Racial Profiling, or Why CMC Needs More Diversity

Two weeks ago, I published a column on Claremont McKenna College’s five-year drop in its student body’s socioeconomic diversity and its overarching effects on the college as a whole. Never did I imagine my concerns being immediately validated.

On the night of Sept. 20 (the day after the piece was published), two enlisted U.S. Marines, my girlfriend and I were racially profiled outside of Phillips Hall at CMC.

Let me trouble you with the details: After a quick 7-11 run, we all came back to CMC to chill and reminisce—all four of us went to the same high school on the west side of Chicago. It was Keyvan and Cesar’s fourth or fifth time coming to campus. They’re both stationed in Camp Pendleton, a brisk, 45-minute drive away from Claremont.

Shortly after leaving the Sixth Street parking lot, I realized that I left my CMC ID in my room. “No biggie,” I thought to myself. It isn’t rare for people to ask to get into lounges and dorms.

Lo and behold, after only a couple of minutes waiting outside Phillips, three guys who looked like first-years began walking toward us. It was dark out, around 12:30 a.m., so I approached them in a friendly manner, just in case.

“Yo, can you guys open Phillips for me? I forgot my ID in my room,” I told them.

“Yeah, sure,” said one of the guys, nonchalantly.

As he began to walk over, one of his friends began to whisper something, glaring at us from a distance. The first guy seemed to not pay attention and continued to walk toward us. But when he was about 10 steps away from me, the same whispering friend yelled with urgency, “Dude, legit!”

The guy already had his ID out. But he turned to look at his friend, then back at us, and proceeded to turn around and leave.

“Sorry, we gotta go,” he warily said as he fast-walked away.

“But it’ll only take you 10 seconds!” I pleaded. Nobody else had passed by, and I didn't want to keep my buddies waiting any longer. 

“Sorry!” the whisperer said. “We’re in a hurry.”

At this point it’s worth nothing that all four of us are Mexican—dark Mexican, at that. It’s also worth noting that we weren't wearing boat shorts and Sperrys, either.

Having realized what just occurred, my girlfriend, a Pomona second-year, said a loud “What the hell?!” Cesar and Keyvan followed up with their own confusion: “That’s some fucked up shit,” one of them said. “Do we really look like we’re gonna rob this place?”

Meanwhile, I’m standing still where the guy was supposed to meet me, shell-shocked. 

“Maybe they were in a hurry,” I think to myself. “Maybe they were uncomfortable with letting people in the dorm when it’s so dark outside. Maybe we’re the ones that are too dark…”

I’m not gonna lie: I was angry. I was ready to become their criminal. But after yelling “Fuck you” in their general direction, I cooled down. I wasn’t about to give them the pleasure of justifying their prejudice.

So what does socioeconomic and racial diversity have to do with racial profiling on campus? It has everything to do with it.

The reason why more than half of all students who attend the 5Cs are Caucasian—a grievous disproportion compared to the national, college-age population—is that whites in the United States have had greater socioeconomic and political power up to the present day, making them statistically more likely to attend elite institutions such as the Claremont Colleges. Plain and simple.

Being here also entails having the financial means available to afford this type of schooling. I’m not talking about the 5Cs’ cost of attendance—I’m talking about being able to afford private schools, SAT tutors, costly extracurricular activities, "life-changing" trips across the globe and every other perk needed to spice up someone's application to these schools.

When you put both of these factors together—the overwhelming wealth and whiteness of our campuses—a certain type of environment begins to grow, one in which a majority of the student body is completely foreign to the experiences of low-income people of color.

This alienation is what fosters racism. Only when we are spiritually and physically distanced from each other can prejudice take hold. If one of those dudes knew that I wrote for the newspaper, or that my friends were Marines, or that my girlfriend goes to Pomona—that is, if they even had the slightest clue of who we were—the situation would have been completely different. This column would not have existed.

And this isn’t to say that we need to sing "Kumbaya" and sit around a campfire to appreciate ourselves—it just means creating a campus where seeing people of color dressed in non-affluent ways is not out of the ordinary. How can that happen when only 11 percent of our student body receives a Pell Grant? How diverse can we be when our racial demographics are dominated by wealthy nonresident aliens?

It’s up to CMC—the 5C with the lowest socioeconomic diversity—to prevent these forms of discrimination from growing. Only through a diverse campus substantially made up of students of all colors and income levels can we free ourselves of damaging stereotypes. This time it was just the door to Phillips, tomorrow it could be a job interview.  What I'm trying to say is this: neither the color of my skin nor the clothes on my back have the right to determine who I am. Only my soul can do that.

Carlos Ballesteros CM '16 is a sociology and history double major from Chicago, Ill.