On November 11, 2015, over one hundred students gathered in Flamson Plaza for a demonstration led by CMCers of Color. The purpose of the demonstration was to express their concerns over CMC’s treatment of marginalized students to President Hiram Chodosh and Mary Spellman, then the Dean of Students. At the end of 2016, the Forum followed up with students, faculty, and staff to record their thoughts about both the demonstrations last school year and the new initiatives regarding diversity and inclusion at CMC.
What Happened Last Year?
Frustrated with the administration’s perceived lack of commitment to marginalized students, CMCers of Color organized a student demonstration last school year. Their goals included creating a Diversity and Inclusivity Chair on ASCMC’s executive board, adding a Dean of Diversity and Inclusion to the Dean of Students Office, and creating a resource center to address the issues of marginalized students.
Existing feelings of frustration on campus intensified in October after Spellman responded to an email from a student of color describing her experience with marginalization. Spellman wrote she would be willing to chat about improving the experiences of students “who don’t fit our CMC mold”. During the same month, a photo of four CMC students and one Scripps student in Halloween costumes stereotyping Mexican culture circulated on Facebook, adding fuel to the fire. Spellman later apologized, but these remarks appeared to be the breaking point for students who believed that the DOS office had been unsupportive towards students of marginalized identities.
Though some students did not agree with the nature and tone of the November protest at Flamson plaza, Spellman complied with calls for her resignation on November 12, 2015. Many students and other community members from the 5Cs marched across the Claremont Colleges in solidarity with black college students across the country just hours after Dean Mary Spellman’s resignation.
How Has CMC Changed Institutionally?
There have been four main changes since the protests of the Fall 2015 semester: CMC opened the new Civility, Access, Resource, Expression (CARE) Center at the start of last semester, hired Vince Greer as the college’s first Assistant Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion, introduced dialogue events like You. Me. Together CMC, and has increased efforts to hire and retain diverse faculty. In November, CMC held a diversity and inclusion community luncheon event during which students, staff and faculty were able to respond to recent changes and contribute ideas to future D&I initiatives. On February 10, CMC will host a community-wide workshop titled Our Nation Divided: What CMC Can Do, in which members of the CMC community will gather in the Athenaeum to engage in dialogue and take a candid look at the divisions in society.
Faculty Reactions to Protests and Changes
Faculty responses to the protests last year and subsequent campus developments were mixed and nuanced. Some helped provide context for the protests.
Government Professor Jennifer Taw was concerned that the administration did not effectively communicate with student leaders during the 2015 school year that new initiatives, which many now believe were only a response to the protests, were already being developed. Specifically, there was a special ad hoc committee composed of faculty — including Taw — pulled together expressly to address how best to meet the needs of underrepresented students. Taw told the Forum that a main concern was introducing changes that would be substantive and inclusive. However, due to a lack of communication, student leaders believed their concerns had been put on the back burner and rose up in protest. Their protest had the positive impact of speeding up changes already underway, but also alienated some community members who became resistant to the protesters’ means and message.
Taw also provided some context for Dean Spellman’s resignation. Spellman was actually at a meeting with the ad hoc committee discussing inadequate resources for marginalized students when she realized that her email about the “CMC mold” had been misinterpreted and was being used as an example of the school’s disrespect for underrepresented students. Taw noted that the administration and faculty continue to seek ways to balance the needs of marginalized students, ensure a diverse and inclusive CMC community, and preserve an environment in which healthy, productive debate can occur without insult being freely given or offense too quickly taken.
Striking a different tone, government Professor Charles Kesler responded to the protests by writing an article in the Wall Street Journal last year criticizing the protests as stifling campus free speech and undermining CMC’s values. He did not think the students should have demanded Spellman’s resignation, noting to The Forum: “It was not proper for administration to concede so quickly without deliberating together with faculty, trustees and alumni. … Essentially 40 students and President Chodosh made a decision that would injure the community and violate norms that hold us together.”
Kesler also suggests caution when using the term racism. He told the Forum that he believes “racism” is an overused term that can be abused any time someone disagrees. “You can just play racism card without thinking about what you really mean by racism,” he said.
Psychology Professor Wei-Chin Hwang took a different stance from Kesler on the protests at CMC and the subsequent initiatives, supporting the protesters but holding a more nuanced view on the CARE Center. He told the Forum in an email exchange that despite being a good start, the CARE Center is very different from what he had envisioned.
“A center primarily designed for minority students cannot effectively and fully address their needs if it is also trying to fully accommodate the needs of majority students,” Hwang explained. “The fact that a majority vote was used to name the center says something. … Why would the majority craft and define the mission, values, goals, structure, and intentions of the center if it is truly meant to support and address the needs of the minority? … A center truly intended to support students of color as the primary mission would not look like this.”
He attributes many of the CARE Center’s problems to the administration trying to balance the needs of too many factors, such as diverging viewpoints of students, faculty, and the Board of Trustees. Doing so effectively dilutes the center’s primary goal of addressing minority student needs, which are what most ethnic resource centers at college campuses are designed to do. “The fact that the center does not even have the word ‘diversity’ in it communicates something,” he noted.
Many faculty members were especially concerned about faculty diversity in addition to the protests last year.
