The Pitzer Student Senate denied funding for a proposed “Caucasian Culture Club” after a lengthy discussion at the senate meeting Feb. 19.
Throughout the process there was ambiguity surrounding the authenticity of the club as a proposed group. Following the denial of funds, the club leaders admitted that the club had been intended to serve as part of a student video project for a media studies class.
“We had the idea of doing a mocumentary to see what we could provoke by the formation of a fictitious club called the Caucasian Culture Club,” said Alvaro Parra PZ ’13, who designed the project along with other group members.
Parra said that the group wanted to look at the “fragile balance that exists concerning race relations at the Claremont Colleges that is usually veiled in some politically correct talk.”
“We wanted to see how students would respond to this club,” said Michael Ceruso PZ ‘13, who acted as the club’s president. “We wanted to see where we are at understanding one another.”
At the senate meeting, Ceruso responded to questions from senate members, student and faculty in an emotionally tense exchange. Ceruso emphasized that the views he expressed during the meeting were not his own but that he was emulating what would have been said by a person who genuinely wanted to start the club.
Professor of Anthropology and History Dan Segal, the faculty advisor to the Pitzer senate, described the proposal as “hostile and destructive.”
“They now claim they were trying to expose something about racism at Pitzer, but I cannot see that they even had any sense of how to do that,” said Segal said.
“When I read the proposal, my initial response was to think that this was either an offensive idea for a student club or an offensive hoax,” he added.
The proposal stated the purpose of the club was “to promote and celebrate the variant aspects of Caucasian culture,” with the hope that “with this club we can bring Caucasian students to feel proud about contributing to multiculturalism.”
The proposal added that the club hoped to celebrate Caucasian culture through movie classics, potlucks with traditionally Caucasian recipes, dance parties to the songs of favorite Caucasian artists, and planned to observe “traditionally Caucasian” holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, Presidents Day and Groundhog Day.
“There were a lot of passionate speeches,” said Pitzer Student Senate Chair Rio Bauce PZ ’12. “I felt that during the senate meeting, the comments were extremely respectful.”
“It is a deep rooted issue that we are not trying to take lightly,” Ceruso said. He said one faculty member “made very important statements about race, and he was right, but the way he said it and the way he talked down to me was an enlightening experience.”
Following the senate meeting there have been various meetings on and discussions about the club, as well as a series of e-mails on Student-Talk, Pitzer’s student e-mail chain. On Thursday night, the Black Student Union held an open forum to address the senate meeting and the subsequent issues that have surfaced.
The BSU forum conversation lasted over an hour and half, as students and faculty expressed their reactions and emotions.
“I don’t appreciate being part of an experiment that I didn’t consent to,” said one student. “When I got to the senate meeting, it switched from ‘this is a joke’ to me having a deep concern and deep fear, and me feeling like I was in a place where I was being threatened.”
Another student was frustrated that during the senate meeting many people discussed the Caucasian Culture Club in a manner that seemed to equate it to other groups on campus, like BSU.
“It’s not the thing same whatsoever,” the student said, adding that she was “hurt and angered.”
Ceruso and Parra said that they wanted to see how students at Pitzer would deal with the type of individual they presented and what kind of reaction a proposed Caucasian Culture Club would provoke, leading to dialogue that could “get past the language normally used.”
“I am talking about race all the time in all sorts of situations,” another BSU forum attendee said. “If you had come up to me on the mounds one day and asked me this, I would have told you what I really thought. We could have a had an honest conversation.”
Students at the forum expressed the pain and hurt provoked by the proposed club.
“The level of unaccountability should not be tolerated,” one student said to the students involved in the project who were present at the forum. “Either you don’t understand what you did or you don’t care.”
Through the documentary, “we were looking to get a genuine and raw response by precluding information,” said a student involved in the project.
“I would argue that this project was neither misconceived nor irresponsible. I believe that the project must be located within a viable and legitimate tradition of generative provocations and social actions aimed at stimulating discussion around important issues,” said Jesse Lerner, Professor of Media Studies at Pitzer.
Most of the students at the forum did not agree that the provocation was warranted.
“It was an experiment, and it was wrong and unethical,” one student said.