Shifting Perceptions: Celebrating the Spectrum of Leadership

Last March, during our training retreat in Big Bear, the 2011-2012 Claremont McKenna College Resident Assistants had a meeting to discuss campus issues that we wanted to address before graduation.  During our discussion, it became apparent that one issue stood out among the rest: we all felt that our campus culture is often perceived as sexist and homophobic.  We all love CMC tremendously, and we hate to see any part of our campus community marginalized.  We decided that it was time to have an open conversation about the role that masculinity and sexuality play at CMC.

It is no secret to many CMC students that the rest of the Claremont Colleges view us as sexist and homophobic.  I’ve heard my fair share of false rumors about the alleged horrors committed by our students and witnessed disbelief when I argue that CMC isn’t actually a bad place to be gay.  But the exaggerated perceptions of the other schools shouldn’t prevent us from addressing legitimate problems on our campus – problems that happen to be an issue on many college campuses.

So what is the problem? Before her Athenaeum talk on October 5th, Melissa Harris-Perry referenced the “old boy’s club” atmosphere of Princeton University as one of the reasons why she left.  Because CMC was first founded as a men’s college in 1946, becoming coeducational in 1976, it isn’t a stretch to think that CMC shares a similar masculine culture to that of Princeton, as described by Harris-Perry.  In fact, I believe CMC does have a dominant masculine culture that is, at times, problematic.  We have too many closeted gay students scared to come out.  We have student leaders that love CMC but see no benefit in making their sexuality public.  They are content with riding the wave of presumed heterosexuality.  Similarly, we have girls that feel pressure to drink like the guys and hook up like the guys.  I have witnessed some of the best prospective students, particularly women, scared away by our parties and our masculine culture.

One of the greatest things about CMC is that we refuse to rest on our laurels.  We are always trying to improve our college, our campus community, and ourselves.  Many of our students, faculty, and staff believe that CMChas a culture that celebrates masculinity and heterosexuality above other forms of expression and identity.  But that isn’t who we are.  CMCers come in many different types: gay, straight, male, female, etc.  Some drink and attend every Thursday Night Club, and some don’t drink at all.  But these aren’t the traits that define us as CMCers.  What makes us CMCers is our celebration of leadership and our ability to balance social life, athletic pursuits, extra-curricular involvement, and academic accomplishments.

Here are some of the questions that we should be asking ourselves:

  • What defines the culture at CMC and what is a typical CMCer?
  • Why don’t more students feel comfortable being gay at this school?
  • What is the role of masculinity and alcohol in our hookup culture?
  • How do the perceptions of our hyper-masculine culture affect our admission yield rates? Are we really getting the best potential CMCers possible?
  • Do our female economics/finance majors have sufficient mentorship and a proportional voice in their classes?

During the 2011-2012 academic year, the RAs and ASCMC are sponsoring several Athenaeum events to help answer or address many of these questions.  Through the speaker series, we hope to promote dialogue on issues relevant to our fellow students and our campus climate.  We hope to foster a greater sense of inclusivity and community at CMC by celebrating the bold leadership of women, gay men and lesbians.

The Athenaeum is the quintessential forum at CMC for such a discussion.  For the “Shifting Perceptions” speaker series, the RAs and ASCMC, along with many other supporters, have confirmed at least 6 featured speakers.  James B. Stewart, the first openly gay editor of a major media publication in the U.S., spoke on September 14th about the importance of ethics and integrity.  On September 15th, actor B.D. Wong discussed issues he has faced as an Asian-American and a gay man.  On October 24th, Rick Welts Jr., (click here to place a reservation) President of the Golden State Warriors, will talk about his journey as one of the most successful business executives in the NBA.  He came out last May, during his time as President of the Phoenix Suns.  For the full speaker series, click here.

This series has been made possible because of the incredible unity shown by student leaders, the administration, and other campus groups.  ASCMC quickly jumped on board to help support the initiative and the efforts of Bonnie Snortum, Director of the Athenaeum, helped us gain institutional support.  President Gann, the CMS Athletic Department, the Dean of Students Office, the Dean of Faculty Office, the Robert Day School, the Women and Leadership Alliance, the Kravis Leadership Institute, the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children, and the Center for Writing and Public Discourse have all been important contributors to the series.

We hope that this series will challenge the perception that CMC is dominated by a hyper-masculine culture and increase the sense of synergy among students.  You don’t have to be a macho bro to be a true CMCer.  CMC isn’t about buildings or any one person or department.  It is about our community and that is what sets us apart.  Together, let’s strive to make our CMC family even stronger.  We are all CMCers for life.