Kesler believes that diversity should emphasize differing opinions rather than ethnicity. He told the Forum: “If we hire people who are of different color but have the same liberal opinions as everyone else, is that really the healthiest way to define diversity? And what about other potentially relevant, marginalized categories, like Orthodox Jews, or people from small towns?”
Hwang and French professor Marie Denise Shelton diverge from Kesler’s viewpoint. Hwang wrote: “When faculty diversity is limited, many prospective faculty will not come here, and those that are here may leave because they feel unappreciated, get burned out from always having to fight the fight, or become less involved because they feel like the environment is hostile and not inclusive. Nobody wants to be a token minority, nor do they want to feel like the campus doesn’t value who they are what they bring to the table.”
Shelton, the only tenured black professor at CMC, believes faculty diversity at CMC is “abysmal” and a discussion that the school has not seriously addressed. For Shelton, faculty diversity is crucial. “No matter how open or generous current CMC professors can be, they cannot achieve the completeness and richness that specialists can bring to diverse topics,” she explained.
Philosophy Professor Amy Kind is also concerned with curriculum coverage and lack of diversity among faculty members. She wrote to the Forum in November: “The faculty – myself and my department included – collectively bear the responsibility for the failure to increase curricular diversity/faculty diversity in hiring. But it’s also true that only the administration has the ‘bird’s eye’ view that encompasses the whole hiring picture.”
Although the administration commonly attributes the lack of faculty diversity due to the hiring limitations, Kind suggests otherwise. She references the faculty count on p. 72 of the 2015 CMC “Factbook”. In approximately the past 10 years, the size of the tenure track faculty has grown 41 slots, from 118 to 159. This means at least 41 new faculty were hired in the last 10 years, without including replacement hiring for retirement or other reasons. These statistics suggest more fluidity in hiring than previously suggested. It should, however, be noted that the efforts to improve D&I made by President Chodosh’s administration only began 3 years ago when he was inaugurated to CMC, rather than all 10 years as documented below.
Administrative Reactions to Protests and Changes
New Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Vince Greer said that he looks forward to continuing his work at the CARE Center. “We are applying new initiatives in regards to diversity and inclusion and those things take some time to permeate throughout the community,” Greer said. “The reception has generally been well received or at the very least met with little opposition, which is encouraging.” Moving forward, he thinks that one issue the CARE Center will face is navigating diversity and inclusion following a tense political season that has already widened divides in the community.
Nyree Gray, CMC’s Chief Civil Rights Officer and Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, agreed with Greer that progress has been made this year. “I like the direction that we’re going. I’m glad that we’re able to get students, faculty, and staff around the table and having important conversations,” she said. However, like Vince, she acknowledged that there is still more progress to be made. “I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but I still anticipate that there’s more work we can do, and I hope that everyone is looking forward to working collaboratively towards whatever direction we go.”
Student Reactions to Protests and Changes
For some students, these new initiatives represent a victory. “In no way do I think CMC has resolved discrimination, but I think we need to recognize the progress done thus far. I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is just after one year of work on these initiatives,” said Patrick Elliott ‘19, who became ASCMC’s first Diversity & Inclusion Chair in January 2016. “Because of new additions such as Dean Greer and Sharon Basso, I have full confidence that CMC will continue to strive for a more inclusive environment,” he said.
Other students were more critical. A number of people observed how little CARE has been used, although there are no statistics available to the Forum to support this assumption. For example, in November the CARE Center hosted a public screening of the documentary 13th; only 11 students came. All of the 11 students were required to attend the movie screening.
However, Timothy Song ‘19, a fellow at the CARE Center, is optimistic about the Center’s future. Noting that movements start slowly, he said: “I strongly believe that the CARE Center is still setting the stage for future action. To an outsider, this might be perceived as period of failure or inaction. I, on the other hand, view it as natural progression as the CARE Center establishes itself on campus and finds its place at CMC.”
Black Student Alliance President Micaiah Young ‘18, while acknowledging that progress has been made, mentioned that events such as You. Me. Together CMC have not yet been followed up and expanded on. “That was a great event to help many feel comfortable joining the conversation, but it seems like the conversation has stopped,” she said, noting that she would like to see more frequent community-wide programming like the fall dialogue event next semester.
Nevertheless, she believes that administration has been very supportive of BSA, something evident when planning a fall break trip to Washington D.C. in which a group of roughly 15 students visited the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
¡Mi Gente! co-president Alejandra Vasquez Baur ‘17 also believes CMC can do much more. Regarding the You. Me. Together CMC Day of Dialogue event in September, which approximately 500 CMC students, faculty members, and staff participated in, Baur believes there could have been much more effort to attract more participants to the event. “Seeing this event just weeks from the extravagant Roberts Pavilion Grand Opening, with the time and attention that was given to that event, the Fall Day of Dialogue seemed sub-par, and in the future I think there can be more effort put into an event that will serve the improvement of the community at large,” she said.
Student leaders from CMCers of Color, the group that organized the protests in the fall, did not respond to the Forum’s requests for comment.
Moving forward, students hope that last year’s events can stimulate long-lasting change at CMC. “The events of last year were extremely difficult for everyone.” said Patrick Elliott ‘19. “The pain that was felt across this campus practically tore us apart. But I stand by all students of marginalized identities, and the work they have done to improve CMC…CMC can be better and, as long as we have students willing to fight for change, it will be better.”