Tag Archives: Claremont McKenna College

Student Leader: “I Would Bully That Girl Out of School”

On Friday, the CMC Forum posted an April 26 letter sent by the former head of the Claremont McKenna College Alumni Association, Carol Hartman (CMC ’86), to the CMC administration and board of trustees. “The college setting may be the first time some students have to exhibit empathy, proportionality, responsibility and respect to their peers who might have very differing beliefs, opinions or perspective. It is not the prerogative of a student, who is on campus for 4 years, to change the historical culture and perspective of our college,” Hartman writes. “I do not believe that any majority of the alumni are supporting of the current events and cultural shift at the college.” Hartman goes on to criticize president Chodosh, “A President who leads with his own mission, Social Justice, rather than CMC’s mission. They are not aligned.”

Hartman then alludes to an example where her daughter, Kate Hartman, (CMC ’19) “experienced racism, delivered by those who say they will not tolerate it.” When the junior Hartman posted a link to Obama’s remarks that college students are too “coddled” on her Facebook page, Sarah Gissinger (CMC ’17), who was recently appointed to be a Fellow for Diversity and Inclusion by the Dean of Students office, responded by telling her “since you are white, you have absolutely no business making such a comment.” Ironically, Gissinger later commented, “As a white person, you will never experience racism.”

“Claremont McKenna College was once a remarkable place,” notes the senior Hartman. “My experience as a student was that it was a meritocracy. It is not today.”

“My daughter has applied and been accepted as a transfer to other universities,” she adds. “The culture of inclusion has created a hostile environment for those who have a different opinion and who are not Persons of Color.”

Some students did not appreciate Hartman’s statements. Liat Kaplan (CMC ’17)—the Editor-in-Chief of The Golden Antlers, a student publication—responded to the letter with a Facebook post stating, “Tbh [to be honest] I would bully that girl out of school if she wasn’t already transferring.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 4.55.04 PM

“It’s such an aggressive environment,” Kate Hartman told the Claremont Independent. “It seems like people really are not willing to sit down and listen to the opinions of others.”

“By choosing to make disagreements on campus climate personal, students undermine the opportunity to learn and grow from differing opinions,” she added. “I think there is a larger trend of people veiling a desire to silence opposing opinions as activism and progressive inclusion.”

_______________________

Image Source: Flickr

W. Kamau Bell: “I’m Married to a White Woman with Two Mixed-Race Kids, So I’m a Bridge-Builder”

Last night, the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College hosted comedian Walter Kamau Bell to give a talk about ending racism. Prior to the event, Bell told the Claremont Independent, “I absolutely have an agenda. It won’t be hidden. And I’m also married to a white woman with two mixed-race kids, so I’m a bridge-builder.” Additionally, Bell noted, “the best thing that ever happened to me was that a friend of mine in Oakland—white woman, lesbian, black kids—just to say, this is a very specific type of person. In Oakland there’s a lot of those. And we were talking about my racism show. And she said, ‘Kamau, you can’t end racism and make sexism worse.’”

Bell, introduced as a “Social Justice Ambassador,” stated that he plans to end racism by instructing white people to form a tighter-knit community and to take pride in their race. “White people, you have to have some pride,” said Bell. “There’s gotta be reasons for white people to have good white pride. Right now, you’re letting white people run rampant, and that makes the rest of us have to work harder. And that’s bullshit.” During his talk, Bell addressed the white audience members. “White people, I can see your faces, the lights are on, the lights are shining. Say it loud, say, ‘I’m white and I’m proud!’ Here we go, white people. This is happening, this is a thing. ‘I’m white and I’m proud!’”

Bell began his show by listing the words he was not going to use during the performance. “Words like ‘minority,’ ‘Caucasian,’ ‘colorblind,’ ‘people of color,’ ‘nonwhite.’ Words like ‘diversity,’ words like ‘multicultural,’ ‘multiculturalism,’ ‘multiculturalocity,’” [sic] the list began. “Words like, ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.’ And finally, the last word you won’t hear in this show is ‘the n-word.’ Oh, don’t be confused—you’ll definitely hear the word ‘nigger’—you just won’t hear ‘the n-word.’ In fact, ‘NIGGER!’” he shouted, displaying the word in all caps on the projector. Bell did not use this word at any other time during the performance, but he did use the word “diversity” despite his initial plans not to.

