Category Archives: Opinion

A Wise rethinking

A few weeks ago, Tim Wise came to Pomona College amongst much fanfare (not to mention the unanimous support of every student government in the 5Cs) to discuss race issues in the United States. His talk covered his theory of white domination in the U.S., and how affirmative action can help counteract this past by increasing diversity in the upper levels of society.

I strongly support the idea that we need to increase dialogue between races to understand the perceptions and experiences of each group of people. By choosing to either ignore the experiences of others or blissfully surrounding oneself with the views of one’s own race, one supports a culture of hostility and misunderstanding between peoples. That being said, there are a few places where I feel Wise could improve his argument.

Wise claimed that affirmative action was fair because “white folks have twelve years of affirmative action” under their belts by the time they reach college. Wise is obviously pointing here to the disparity in the quality of K-12 education received by different races. What is interesting, though, is that he did not make any mention of a program for improving K-12 education in low-income areas. Would it not be simpler to cut the proverbial Gordian knot and remove the need for affirmative action by improving K-12 education in low-income areas? Although it would take some time and a considerable amount of resources, the effects of improving the education of kids in poorly performing schools would remove the need for affirmative action and allow college admissions to be race blind and fair at the same time (because everyone would roughly have the same education). The need for improved K-12 education has been underlined by research done by Richard H. Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. (found in their book Mismatch) that followed various students who went to university through affirmative action only to drop their desired major (usually in the STEM fields) because their K-12 education did not adequately prepare them for university. For example, Sander and Taylor talked with a black Dartmouth grad who said “people in my class had had science since grammar school, but I wasn’t even introduced to science until my sophomore year of high school… I had never developed the skills I needed to achieve.” Consequently, she changed from a STEM major to a humanities major. In addition, they compiled data that showed that black students at Ivy League schools are half as likely to finish a STEM major compared to whites, even though black students are slightly more likely to aspire to be a STEM major.

On a different, yet related, note, Wise could adjust how he frames his argument to take into account the experiences of low-income whites. Recently, there has been some noteworthy academic literature that shows a distinct similarity in the social problems of lower income whites and those of black and Hispanic minorities. For example, in his book Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010, Charles Murray studies the effects of the growing social and cultural divide between white classes. In addition to discussing how the upper class of whites have gained a large majority of the monetary and intellectual wealth in the US, Murray explains how the lower class of whites have, since the 1960’s, been facing oppressive social problems that are usually associated with black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Specifically, Murray uses Fishtown, a statistical construct, to show how the white lower class, like other low-income minorities, have been plagued by problems such as high crime, lower levels of education, illegitimacy, and joblessness.

In light of this research, the fact that Wise does not address this data is noteworthy. Unlike minorities, whites cannot use affirmative action as a social ladder, even if they come from a low-income neighborhood with dismal education, job, and life prospects. Because of this, Wise should acknowledge the greyness of social inequality by acknowledging the existence of different classes in each race thereby preventing the alienation of potential supporters of his cause.

All in all, although Wise’s argument in favor of increasing dialogue between races is sound, but by focusing on affirmative action as the sole catalyst of social equality he fails to address the root of the problem, namely disparity in K-12 education between upper and lower income neighborhoods. By improving K-12 education for lower income students of every race, we could remove the need to use affirmative action as a corrective force for educational inequality. Moreover, we could better prepare those lower income students with great aspirations to reach their academic goals. Although Wise is quite a controversial figure, this, I believe, is a solution that we could all agree on.

The poison of Tinder

The iPhone application “game” Tinder, bluntly put, is a socially acceptable flirting crutch to meet other people across the 5Cs, in the Claremont area, and within a desired mile radius. In order to become a “player,” users form Tinder accounts through their Facebook profiles by selecting the gender with which they would like to be “matched” and setting a radius of up to 100 miles to confine the area they interact with. In addition, players insert up to four pictures for their counterparts to skim through, and the Facebook setting is advantageous in that it shows how many mutual friends Tinder users have in common. Then the game begins as profile pictures of other Tinder players pop up on the application. By mindlessly swiping the photo left (“not”) or right (“hot”), Tinder users are being trained to mindlessly rate people based solely on appearance. If the “hot” is reciprocated by both users, the two are notified and put in direct contact via Tinder’s instant messaging. The idea of Tinder being portrayed as a game makes this online, virtual flirting network less harsh than it actually is.

