CMC’s Black Students See Low Graduation Rates, Lack of Support

A chart of the results of the student initiative fund ballot
Graphic by Phoebe Shum

For Michaiah Young CM ‘18, the arrival to Claremont McKenna College last August was, as she put it, “disheartening.” A Black student from Chicago, Young said that acclimating herself to CMC’s predominately White campus was not an easy task. 

“In high school, I was used to a hostile environment,” she said. “So for me, luckily, the transition wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

It is no secret that at CMC, and the 5Cs more generally, Black students are underrepresented. But the federal Department of Education’s College Scorecard, released last month, underscores the challenges faced by those students.

At CMC, the six-year completion rate for White students is just below 95 percent. For Black students, however, the six-year completion rate is less than 77 percent—the lowest graduation rate for any race or ethnicity at the college and the lowest six-year rate for African-American students at any of the 5Cs.

The CMC administration wrote in a statement to TSL that they had tasked the college’s Institutional Research Office with reviewing the data. The disparity, they wrote, was the result of “a small number of students who left for very personal reasons.”

But student leaders said the data is indicative of broader problems at CMC. 

“When you’re looking at a really small population, when one or two students don’t complete within the six-year term, that’s going to affect your percentages,” Aaron McKinney CM ‘18 said. 

Along with Young, McKinney serves as co-president of the Brothers and Sisters Alliance, a student group that aims to provide resources and a support system for African-American students at CMC. The magnified effect of one or two students leaving, he said, reflects the student body’s lack of racial diversity. 

“We’re barely four percent African-American here on CMC’s campus,” McKinney said. 

He said that he knows two Black students who have left the college since his arrival—one temporarily, one permanently.

“One would have been this year’s class, and the other would have graduated last year,” he said.

McKinney expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of institutional support for Black students. The Claremont University Consortium (CUC)’s Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA) “was really Pomona-centric, and a lot of the resources and things that they offered were mostly to Pomona students,” McKinney said. 

Recently-appointed OBSA Director Lydia Middleton declined to comment, as did the CUC’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Denise Hayes.

The Claremont Colleges’ lack of historically Black fraternities and sororities was a consideration for Young during the admissions process.

“The idea of having a strong community that’s almost central to your identity is something that a lot of us are looking for,” she said.

In the spring of 2015, the Brothers and Sisters Alliance joined other groups representing students of color on CMC’s campus to petition President Hiram Chodosh and the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College for improved support and resources. The proposed changes included the addition of a Diversity Chair to the Dean of Students office and the creation of a dedicated on-campus resource center.

As a member of CMCers of Color, Denys Reyes CM ‘16 was involved in the petition process. So far, she said, the administration has been “bureaucratically responsive.”

“They have more committees, they have had lots of meetings, but I think they don’t see students of color as a priority, so they will have these meetings but there’s been very little visible done,” Reyes said.

Reyes named Scripps College’s SCORE (Scripps Communities Of Resources and Empowerment) as a model for what she hopes CMC will create.

“A center like that at CMC would be profoundly useful and have a profound impact across the board—on students, administration, staff,” she said.

In contrast to the college’s administration, Reyes said that Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC) has been “incredibly responsive.”

The student government is moving to add a diversity chair to its Executive Board. Iris Liu CM ‘16, ASCMC Executive Vice President, said that she hopes the proposal will be complete before the spring elections.

ASCMC held roundtable discussions on Sept. 21 and Oct. 4 to define the position’s responsibilities, according to Liu. She expects that the two main duties of the Diversity Chair will be event programming and talking to the administration to push for the creation of “some kind of space on campus that is dedicated to students of marginalized communities.”

“Our student body is changing,” Liu said. “Our faculty and staff should represent that, and should at the very least be tasked with understanding the kind of identity issues that students face on a daily basis.”

Reyes pointed out that while leaving CMC may be one signal of students’ dissatisfaction, not all students who feel uncomfortable or unsafe on campus choose to leave.

“There’s different ways that these kinds of things manifest themselves, and for Black students it might be dropping out,” Reyes said.

In their written statement, the CMC administration said they hoped for “as close to a 100 percent graduation rate as possible, for all students.”

“When any student fails to graduate, we have a responsibility to reflect on the reasons, and dedicate ourselves to addressing them,” they wrote. “These were very personal circumstances, but personal circumstances can be impacted by environmental contexts; we need to make sure we support a community in which every student thrives. This is especially true for populations of students we know to be more vulnerable to attrition in this country, including students of color and first generation students.”

Young, comparing her own experience to students attending historically Black colleges and universities, said that the “sense of camaraderie” was not the same.

“For me, yes, I’ll claim CMC for the rest of my life,” she said, “but it won’t be something that is central to my identity.”

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