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.
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.”
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 studentsa 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.
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.
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.
In the span of one weekend, the same Claremont McKenna College student was the victim of two separate crimes that targeted his Jewish heritage.
Bryan Turkel CMC ’15 first had his Israeli flag, which was draped across the window of his ground-floor dorm room, stolen the night of Sept. 18.
“The next morning, when I came back from breakfast at 8:30 a.m., I realized that my screen door was off, but figured that someone had been drunk and ripped it off,” Turkel said in an interview with the Claremont Independent. “But then, it was only later in the day that, when I went to go hang something up, and I was like, ‘Wait, my flag is gone.’”
“They ripped off the screen door, must have just grabbed a handful of flag, and ripped it down.”
Turkel reported the second incident when he noticed that his mezuzah, a scroll commonly hung on the doors of Jewish homes, was missing the afternoon of Sept. 22.
While Turkel noted that the first crime could have been perceived as purely politically motivated, the theft of the second item, which carries no political significance and only relates to his status as a Jew, leads him to believe that both crimes were motivated by anti-Semitic attitudes.
“Non-Jews might hang up an Israeli flag, but non-Jews do not hang up mezuzahs,” Turkel said. “[Stealing] the mezuzah is not a political statement, the mezuzah is anti-Semitism, and the mezuzah is a hard-line hate crime. And the fact that the two were linked so close in time takes the doubt out of my mind that the first one was politically motivated and not anti-Semitic.”
Turkel also said that outright anti-Semitism is often allowed to operate under the guise of anti-Israeli political views.
“[These incidents] serve as a great example for how classic anti-Semitism is being cleanly repackaged as anti-Israeli sentiment and then perpetrated under that name,” Turkel said. “It’s still the same old hatred that caused the Holocaust; it’s still out and about today. But it operates under the name of something else today.”
“People are not realizing the severity and the implications of something like, in Belgium, a woman putting up a sign saying, ‘Dogs are allowed, but no Jews,’ and this is 2014, this isn’t 1939,” Turkel said. “The fact that this is happening and the world is basically ignorant or apathetic to it is very dangerous. Jews are feeling unsafe.”
Although he reported the first incident to Campus Safety, Turkel said that the investigation got several key facts wrong, including calling the Israeli flag a “Jewish” flag and misreporting that he had never been the victim of anti-Semitism on campus before (he was called a “Kike” his sophomore year), which led him to go straight to CMC’s Dean of Students office to report the second crime.
“[Campus Safety] did not seem to give the appropriate tone and severity to responding to a hate incident,” Turkel said. “In their report to Dean Spellman that I got to see, it was very obvious that they did not listen to anything I said.”
“The way that they handled it was so unprofessional, that I didn’t go back.”
CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman sent out a campus-wide email informing students of the incidents Sept. 23.
“I’m going to move off-campus next year because, before you know it, this campus is going to be completely dry.”
This sort of talk, which was unthinkable even a few short years ago, has become common at Claremont McKenna College, as students have begun to feel helpless in the face of a draconian Dean of Students office (DOS). What began as simple disbelief and confusion after the dodgeball tournament “Rage in the Cage” was canceled on Nov. 1 has progressed to disillusionment about the very fabric of CMC’s culture.
On that now-infamous day, the DOS went from approving a registered, dry party to telling students to go drink in their rooms. According to CMC’s current Student Activities Chair (SAC), Mark Blumenfeld, this drastic shift seemed to have happened completely abruptly, as he was only made aware of the cancellation the day before the event was to occur. Due to this last-minute change of plans, CMC students who had been planning on going out Saturday evening were forced to find a way find a new venue in which to entertain themselves.
This resulted in a North Quad gathering, which was perfectly normal by 5C standards. Even though, as per usual, steps were taken by the SAC and various RAs to make sure the party stayed safe, such as moving students outside of lounges to prevent property damage and student injury, it was personally shut down by Dean Spellman and Dean Voss because, in a bit of bureaucratic irony, the gathering was not registered properly. When asked what they should do now, students were told by Dean Vos to “go drink in your rooms.”
That night, the Deans made the collective, decisive and unmistakably clear choice to prioritize reducing legal liability over student safety and, consequently, the culture that has made CMC the happiest college in the U.S. While the night of Nov. 2 aptly epitomizes the current stance of the Dean of Students office toward the CMC social scene, the decision to shut down the party is only a small step in the CMC administration’s longer term change in policy with regards to the social scene.. This, however, is not a change in CMC’s rules, which have always complied with local, state, and national laws.
As far as the administration is concerned, it would be better for CMCers to create fraternities so that, should anything happen to a student, the parents (and college) could sue the fraternity. Unfortunately, this goal goes directly against what CMC has and should stand for, student safety. What was great about CMC was its mature, rational, and open view of drinking, preferring to help students in trouble rather than leaving them in their rooms by themselves. But, by implementing policies that encourage students to drink in private, the administration is promoting an unrestrained binge-drinking culture. In their rooms, with nothing to do, students will look to excessive, private drinking as a replacement to what used to be a vibrant social life at CMC.