The 2010 film The Social Network portrays the real-life event of computer genius Mark Zuckerburg as he creates a website to rate Harvard female students. Clearly, the females are not enthused as their pictures are illegally taken, and they are publicly objectified across Harvard to the audience of men. Ironically, Tinder, similar to Zuckerburg’s website of objectification, is a huge success. This could potentially be because Tinder users willingly post pictures of themselves, the objectification of men and women is mutual, and there is only positive feedback as people only know when they are “hotted,” which results in flattery. Of course we want to engage in conversation with people who find us attractive!

Although I held negative presumptions about Tinder, I downloaded the application. Two weeks later, I created a Tinder account, which lasted for a day. Initially, I was extremely hesitant to engage in conversation with strangers and put my own picture out there. But as soon as I got over that bump, I started “hotting” and “notting” until there was no one else in my ten-mile radius to rate. Within the first two hours of using Tinder, I was hooked–constantly checking on my account and waiting for feedback from male Tinder users. At the end of the day, I reluctantly quit the Tinder app before becoming too addicted.

Constantly staring at my phone screen and making rash decisions as to whom I wanted to know better shifted my mentality to the point where “hotting” and “notting” a person became second nature. Tinder is a poison, shifting outlooks, encouraging us to objectify ourselves, stripping us of valid social skills on a large campus, and confining our minds to one of two decisions—“hot” or not.”

Why not just CMCers should care about sexual violence policy

On Mar. 1, we attended the “5C Deans of Student Life Panel on Sexual Assault Policies,” hosted by the Motley and Sexual Assault Awareness and Resource Committee, both student organizations at Scripps. Five deans from each Claremont College were present for the 2 hour presentation, which consisted of the deans’ answers to pre-screened questions and a brief, live Q&A period.

It was an overdue opportunity for administration to engage students directly for a discussion of changes to sexual assault policies across the 5Cs. The discussion covered many questions ranging from “What do you intend to address in the policies?” to the concern that “previous policies didn’t address all [sexual] identities.”

More insightful, however, were the deans of the other colleges’ answers in relation to those of Dean Mary Spellman, Title IX Coordinator and effective spokesperson for CMC’s changes to sexual violence grievance procedures in light of the Dear Colleague Letter. Dean Spellman pointed out that CMC’s sexual violence grievance procedure policy was already “technically in compliance” before the recent changes. However, it became clear from the discussion that the other
deans were taking a strong lead from Spellman’s initiatives.

For example, Harvey Mudd College VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Maggie Browning, said that Harvey Mudd is in the process of revising its grievance procedures after they “took a look at what Dean Spellman was doing.”

Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College have already finalized the changes to their sexual violence grievance procedures. However, the other three colleges in the Consortium are still in the process of revising their policies.

Most of the deans emphasized that cross-campus policies were of particular importance, and it seems that policies are shifting to require that grievance procedures be carried out on the respondent’s campus. Given the frequency that students interact with one another across the 5Cs, the changes to grievance procedure policies on any of the five campuses have implications for any student at the Claremont Colleges.

Dean of Students at Scripps, Bekki Lee, acknowledged, “in cross-campus cases, the learning curve is to know each other’s processes.” It is concerning that any type of learning curve is involved in the context of serious accusations. Such comments point to the need for students from all 5Cs to educate themselves on changes to grievance procedure policies and their accompanying implications, especially in the area of the 5Cs’ differing definitions of consent and incapacitation. For example, CMC’s rules explicitly state that an individual can give consent under the influence, while other Claremont Colleges consider intoxication prohibitive of consent.

