The social scene at Claremont McKenna is a tradition that is oft referenced as something that sets the school apart. Part of this tradition is Thursday Night Club or TNC. This Thursday night party has had its high points and low points, but it remains a very visible part of the social scene. However, a new tradition has recently emerged in conjunction with TNC: The theme for the party inevitably provokes outrage and accusations of insensitivity, largely from the other 4Cs.
Last year, the consortium experienced two separate incidents surrounding proposed TNC themes. The two theme proposals that provoked a negative response did so for such disparate reasons that it seems likely a similar incident will occur again this year.
The first was provoked by a survey in which students got to come up with suggestions for the party and then vote for their favorite theme. One of the entries was a Thanksgiving-themed suggestion entitled “Thanksgiving: Bros, Pilgrims and Navajos,” which utilized the common TNC rhyming scheme of “Bros and Hoes.” While the suggestion was eventually passed over in favor of another name, the Pomona-centric student newspaper, the Student Life, reported that the theme drew complaints and allegations of racism. The complaints charged that the theme was historically and culturally insensitive and that CMC in general lacked proper education in cultural sensitivity. Such sweeping generalizations overlooked the context of the theme suggestion and weakened valid arguments against it. The theme could be perceived as derogatory, but the complaints failed to recognize the traditionally light-hearted nature of TNC themes and the highly educated and aware audience at which it was aimed. The controversy quickly devolved into interschool arguing and very little was resolved.
The second controversy came later in the year, when a theme entitled “Camo & Ammo” drew protests that the theme was insensitive given the then recent Newtown shooting. In response, CMC’s student government, the Associated Students of CMC (ASCMC), changed the title to “Camo TNC,” and then “Zero Dark 30’s.” While some may not agree with the outrage over the earlier theme, the motivation behind it was at least understandable. The complaints about the second theme, however, appeared to be only tangentially related to the underlying issue and a manifestation of politically correct hypersensitivity. The theme was supposed to promote a camouflage- and military-themed party, and it is difficult to see how that directly relates to a civilian shooting. Censoring all things firearms-related in our culture would mean cutting out large swathes of our cultural product and accomplish little in the interim. This controversy appears almost opportunistic – an opportunity to complain about an event without any real justification. The difference between this complaint and the one from earlier in the year indicates that such a controversy will happen again this year.
Such controversies will happen again because the gap between the general student body, who care only briefly about the theme to begin with and forget it soon after the party ends (or even before that point), and the activists, who make increasingly ominous proclamations that the theme of a Thursday night party contributes to broader ongoing societal disorder, is quite broad. For some of the themes, greater sensitivity would avoid needless division, but for others, reflection and a better perspective would forestall protests of every single idea that isn’t bland and whitewashed.
The end lesson of all this is, quite simply, that you cannot make everyone happy all of the time. The people who plan TNC are charged with coming up with creative and entertaining ideas so the parties remain fresh and attended. These ideas, meant for a specific audience, may not always mesh perfectly with the ideals of every single student at the 5C’s, and some may annoy or even offend people on campus. It happens. What is important to remember is that these events are meant to allow students a chance to unwind and have some fun. If a theme significantly impedes that goal, speak out. People have different perspectives and, coupled with time constraints, may fail to consider all the implications and impact of their ideas. However, as no one should expect to be vindicated all the time, when raising issues with the themes, let’s restrict complaints to substantive arguments that move the debate forward, not accusations that stop conversation.