Following protests, statements and hunger strikes from student activists, Claremont McKenna College Dean of Students Mary Spellman announced that she would be stepping down from her position effective immediately in an email sent out to students today, Nov. 12.
Many students at CMC, especially students of color, no longer believed they could trust Spellman to represent them following a comment she made in an email to Lisette Espinosa CM ’15 about certain students not fitting the “CMC mold.” This phrase became a rallying cry for students who have felt marginalized by the CMC administration during their time at the school.
Taylor Lemmons CM ’17 and Zain el-Jazara CM ’16 started a hunger strike yesterday, Nov. 11, saying they would only consume water, minerals, sugar and vitamins until Spellman had been removed from her position. Both students also called for Spellman to step down during a protest at CMC yesterday.
“This is not over. This is bigger than me and this is bigger than one administrator,” Lemmons wrote in a statement announcing the end of her hunger strike. “We still have so much work to do. It is important for all students to be a part of the conversation, as it is determined who our new Dean of Students will be. It is the responsibility of all of us to continue talking about the issues that impact marginalized students on this campus.”
Less than 24 hours after the protest and hunger strike, Spellman had resigned.
Spellman showed no signs of stepping down at yesterday’s protest, saying to students who called for her to resign that she intended to work to regain the trust she had lost. CMC President Hiram Chodosh said that Spellman had been placed under institutional review but did not say whether the administration was considering removing her from her position.
“I will continue to be here to fight for students and support students,” Spellman said to protesters yesterday.
However, by today at noon, Spellman had apparently changed her mind.
“To all who have been so supportive, please know how sorry I am if my decision disappoints you,” Spellman wrote in an email to the CMC community. “I believe it is the best way to gain closure of a controversy that has divided the student body and disrupted the mission of this fine institution. Most important, I hope this will help enable a truly thoughtful, civil and productive discussion about the very real issues of diversity and inclusion facing Claremont McKenna, higher education and other institutions across our society.”
At the protest Nov. 11, students presented a series of demands to Spellman and Chodosh, including hiring more faculty of color, instituting a general education requirement for ethnic, racial and sexuality theory, creating the position of diversity chair in the dean of students office, and implementing regular, mandatory racial sensitivity trainings for all faculty members. While firing Spellman was not one of the demands from the protest’s organizers, students called for her to step down both at the protest and on social media.
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Correction: The sentence “It is the responsibility of all of us to continue talking about the issues that impact marginalized students on this campus” was originally run without quotes or attribution. It was part of Lemmons’ statement on Spellman stepping down.