Conversations Should Include Whole Consortium

Students across the Claremont Colleges are engaging in critical discussions about their schools, with topics ranging from academics to class, race and gender. We are glad to see that students are interested in improving their colleges, which are already praiseworthy in many ways but still face some serious problems. But we think the conversation about these problems could be made more productive if students would shift the focus from individual colleges to the level of the consortium. 

The Claremont Colleges are distinct institutions with unique identities, but the consortium is set up to create a community that includes all seven—yes, seven—schools. Students here have generous cross-registration options, allowing them to take many of their classes at colleges other than their own. Just as important, intercollegiate extracurricular activities, consortium-wide dining privileges and the physical proximity of our campuses all encourage a high degree of social mixing. Even the newspaper you are reading, which is produced at Pomona College but reflects the efforts of student-journalists at all five undergraduate colleges, is a testament to the intermingled character of the Claremont system.

Because the Claremont schools share so much with one another, social and academic issues that affect one college are likely to affect the others as well. So, if students want to change life at one of the colleges, they should start by opening a conversation that includes the whole consortium.

The News section of this issue of TSL includes articles about two discussion-based events that focused specifically on Pomona—one addressing questions about academics raised by The Pomona College Dissent, the other dealing with issues of social class. These conversations are well worth having, but both could be enhanced by a broader perspective. Widespread cross-registration means that the quality of education received by Pomona students does not depend solely on Pomona’s academic departments. Likewise, the colleges are so socially integrated that the stigma on low-income students will persist unless the whole consortium commits to erasing it.

The controversy surrounding the proposed “Bros, Pilgrims and Navajos” theme for Thursday Night Club at Claremont McKenna College is another example of a conversation that could benefit from a consortium-wide approach. It is tempting to blame the racist party proposal on CMC’s campus climate, which is sometimes seen as indifferent or even hostile to social progress. But false assumptions about Native Americans exist throughout the consortium, so the only way to prevent future incidents of this kind is to change the entire Claremont culture. 

Of course, it sometimes makes sense to focus on a particular campus. The differences among the Claremont Colleges are real, and some issues affect one school disproportionately. But more often than not, campus discourse should include the whole neighborhood.