Tag Archives: Hannah Oh

We Dissent

The student protests that have swept through Claremont McKenna College (CMC) over the past few days—and the ensuing fallout—have made us disappointed in many of those involved.

First, former Dean Mary Spellman. We are sorry that your career had to end this way, as the email in contention was a clear case of good intentions being overlooked because of poor phrasing. However, we are disappointed in you as well. We are disappointed that you allowed a group of angry students to bully you into resignation. We are disappointed that you taught Claremont students that reacting with emotion and anger will force the administration to act. We are disappointed that when two students chose to go on a hunger strike until you resigned, you didn’t simply say, “so what?” If they want to starve themselves, that’s fine—you don’t owe them your job. We are disappointed that you and President Chodosh put up with students yelling and swearing at you for an hour. You could have made this a productive dialogue, but instead you humored the students and allowed them to get caught up in the furor.

Above all, we are disappointed that you and President Chodosh weren’t brave enough to come to the defense of a student who was told she was “derailing” because her opinions regarding racism didn’t align with those of the mob around her. Nor were you brave enough to point out that these protesters were perfectly happy to use this student to further their own agenda, but turned on her as soon as they realized she wasn’t supporting their narrative. These protesters were asking you to protect your students, but you didn’t even defend the one who needed to be protected right in front of you.

Second, President Chodosh. We were disappointed to see you idly stand by and watch students berate, curse at, and attack Dean Spellman for being a “racist.” For someone who preaches about “leadership” and “personal and social responsibility,” your actions are particularly disappointing. You let your colleague, someone who has been helping your administration for the past three years and the college for six years, be publicly mocked and humiliated. Why? Because you were afraid. You were afraid that students would also mock and humiliate you if you defended Dean Spellman, so you let her be thrown under the bus. You were so afraid that it only took you five minutes to flip-flop on their demand for a temporary “safe space” on campus. Your fear-driven action (or lack thereof) only further reinforced the fear among the student body to speak out against this movement. We needed your leadership more than ever this week, and you failed us miserably.

Third, ASCMC President Will Su. As the representative of CMC’s entire student body, we are disappointed in you for the manner in which you called for the resignation of junior class president Kris Brackmann and for so quickly caving in to the demands of a few students without consulting the student body as a whole. If you truly cared about representing all of CMC’s interests, you would have at the very least solicited opinions from outside of the movement and your Executive Board. You have shut down any room for debate among the student body with your full endorsement of this movement and its demands, failing to give concerned students an opportunity to speak. We are disappointed that you did not allow for any time for reflection before making your quick executive decisions to announce a student-wide endorsement of this movement and to grant these students a temporary “safe space” in the ASCMC offices.

To our fellow Claremont students, we are disappointed in you as well. We are ashamed of you for trying to end someone’s career over a poorly worded email. This is not a political statement—this is a person’s livelihood that you so carelessly sought to destroy. We are disappointed that you chose to scream and swear at your administrators. That is not how adults solve problems, and your behavior reflects poorly on all of us here in Claremont. This is not who we are and this is not how we conduct ourselves, but this is the image of us that has now reached the national stage.

We are disappointed in your demands. If you want to take a class in “ethnic, racial, and sexuality theory,” feel free to take one, but don’t force such an ideologically driven course on all CMC students. If the dearth of such courses at CMC bothers you, maybe you should have chosen a different school. If students chose to attend Caltech and then complained about the lack of literature classes, that’s on them. And though it wouldn’t hurt to have a more diverse faculty, the demand that CMC increase the number of minority faculty members either rests on the assumption that CMC has a history of discriminating against qualified professors of color, or, more realistically, it advocates for the hiring of less qualified faculty based simply on the fact that they belong to marginalized groups. A hiring practice of this sort would not benefit any CMC students, yourselves included.

We are disappointed in the fact that your movement has successfully managed to convince its members that anyone who dissents does so not for intelligent reasons, but due to moral failure or maliciousness. We are disappointed that you’ve used phrases like “silence is violence” to not only demonize those who oppose you, but all who are not actively supporting you. We are most disappointed, however, in the rhetoric surrounding “safe spaces.” College is the last place that should be a safe space. We come here to learn about views that differ from our own, and if we aren’t made to feel uncomfortable by these ideas, then perhaps we aren’t venturing far enough outside of our comfort zone. We would be doing ourselves a disservice to ignore viewpoints solely on the grounds that they may make us uncomfortable, and we would not be preparing ourselves to cope well with adversity in the future. Dealing with ideas that make us uncomfortable is an important part of growing as students and as people, and your ideas will inhibit opportunities for that growth.

