Outcry over a racially insensitive Halloween photo this week led to the resignation of junior class president Kris Brackmann CM ‘17 and contributed to a larger conversation and push for action regarding diversity at Claremont McKenna College (see page 2).
The photo included two white students, one CMC student and one Scripps student, dressed in stereotyped 'Mexican' costumes consisting of woven ponchos, sombreros, and fake mustaches. Brackmann was posing in front of them with a sign reading “Sorry,” as a reference to the Justin Bieber music video.
Casey Garcelon CM ‘17 reposted the photo as her own Facebook cover photo to draw attention to the marginalization of students of color.
“For anyone who ever tries to invalidate the experiences of POC [people of color] at the Claremont Colleges, here is a reminder of why we feel the way we do,” Garcelon said in a caption of the reposted photo, which has been shared over 133 times. “If you feel uncomfortable by my cover photo, I want you to know I feel uncomfortable as a person of color everyday on this campus.”
Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC) President Will Su CM ’16 formally announced that he was asking for Brackmann's resignation at an ASCMC Senate meeting Monday. Brackmann announced her resignation the next day.
“I didn’t feel like she could effectively represent students in her class anymore if underrepresented students couldn’t trust her,” Su said.
The photos followed a poster and email campaign organized by CMC's Title IX office to prevent cultural appropriation during Halloween. Posters displayed examples of racially insensitive costumes, including one very similar to those shown in the Facebook photo.
Brackmann’s resignation “signals that we are accountable and that we strive to represent students,” Su said. “Especially when diversity and inclusion is such a big problem on campus, we cannot be aiding and abetting these problems, and certainly not be complicit in it.”
While some initially thought Brackmann’s “Sorry” sign was intended as mockery of current dialogue about cultural appropriation, she stated in a private Facebook message posted by Garcelon on Tumblr that there was no connection between her costume and the other students'. However, she apologized for her complicity in the photo.
“As a bystander I did not assertively speak out against the costumes, despite knowing that they were disrespectful,” Brackmann wrote in her email announcement to CMC students. “Please learn from my mistakes in order to best help me create a safe environment for everyone.”
Many students pointed to the photo as one among many instances of discrimination they have faced on campus.
“This is stuff that's been happening for the longest time, and it's just an example of the stuff that we're dealing with on a daily basis,” said Edgar Morelos CM ‘16, a member of CMCers of Color.
Morelos, who lives at Pomona College, described CMC’s environment as “toxic.”
“I had to physically get away from that space,” he said. “If I didn't, I was either going to drop out or transfer.”
April Carlson Montaño CM ‘16, president of the Latina student group Las Claremont Señoritas, said that while she did not think the students in the photo intended harm, she thought the photos represented a lack of thought on their part.
“I think that’s the biggest part of this whole thing,” she said. “I think people of color want to see people think more.”
Carlson Montaño spoke of other instances of discrimination toward Latino and Latina students on CMC’s campus. She said that friends who identify as Latino or Latina have been followed by Campus Safety officers at night, and added that during nights out with Latino or Latina friends, they have encountered students who assume they do not attend CMC.
“It’s a lack of realization that hey, there are people of color here, and they exist,” Carlson Montaño said. “I think a lot of these instances are brought up by people not realizing that there are people of color here, or that they don’t originally belong here, and that’s not how it should be.”
She said that she supported Brackmann’s resignation.
“I think it was a very good surprise to see that Will and ASCMC realize that this isn’t just going to blow over,” she said.
Although many supported Brackmann’s resignation, not all thought it was the best approach.
“I think it was not the best way to go about it,” Emmanuel Hurtado CM ‘16 said. “This is a big-picture kind of thing and the solutions are going to be a lot more difficult than making the junior class president resign.”
Hurtado emphasized the importance of institutional changes that the group CMCers of Colors is pushing for, including a permanent resource center for marginalized students (see page 2).
Su emphasized the importance of action on behalf of the adminstration, and additionally spoke of ASCMC’s efforts to improve diversity and inclusion at CMC. The Executive Board has been working this semester to scheduling diversity training for ASCMC members and are in the process of creating a Diversity and Inclusion Chair position.
“We want this role to create spaces on campus for intersectional dialogue, such as making sure the Ath is bringing in a lot of diverse perspectives,” Su said. “That’s where we want to start: programming and representation.”
He said that while change must come from the administration and ASCMC, he hopes this week’s incidents are “a call to action for all students.”
“I think change starts with individual students and holding each other accountable, not being a bystander,” he said.