Claremont McKenna College (CMC) told the Independent in a statement that its faculty voted in May to allow CMC seniors who violated the student code during a protest in early April aimed at preventing Heather Mac Donald from speaking at the college to partake in commencement exercises despite their conduct. According to an internal letter obtained by the Independent, this move is an unprecedented, break from the college’s standard approach to disciplinary cases. Continue reading
After protesters at Claremont McKenna College shut down a scheduled lecture and Q&A with Heather Mac Donald, a critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, by blocking the venue’s entrance, Hiram Chodosh, the president of Claremont McKenna College, promised to crack down on some student protesters for violating college policy.
Chodosh observed that, despite the protesters’ efforts, a live-stream of Mac Donald’s talk was viewed by nearly 250 people live and had been watched over 1,400 times at the time of his email. “In the end, the effort to silence her voice effectively amplified it to a much larger audience,” he wrote.
He outlined the college’s decision to not physically remove protesters, explaining that “based on the judgment of the Claremont Police Department, we [the college] jointly concluded that any forced interventions or arrests would have created unsafe conditions for students, faculty, staff, and guests.”
Chodosh also took the unusual step of promising punishment for those who blocked all exits and entrances to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, where Mac Donald’s talk was scheduled to take place. “Blocking access to buildings violates College policy,” he wrote. “CMC students who are found to have violated policies will be held accountable. We will also give a full report to the other Claremont Colleges, who have responsibility for their own students.”
Chodosh highlighted the fact that the protest was composed of “a large group of students from the Claremont Colleges, including a small number of CMC students and some individuals from external communities.”
Echoing the statement released Thursday evening by Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty at Claremont McKenna College, Peter Uvin, Chodosh concluded by reaffirming the college’s commitment to protecting free speech:
“Finally, the breach of our freedoms to listen to views that challenge us and to engage in dialogue about matters of controversy is a serious, ongoing concern we must address effectively. Accordingly, we will be developing new strategies for how best to protect open, safe access to our events.”
Just under five years ago, on the thirtieth anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, then-president Barack Obama put forth an executive order that created the immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In higher education, this policy has conferred many benefits upon certain undocumented residents of the U.S., including limited protection from immigration officers and access to public and private financial aid packages.
DACA grants immigrants a two-year grace period during which they are treated as temporary residents and are eligible for work permits. The policy is only available to those who (a) came into the United States before their sixteenth birthday before June 2007; (b) are currently in school, are a high school graduate, or have been honorably discharged from the military; (c) were born after June 15, 1981; and (d) are not a threat to American security.
Those granted DACA status have no path to citizenship, yet they still can receive a number of benefits normally exclusive to legal permanent residents of the U.S. These benefits include being able to obtain a driver’s license in all fifty states, having an ‘exempt non-citizen’ status that absolves them from the fines for not having insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, being granted special tax refunds and credits, and being able to obtain temporary social security numbers.
The benefits of DACA for its grantees, however, go far beyond these basics and extend deeply into the American higher education system. In twenty states, DACA immigrants are allowed to register for public community colleges, colleges, and universities with an in-state resident status, which halves their tuition costs in many circumstances. In six states, they qualify for state-funded financial aid packages for public colleges and universities. On top of any state-sponsored financial aid packages for which DACA grantees qualify, there are many private scholarships and grants available. States like Utah offer private funding through public universities to their DACA students.
Some private colleges such as Amherst College and Columbia University offer the same need-blind admission policy to both domestic and non-citizen applicants alike. Others, such as Pomona College, a member of the Claremont Consortium, go further and do not differentiate between documented and undocumented applicants for either admissions or financial aid. Pitzer College and Scripps College, also members of the Claremont Consortium, each offer full, renewable grants for one undocumented first-year student per year. Scripps also recently announced they will follow Pomona’s example and will begin extending need-based financial aid to all undocumented students, regardless of their DACA status, next fall. Meanwhile, at the other Claremont Colleges, Claremont McKenna College and Harvey Mudd College, undocumented students must apply for external scholarships such as the Cal Grant if they require financial assistance, though at Harvey Mudd, they are encouraged to apply for international student financial aid.
Once DACA students have graduated from their respective undergraduate institutions, state law determines the opportunities available to them. In California, for instance, DACA students may acquire licenses to practice law, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy; can study abroad; and, for the University of California postgraduate programs, they are eligible for all financial aid, grants, and fellowships applicable to U.S. citizens.
Nonetheless, even with all of the benefits of the DACA program, DACA students still fear that their information might be passed along to federal immigration officers. While all DACA immigrants’ information has been shared with the Department of Homeland Security, ICE may not access this information at this time. Many DACA students fear that this could change under President Trump. In response to these anxieties, DACA students and their allies have advocated that colleges become ‘sanctuary campuses.’ Like sanctuary cities, they would protect the local undocumented community from deportation and arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
Unfortunately for DACA students, neither of these sanctuary environments have any real legal force, as ICE can still conduct raids on a sanctuary campus. The most that these sanctuary communities and immigration activists can do is to refuse to share information with ICE, to hand over undocumented immigrants, or to coordinate with local police as they attempt to assist ICE. Given that ICE only has around five thousand agents, help from local police departments is necessary for successful ICE operations.