Bell later stated that he feels sorry for college students because “You’re all on Twitter, you’re all on Snapchat, you’re all on Instagram, and so the world finds out what happens when you’re in college and colleges can’t be these little tight petri dishes anymore.” Though Bell stated, “I feel bad for you guys. I could’ve made a lot of mistakes and you never heard about it,” that didn’t stop him from showing a Facebook photo of a group of current students’ regrettable Halloween costumes and making fun of them in front of their peers. “It’s America, it’s your country. Enjoy your freedom. But there are consequences. That’s how free speech works,” Bell stated.

Bell, whose performance was—as promised—heavy on partisan content, also shared his opinions on Donald Trump. “I don’t give a shit if you’re not voting for him. That’s your boy, and you’re connected through whiteness,” Bell stated. “It’s not about voting, it’s about stopping the speech.” Bell also criticized the staff of the Claremont Independent during his show. “Latinos and black people get killed by police unarmed way more than white people. That’s all facts. But you’re like, I don’t know, I’m still not convinced… I write for the Independent.’”

When the Independent asked Bell about free speech from a comedian’s perspective—specifically, comedians such as Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld citing political correctness as a reason not to perform on college campuses—Bell stated that oversensitivity had nothing to do with the issue. “The story was that somebody told Chris Rock that they had stopped performing at colleges,” he said. “And then Chris told Jerry Seinfeld, and Jerry Seinfeld told the media.” Bell also noted, “Colleges are always more politically correct than real society because when you go to college you’re supposed to learn new things. That’s just how it works.”

Bell said the reason he thinks these comedians don’t perform at colleges is because colleges don’t want them. “At some point you age out of performing at colleges. Colleges don’t necessarily want to hear what a man in his sixties, like Jerry Seinfeld, or a man of Chris Rock’s—in his fifties—thinks,” the 44-year-old Bell stated. Additionally, Bell claimed, “You can’t afford those guys because they’re billionaires. Or millionaires, almost billionaires.”

Chris Rock might disagree with Bell’s analysis of the story. “I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative,” Rock stated just over a year ago. “Not in their political views—not like they’re voting Republican—but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody.” Similarly, Jerry Seinfeld recently stated, “I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges, they’re so PC.’” Fortunately, Bell told the Independent that he is “a big fan also of finding out that I’m wrong about something and having people explain to me how I could be right about it.”

 

_______________________________

 

Image source: Flavorwire

The Enemies of Diversity

It’s likely that every single person at CMC would claim to be pro-diversity, yet it is remarkably difficult to find someone who means it. In fact, our greatest self-proclaimed advocates for diversity seem opposed to actual diversity in any form.

At a basic level all diversity of human beings – be it on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, or something else entirely – is heterogeneity of thought. It’s generally accepted that race and ethnicity are social constructs. If we accept this premise, then racial and ethnic diversity boils down to a different experience of life as determined by the mechanisms of cultures and subcultures. The same is true for any trait tied to social status: gender, sexuality, social awkwardness, hair-color, foot-size, etc. That diversity of perspective manifests itself in a diversity of thought. Someone who has been evicted in the name of eminent domain will consider highway construction differently than a trucker who will think differently than a government official and so on and so forth. So it is logically necessary to advocate for diversity of thought if one is to advocate for diversity of race, gender, sexuality, etc. If you are an advocate for diversity of thought, then you must advocate for the idea of different thoughts slamming together.

Instead, our campuses’ advocates of “diversity” want the opposite. These last several weeks the 5Cs have been hit by a series of calls for less diversity of thought in the name of diversity itself. My campus, CMC, in particular fell under fire for being “unsafe” for students of color, queer students, and other “underprivileged” groups. I would argue that the “danger” the protestors cited is an inevitable consequence of multiculturalism. This is in no way meant to deny that the incidents cited were not painful, but simply that they a necessary byproduct of diversity. In fact, the solutions they proposed would amount to creating segregated spaces and programs of indoctrination, effectively reducing, if not eradicating, diversity.

