Six students from Claremont McKenna College may face expulsion for violating the student code during an April protest of the appearance of conservative scholar Heather Mac Donald, the students’ lawyer said in a statement before local media this week.
The public appearance by the attorney, who represents the students on behalf of Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives, a policy and legal network dedicated to supporting “current Black Liberation Movements,” marks the first major news about the investigation since CMC’s faculty voted in May to permit seniors who were under investigation to receive conditional degrees, despite the ongoing disciplinary proceedings.
The college told the Independent that the proceedings for the students in question are likely to conclude “by the end of June.” As far as the nature of the penalties the students might face, the college simply said that “any students who are found responsible for violations of College policy will be assigned sanctions appropriate to the severity of the violation.”
In a phone conversation with the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the students’ lawyer painted her clients as the real victims. After pointing out that the students belong to various marginalized groups—among them students of color, women, and LGBTQ students—she accused the college of refusing to meet with her clients prior to the upcoming hearings, though she admitted subsequently that the students have already had several opportunities to make their case and plead for leniency before college officials.
“The students are making an appeal inside and outside of the disciplinary hearings,” she said by phone Monday to the Bulletin. “Let’s get into a dialogue. Why put degrees on the line to take punitive disciplinary process?”
In its statement, the college emphasized that its conduct review process provides ample due process to students facing possible sanctions, including opportunities to appeal following the dispensation of final disciplinary judgments. “The College is currently conducting a full, fair, and impartial conduct investigation and review process with individual CMC students, which will conclude with a determination of findings, sanctions if warranted, and appeals.”
In a Facebook Live press conference, Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives emphasized the “peaceful” nature of the April protest, which they described as an expression of “free speech.” And to the extent that college policy was violated, the group explained, it was an act of self-defense, brought about by the speaker herself. It was Heather Mac Donald, as a vocal opponent of Black Lives Matter and an advocate of stronger policing in high-crime communities, who “made students concerned for their safety and led to the campus protests,” said Povi-Tamu Bryant, a spokeswoman for Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives.
Neither the press conference nor the students’ assemblage of legal counsel appears to have fazed college officials, who reiterated the college’s commitment to taking appropriate action against those who violated policy during the protests, during which the surging crowd, mostly comprised of non-CMC students, blocked all entrances and exits—including emergency exits—to the venue where Mac Donald was scheduled to speak and forcibly blocked fellow students and even faculty from entering the building to attend the event.
“Students who participated in the disruptive demonstration on April 6, 2017, were provided several overt cues that their behavior was in violation of policy,” the college told the Independent. “Students physically took apart barrier fencing that was set up to allow for protestors to exercise their free speech rights while also allowing for entrance into the event. In addition, students disregarded Campus Safety Officers who were positioned to allow guests’ entry into the event.”
The college also emphasized that its “decision to exercise restraint by not using law enforcement to physically remove or arrest the people barricading the building did not signify any endorsement or approval of the tactics used that day to deny entry to the building and the attempted shut down of the presentation that was scheduled to take place in that building.”
If the disciplinary hearings next week yield sanctions, Claremont McKenna would be the first of the five Claremont Colleges to take any kind of disciplinary action against its students for violating campus policy at the April protest.
Asked whether it planned to investigate Pomona students who broke college rules at the protest, Pomona College confirmed to the Independent that it had “been in communication with Claremont McKenna,” but refused to comment any further about the subject of those communications or whether any disciplinary action against Pomona students might take place.
“We do not have any control over the processes at the other Claremont Colleges,” a Scripps College representative told the Independent, “but any request that a Scripps student undergo our disciplinary process would be evaluated, pursuant to our commitment to a fair and impartial process.”
Pitzer College, meanwhile, demurred. “The College has not received a report [from CMC],” said a college spokesperson in an email. “If we do, Pitzer will comply with our policies.”
Asked whether it is Pitzer’s policy not to investigate the misconduct of its own students unless another college urges or demands that it do so, the same spokesperson did not respond.