Even within the five-college Claremont Consortium, the magnitude of each school’s efforts greatly differ. Pomona’s president David W. Oxtoby acknowledges that calling the college a ‘sanctuary campus’ is not entirely accurate as Pomona cannot offer either literal sanctuary or legal authority in protecting its students; yet, of the five colleges—arguably of virtually all liberal arts colleges—Pomona offers the greatest amount of aid and support to its estimated fifty to sixty undocumented students. Pitzer and Scripps, on the other hand, have declared themselves to be sanctuary colleges, but the services designated for their undocumented students are much more limited than those of Pomona. Harvey Mudd and Claremont McKenna put even less resources toward supporting their undocumented students, have not changed their nondiscrimination policies to the extent which Scripps and Pomona have, and neither institution has come forward offering to help these students find legal aid if needed.
Colleges have been eager to throw public support behind their undocumented students, as evidenced by strong support for DACA among college presidents. All five presidents of Claremont’s undergraduate institutions, along with the presidents of 634 other institutions, signed a letter put forth by President Oxtoby that DACA should not only be sustained, but should also be expanded. Calling DACA’s expansion a “moral imperative” and a “national necessity,” President Oxtoby goes on to state that undocumented students “represent what is best about America.”
Not all college administrators, even those who signed it, are completely on board with the progressive sentiments President Oxtoby expresses in the letter. Claremont McKenna’s president Hiram Chodosh wrote to the CMC community, “I believe that the Statement’s specific advocacy for DACA may … compromise non-partisan values vital to higher education.” All five schools, however, including Claremont McKenna, have promised to offer counseling resources to their undocumented students and to require that Claremont College Campus Security officers not ask students to disclose their citizenship status.
During the height of the racial protests at Claremont McKenna College last November, CMCers of Color issued a list of demands including the resignation of Dean Spellman and the establishment of a permanent “safe space” that would function as a Resource Center for students from marginalized backgrounds.
The student group wrote an official proposal to the administration, but also created a private Google doc with other miscellaneous items they wanted for their safe space, such as kitchen items and a sound system.
Among this list is a Shady Person of Color (SPOC) board, which includes a royal court of five members of the CMC community who opposed the group. Brandon Gonzalez, the King SPOC, is the Assistant Dean of Admissions. Gonzalez led the diversity initiative that CMCers of Color felt misrepresented CMC. The Queen SPOC, Hannah Oh (CMC ’15), was the Editor-in-Chief of the Claremont Independent at the time, and coauthored an editorial critiquing the protestors’ tactics. In a similar vein, Nathan Tsai (CMC ’17), the “Ignorant SPOC,” wrote a letter that garnered 277 signatures in opposition to the protestors’ demands.
Tony Sidhom (CMC ’17) was included on the list because he was critical of the movement as a whole, particularly with regards to the methods they used. Sidhom didn’t agree with the idea that CMC was institutionally racist, and was vocal in raising his concerns at Student Senate.
The Court Jester SPOC, David Brown (CMC ’19), was critical of the protestors’ lack of logistics and data as well as their tactics. Brown told the Independent, “If [CMCers of Color] had provided a single piece of evidence indicating that they were being systematically kept from performing well, I would have believed them. If I, in my own experience, had noticed a single instance where I was being held down based on the color of my skin I would have believed them. But they didn’t, I didn’t, and I don’t believe them.”
“I find the fact that they named themselves ‘CMCers of Color’ an insult. Instead, they purposefully use their name to manipulate their appearance as if to seem they were anything more than just 30 militant new wave liberal students,” Brown added. “I heard one of the protestors called a friend of mine ‘too rich to be black.’ Doesn’t it seem a little strange to you that the people supposedly fighting racism are the ones perpetuating racist stereotypes? The entire notion of fake or ‘shady’ people of color is just blatantly racist. Since when does being a person of color not allow you free thought? The whole point of this is so the protestors can still feel good about themselves by saying that they represent all ‘real’ people of color campus, but in order for them to consider you ‘real,’ you have to be one of them. Martin Luther King, Jr. said he wanted people to be judged off of the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Oddly enough, the protestors have consistently done the opposite. The protestors are the most racist group on campus I’ve seen to date.”
The use of the term ‘SPOC’ to dissociate students of color who dissented from the protest movement was widespread last semester. “Pomona’s new Latinx club was actually planning on creating a ‘SPOC calling-out’ committee” to target Latino students who did not agree with them, stated Kevin Covarrubias (CMC ’18). “The fact that such an idea was even brought up is deeply disturbing. As a 5C community, we should be all for constructively engaging with each other while debating the actual substance of our beliefs, not indulging in baseless ad hominems directed at one another.”
Edit: This story has been updated to include the name of David Brown, who initially requested anonymity.
Back in October of last year, I wrote an article on social responsibility and how the CMC administration’s policies that were strangling the social scene would only result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of more abusive partying.