Most students would, at this point, object to my argument. They are likely to say that “diversity” initiatives are not in fact about diversity, but rather a sort of cultural victory. The reasoning would follow like this: certain groups have been marginalized and oppressed in the past (and present) and the way to make amends is to ensure members of those groups end up (in this case) in higher education. To put it bluntly: it does not matter if they mix and interact, just that everyone gets a degree. This is a strange argument in many ways. Oddest of all, it rests on the assumption that if one member of a social group receives something that somehow benefits the whole group. Underneath that lies the premise that these social constructs like race have manifested themselves in a collective well-being.

This argument vastly oversimplifies social structure. Individuals are affected by unique intersections of different cultural forces. Being a black man from Detroit is different from being a black man in San Francisco. While it is conceivable that a black man in Detroit might benefit through a black man from San Francisco attending CMC, it is just as reasonable that he could benefit from a white man attending CMC. The black San Franciscan could serve as a role model to the black Michigander, but if the white man was from Detroit (i.e. if they had a shared cultural identity), he could be a role model too. When we look at the black Michigander’s quality of life more broadly, the claim seems even more suspect. If the white Michigander returned to Detroit, wealthier than when he left, he could very well pour much needed wealth into the economy by employing the black Michigander. To say that this would do him less good than seeing a random black man from San Francisco become successful seems unreasonable to my mind. At the very least, it complicates matters significantly. So I would argue that the variables affecting cultural status are too complex for us to conclude that surface level diversity is valuable in and of itself.

Moreover, nowhere in their demands did the protestors actually call for a more diverse student body. They would have some grounds to do so. Like most institutions of higher education, CMC is distinctly lacking in lower income students. Tuition is very high and the cost of educating students is even higher. That makes it difficult to draw in a diverse student body. Minorities are disproportionally affected by income inequality. Instead of citing this and arguing that CMC should make an effort to increase financial aid packages, the protestors called for increased operational costs. Now, you could make the argument that the spending would make CMC more attractive to the underprivileged. The problem is that not receiving enough financial aid makes it nearly impossible for an underprivileged student attend CMC. That’s just it for them. Feeling uncomfortable at CMC is a softer barrier to entry. Even if it should be addressed, it would not be possible to do so from an institutional level without destroying diversity altogether.

Whether in a sectioned-off resource center or across the whole of campus, it is impossible to construct a “safe space” unless you eradicate all meaningful diversity. People – even of the same race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. – are unique and have their own unique experiences that shape their worldview. Because they are limited in this capacity, people are often insensitive towards one another. This is unfortunate and when individual instances surface, they should be addressed. However, it is an inevitable byproduct of diversity. This is why loving, thriving married couples generally argue fairly often. If you are to partner with another person, to understand and care for them, you have to candidly discuss how you both feel and what you both think. Couples in healthy marriages know how to do so kindly and maturely, but they still do it. Still, neither member is “safe.” The only way to keep an individual “safe” in this manner is to essentially annihilate the root of the insensitivity: diversity. Driving out or silencing those with different cultural experiences is a good place to start, but if you want real homogeny, you have to go deeper and strangle any diversity of thought.

Be it mandatory sensitivity trainings or general education requirements, indoctrination accomplishes this goal in the short term. Now, the proposed programs are nowhere near as Orwellian as Scripps students’ demand for required anti-oppression training to brainwash its student body, but protestors want CMC to become more like Scripps in this regard. They want to institutionalize this social pressure; they want the power to bully students and faculty into agreeing. As someone who attended Scripps College, I can report that this indoctrination does often succeed in ending discussions before they begin and creating a mindless space in which students are generally too afraid to question the views their institution has handed them. The general education requirements make your GPA dependent on submission to their world view. This was my experience in CORE I, where my teacher would cut off questions or comments that were contrary to a particular brand of progressive thought and would grade down assignments that did not match her ideology. You simply agreed for the sake of the assignment, but the class built in the habit of silence and capitulation.

Fortunately, for those like myself who actually desire diversity, CMC has a long stood out as an institution dedicated to individualism. Approximately 30% of CMC students are conservatives. In the range of American campuses, this makes CMC one of the most conservative colleges, which gives you a sense of just how little diversity of thought exists in higher education. Moreover, CMC is actively working to bring in a more diverse student body. Announced last year by President Hiram Chodosh, the Student Imperative is an unprecedented program that adds $100 million to the endowment in order to “create more need-based and merit-based awards in support of our Admission Officers as they push into new neighborhoods, locales, and schools – suburban, urban, rural – in search of those young brilliant minds who just need a chance.”

