trainings for all professors,”one protestor stated. “How are students supposed to learn in the classroom when they don’t even feel safe? When their own professors, someone who is supposed to be a mentor to them, a teacher, doesn’t even respect their identities? We want more diverse course offerings for critical race theory, community engagement, and social justice issues.”
The Dean of Students, and specifically Dean Mary Spellman, faced the brunt of the complaints. In the past few days, an “offensive”email sent by Dean Spellman was widely circulated on Facebook and prompted calls for her resignation. In the email, Dean Spellman responded to an article that voiced concerns by a student of color, stating that she wants to better serve students “who don’t fit our CMC mold.”Her comment outraged several students of color, and the email was cited as another example of institutional racism at CMC. Since then, students have demanded that Dean Spellman resign from her position, with a few students on a hunger strike that won’t end until she does so. Dean Spellman apologized multiple times over email and at the demonstration for her “poorly worded”statement, but students still demand that she resign.
One of the other main catalysts for the demonstration was a photo of four CMC students from Halloween, where two white students dressed in stereotypical Mexican clothing and were condemned for cultural appropriation. A student of color wrote the original post: “For anyone who ever tries to invalidate the experiences of POC [people of color] at the Claremont Colleges, here is a reminder of why we feel the way we do. Don’t tell me I’m overreacting, don’t tell me I’m being too sensitive. My voice will not be silenced.” The post was also widely circulated on Facebook over the weekend and prompted several other students of color to speak out. Students condemned CMC’s junior class president, who was in the photo holding the sign that said “Sorry”(dressed as a Justin Bieber back-up dancer), for being complicit in cultural appropriation and demanded her resignation.
The junior class president resigned on November 10 in an email, apologizing for being a bystander in the situation. “I promise to speak up and act out when I witness offensive and harmful behaviors in our community,”she wrote. “I promise that I won’t let my fears get in the way of standing up for something that is right, and something that continues to be a necessary dialogue here at the Colleges. Most importantly, I promise to be more conscientious of what I say and do and truly think about the parties that can be affected.”
The demonstration yesterday afternoon was preceded by a campus-wide letter that the groups sent out that morning. The letter explained the ways in which the administration has failed to address their concerns in the past. Students of marginalized identities described their campus experience with words like “misunderstood,”“intimidated,”“don’t belong,” “fragmented,” “excluded,”“daunting,”“conflicted,”“isolated,”and “scared.”
Students reported that professors “constantly mistake them for another student of color in class”which shows that “teachers characterize and distinguish them by their skin color and not by their personhood.”Additionally, students complained that CMC’s Crime and Public Policy course “does not offer readings with perspectives of people of color”and that the Civil War history simulation about the pros and cons of slavery is “extremely insensitive”and “hurtful.”CMC’s economics professors were targeted for having a “clear bias”against people from low-income backgrounds. Students reported that these professors used terms like “Welfare Queen”and had chastised poor people in their classes. They also criticized a new faculty member for “asking for examples of microaggressions,”which, to them, reflected “the lack of comprehensive training on racial sensitivity”among CMC’s faculty.
Students also complained about the Dean of Students. They stated that the Dean of Students’First Year Guide and Resident Assistant training schedules included visits to the offices of Black Student Affairs and Chicano Latino Student Affairs, but not to the Asian American Resource Center. Apparently, the Deans’exclusion of this visit “perpetuated the incorrect and problematic belief that Asian American students do not suffer from discrimination and racism and thus do not need resources.”Students then reported instances of when the Dean of Students dismissed complaints about LGBTQ-related offenses, accusing them of providing “inadequate resources”to change campus climate or support hurt students.
After listing over twenty complaints, the letter states, “We ask that the administration not get lost in the details of these events and in assigning guilt, but rather take responsibility as a whole for these actions and move forward with supporting students of marginalized identities.”
“For those administrators and professors who have not been involved in the efforts to create a resource center, you are not absolved of contributing to the discrimination and indifference that marginalized students have faced at CMC,”the letter continues. “Silence is oppression. We expect you to reflect on our proposals and implement swift and impactful changes to make your departments more inclusive, supportive, and accessible to students of marginalized identities.”
The letter ends, “To the department heads receiving this letter: if you stand in solidarity with us, please forward this to all the faculty in your department. We ask you to hold an emergency meeting to discuss how to better support marginalized students and to affirm our efforts and need for space.”This week, several classes have been cancelled, shortened, or used as discussion periods, and assignment deadlines have been extended.
Last night, a student proposal to start a DreamCatchers Foundation affiliate club was “tabled indefinitely” at the Pitzer College student senate meeting. Senators expressed concerns that the term “dreamcatchers” was a form of cultural appropriation towards Native Americans. The club was intended to be a campus branch of the national DreamCatchers Foundation, an organization that helps create happy experiences, or “dreams,” for terminally ill hospice patients. The club was initially proposed to the Pitzer Senate by Janu Patel (PZ ’19) on November 1, where it was tabled for one week. At last night’s senate meeting, the proposal was tabled indefinitely by a vote of 16 to 9.
