5Cs Respond to Bias-Related Incidents

The 5C community has been informed of two bias-related incidents against identity-based organizations on campus that came to light in the span of four days last week. These events revolved around Claremont McKenna College’s Brothers and Sisters Alliance (BSA) and a pro-Israel organization on the campuses.

Claremont Students for Israel (CSI) discovered Feb. 18 through a post on Yik Yak, an anonymous social media platform, that their flyers, promoting an event discussing the issues of Israelis living near the Gaza Strip, might have been intentionally discarded. The wording of the initial post and the subsequent reaction of other commenters and Yik Yak users then escalated into anti-Semitic rhetoric referencing material ranging from celebration of the Holocaust to degrading stereotypes about the Jewish community.

“It doesn’t matter whether or not someone is trolling—it’s widely assumed that the individuals were trolling—there’s a difference between going out there trying to illicit a response for humor’s sake, and standing on the ashes of eleven million people,” CSI President Elliott Hamilton PZ ’15 said. “There is not any excuse on the planet that can allow someone to say and rationalize their right to say that.”

Hamilton said that though the initial action could be seen as a relatively harmless activity, the subsequent explosion of opinions points to a larger degree of dormant anti-Semitic feelings on campus.

In a separate incident Feb. 21, Pomona students received an email from Adriana di Bartolo, the interim associate dean of students and director of the Queer Resource Center, informing students of the defacement of BSA’s mural on Walker Wall. BSA is a CMC-based student group that strives to provide a safe environment for students who identify as Black, Brown or African-American and their allies. 

According to BSA leadership, the mural, which is a memorial to individuals killed by police officers, had no political motivation. They instead intended to commemorate of these individuals’ deaths. In the defacement of the mural, a cylindrical figure was drawn near the mouth of a female figure and a skirt shape was drawn over the figure's upper legs.

The exact date of the vandalization is unclear, though it likely took place during the end of last semester. It was not brought to the attention of BSA members until Feb. 6. Co-President of BSA Sesa Bakenra-Tikande CM ’15 said that a student witness saw two students painting on the wall. When the witness asked them what they were doing, they hurriedly tried to erase it. Bakenra-Tikande noted that the sexual imagery used in the vandalism was distinctively gendered in nature.

“I think that the sexual nature of what they drew was specific, because they didn’t put it next to the male figures,” Bakenra-Tikande said. “They put it specifically on the female figure, which stands out to me.”

CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman wrote in an email to TSL that she was informed of the incident early February. Spellman wrote that she then shared the information with Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum.

"It is normal protocol for the home campus to lead investigations into matters that happen on their campus," Spellman wrote.

Bakenra-Tikande said that even though she understands this protocol, she is disappointed by administrative response.

"I understand but we are also a consortium and we are also a CMC club. I would expect there to be some response," she said.

CMC students were informed on Feb. 23 through the email written by di Bartolo for Pomona students that was forwarded to CMC students by Spellman.

“I don’t know if [bias-related incidents] are happening more; I think that we are reporting them more,” di Bartolo said. “But then, I think there is also this kind of kick-back that has happened and we’ve seen this increase … people are afraid of ‘change’ and they think that the change is minoritized communities having more say, having more power. When the old establishment is no longer in control anymore, I think that scares people.”

Bakenra-Tikande said that she has increasingly felt excluded from her campus and that she had to prove her right to be there. Hamilton feels that CSI has become more marginalized and excluded from the campus discussion. He said that they are not asking that everyone agree or like their stance, but that they have a place to feel safe and be heard.

“I think that so often the minute something becomes uncomfortable we don’t want to have these conversations anymore, and we have to push beyond that discomfort to be able to engage in change and revolution and talking about these things that are so important,” di Bartolo said. “It’s not just settling for the status quo; it’s talking about real true inclusivity, which we don’t have.”