CMC has nearly reached its goal and, given its rapid success, is preparing to reach $200 million. Such a move would bring in real, meaningful diversity to the campus, rather than a pseudo-diversity agenda pushed onto the CMC administration by the recent protests.

____________

Image Source: Flickr

I, Too, Dissent

Dean Spellman,

I’m sorry I am part of a community that contorts attempts at reasonable gestures into acts of “violence.”  I’m sorry I am part of a community where every word, gesture, and even campaign contribution is subject to judgment and scrutiny by those who claim their mission is to combat judgment and fight for equality.  I’m sorry that I have failed to stand up for my beliefs and your rights as an administrator because as a white, privileged, cis-gendered, able-bodied, male student my views carry no weight in the eyes of the masses and can easily ostracize me as an unsympathetic bigot.  Please know that there are students like myself who think this movement, while rooted in some very concrete details, was carried to incongruous levels and placed administrators in unfair confrontational positions.  We are humans, we make mistakes. A poor word selection should not incite chaos, but rather a dialogue, acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and plan of action for the future.  You made those attempts, yet had no positive reception.  I am deeply saddened by the stain the public response has left on our faculty and campus name.

I wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Ben Sacks

Dean Spellman Resigns Following Student Protest

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.”

CMC Students Feel Marginalized, Demand Resources and Resignations

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 students a 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.

12238130_972503272791670_491597233384897364_o

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.

11261030_691388034331225_2148952825955265066_n

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.

Dear CMC: Stop Treating Our Social Scene like a Case Competition

On August 30, the CMC administration and ASCMC announced their “new strategy of responsible moderation” that will be implemented this year. In this strategy, students are given tactical guidelines for how, when, and where to socialize on campus. Framed as a way to support a “healthy, inclusive, and respectful residential culture,” this new strategy is the heaviest set of rules and regulations enacted at CMC to control student behavior and social interactions.

First, I want to fully acknowledge the real and serious concerns that CMC is trying to address. No one disagrees with the administration’s basic premise: all students should feel safe and act responsibly when they go out. And there is no doubt that in these past few years, high-risk alcohol and drug consumption has been a problem that has put students at risk and caused harm to our community. However, the individuals that engage in such dangerous behavior constitute a small minority of us, and the latest policy changes are a classic example of administrative overreach that infringes on CMC’s most cherished freedoms.

There are a lot of things that make CMC special, but our vibrant and inclusive social scene is a point of pride that distinguishes us from every other college in the country. Unlike other schools, all of our parties are planned by our student government, rather than through an exclusive Greek system. From 6:01 to Pirate Party, everyone is invited and welcomed with open arms—no matter your class year, background, or whether or not you choose to drink. It is not just our high-caliber academics and engaging courses that make us a strong community; it is our unparalleled social scene that makes everyone feel included and comfortable to be themselves.

The administration’s new guidelines are highly inconsistent with CMC’s character in this respect. The guidelines are divided into two parts: formal and informal activities. If students are in groups of more than 15 people and alcohol is present, they must register with the Student Activities Office at least two business days in advance. The event is limited to 30 people and must comply with the “Guidelines for the Use of Alcohol at Formal Activities or Events.”

The “Informal Activity Guidelines” focus on the day-to-day activities of students, such as gatherings in dorm rooms and residential lounges. These “gatherings” are limited to 15 students who are allowed to drink alcohol, as long as they are not being disruptive. Students were told that if their informal gathering grows to 16 people, they must “reduce the number of people at the gathering to 15 or less or the gathering will be shut down.”

The problem with this policy, in particular, is that it promotes exclusivity. A gathering of 15 people or more could easily form by accident from students just hanging out in their dorm hall, friends inviting their friends, and others who walk by and feel welcomed to join. Instead of encouraging these students to intermix and mingle, the 15-person limit forces students to kick other students out of their gatherings and bar anyone new from coming in. In effect, these policies encourage negative, cliquey behavior—which is antithetical to CMC’s traditionally open culture.