We are adults, and we need to be mature enough to take ownership of and responsibility for our feelings, rather than demanding that those around us cater to our individual needs. The hypocrisy of advocating for “safe spaces” while creating an incredibly unsafe space for President Chodosh, former Dean Spellman, the student who was “derailing,” and the news media representatives who were verbally abused unfortunately seemed to soar over many of your heads.

Lastly, we are disappointed in students like ourselves, who were scared into silence. We are not racist for having different opinions. We are not immoral because we don’t buy the flawed rhetoric of a spiteful movement. We are not evil because we don’t want this movement to tear across our campuses completely unchecked.

We are no longer afraid to be voices of dissent.

_____________

Hannah Oh, Editor-in-Chief

Steven Glick, Publisher

Taylor Schmitt, Managing Editor

_____________

Image: CMC Forum

Editorial: Welcome to the Claremont Independent

Dear Class of 2019,

Congratulations! This week you have officially entered “The Bubble.” You now belong to one of the most intellectual, elite liberal arts institutions in the country—where reasoned discourse and thoughtful debate are not just encouraged, but actively kept alive by your many bright and vocal peers.

The Claremont Independent is the catalyst that drives our most lively, heated student discussions. We are the leading outlet for students whose views differ from—and often oppose—mainstream liberals and progressives. We also report campus news and, importantly, serve as a check to 5C administrations. As the only independently funded student publication, the Claremont Independent is in a unique position to criticize administrative decisions and policies, ranging anywhere from unnecessary free speech infringements under the guise of “political correctness” to blatantly biased curriculums that propagate liberal agendas.

We are a small but quickly growing organization with influence that extends beyond the Claremont Colleges. Last year, our stories consistently made national waves and were picked up by prominent news outlets, such as the National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Caller. Over the summer, we received the Collegiate Network’s William F. Buckley Award for Outstanding Campus Reporting.

Traditionally, we have always been a right-leaning organization with the majority of our members subscribing to some variation of conservative ideology. At the heavily left-leaning Claremont Colleges, we provide students with the opposition needed to engage in critical thinking and intellectual debate—two key pillars of a traditional (and meaningful!) liberal arts education.

So welcome to the Claremont Independent, where you can find the most politically diverse set of opinions, thought-provoking arguments, and significant campus commentary at the 5Cs. We hope you enjoy these next four years with us.

Sincerely,

Hannah Oh

Editor-in-Chief

____________________________

Photography by Wes Edwards.

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

The Not-So-Grand Jury

Recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, have – quite literally – wreaked havoc across the nation. Two separate grand juries decided not to indict police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively. Both decisions led to uproars and protests on several college campuses, including the Claremont Colleges.

On Wednesday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) responded by introducing the Grand Jury Reform Act, H.R. 5830, which “prohibits the use of a secret grand jury process when determining whether a police officer should be prosecuted for wrongfully killing another person while in the line of duty.” The law would appoint special prosecutors to conduct probable cause hearings that are open to the public and require local law enforcement agencies to comply with the new process to receive federal funding.

The grand jury system isn’t perfect. In fact, there are deeply troubling concerns about its undemocratic process that, as Rep. Johnson points out, warrant a closer look. But is his reform an effective solution?

Why are grand juries problematic?

When the Framers included the grand jury indictment clause in the Fifth Amendment, they sought to provide a “check” on government by allowing ordinary citizens to curb ill-conceived indictments and prevent prosecutorial misconduct. In modern day proceedings, it has been argued that this constitutional “check” is either weak or largely absent.

According to the Cato Institute, government prosecutors now have complete control over the grand jury process: they decide what will be investigated, what charges will be included, what subpoenas will be issued, what evidence will be introduced, and what witnesses will testify and receive immunity. The defense counsel is barred and no judge is present to provide oversight. Ralph Rossum, professor of constitutional law at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), noted, “There is a famous line that ‘prosecutors can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.’ To the extent that that’s the case, it represents a failure in the grand jury system because that means ordinary citizens are being manipulated by the prosecutor.”