“Last Sunday, during our weekly meeting, the legislature had the opportunity to review a student organization application for the DreamCatchers Foundation,” stated Senate Treasurer Chance Kawar (PZ’ 17) in an email to the student senate obtained by the Claremont Independent. “Some student senators indicated that Native American community members ought to be consulted about the legitimacy of the organization’s name, prior to approving the application.”
Following the senate meeting, Kawar received a statement from Scott Scoggins, the Native American Pipeline Director and Outreach Liaison for Pitzer College. Scoggins said that the DreamCatcher Foundation “seems like a worthy organization in their goals and mission,” but “their choice of logo and name is problematic and is, I believe, an example of cultural appropriation.”
Additionally, Scoggins pointed out the fact that “the DreamCatchers Foundation does not explicitly indicate that it serves any Native nation or group in the Los Angeles area.” He continued to argue that “a corporation with a logo containing explicit Native imagery that doesn’t serve Native communities or affiliated with a Native organization is cultural appropriation.”
Some senators felt that these arguments were sufficient enough to provide evidence of cultural appropriation. In an interview with the Claremont Independent, Gregory Ochiagha (PZ ’18), a Special Constituency Representative, stated, “We have the Native American Liaison saying he believes it is cultural appropriation. We have a Native American student representative saying that it is cultural appropriation and that he feels uncomfortable. So to the question of whether it was cultural appropriation: yes, to Native American people, it’s cultural appropriation.”
Other senators were concerned about how the senate would look if it approved the DreamCatchers Foundation. “The name ‘DreamCatcher Foundation’ would appear next to Pitzer College on their website, as well as student senate’s,” said Lora McManus (PZ ’18), a member of the senate’s Diversity Committee, in an interview with the Claremont Independent. “Are we as a body ok with that? Is this how we want our school to be represented?”
Kawar also emailed Caitlin Crommett, the founder and CEO of the DreamCatchers Foundation. Crommett, whose family is part of the Penobscot tribe of Maine, replied that she is “a bit surprised by your [the senators’] concern regarding cultural appropriation.” Crommett stated that she has collected dreamcatchers for her entire life, and that her organization gives patients dreamcatchers as reminders of their experience. “For these reasons alone,” Crommett continues, “I believe that our foundation’s name of DreamCatchers is highly relevant to our work, and not at all cultural appropriation because of the respectful way in which we conduct our work.”
“We have in fact granted Dreams for Native American patients and spoken with them at length about the name,” noted Crommett. “In these cases, they have been fully supportive and interested in our name, and have in no way expressed a distaste or disappointment in the use of an element of Native American culture to represent the positive, beneficial work we do.”
Patel, who has been involved with the DreamCatchers Foundation since she was in high school, offered to partner with Native American groups on campus and help them with their events. Patel emphasized that the club would be doing good things, and that she wanted to further the organization’s mission at Pitzer.
Despite these efforts, student senators did not support the club proposal. “I do think a club like that needs to exist,” stated Ochiagha. “But because it is a cultural appropriation issue, and additionally because I don’t think the national organization is doing that much really to support a Pitzer College charter, I think we should just create a Pitzer club with the same exact purpose, with our own name that’s PC-friendly.”
The Pitzer Senate told Patel that they might be able to approve the DreamCatchers Club if she were able to use a different name. “I did try to talk to her [Crommett] about changing just the name for Pitzer,” Patel said in an interview with the Claremont Independent. “They said that since I want it to be a chapter of their organization, I have to keep the name.”
Last Thursday, students at Scripps College hosted an event at The Motley called “Project Vulva” to initiate dialogue about the stigmatization of vulvas in society. “Why is it that, generally, society is so comfortable with the image of the penis and vulvas are considered taboo?” states Project Vulva’s Facebook page. “In middle school people would scribble penis pictures on the desks in the classroom. There is always that kid who passes out at the party and someone draws a dick on his face.”
Project Vulva’s organizers described the event as “an educational and interactive art show displaying your friends [sic] depictions when we asked them, ‘Can you draw a vulva?’ We will also have cupcakes that you can decorate like vulvas. Supplies are limited!” The event’s stated goal was “to create an open dialouge [sic] educating people about the vulva in order to confront society’s stigmas and stereotypes, and make people more comfortable with the many varying images and types of cis and non-cis vulvas.”
However, the event faced harsh backlash from students who found it offensive to the trans community. One student, who felt that Project Vulva’s claim that penises are not stigmatized was untrue, wrote, “Society is not comfortable with the image of a penis on a woman. This event feels extremely transmisogynistic and to say penises are universally accepted as non-taboo is transmisogynistic. I can’t say I’m surprised though. There are infinitely many ways to celebrate genitals without making transmisogynistic remarks in the process.”
Another commenter wrote, “Right like this entire event is so incredibly violent to trans women specifically. I’m so disgusted.” The comment went on to state, “Equating genitalia to a person’s gender is and always will be transphobic.”
In defense of the event, one student tried to clarify the event’s description and commented, “I’m not really trying to protect transmisogyny and I honestly don’t know why you’d accuse me of that.” However, the comment only sparked further backlash.