For a while, it seemed as if things were getting better at CMC. As far as I recall, there were no major cases of unwarranted or excessive intervention during the rest of the fall semester. Maybe it was because the administration had a more laissez faire attitude towards the social scene, or maybe because students were behaving properly while hanging out with their friends – or a combination of the two.
Just two weekends into this spring semester, though, students at CMC witnessed an escalation against the social scene of the kind not seen before (at least in the memory of this senior). Both The Student Life and The Forum have covered the event in recent news articles, but I still feel that some sort of analysis on that night needs to be published. This is because the emails from Dean of Students Mary Spellman and Vice President for Student Affairs, Admission & Financial Aid Jeff Huang after the event underline my belief that there is a lot of misunderstanding between the students and administration on the events of that night.
The main problem I find with the Feb. 3 email sent by Huang was the claim that RAs and Campus Security officers experienced “defiance” from students who ignored multiple requests to disperse. I was in the fringes of that gathering, completely sober and, even though multiple RAs and Camp Sec officers passed within a couple feet of us, we were never told to leave the area. We saw the RAs and Camp. Sec. officers go up to the party in Green Lounge and assumed the party was being shut down, but, still, we were never asked to leave. We looked around the gathering, expecting to be told to leave, but we never saw any of the RAs or Camp. Sec. officers speak to a single individual outside or within the immediate vicinity of Green Lounge.
I would assume that some part of the RAs’ (not to mention, Camp. Sec.’s) training is supposed to deal with dispersing a crowd, but both groups unequivocally failed to move anyone from the area. While I admittedly do not have this sort of training, it seems illogical to try to disperse a peaceful crowd by only going to a minority of belligerent individuals and telling them to leave. If one of the RAs or officers had taken the initiative to talk to any of the people outside Green Lounge, I am sure that they would have found people who would have agreed to leave (myself included). Once group after group of people left, the minority would have had to decide between fighting with the administration for the right to party by themselves or leave to follow every other partygoer.
However, as we know, both the RAs and Camp. Sec. then made the regrettable decision to call the Claremont Police Department to disperse the crowd. This action signified the RAs’ and Camp. Sec.’s failure to do the basic duties of their jobs, not to mention that it was a gross overreaction to a party whose alleged failings were, according to Huang’s email, a drunk “pushing” himself past a “female RA” and an alumnus misusing speakers to say a few profanities (a true first world anarchist if there ever was one).
When the police arrived, they set themselves up in their SUVs and squad cars at the north edge of North Quad with their lights on with the intent of dispersing students through their passive presence. Obviously, the crowd became larger in number as students’ curiosity grew with regards to why the cops were on the edge of campus. I myself waited with my friends to see what was going to happen, as we were not sure what the police would do.
As we all know, after 10-15 minutes, just as students started to get tired of waiting for something to happen, the police SUVs turned on their brights and drove onto campus telling the crowd to disperse. As students pulled out their smartphones to record this ridiculous event, a beer can was thrown in the “direction” of the “highest ranking” police officer on the scene. I don’t know who threw the can, but their act signified the general sense of frustration of the student body towards the overreactions of the administration. As I discussed above, the police did not need to be called in to a party that was, by any measure, very tame (there was not even music for a noteworthy portion of the gathering). There might have been a few individuals who were acting raucously, but that does not mean that the vast, nay overwhelming, majority of students there were posing any sort of real, violent danger towards the CMC community.
By calling the police, the RAs, Camp. Sec., and the administration lost any sort of respect that they might have once had with the student body. The majority of CMC students who went out on that Saturday had no intention of going on a destructive, anarchic spree, but they were all treated as if they were a group of vagrants. It’s honestly sad to see the small amount of trust that the student body and administration had built over the last few months be thrown away so quickly. This sort of action just ties into my previous prediction of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as students will now react increasingly rebelliously towards actions of RAs, Camp. Sec., and the administration when they try to do their jobs, no matter how good their intentions are.
Moving forward, I believe that the administration made a good first step by offering to communicate with students at the Feb. 9 Senate meeting (unfortunately, I was not able to attend that meeting, so I cannot speak to the specifics of what happened there). However, more will have to be done for the students to trust them again. I would recommend communicating that the administration does not condemn all students who decide to hang out with friends on a party night, just those who partake in violent acts toward other students or other members of the Claremont community. For example, I believe most students would agree that the actions of Camp. Sec. were completely justified when they shut down Rage in the Cage last semester after a student punched one of their officers. Additionally, the administration should take immediate steps to make sure that RAs and Camp. Sec. are properly trained to assess how best to disperse a crowd when they need to. From there, the administration will have to keep building the trust of students by acting reasonably during parties and only calling the police when things get truly out of hand (rioting or other types of violence that Camp. Sec. cannot control).
On a side note, I would like to ask alumni to recognize the current delicate social situation at CMC. When you come back on campus, understand that your actions will have an impact on CMC students who are currently attending this college. Please don’t ruin the work that has been done to improve the social climate just because you want to have a fun night reliving your college days.
The road will be long, but, with the right leadership, I still have hope that the CMC social culture will not be ruined for future classes.