For those of us who fear big government, giving the government the immense power to essentially pick and choose who does or does not get indicted without any oversight sounds like our worst nightmare. And this is especially problematic in cases that involve law enforcement.

On the state level, our current system expects district attorneys to prosecute the same police officers who closely work with them on cases on a daily basis. Worse, district attorneys depend on these officers politically, since police union endorsements are critical for their re-election. Rossum points out, “The use of grand juries at the state level precedes police unions and the organized support of candidates for the district attorney’s office.” Given this modern political reality, it is unsurprising that grand juries indict police offers in only around 40 percent of cases, compared to having a near 100 percent indictment rate for all federal cases.

 

Hannah Graphic

 

Are preliminary hearings a better alternative?

America is one of few countries that require grand juries for federal capital crimes, but they are not required at the state level. Only about half of states choose to use them. Others opt to use preliminary hearings, which are adversarial (two sides argue before a judge) and open to the public, like normal court proceedings.

Rossum asserts that preliminary hearings are just as bad, if not worse, than grand juries. “In preliminary hearings, the defense typically chooses not to present anyway, since the burden of proof – probable cause – is so low. They expect probable cause will be found and don’t want to reveal their defense strategy, so the alternative to a grand jury doesn’t protect all that more.”

He continues, “Ethically, you get more protection from a grand jury because what stands between you and an indictment is not two government employees – the prosecutor and the judge – but one government employee [the prosecutor] and a group of ordinary citizens.” To require preliminary hearings in lieu of grand juries would do little, if anything, to mitigate potential bias towards law enforcement.

Should we appoint special prosecutors?

The Grand Jury Reform Act seeks to reduce this potential bias by appointing special prosecutors to handle all police-related cases. Another way to guard against bias is to assign police misconduct cases to prosecutors in a special division within a larger prosecutor’s office. CMC government and ethics professor Joseph Bessette recounts his experience in the early 1980s at the State’s Attorney’s office in Cook County, Illinois – the second most populous county in the country, following Los Angeles. (What Illinois calls state’s attorneys most states call district attorneys.)

“In Chicago, we had 570 attorneys in the prosecutor’s office. They were divided up in all different kinds of ways: some were assigned to juvenile courts; some only did appeals; some only did felony court,” Bessette said. “We had a special division called the Public Integrity Unit with about 10 to 20 prosecutors. All they did was public corruption or police-related cases – they weren’t the same prosecutors that worked with police officers every day. They worked in a special division so that they would have freedom and fewer conflicts of interest.”

Bessette saw this division to be beneficial for both regular prosecutors and police officers, as well as the system as a whole. “Local cops and prosecutors had a camaraderie that would have been difficult to maintain if the same prosecutors were investigating and trying cops for misbehavior. Similarly, the prosecutors who did investigate and try cops didn’t have to worry about unsettling long-standing relationships with the police.”

“So you could have good relationships at that level. You wouldn’t have the same person working closely with a cop one day, and then indicting the cop’s buddy the next day.”

Despite these benefits, Bessette remains hesitant to reform the current system to require special prosecutors for all police-related cases. “There are concerns about special prosecutors that people should have as well,” he warned.

“At the federal level, we don’t have a very good record of special prosecutors. When the Ethics in Government Act was on the books between 1978 and 1999, independent counsels often took many years just to decide not to prosecute,” he observed. “Sometimes they ignored standard Department of Justice policies and occasionally issued stinging public reports about the subjects of their investigations even though they filed no formal charges. So I’m not automatically a fan of special prosecutors, though I have never studied their use in police misconduct cases.”

Rossum echoes Bessette’s reservations. “Typically, prosecutors have more crimes than they can possibly prosecute, so, with their prosecutorial discretion, they allocate their resources in a way that seems most efficient by only pursuing cases that are likely to result in a conviction.” The same restrictions do not apply, however, to special prosecutors.

Rossum refers to the Supreme Court case Morrison v. Olson (1988), looking specifically at Justice Scalia’s dissent. In the case, independent counsel Alexis Morrison was appointed to investigate government official Ted Olson.