Furthermore, these “informal gatherings” can only occur at designated times and spaces. They are permitted between 5:00 PM to midnight on Sunday through Thursday, and from noon to 1:00 AM on Friday and Saturday. They may only take place in residential areas, such as dorm halls, designated lounges, BBQ areas, and the Senior Apartments. (The Dean of Students created a map to clarify these parameters.) In these “designated areas,” you can carry an open, single use serving of alcohol. Outside of these areas, such as in North Quad and Parent’s Field, you can carry alcohol, but only “if you are headed somewhere.”

As for activity regulations, beer pong is permitted in six designated spaces (north side of Beckett, Green BBQ area, Wohlford BBQ area, Claremont Hall amphitheater, Apt. 681 BBQ area, and the Wagner BBQ area south of Kramer Walkway). Other drinking games, high frequency shots, loud music, and discourteous behavior that infringe on others’ right to use those spaces are violations. By designating the times, spaces, and activities for student interaction, the administration can more easily manage CMC’s social scene.

This comprehensive strategy sounds like the most optimal method to minimize CMC’s legal liabilities. CMC is now given full control over almost every aspect of how students interact in public spaces. The problem is that it hurts students more than it helps them by setting the most unnatural, unrealistic guidelines for students to follow.

These policies do little, if anything, to mitigate the high-risk alcohol and drug problems on campus that this strategy was intended to address. The administration has not shown any positive correlation between group sizes and levels of alcohol or drug consumption. The drinking problem is a cultural problem: if people want to drink, then they are going to drink, whether they are with 15, 30, or 100 people. These restrictive policies are more likely to encourage students to privately binge drink in their rooms and go out heavily intoxicated, so they can avoid breaking any new guidelines for carrying alcohol or drinking at unregistered events. Instead of cultivating an open, safe environment for students, or addressing the root cause of these problems, these guidelines incentivize students to engage in more dangerous behavior.

The worst part is that the administration and ASCMC are acting as if these new guidelines are actually in the best interest of students. How is it in our best interest to limit how many people we can interact with? How is it in our best interest to create exclusive guest lists? How is it in our best interest to be treated like walking liabilities, rather than human beings?

We do not need a “strategy” to interact with our friends. We are not just another component of what seems like CMC’s ongoing case competition to find various ways to minimize as much legal risk as possible for our institution. 

It is clear that we are never going to have the same open culture and social freedoms afforded to us in years past. I, along with many other students, have come to terms with that. But for the administration to say that it is trying to create a “healthy, inclusive, and respectful residential culture” through its new policy is naïve at best, and disingenuous at worst.

So cut to the chase, CMC. What are you actually trying to achieve through this policy? We want your honest answers, not your calculated strategies.

_______________________________

Image Source: Flickr

On the Athenaeum and its Director

I was intellectually awakened at the Athenaeum.

It all started when one of my professors spontaneously assigned an essay entitled “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.” The author of the piece was speaking at the Athenaeum later that week, and my professor wanted each of us to read the essay to encourage us to attend the lecture. When one of my classmates asked who the author was, my professor could not pronounce his name. “William Der-SHOE-witsDerez-EWE-wicksDeer-SEW-wiz,” he stammered. After a few more attempts, he gave up, and we agreed simply to call him “Bill D.”

As I read Bill D.’s essay, I could feel myself changing. My heart beat rapidly, my eyes watered – it felt as if a fire had been lit in my chest. Each sentence seemed to pry my soul further and further out of the confines of my body. His words were tearing down the artificial armor that I had encased myself in over the years. I could feel the pressures of society and the market and the world begin to alleviate, as I began to see myself more clearly for who I was.

Later that week, I attended Bill D.’s lecture. That night, I bought his book. And over the next several weeks, I read everything that he had ever written. I have attended five of his lectures, sat-in on several writing workshops that he has hosted, and had lunch with him once. I still read one of his essays, “Solitude and Leadership,” which I consider his best work to date, at least once a month.

Of course, I now know Bill D. as William Deresiewicz (De-REZ-awits). Deresiewicz was the first non-fiction writer whose work made me feel as if I had just been benevolently pummeled. It’s an odd feeling, an almost indescribable amalgamation of joy and shame. Deresiewicz’s writing often made me embarrassed about the way that I had formerly seen myself and the world. But, at the same time, I was happy to see my failures for what they were before I had made any irreversible mistakes, and I was excited about the new opportunities that lay before me to live a life that truly gave me meaning. The feeling is almost spiritual – like the out-of-body sensation of realizing that there is something out there greater than oneself; like standing on the highest mountain top and staring out at the vastness of the world; like looking up at the stars, or at a piece of art that captures something profoundly unsayable about human nature.

