The following opinion piece is written as a guest contribution to the Claremont Independent.
Last month marked two years since my admittance to Claremont McKenna College. I remember the overwhelming sense of accomplishment and anticipation I felt as I signed and returned my acceptance letter. I had joined the ranks of an elite group of extremely talented students and gained access to an incredible alumni network. I had every opportunity in front of me, all thanks to CMC.
Part of my excitement was that all of my future class would begin with a clean slate. The barriers and cliques of high school had been leveled. It didn’t matter whether we were from a private school or public school, AP or IB program, American or international students. We were all CMCers now; individual work ethic and character would define us from that day on.
Of course, I soon found that these feelings, though well-founded in principle, were naïve and incomplete. There are other factors beyond merit that affect achievement. At such a small campus, it soon became clear that “who you know” and reputation is a large advantage when competing within the CMC bubble. I soon learned that a minor degree of cronyism is a fact of life and social outreach is a means to success. While it is not true meritocracy, I like to believe that these opportunities are available to all and correlate with effort.
But my concern is not networking; my concern is its exploitation. Before Spring Break, the ASCMC Elections Committee was forced to ask former ASCMC President and Vice President to remove themselves from deliberation on the new Executive Board appointments and restart the appointment process. While we do not have all the facts, it has come to light that membership in a “private organization” significantly skewed the former officers’ decision-making. Since then, we have had underwhelming journalistic coverage (aside from satire) on the issue. In order for us to avoid a more calamitous ethical issue, I find it necessary to put forth a number of issues raised by this recently uncovered secret society.
My objective in this article is to first reaffirm the foundation of CMC culture and then argue that secret organizations are antithetical to it. Yes, secret societies are self-important and laughable, but they are equally threatening to CMC’s culture and should not be dismissed.
The “Princes” pose a serious problem for the delicate balance of our inclusive philosophy and selective on-campus organizations. It rails against our inclusive culture and delegitimizes campus leadership positions. If students suspect, or have substantial proof that, a group has underhandedly manipulated distributions of power on campus, student media has a responsibility to fully investigate and report on these unacceptable actions. In response, I believe the student body must perpetuate a culture that actively discourages further creation or reconvening of any such secret groups.
While we can reasonably anticipate a certain degree of cronyism in on-campus selection processes, secretive and calculated motives are much different from the advantages of equal opportunity networking. Networking is fair because it is open to everyone—secret societies are neither.
Students apply for the Executive Board because they believe they will be judged on the merits of their applications, their ability to work with fellow students, and possibly by who they know. But, in this case, they cannot reasonably suspect that those reading their applications will have blind allegiances to their competitors based upon subjective membership in a “private organization.” When the Elections Committee calls potential candidates, including myself and other current “members of the corporation”, to tell them what they should and should not run for in order to better maintain footholds for a sputtering old boys’ club, they violate the premises of CMC. When they manufacture an Executive Board based not on merit, or even connectedness, but in accordance with secret frat membership, they pose a greater threat to our social scene than any Friday class or TNC fence. Moreover, they remove the collaborative attitude of CMC’s culture, breaking down relationships between students and replacing them with undue barriers like those found at other colleges to which I refused to apply. And the threat is not limited to the social scene: the Princes systematically threaten the career opportunities of non-members, putting themselves before others in a predetermined selection process.
Two great ironies of the past few weeks have been that (1) these actions happened at the hands of the ASCMC administration that promised transparency and reform and (2) just days after writing an open letter intended to resurrect the social scene through inclusiveness, the same individuals attempted to preserve the influence of a “private organization” through pervasive measures that are just as much of a threat to CMC culture. We need a critical eye to look past the messaging and into the inconsistencies of CMC politics.
At best, we know that a more extreme form of cronyism took place in the original Executive Board appointment process —a form that violates CMC’s networking-as-usual. At worst, we have found a group that challenges the fabric of CMC, a systematic virus that extends to other prominent groups on campus. In either case, these actions are intolerable. We need publications to start a discussion regarding campus culture and how to reconcile ambition and ethics. The virus must be further investigated by the student press and strongly discouraged by future CMCers.
To begin this discussion, the student body needs the complete story. Through investigation, we must find the extent of the damage and set a standard so that future campus leaders act in accordance with the opportunities guaranteed by our acceptance letters. While we move on from the transgressions of the past, we must not forget CMC’s inclusive foundation and protect against the actions and groups that threaten it.