Students Support CMCers of Color in Mass Action Wednesday Toward Administration

Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Mary Spellman announced her resignation today, effective immediately, as a result of the events over the past couple of weeks, which culminated in a call to action yesterday afternoon. In a mass action organized by CMCers of Color and attended by allies from CMC and the other Claremont Colleges, approximately 200 students filled Flamson plaza to demand a response from Spellman regarding the administration's failures to adequately respond to the concerns of marginalized groups. Frustrations directed towards Spellman were amplified by an email she sent to a student who had written an article in The Student Life about experiencing marginalization, in which Spellman wrote, “we are working on how we can better serve students, especially those who don’t fit our CMC mold.” CMCers of Color, who had released a letter earlier that day explaining their experiences and outlining their demands, marched at 2:00 p.m. chanting "No justice, no peace" and "CMC is POC [people of color] / CMC is LGBT" while carrying signs such as "Break the Mold" and "It is too late to say sorry."

Students began by sharing several personal experiences of racism and classism on campus and the administration's lack of response. These stories were previously shared with the school through numerous flyers which were posted around the campus earlier that day. Each flyer declared that none of the stories were isolated incidents, and included a link to the letter released by CMCers of Color, Brothers and Sisters Alliance (BSA), Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), Asian Pacific American Mentoring Program (APAM), and GenU.

All photos by Emily Wang '19

The letter outlined all the actions CMCers of Color had taken to request a resource center, starting on April 9, 2015 when the first email containing letters, a petition, and proposals on how to improve campus climate toward marginalized students was sent to the administration. At the protest, one of the co-chairs of CMCers of Color, Jincy Varughese '16, pointed out that a productive response from the administration wasn't received until 20 minutes before the scheduled demonstration.

Varughese read out the demands, which included a resource center for marginalized students, a diversity chair in Dean of Students, the inclusion of racially-relevant material in class curricula, and sensitivity training for faculty and staff.

Many students expressed frustration that their experiences were invalidated not only by the administration but also by their peers through the hashtag #ShushPOC on Yik Yak and students taking down the posters.

At the protest, Spellman apologized — as she had earlier in an email sent to the student body — and said she was committed to change, pointing to their current efforts to find a new staff member.

ASCMC Executive Vice President Iris Liu '16 responded by asking her to "not think like a politician" and "acknowledge our existence on a level that's the same as you acknowledge those who fit 'the CMC mold.'" Co-chair of CMCers of Color Denys Reyes '16 concurred, emphasizing that "saying you're going to do it is not enough anymore."

President Hiram Chodosh also attended the protest. After thanking the individuals who shared their experiences, he clarified that he sent the email 20 minutes before the demonstration to express support, not derail it. 

Throughout the protest, numerous students shared their concerns with the Dean of Students office based on their experiences interacting with DOS. To hear from these students themselves, watch our video footage of the event here.

In addition to students, Stephanie Minami, mother of student Kaylilani Minami ‘17, spoke on behalf of the parents, encouraging the students to “hit them where is hurts” and target the sources of funding to bring about necessary changes. 

After several responses to students, President Chodosh committed to creating both a temporary and permanent space for marginalized students on the condition that the student leadership work with him and the staff to determine the best way to use the space.

At this point, ASCMC President Will Su '16 stepped up and offered the downstairs conference room of ASCMC as a space for people of color, emphasizing that this did not excuse the administration’s delays and would only work as an interim. Reyes accepted the offer after extending the space for all marginalized identities to use, not only students of color. The students emphasized the need for immediate action, saying, “it’s on you to make sure these spaces happen, to make these identities feel valued.”

At 3:20 p.m., Reyes announced the end of the meeting, expressing their mental and physical exhaustion after working all day and night to release their letter, post flyers, and organize. She invited students to Parents Field to decompress and talk, and other members stayed behind to answer any questions. Students lingered at the Hub plaza afterward, and they discussed, comforted, and prayed together.

Taylor Lemmons '17 and Zain El-Jazara '16 began hunger strikes on Wednesday afternoon, which they vowed to continue until Dean Spellman resigned; today, they ended their strikes following Spellman's letter of resignation. Nonetheless, the students who have been organizing this week stress that there is still more work to be done.