Prior to Deresiewicz, I had only felt this sort of sensation reading the works of Jane Austen, whose characters made me ashamed of the lesser aspects of my own character, but who also served as guides to help me realize what my best possible self could look like. Although Austen was a major influence – and I have been similarly affected by the novels of Leo Tolstoy, Feodor Dostoevsky, and Henry James, in particular – something about the clarity with which Deresiewicz diagnosed my illness, undisguised by character and plot, struck me to the bone in a way that was different. Deresiewicz challenged, in plain diction, the unfounded assumptions I had made about who I was and who I wanted to be. He put in rational words the emotions that erupted within me when I read Austen, and he has helped me to recognize these feelings again and again in the works of Tolstoy and others.

I am grateful that I happened to stumble upon Deresiewicz and his wonderful essays. He has irrevocably changed my life. But I also realize that it was a complete accident. Had my professor never mentioned Deresiewicz’s essay, had I not attended his talk at the Athenaeum – had he never been invited to the Athenaeum in the first place – I am not sure who I would be today. That is why the Athenaeum is such an important – perhaps the most important – institution in forwarding (and reviving) the liberal arts tradition at CMC. The Athenaeum opens students up to a wide variety of ideas and perspectives that their often narrowly focused classes and specialized faculty do not. Several of my friends were not inspired by Deresiewicz like I was, and I have attended lectures that did not move me the way they moved others. You never know which speaker, which idea, is going to change your life forever. But the Athenaeum exponentially increases the chances that you will find that idea.

For this reason, the way that CMC has conducted the search for the next Athenaeum Director is troubling.

Former Athenaeum Director Bonnie Snortum stepped down from her post in 2014 after 25 years of dedicated service to the college. This past school year, the wife of CMC President Hiram Chodosh, Priya Junnar, has served as interim-director. Mrs. Junnar is now one of four finalists pursuing the full-time director position. This is not a problem in and of itself, but it requires the college to be painfully aware of the potential conflict of interest in the hiring process. The next Atheaeum Director should be chosen for her ability to perform the important duties of the position, not because of her connection to the school and its president. It is the college’s duty not only to ensure that a conflict of interest is not present when choosing the next director, but that even the appearance of a conflict of interest does not discredit the ultimate decision of the hiring committee.

CMC has clearly not done this. The six-person panel selected to choose the next director consists of two tenured faculty (Professors Esther Chung-Kim and Sven Arndt), two students (former ASCMC President Ben Tillotson ’15 and Athenaeum Student Manager Hester Lam ‘15), and two administrators who report directly to President Chodosh (Director of Academic Planning Diana Graves and Vice-President for Student Affairs Jefferson Huang). If Mrs. Junnar is a finalist for the position, then administrative personnel who work directly under her husband should not be on the committee tasked with selecting the eventual director.

Furthermore, at the candidate interviews (I attended three of four, including Mrs. Junnar’s), I was shocked by the apparent favoritism that several students showed Mrs. Junnar over the other candidates. Several students clarified Mrs. Junnar’s answers to difficult questions during her interview, and even answered the questions outright before Mrs. Junnar had the chance to answer them herself. Yet, in the other candidate interviews, these same students came across as uninterested, as if they had already made up their minds – if they even showed up at all. Even worse, during a lunch interview, one group of students spoke with the prospective candidate for about an hour, while another group of students sitting at a different table talked loudly and joked obnoxiously with each other to the point where it became difficult to hear the candidate’s answers to the first group’s questions. These students only came to the candidate’s table in the final minutes of the interview, yet each student’s evaluation of the candidate carried the same weight in the decision-making process.

The Athenaeum is too important to get this wrong. Even if Mrs. Junnar is the right candidate for the job, she has not been given the chance to demonstrate it in an impartial setting. Under these circumstances, if Mrs. Junnar is selected as the next director, then it is nothing short of a scandal – at a school that knows the word all too well.