Tag Archives: Protest

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.

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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.

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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.

Black Lives Matter: A Downward Spiral

In early August, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders arrived in Seattle to speak at a rally celebrating the 80th birthday of Social Security. Sanders was barely able to begin before two women climbed on stage, threatening to “shut the event down.” One of the protestors—both of whom are associated with the Black Lives Matter movement—repeatedly screamed “let her [the other protester] on the mic,” as the senator himself slipped quietly into the background. The rally’s organizer then addressed the crowd saying he would try to be reasonable and let the protesters speak after Senator Sanders. This enraged the protesters, who started shaking the podium, shoving the organizer, and screaming—unaware of the irony—“we are being reasonable!” The organizer was unwilling to endure any more abuse and ceded control of the microphone. The two protesters proceeded to call the crowd “white supremacist liberal[s]” and the city of Seattle racist. If you haven’t seen the video, it is on YouTube. Those of you who have been around toddlers throwing a tantrum will find the behavior of the protestors eerily familiar.

When working as a part of a grassroots movement like Black Lives Matter, there are certain things you cannot do if you want to be successful. The first of these things is basing your movement on—or defending it with—misleading or fabricated information. The second is alienating people, particularly those who are most likely to support you. The first is actually a subset of the second, but is important enough with respect to Black Lives Matter that it deserves to be touched on separately.  

The poster child for Black Lives Matter’s present incarnation was Michael Brown. However, when all of the facts pertaining to the case came to light, it became obvious that the shooting of Michael Brown was in self-defense. The movement’s rallying cry—“Hands up, don’t shoot!”—turned out to be a completely inaccurate representation of what actually happened in Ferguson last summer.

To the leaders of the movement, however, these facts were irrelevant. As more and more alleged murders of black civilians by white police officers became headlines, it seemed like just a matter of time before mitigating circumstances bubbled to the surface as well—sometimes supporting claims of police brutality but calling into question racism as a motivating factor, such as the case of Freddie Gray, where 3 of the 6 officers indicted in the case were black. This cast doubt onto the narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Those at the forefront of the movement also seem reluctant to mention that in the cases where the evidence actually supported police brutality—such as the cases of Walter Scott and Freddie Gray—the police were indicted on several serious charges, ranging from assault to manslaughter to murder. Instead, Black Lives Matter chooses to focus on the cases where the evidence is insufficient for indictment, touting them as evidence of the systematic murder of black people by white police officers.

Many people who were initially on the fence about Black Lives Matter were seriously turned against the movement after repeatedly seeing protestors claim one thing while the evidence showed the opposite. Though many in the movement seem to feel that the evidence doesn’t matter, the reality is that to most people who are undecided on the issue, it is of paramount importance. Black Lives Matter is turning its potential allies into its opposition by embellishing and sometimes blatantly fabricating its claims.

Bernie Sanders’ track record with regard to civil rights puts that of all the other candidates in the 2016 election—and, frankly, most of the protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter—to shame. He was an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality. He was arrested for his participation in protests against segregated campus housing as a student at the University of Chicago, and participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Say whatever you want about Bernie Sanders, but it is difficult to argue that he is anything but a sincere and devoted champion of civil rights for African-Americans.

Had the two protesters chosen to approach the event’s organizers (or Senator Sanders himself) in a respectful manner, it is clear from the video that the organizers would have been willing to let them speak. The crowd would almost certainly have been receptive to their message. After all, the circle of people who attend a speech by Bernie Sanders and the circle of people who would support the Black Lives Matter overlap quite a bit. Instead, by choosing to rudely interrupt Senator Sanders, verbally (as well as physically) assault the organizer of the event, and accuse the crowd of being racist, the two “activists” managed only to anger those who could have been their allies, as evidenced by the angry response of the crowd.

Moreover, their actions served to even further alienate those who were on the fence about their movement. When people see two young activists harassing and interrupting a—let’s be honest—fairly feeble looking old man, particularly when that old man has been fighting for the rights of African-Americans since before those protesters were born, it does nothing to win them over to the Black Lives Matter movement. It was, in essence, the worst public relations stunt the group could have planned.

Despite the fact that the actions of protesters such as those who interrupted Senator Sanders seem to suggest that making friends and drawing people into their movement is of little concern, this is a poor strategy for a grassroots movement to use. If Black Lives Matter is to be successful, it needs to evolve from a niche group into a serious, mainstream movement, and it must do so soon. Movements that are viewed as fringe and do nothing to incorporate themselves into the mainstream tend to fizzle out (e.g. Occupy Wall Street) with few successes to hang their hat on.

Articles like this one may be dismissed as “tone-policing” (especially when coming from an openly white person like myself) by those within the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it is at Black Lives Matter’s own peril that they ignore what their detractors say. Protesters like the ones who interrupted Senator Sanders certainly have a right to free speech, but they seem to be under the mistaken impression that they also have a right to be listened to. You cannot force people to hear what you have to say; if what you have to say is worth hearing, people will choose to listen. If they do not, perhaps you need to be honest with yourself about why that is. Though it may feel cathartic to shut people down and meet resistance and even questioning with anger—a strategy that suggests you are unable to adequately address criticism of your movement—it will make enemies of those on the fence and cause those who might have been your allies to think twice, ultimately driving your movement into the ground.

Image Source: Seattle Met