Final Thoughts on the Rice Protests

The Claremont Colleges have been lauded as some of the happiest higher educational institutions in the country. One might attribute this to our seemingly laissez-faire social policy – a sort of “live and let live” approach to doing things. This ideology sets an interesting framework for interactions between students of the 5Cs. All students here are certainly aware of the constant joking and ribbing done among the colleges, i.e. the jokes that all Pitzer students are extreme socialists, that CMC students are all budding stockbrokers at Goldman Sachs, and that the reason we never see Harvey Mudd students is because they’re all building a nuclear reactor in the basement of their dining hall. The jokes, however, turned bitter when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited CMC’s campus on November 30th.  Campus news articles and blog posts became online battlegrounds of political rhetoric, pitting “conservative” CMC students against “liberal” Pitzer students.  On the campuses themselves, there was a prescient sense of animosity; in class, I could truly sense a distance among Pitzer students during some of the more heated days of the online controversies.

Most people, Pitzer and CMC students alike, went to Ducey Gymnasium on Wednesday expecting to be involved in a tense shouting match.  In some small ways, the expected malice was there. When I introduced myself as a CMC student to Marcus, a demonstrating Pitzer student, his response was “you’re from CMC?  Baby-killer!” Marcus, however, certainly was not representative of the entire student population at the protests on Wednesday.  In general, the protests were incredibly constructive and peaceful, with little in the way of altercations beyond a few students who seemed intent on provoking a fight where there was none to be found.

Indeed, the aggressors in the crowd seemed to be more the exception than the rule.  Protestors and CMC students alike were generally incredibly respectful of one another.

Christian Neumeister, a CMC freshman who attended the talk, was understanding of the protests. “I certainly think [the protestors] have the right to voice their opinions.  I don’t necessarily agree with their opinions, but it’s their fundamental American right to voice them,” Neumeister said.

An unnamed Pitzer demonstrator agreed: “CMC brought Dr. Rice because it hopes to foster a discussion as part of its Athenaeum program.  That is all well and good – the reason we’re here is not to stop that discussion, but rather to promote our own outside.”

The protests themselves were very different from the disorganized mess that some predicted they would be. During the talk, professors and students lectured bystanders and demonstrators on different topics, which ranged from the use of torture to the impetus behind the Iraq War.  Near the Northeast corner of the parking lot, a group of students held a waterboarding demonstration in order to provoke student dialogue around the moral and ethical issues involved with the practice.  These lectures – while certainly biased to present an anti-Condoleezza Rice perspective – created an environment more conducive to learning than to accusation, and were a welcome presence on a college campus.

Feel free to chalk it up to my freshman naiveté and optimism, but this made me happy to be a student at the 5Cs.  To me, the 5Cs are built on a certain morale and community camaraderie that governs our campus-to-campus interactions, including a certain sports rivalry (in which CMS is most certainly superior).  It is certainly true that the anonymity and immediacy of the Internet allowed the controversy of Dr. Rice’s visit to become more malicious than intended.  Yet, once CMC and Pitzer students were face to face, the conversation took on a human face, one that represented our students in a much more flattering light.