Photo courtesy of Matthew Johnson ’20
Although the CMC community had anticipated an organized student protest against Athenaeum speaker Heather Mac Donald, as advertised on Facebook, few anticipated her talk would be closed off and limited to a livestream service.
“We did receive some early warning that some students wanted to shut down the event and make it impossible for her to speak, but we actually had little additional warning signs that ‘some students’ would turn into the size that eventually showed up,” said Dean of Faculty, Peter Uvin, in an interview with the Forum on Friday.
Mac Donald was invited by the Rose Institute of State and Local Government to present on “The War On Cops” at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum this Thursday at 6:45 p.m.
On Wednesday, students of color of the Claremont Colleges created a Facebook event titled “SHUT DOWN Anti-Black Fascist Heather Mac Donald,” and released a statement letter early Thursday condemning the Rose Institute and CMC for allowing “fascism to have a platform.” On the basis of standing up against all forms of oppression, the group initiated a protest against Mac Donald’s alleged anti-blackness, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant views.
In preparation, fences were set up around Flamson Plaza, and five to seven Campus Safety officers were employed to secure the area mid-afternoon Thursday.
The demonstration started at 4 p.m. when over 200 students congregated outside the Honnold Mudd Library and walked to the Ath, holding signs that read “stop police brutality,” “end white supremacy” and “Black Lives Matter.” Protesters blockaded both the front and back entrances of the Athenaeum, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the building.
Leaders of the protest held megaphones and led the following chants: “How do you spell fascism? C-M-C! How do you spell racism? C-M-C! How do you spell anti-blackness? C-M-C!”; “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Heather Mac has got to go.”; “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.”
Some protesters even gathered in Kravis to occupy the fourth-floor balcony outside the Rose Institute. Campus Safety advised the students to leave and blocked all card access to the building.
The crowd outside the Ath grew in size as students and faculty who were signed up to attend the presentation gathered around the fenced area. Individual staff members from CMC’s Dean of Students, CARE Center, Office of Black Student Affairs and the Queer Resource Center were also present.
“We could not identify at any point who was speaking for them, and [we] even tried before [the event] to reach out to students whose Facebook posts started this,” said Peter Uvin. “At that time, given that we were not prepared for that, we started plan B, which was to ensure that her talk gets given.”
At 6:09 p.m., Dean Uvin sent out an email stating that because student protesters made it impossible for guests to enter the building, the lecture would be live streamed “in the interest of safety.”
Mac Donald gave her presentation in the far corner of the main room to a small audience, which included two Ath fellows, Sarah Sanbar and Michael Grouskay, and a few members of the Ath staff. The fellows were able to ask two questions, which were received through email, before the live stream cut off. In total, the talk lasted 31 minutes.
Outside, the CMC Forum sought comments from protestors as well as students and professors who stood on the sideline. Isaac Tucker-Rasbury PO ‘18 championed the protest as it represented “political action” and “an act of defiance.”
He was glad to see so many students participate in the act of solidarity. “I think it’s a great use of the freedom of political speech…of showing defiance,” Tucker-Rasbury added.
In regards to protesters blocking the cameras of observers and journalists, Tucker-Rasbury said that it was a necessary part of the nonviolent, direct action. “I’m perfectly fine with the way that they’ve been going about it—peaceful protest,” he said.
On the other side of the spectrum, Professor of Government Charles Kesler believed that it was a “sad day for CMC.” Kesler, who had previously interviewed Mac Donald for the Claremont Institute’s “American Mind” series, found that the real crime of the affair was one committed against “the values of CMC” which are “academic freedom and intellectual discourse.”
He was relieved that the protest didn’t turn violent but also found it particularly problematic that the majority of the protesters were not CMC students. Kesler noticed that previous protests on CMC’s campus were similarly organized and primarily attended by other members of the Claremont Colleges.
Dean Uvin also came to this conclusion and has taken action to contact the other deans of faculty from the 5Cs. “Clearly, part of the answer needs to be something joint,” he said. “This matters to [the other colleges] too, as it should.”
Mac Donald was evacuated immediately after her lecture at 7:05 p.m. with the assistance of Claremont Police Department.
Shortly after her departure, Dean Uvin sent another email addressing his disappointment with the events that occurred: “What we face here is not an attempt to demonstrate, or to ask tough questions of our speaker, all of which are both protected and cherished on this campus, but rather to make it impossible for her to speak, for you to listen, and for all of us to debate. This we could not accept.”
The protest continued until 7:45 p.m.
That night, Dean Uvin met with President Chodosh, Dean of Students Sharon Basso, CPD, and others to discuss how to avoid these kinds of disruptions from occurring in the future. Though they were not able to form a concrete course of action, they agreed to keep this “very high up on the agenda.”
“We will work on this [because] it’s not just an ephemeral thing — this matters a lot; this is at the core of who we are,” said Dean Uvin.
Nearly 250 people viewed the livestream and the video has been viewed over 1,400 times on the CMC homepage, according to President Hiram Chodosh. In his email sent out today, Chodosh expressed that CMC students who violated college policy by blocking access to buildings will be “held accountable.” A copy of his email can be found here.
Though relieved that students avoided the “destruction of property” and “outright violence,” the administration is looking into possible disciplinary actions for students guilty of violating policies outlined in the Student Handbook. The question now is, what can the administration do about it. Dean Uvin, along with the rest of his colleagues, is struggling to find an immediate answer, but he maintains that this behavior will not be condoned.
“It’s deeply disturbing what happened…I understand their anger and pain in many ways, but as I wrote in my email, this is not the way to go about it,” said Dean Uvin. “Not in general, and even less so at a college.”