In an open letter to outgoing Pomona College President David Oxtoby, a group of students from the Claremont Colleges assail the president for affirming Pomona’s commitment to free speech and demand that all five colleges “take action” against the conservative journalists on the staff of the Claremont Independent.
The letter, written by three self-identified Black students at Pomona College, is a response to an April 7 email from President Oxtoby in which he reiterated the college’s commitment to “the exercise of free speech and academic freedom” in the aftermath of protests that shut down a scheduled appearance by an invited speaker, scholar and Black Lives Matter critic Heather Mac Donald, on April 6.
“Protest has a legitimate and celebrated place on college campuses,” Oxtoby wrote. “What we cannot support is the act of preventing others from engaging with an invited speaker. Our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society.”
In their open letter, the students sharply disagree.
“Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions. It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry,” they write.
“Thus, if ‘our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth,’” the students continue, citing Oxtoby’s letter, “how does free speech uphold that value?”
The students also characterize truth as a “myth” and a white supremacist concept.
“Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples,” they explain. “The idea that there is a single truth–‘the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.”
In reference to the protests of Mac Donald, the open letter explains that engaging with Mac Donald’s speech would have amounted to a debate not “on mere difference of opinion, but [on] the right of Black people to exist.”
“Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live,” the letter claims. “Why are you [President Oxtoby], and other persons in positions of power at these institutions, protecting a fascist and her hate speech and not students that are directly affected by her presence?”
The open letter concludes by insisting that Oxtoby apologize for his April 7 email and issue a new message that the college “does not tolerate hate speech and speech that projects violence onto the bodies of its marginalized students and oppressed peoples.”
The students also demand that the Claremont Colleges “take action” against the staff of the Claremont Independent for their “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.” Taking a step further, they call for “disciplinary action” against conservative journalists from the Claremont Colleges.
“We also demand that Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium entities take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds,” they write. “Provided that the Claremont Independent releases the identity of students involved with this letter and such students begin to receive threats and hate mail, we demand that this institution and its constituents take legal action against members of the Claremont Independent involved with the editing and publication process as well as disciplinary action, such as expulsion on the grounds of endangering the wellbeing of others.”
The letter’s signatories, of whom there are more than 20 at the time of publication, request a response by the afternoon of April 18.
The authors of the letter did not immediately respond to the Independent’s requests for comment.
Update: A link to President Oxtoby’s original email has been added to this article.