“When the decision was made to focus on Ted Olson, Alexis Morrison had an unlimited amount of time and budget to go after him, which means that resources weren’t going to, let’s say, six or seven other cases,” Rossum said. “It distorts the allocation of scarce resources because the special prosecutor gets to work as long and as much and at whatever cost the special prosecutor wants. That puts whoever is the subject of that kind of investigation in a situation different from every other potential defendant. With special prosecutors, you put all of the state’s resources more concentratedly against a single individual.” In this respect, special prosecutors seem less accountable and more prone to misconduct than normal government prosecutors.

What happened in Ferguson and Staten Island?

In these cases, the prosecutors in the two jurisdictions did not think that there was a crime, and they were not actively trying to get the grand jury to return a bill of indictment.

“It seems that in the Ferguson case – to the best that I can tell – the prosecutor acted in an upright fashion. He let the grand jury see everything and let them decide what happened. I don’t know why, in principle, that would be a bad thing,” Bessette said.

“If the grand jury is given unfettered access to every witness, every police report, and all of the physical evidence, and you still can’t get 9 out of 12 jurors (the rule in St. Louis County) to agree that there is probable cause that a crime was committed, then why would you think that the same evidence would convince every member of a trial jury that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?” he asked. “It is considered unethical for a prosecutor to take a case to trial if he or she does not believe that a conviction is likely. Otherwise, the trial process can become a way for prosecutors to harass, and perhaps impoverish, defendants.”

Rossum added, “From what we know from the evidence, to actually bring Darren Wilson to trial and bankrupt him in the process would not be justice: there is no way a trial jury would have unanimously convicted him.”

For Ferguson, the prosecutor released all of the evidence online; whereas, for Staten Island, the prosecutor was only authorized to disclose a limited amount of information.

“I found the Staten Island case much more problematic, in part because the prosecutor has not been as forthcoming with the evidence,” Rossum said. “What I found impressive about Ferguson was that the prosecutor said ‘if the grand jury acted badly, let’s release all of the evidence and let ordinary citizens decide for themselves.’”

Bessette concurs that the Staten Island case is more suspicious. “There seems to be more questions raised in the Staten Island case about whether the prosecutor proceeded properly than in the other case. One reason for that is that apparently the prosecutor gave immunity to all of the police officers, except for Daniel Pantaleo. Now, that seems a bit odd.”

Prosecutors usually grant witnesses immunity in exchange for their testimony. But in the Staten Island case, the grand jury already had direct footage of the incident. During the incident, Daniel Pantaleo put his arm around Eric Garner’s neck and four other officers restrained him by compressing his chest and forcing him to lie face down on the sidewalk. While on the ground, Garner repeated “I can’t breathe” multiple times.

“It seems odd to grant immunity here,” said Bessette. “Why not have the grand jury look at all of the evidence for all of the officers – especially if sitting on top of [Garner] when he said he couldn’t breathe might have been more of a contributor to his death than the actual takedown?”

Without the full release of evidence, it is difficult to determine whether the prosecutor acted wrongly in the Staten Island case. But from what we do know, it’s hard not to be critical.

Should we reform the system?

With preliminary hearings as a mediocre alternative, and special prosecutors carrying their own set of issues, what should we do about the current system – if anything at all?

“I certainly don’t have enough evidence right now that shows that there is something wrong with the way it works,” Bessette said. “Do we have cases of prosecutors covering up for others? Do we have cases of prosecutors ‘indicting ham sandwiches’ – or the equivalent of indicting innocent people?”

“We don’t hear much about grand juries in the news, and that’s because there isn’t much controversy on a day-to-day basis. We’re hearing all about them because of these two famous cases,” he continued. “But I need to see more evidence. I don’t have any reason to believe that we have some sort of crisis in the grand jury system, especially since it isn’t used that often at the state level for typical crimes.”

Effective reform requires prudence and careful thought about a variety of constitutional, political, and practical questions. These questions do not, by any means, come with easy answers. Without conclusive evidence, the Grand Jury Reform Act is premature, but a national dialogue has started about grand juries that could – for better or for worse – change their future course.

____________________
Image Source: Flickr