According to Dean Spellman, “each institution has its own culture of how to conduct processes. But what is really important is that where we do intersect, we have to be in agreement.”

The burden is now on students to educate themselves on how and where 5C policies intersect and agree. This starts with the sweeping changes to CMC’s sexual violence grievance procedures, and their problems, something to which we have already dedicated several articles, and something from which several 5C deans say they are taking the lead.

Warning: Do Not Criticize

On February 28, the Harvard Crimson released an ar­ticle advising people who may want to “insult” Harvard to “neither apply, enroll, nor graduate” from the institution. The article, aptly titled “Warning: Do Not Enroll,” admonished members of the political right who criticized the university’s liberal leaning as simply attempting “to curry favor with the more anti-intellectual members of our body politic.” In par­ticular, it rebuked conservative figures such as Mitt Romney, Bill O’Reilly, and Ted Cruz for criticizing Harvard for being too liberal after having attended the university.

The article is bold, commanding, and clear. It also, how­ever, goes too far.

Let me begin by saying that I understand the sentiments of the Crimson. Should alumni of Claremont McKenna Col­lege begin to “insult” or criticize my institution in a manner with which I disagree, I would be fairly irked. I love my col­lege and the intellectual development I am privileged to take part in; I am fairly certain that the Crimson staff writers feel the same way towards Harvard.

In depicting and reproaching would-be critics of the institution as “anti-intellectual,” however, the Crimson may be sending a message eerily familiar to hyper-conservative groups. For example, the Facebook group “If you don’t like America then please don’t live here” declares, “Complaining about my country? Feel free to leave then!! … If you don’t like it, feel free to leave!” The group’s mission, moreover, is “To keep people who hate on this great country, of Yours and Mine, OUT OF IT!” Indeed, we are all familiar, to some degree, with impassioned demands of that nature.

We find such calls objectionable because they run coun­ter the principles of free expression that support healthy demo­cratic deliberation. Criticism does not merely serve as indica­tor of disapproval, but as a marker for improvement. As James Baldwin once remarked, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” As citizens, we should thus remain wary of requests for critics to leave the country.

As students, moreover, we should remain equally wary of requests for potential critics to desist from attending a cer­tain academic institution.

Should we fail – should we become subservient to our passions as opposed to our reason – we may find ourselves in the tragic predicament where freedom of expression is main­tained so long as students subscribe to the dominant perspec­tive. We may no longer find ourselves reading articles titled, “Warning: Do Not Enroll,” but instead reading ones labeled, “Warning: Do Not Criticize.”

All of that being said, I do believe there is an alternative to urging would-be critics to desist from attending an academic institution: publically evaluating the veracity of criticisms.

I assure everyone that this is not a fairly revolutionary idea. In fact, this is actually what happens all the time with student magazines and newspapers. Should a person make an argument that members of an institution find to be distasteful or flawed, another person can make an argument in response and leave it in a student publication. I, for one, find this ap­proach a tad bit more appealing than the one recently adopted by the Crimson. In fact, my belief in such an approach served as the basis my decision to write this article in the first place.

I believe that this approach is beneficial for academic institutions in two regards. First, it supplements the intellec­tual development of students by forcing them to respond ef­fectively to the opinions of others in a reasoned and respectful manner. Such intellectual development thus allows students to gain new perspectives from others.

Second, it fosters a sense of inclusivity within the student body by demonstrating that it is, in fact, okay – nay, praisewor­thy – to disagree with the dominant perspective at times so long as one has a sound argument.

While the Crimson’s sentiments are understandable, the message espoused by the article seems counterproductive. In­stead of seeking to dissuade potential students from attending one’s university, current students should encourage the student body to evaluate the merits of a claim.

But it’s okay if you disagree. I’m open to criticism.

Secret Societies, “Private Organizations,” and Why We Should Care

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.