Over the weekend, several places on Pitzer College’s campus were spray painted with pro-Trump messages. Last Sunday, Brian Carlisle—the Vice President for Student Affairs at Pitzer College—responded to the vandalism and set off a firestorm of student responses.
Carlisle condemned the “hate filled message”—referring to the phrase “Make America,” presumably the first half of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign slogan—that was written over an on-campus mural. Carlisle also stated, “harassment and intimidation will never be accepted at Pitzer” and said that the administration is conducting an investigation to hold someone accountable.
Carlisle’s response was not sufficient for students who believe writing “Trump” is a racist hate crime and emblematic of “institutional racism” at Pitzer. “The way Administration has failed to classify these incidents as a hate crime has put students of color safety at risk and has proved to students of color that their safety and well-being is not a priority of this institution,” claims Sarah Roschdi (PZ ‘17). “Students of color are being directly targeted by protrump messages and their [sic] has been zero steps taken to secure the safety and wellbeing of students of color on this campus.”
Haylee Sindt (PZ ‘18) did not agree with Roschdi’s sentiments. “Every person that has been affected by this, has the absolute right to feel this way,” wrote Sindt. “You may say that it makes you feel unsafe or that this is a hate crime,” she adds. “However… this is not a hate crime, it was not done to maliciously harass or intimidate ‘people of color,’ and in no way shape or form should it ‘negatively and personally impact people.’”
“Please tell me how the words ‘Trump’ and ‘Make America’ is threatening or triggering,” Sindt continues. “What would the campus’s reaction be if ‘Vote for Bernie’ or ‘Hillary is Awesome’ was written on the mural? Would people still be reacting to the degree to which they are? We all talk about how these colleges are a free space, however, in reality they are not. The second that someone with opposing views, [whose] ideals are vastly out numbered, expresses their opinions, people shut them down, tell them they are wrong, and that they are making them feel ‘unsafe.’”
Several students expressed outrage in response to Sindt’s email. “Your email dismisses the experiences of every person of color on this campus,” Lillian Horin (PZ ‘17) said to Sindt, who is Hispanic. Horin also criticized Sindt’s use of quotation marks around the word unsafe. “Do not trivialize how people of color feel on this campus and in the world around us. We do not feel ‘unsafe,’ we feel unsafe,” wrote Horin. “Just because you don’t feel it doesn’t mean the rest of us are merely whining. If we feel unsafe, believe us. We have no reason to lie.” Horin added that the words ‘Trump” and “Make America” are, in fact, racist because “one need only look at his [Trump’s] supporters to see that it is.”
“I am not here to explain stereotypes, micro aggression, white privilege, or systematic oppression to you,” stated Jessica Saint Fleur (PZ ‘18). “It is no secret that Trump’s campaign is centered around these aspects of oppression. His entire campaign is built on bigotry and hate.”
One student even accused Sindt of being the one who defaced the mural. “Your tone in your email sounds like you might be/know the person who vandalized the mural,” states Basha Brulee-Wills (PZ’ 17). Brulee-Wills then encourages Sindt to think about why she is at Pitzer, “because it possibly cannot be that you’re striving to uphold Pitzer’s core values.”
Pitzer’s Dean of Students, Moya Carter, shared her opinions regarding on-campus vandalism as well. “This is not the place to speak to the foolish, embarrassing, hate filled, Islamophobic, fact devoid behavior being represented by some of the candidates running for President of the United States,” wrote Carter in an email to the student body. Just sentences later, Carter claims that “Pitzer College is a community that strives for critical thought, diversity of beliefs and freedom of expression.”
“When they have nothing better to argue, they immediately accuse someone of being racist,” Sindt told the Claremont Independent. “Many students do not know how to accept what students with differing ideas have to say, so they immediately shut them down. People need to learn that not everyone in life will agree with them.”