Mirza Summit Centers on CMC Social Scene

In an ongoing effort to improve the safety and inclusivity of the college's social scene, Claremont McKenna College launched the Mirza Summit on Personal and Social Responsibility. The college invited students, staff and faculty members, and alumni to participate in a series of six confidential meetings that began last week to discuss their perceptions of campus life and student behaviors, including drug and alcohol use. 

The Mirza Summit is part of a larger project on personal and social responsibility, which was officially announced by CMC President Hiram Chodosh last November and is led by Vice President for Student Affairs, Admission, and Financial Aid Jefferson Huang.

“One of the benefits of a small, residential college is that we can come together, talk, and reflect upon our lives," Huang wrote in an email to TSL. "We couldn't do this as a huge university or a commuter college. So we wanted to let students talk about all aspects of their lives—academic, social, family, spiritual, and so forth. From that, we're going to use all the tools of the College to see what we can do to improve the quality of students' lives." 

The Mirza Summit was named in memory of Ali Mirza CM '14, who died in May 2013 after reportedly inhaling nitrous oxide.

"We wanted to honor Ali, and the Mirza family," Huang wrote. "Ali loved CMC, and I think we knew that he would have supported a program that would improve the CMC community. So President Chodosh spoke with Ali's parents about this, and they fully supported it." 

At the summit sessions, students discussed issues including the accessibility of mental health resources and offered suggestions such as the creation of a student-to-student support system, said Fiona Bare CM '17, who attended a summit session Feb. 28.  Bare said that she seems room for improvement both in terms of the party scene and overall campus life at CMC. 

"The discussion of how to balance academics, relationships, partying, etc. is what all students are trying to figure out," she said. 

Government professor Hilary Appel led a discussion on Feb. 26 at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum after she was nominated by a committee of students and faculty and staff members. Appel wrote in an email to TSL that her main job was to pose questions and make sure everyone had a chance to express his or her opinion. Appel also wrote that there was an outside researcher who took detailed notes during the discussion.

“At this stage, we are listening, thinking, exploring, and brainstorming with a broad group of students to consider adjustments to college policies and practices that will enhance their college experience and encourage responsible behavior," Appel wrote. "These meetings were used to gather information from students who often speak up as well as those who usually do not."

While some of the meetings held from Feb. 26 to March 10 were hosted in the reception rooms of the Athenaeum, others were hosted in the homes of faculty members and administrators. 

Bare, who attended a meeting at the house of Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Mary Spellman, said that although there was a list of questions to guide the discussion, the students did not need it.

“I would say everyone was pretty engaged," she said. "For the most part it was very student-driven.”

There were about 15 students at the meeting, as well as faculty and staff members, administrators, and alumni, Bare said. Students represented a mix of school years and extracurricular activities.

Steven Limandibhratha CM '14 said that he was asked to participate in the Feb. 26 meeting led by Appel because of his involvement with student government last year. Limandibhratha said that in his experience, administrators and faculty members are receptive to student input.

“I think in our kind of schools where student leadership and student opinion is very highly regarded, in any situation faculty members are very open," Limandibhratha said. "And a byproduct of good ideas is that no matter who you are it’s a good idea, so I think that they are very receptive to what we are saying."

Also at the Feb. 26 meeting was Chloe Zagrodzky CM '17, who will be the new chair of the Social Life Council for the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College Executive Board once the new term begins after spring break. Zagrodzky said that prospective students are sometimes intimidated by CMC’s social scene, which is centered on drinking.

“One of the things people told me as a challenge being a Social Life chair is people aren’t interested in dry events as much," she said. "They assume they’re going to be boring; they don’t show up. So it’s encouraging that there are some people out there who are looking for events other than the typical party scene. I’m hoping to offer … relaxed events where everyone can feel welcome and there’s not the pressure to use alcohol and drugs."

The Mirza Summit will culminate with a program April 11, where those who put together and participated in the discussions will celebrate the completion of the summit.

“While the Mirza Summit represents the launch of this project, the Personal and Social Responsibility project will continue on for quite some time,” Huang wrote. “We're hoping to weave a sense of personal and social responsibility into the life of the College and make it a distinguishing feature of CMC. We'll try some things, try to learn what works and what doesn't, and keep going.”