A crowd of students congregated outside Claremont McKenna College’s Hub Grill during Dean of Students Mary Spellman’s office hours at 2 p.m. today, Nov. 11, to protest the CMC administration’s treatment of marginalized students. The students waiting at the Hub were soon met by the protest's organizers, who read aloud a series of testimonies of discrimination from students of color and queer students at CMC, and then presented their demands to Spellman and CMC President Hiram Chodosh.
Many students carried signs that mentioned the “CMC mold” in reference to an email Spellman sent to Lisette Espinosa CM ‘15 that infuriated many students of marginalized identities. Although it was not part of the of the protest organizers’ original demands, students at the protest also called for Spellman to be removed from her position.
“[W]e are working on how we can better serve students, especially those who don’t fit our CMC mold,” read Spellman’s response to Espinosa, who had sent Spellman and other CMC administrators her Oct. 23 TSL op-ed about her experience feeling unwelcome at CMC as a low-income woman of color. This phrase quickly became a rallying cry for CMC students who had experienced discrimination and intolerance on campus and felt frustrated and ignored by the administration.
Students wait for CMC President Hiram Chodosh to speak outside CMC's Hub. Alex Smith • The Student Life
This morning, the campus groups organizing the protest released an open letter detailing, among other things, “a list of aggressions towards students of marginalized identities in the past two years,” four of which specifically mention the dean of students office.
Although Spellman’s reference to a “CMC mold” and backlash over racially insensitive Halloween costumes helped to galvanize the protest, most of the demands that the protesters made today were not new. In fact, the campus group CMCers of Color presented a set of proposed actions to Chodosh in April of this year containing the same demands made today, as documented in the student groups' letter.
“This isn’t a new conversation,” Michaiah Young CM ’18, one of the protesters, said. “People have been feeling this way for years now.”
The actions proposed included hiring a diversity chair in the dean of students office, increasing funding for multicultural clubs, increasing diversity among faculty and staff, and founding a resource center and mentorship program for students of color.
Seven months later, most of these goals had not been met, although Chodosh committed at today’s protest to create both a temporary and permanent resource center. Chodosh said in an interview with TSL and the CMC Forum that CMC has authorized diversity positions in both the dean of students and the dean of faculty offices, although the hiring processes for each of these positions has not yet begun, and that he intended to address the rest of the students’ demands.
In the same interview, Chodosh did not confirm whether he was considering firing Spellman but said that Vice President for Student Affairs Jefferson Huang had placed her under institutional review.
Taylor Lemmons CM ’17 announced in an open letter about an hour before the protest that she intended to go on a hunger strike until Spellman had vacated her position. Zain el-Jazara CM '16 soon joined the hunger strike.
“With the pursuit of cultivating and maintaining an inclusive environment at CMC, I believe that Dean Spellman should resign as Dean of Students, due to her insensitive comments, her inaction in supporting marginalized students at Claremont McKenna College, and the fact that her actions, independent of any isolated incident, reflect her inability to truly understands the students at CMC,” Lemmons wrote.
Spellman addressed what she meant by the “CMC mold” at the demonstration and in an email to community members this morning.
“Please know my intention was to affirm the feelings and experiences expressed in the article and to provide support,” she wrote in the email with the subject line “apology.”
CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman speaks next to a protester. Liam Brooks • The Student Life
Spellman announced no intent to resign her position at the protest. She only spoke occasionally when students addressed her, and one participant at the event said that she saw Spellman’s eyes closed, as if she were sleeping. Spellman offered no response to this allegation.
Spellman’s sister, Julie Spellman Sweet CM ’89, currently sits on CMC’s board of trustees.
“I will reiterate: I am committed, as I have always been, to support students of all backgrounds, of all needs and interests, and I will work to continue to change the institution,” Spellman said at the protest. While she was saying this, students called out “false” from the crowd.
Chodosh confirmed a permanent programming space to support campus climate, including “identity, diversity, and free speech,” in an email sent to students 20 minutes before the protest and in an interview with TSL and the CMC Forum before the protest. However, following pressure from the protesters, Chodosh also committed to the implementation of a temporary space to be created this semester.
The letter from CMCers of Color stated that “issues of shared governance” prevented the resource center from being established despite being told over the summer with a “95 percent certainty” that a temporary space would be established this fall. However, it was not implemented because a space could not be found, according to Chodosh. A basement room had been found for the center, but the administrators in charge of planning the space did not believe it was suitable.
The students present at the protest called out Chodosh for his lack of action regarding the firing of Spellman and for not taking action on CMCers of Color’s demands.
“You stand here like a man in front of me and tell me you can’t afford a space for us to feel safe?” el-Jazara, one of the hunger strikers, said to Chodosh at the protest.
Students from CMCers of Color, the Brothers and Sisters Alliance (BSA), the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), the Asian Pacific American Mentoring Program (APAM), and GenU, an organization for low-income and first-generation college students, marched to the Hub before Spellman's office hours began. Students from other schools in the Claremont consortium also came to show their support for CMC students of color.
“I was just thinking, I see my fellow brothers and sisters of color crying,” said Ashley Land PO ’16, one of the students calling for Spellman’s resignation at the protest. “When they started crying, that got to me, and I was like, ‘No, this is not OK.’ In what world does someone who’s an employee of the college, who’s a part of the dean of students office, want to email a student and say, ‘You don’t fit here.’ That’s how I feel about the email. I feel like that’s an automatic firing.”
This protest came at a time when students across the 5Cs have expressed their solidarity with students of color at the University of Missouri, which has seen threats to the safety of Black students after Black activist groups, saying that school leaders did not properly deal with racism on their campus, forced the resignation of the university’s president and chancellor.
“We’re all going through this at the same time because this generation is waking up and ready to act,” Young said. “It’s different at the other schools, but it’s all related in that social media has been great in helping us communicate with each other.”