The administration’s new hardline against CMC’s social culture is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As discussed above, by attempting to reduce legal risk, the administration’s actions will result in more instances of hospital transports and alcohol poisoning than ever before. Of course, they will then try to blame the students and put in place further restrictions on the social scene in the name of “prevention,” which will begin a terrible cycle that threatens to undermine student safety and destroy the social culture.
We have already seen this happen. Even though the DOS has taken a noticeably harder line on alcohol and partying this semester, according to the SAC, Toga Party resulted in five hospital transports, (a new record number of transports for one party at CMC). Consequently, DOS decided to blame the student body and placed further restrictions on the social scene (as seen on Nov. 1) without thinking about who would have been there to help if these five transported students had been drinking in their rooms instead of at Toga?
Unfortunately, though, all of the student frustration over these misguided and dangerous policies seems to be in vain. As expressed to me by the SAC, the DOS has been exceedingly difficult to talk to this semester, especially compared to previous years. For example, the SAC told me that he has been turned away from scheduled meetings with the DOS on multiple occasions. He has effectively been “stonewalled,” even though he is the student body’s elected representative and main point of contact with the administration regarding the social culture.
And it’s not just the SAC who is having trouble talking to the DOS. We at the Claremont Independent have tried multiple times to talk with the DOS only to be rejected or, usually, completely ignored. So much for the idea of that “safe and welcoming place” that the DOS so cheerfully claims to be on its website.
In my discussion with the SAC, the only hope he had for the future was that the Alcohol Taskforce, a committee whose purpose would be to “discuss alcohol and campus life in greater depth than had been reviewed before” and submit a report to CMC President Chodosh, would be reinstated, and that the DOS would actually listen to its findings. This is similar to Chodosh’s recently proposed “alcohol and drugs subcommittee” that he proposed to in an email to the CMC student body on November 22. In light of the DOS completely shrugging off students’ views this semester, however, the potential effectiveness of the subcommittee, or taskforce, is limited at best. The best-remaining hope is that the Board of Trustees, who dictate how the DOS should act, decide to change the administration’s policy that is crushing the inclusive and safe social culture that CMCers past and present so dearly love. In the end, CMC is only as good as its students and their well-being, a lesson that the DOS has been slow to learn and quick to forget.
After initially responding to our request for an interview with a statement entitled “Regarding Title IX,” the Claremont McKenna Office of Public Affairs granted the CI an interview with Dean of Students Mary Spellman to discuss the college’s Title IX sexual violence grievance procedures.
Claremont McKenna College implemented new Civil Rights Policies and Civil Rights Grievance Procedures, which apply to cases of sexual violence, in accordance with a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) issued by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The DCL, sent to all educational institutions in the United States that receive federal funding, stipulates numerous Title IX requirements to which recipients must adhere in investigating and resolving complaints of sexual violence. The most controversial of its contents is a requirement that schools use a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof in evaluating complaints of sexual violence. The preponderance standard is met if it is more likely than not (a greater than 50 percent probability) that the offense occurred. The DCL explicitly states that schools are not to use the clear and convincing standard (i.e. it is highly likely or reasonably certain that the offense occurred).
When asked if Claremont McKenna College held any opinions about complying with the Department of Education’s ultimatum regarding the preponderance standard, Dean Spellman responded that the decision-making standard is a minimally important aspect of the college’s grievance procedures. She said, “The decision-making standard is the least important piece, I believe, in how we handle sexual violence cases or any kind of student conduct case. It’s really about, ‘Do we provide a fair and neutral and equitable process to all parties?’ The decision-making standard is a small piece of that larger process.”
When asked more specifically if the college was concerned that the use of such a low standard would produce wrongful findings of guilt, Spellman responded similarly, saying that the low decision-making standard should not be of great concern. She said,
“The [decision-making] standard is one piece of a very important process, so we need to make sure we have a process that’s fair, that it has appropriate due process for all the parties, that the individuals, particularly the respondent, understands what their rights are and has a process by which the college has as much information as possible about the circumstance so that the trained investigator or trained hearing officer is able to make a fair, neutral and informed decision. So I think that that is the most important piece. We could have a higher decision-making standard, and if our process didn’t have all of the robustness that our process does, you could still have a problem. It could be a different problem, but you’re going to still have a problem. So the decision-making standard—you know, preponderance or something else—really, what’s crucial is the process that you get to that. With preponderance of the evidence, if you have a process that is as robust as we want ours to be and we hope and think ours is, then the decision is easy at that point, because you have all the facts. The decision is either you do have enough information, or you don’t. That’s, to me, the most important piece.”
In other words, if the college institutes robust grievance procedures that offer appropriate due process for all parties involved, it doesn’t really matter whether the college uses a preponderance standard, a clear and convincing standard, or even a beyond a reasonable doubt standard. You either have enough information, or you don’t.
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.
"Upholding Truth and Excellence at the Claremont Colleges"