The Pitzer College Student Senate's recent decision to veto a proposed Yachting Club became wildly controversial, receiving attention from news outlets far beyond Claremont.
Jordan Fox PZ '16, a Senate member and the proposed president of the club, presented the Yachting Club during a Senate meeting on Oct. 4. According to a statement Fox sent to TSL, the club’s purpose was to “receive funds to [help students] learn about sailing, hire instructors, and gain a new life experience.”
“Any Pitzer student would be encouraged and welcomed to join,” Fox wrote.
According to a press release by Chance Kawar PZ '17, Senate secretary and chairman of Pitzer Student Organization Committee, the Student Senate voted 7-18 against approving the Yachting Club after an “extensive discussion.” Many members of Senate were concerned by the name Yachting Club, and others felt that the activity itself was isolating to many members of Pitzer’s student body. Some senators found the club to be “impractical and cost-prohibitive” due to Pitzer's landlocked location and the $5,300 the club requested from the Senate.
The press release also said that some senators suspected that Fox’s reason for starting the club was to make a “provocative political statement, rather than genuinely expressing an interest in creating a student community around sailing.”
Taylor Novick-Finder PZ ’17, the Senate's Environmental Representative, provided an email to TSL that he received from a founding member of the Yachting Club which stated that the Yachting Club proposal was a “political statement in response to Senate's approval of the tattoo club” after the Oct. 4 Senate meeting.
“The argument of the [Senate] was that anything that could be considered a 'group experience' not a 'commodity', could be approved for funding with student activities fees,” the email read. “Seeing this, and hoping to demonstrate the flaw in this logic, that apparently was not properly communicated or imparted during the meeting where tattoo club was debated, a group of senators formed 'yachting club' and requested the SAME amount of funding as tattoo club.”
Some Senate members considered the name of the club to be “intentionally exclusive and classist,” according to the Senate press release. Novick-Finder said that the founders of Yachting Club refused to change the name when asked to by the Pitzer Senate.
“Many senators requested that the founding members alter the name of the club to refer to sailing or boating education/community, without engaging yachts or yacht clubs, which many senators viewed as classist and exclusionary,” wrote Novick-Finder. However, according to Fox, the club was never intended to be exclusionary.
The Senate's decision to deny approval to the club has since gained attention in national news. The Claremont Independent, a conservative magazine at the Claremont Colleges, was the first to report on the decision.
“For the next few days following the release of their story, countless other right-wing news sources adapted their narratives of what they deem to be liberal college progressives overextending their roles as student representatives,” Novick-Finder wrote.
News outlets, including Fox News, focused coverage on the point that it was hypocritical for an elite liberal arts college to oppose the creation of a club on the basis of its elitism.
“I would use caution before making any assumptions based on the ongoing media coverage from right-wing 'news' outlets,” Kawar wrote in an email to TSL. “The Student Senate had a lengthy discussion period to debate the approval of Yachting Club, and ultimately decided that the application was not compatible or compliant with our governing documents and protocol. Much of the media coverage thus far has failed to recognize that Student Senate has a transparent and democratic process in place for approving new student organizations.”
One Pitzer student wrote in Pitzer Student Talk, an email news alert system used by Pitzer students, that no matter what its name is, the “club itself is a classist and inaccessible activity for people who are not wealthy … Pitzer’s money would be going towards a luxurious classist, elitist yachting activity (alienating students on campus who are lower income) instead of going to support for example queer and trans people of color, disabled students, working class students, indigenous/Native American students, etc.”
However, according to Fox, the club was intended to do just the opposite.
“We hoped that this club would be an excellent way to provide an opportunity for students, such as myself, who have never sailed before to learn about sailing. We hoped to make all of our activities more accessible to students from all backgrounds,” Fox wrote in his statement.
According to Fox, the club would have been available to all Pitzer students at no additional cost. But because the budget approval process is completely separate from the club approval process, it is unknown if the club would have been free for students, according to Kawar. The separation of the budget and club approval processes leaves a gray area regarding rejecting a club on the grounds of its budget.
“In theory, club approvals and budget allocations are separate processes that are completely independent of one another,” Kawar wrote. “In practice, however, they are very much related issues. As a governing organization, Student Senate is responsible for ensuring that every club has a pragmatic mission and operating plan, which includes having a reasonable budget proposal.”
“It’s frustrating that we don’t really have a precedent set as far as which clubs we’re willing to approve and which ones we aren’t. It’s almost like this is a satire at this point,” Fox said in an interview with the Claremont Independent.
According to Kawar, the Pitzer Senate Constitution does have criteria for approving clubs, although subjectivity allows those guidelines to be interpreted to the discretion of senators.
“I think that’s a great part about how our student government works. It is highly democratic; people have a lot of opportunities to make decisions,” Kawar said. “The senators felt that this was a club that was not compliant with the constitution.”
Pitzer Senators debated the issue for close to an hour before the voting commenced. Only half of the Student Senators participated in the actual voting process.
After Senate rejected the club, Fox created a fundraising account on the funding website Indiegogo in the hope of raising $2000 for a “one time Pitzer Yacht Club Sailing trip that would be open to the student body and to donate any proceeds beyond the $2,000 to the local Southern Californian Boys and Girls Clubs,” wrote Fox in the mission statement for the page.
Claremont McKenna Senate Chair Aman Raghuvanshi CM ’18 has already donated $500 to the campaign.
“People said it promoted exclusivity and was an elitist activity—I can understand that opinion but I completely disagree,” Raghuvanshi said. “Sailing is expensive…so this, if anything, is reducing that exclusivity because it’s removing the financial burden for kids who join the club.”
Regardless of the final decision, Kawar noted the importance of debating such issues as part of the democratic process.
“I recognize that there are many individuals who hold strong feelings about Tattoo Club and Yacht Club in particular, and I welcome an ongoing dialogue about student organizations on campus,” he said.
Update: This article was updated Oct. 16. It incorrectly referred to the Yachting Club as the Yacht Club.