“I don’t need your help parsing out the finer details of this garbage, cis, white event,” responded one commenter. “A trans woman is telling y’all this makes her feel uncomfortable and that’s not enough for you to rethink your stance on this? You’re gross, this whole thing is gross, have fun with your ugly cupcakes.”
The conversation intensified as more people defended the event, with one commenter arguing that students have a right “to try to explain our purpose and ask questions when attacked.” This outraged other students who felt that the word “attacked” has racist connotations.
“These women did not ‘attack’ you or your event,” replied one student. “You responded to their very very very credible and personal (as trans women of color) critique by using racialized terms (such as ‘attack’) to discredit their actions and hence discredit anything they are pointing out to you. That is wrong and racist.”
In response to these concerns, one of Project Vulva’s organizers wrote, “It has come to our attention that certain aspects of our project implied a binary perception of gender, as well as a limited relationship between gender and genitalia. We apologize to those offended. We strive to be as inclusive as possible, which is why we are doing our best to incorporate all viewpoints into discussion. We hope that everyone can attend our event and continue to have progressive conversations.”
Additionally, officials from The Motley issued a statement: “The Motley wants to validate and support the critiques that have been voiced concerning Project Vulva. We are deeply sorry for the hurt experienced by the trans community both in the space of the Motley and on the Scripps campus in general. Being a privileged and exclusive space has long been imbedded in our herstory, and though we have tried and are trying to become an inclusive space where everyone can feel safe and accepted, we recognize that we have failed.”
At Pitzer’s weekly student Senate meeting this past Sunday, a proposed Yacht Club was turned down on the grounds that its name was offensive. “Student Senate voted against this club instatement last night, as the majority of Senators found the name ‘Yacht Club’ to have a particularly offensive association with Yacht Clubs and a recreation known for being exclusive,” wrote Taylor Novick-Finder (PZ ’17), an Environmental Senator, in an email on Pitzer’s Student Talk thread.
The club requested $5000 in funding to go towards renting boats and hiring instructors, though clubs do not have to receive the full amount requested from the Senate (or any money at all) if the Senate approves them. According to Senators, this was only the third club to be rejected by the Senate in the history of Pitzer College. The first two, the Hammock Club and the Cake Club, were denied because they were too similar to existing clubs already funded by Pitzer.
The Yacht Club’s would-be president, Jordan Fox(PZ ’16), is also a member of the student Senate at Pitzer. “We as a Student Senate have overreached our boundaries,” Fox stated in an interview with the Claremont Independent. “We should be looking for ways to fund clubs that promote a sense of community within the student body.” Fox has never sailed before, and was hoping to start a club that teaches and promotes boating and sailing. “It’s frustrating that we don’t really have a precedent set as far as which clubs we’re willing to approve and which ones we aren’t. It’s almost like this is a satire at this point.”
“We were turned down just because of our name,” Fox said. “We have been trying to talk about the description of the club, but everyone is so focused on the name. We never had intentions of making this club offensive in any way. I certainly never would have thought this name could be considered classist.”
According to screen shots obtained by the Claremont Independent, some students felt that the decision to reject the Yacht Club was justified, regardless of its name. “It doesn’t matter what it is called, the club itself is a classist and inaccessible activity for people who are not wealthy,” wrote one Pitzer student. “Pitzer’s money would be going towards a luxurious classist, elitist yachting activity (alienating students on campus who are lower income) instead of going to support for example queer and trans people of color, disabled students, working class students, indigenous/Native American students, etc.”
Other students disagreed. “I think you are missing the point that this club would open up access to sailing for people who have never been able to experience it, like myself,” wrote Kyle Dalrymple (PZ ’17), a member of the Senate’s Faculty Executive Committee. “Additionally, I will stress again the approval of a club has nothing to do with the budget allocated to it.”
Senators also criticized the decision to turn down the Yacht Club based on the precedent set when the Tattoo Club was approved earlier this year. The Tattoo Club’s proposal statement says that the club’s function “would potentially include but not be limited to: subsidizing transportation to tattooing locations, subsidizing the cost of the tattoos themselves, bringing speakers to the Claremont Colleges, providing information about tattoo related locations and events, and hosting stick and poke parties! (just kidding).”
Typically, the only criteria that the Senate considers when determining whether or not to approve a club is that it uses money from the student activities fund to pay for student experiences (as opposed to commodities), which Yacht Club stated it would do.
One Senator pointed out the hypocrisy of rejecting Yacht Club when Tattoo Club was funded for the same overarching purpose of opening up access to different experiences. If anything, subsidizing tattoos for individual students constitutes more of a commodity than renting a boat for students to learn how to sail together. “Taylor’s student talk email was a disgusting misrepresentation of the situation and an attempt to rial [sic] up the student body in opposition to this club instead of having to deal with addressing some of the dangerous precedents set by this body. It should be noted that Taylor was adamantly in favor of tattoo club, which we openly opposed.”
Yacht Club’s founders hope that Senate will approve their club if they change its name. “I by no means want anyone to feel uncomfortable. I would just like a space on campus where we as students can enjoy and learn more about sailing, boating, the ocean, and sea chanteys,” said Fox. “After the meeting, we are planning to change the name of the club or possibly drop the matter altogether.”