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 to the CMC community yesterday, Nov. 12.
Spellman’s resignation followed a Nov. 11 protest, where students presented a series of demands to Spellman and Chodosh, including hiring more faculty of color, creating diversity and inclusion positions for student affairs and faculty offices, implementing regular, mandatory racial sensitivity trainings for all faculty members, and instituting a general education requirement for ethnic, racial and sexuality theory.
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.
While firing Spellman was not one of the demands from the protest’s organizers, students also called for her to step down both at the protest and on social media.
Taylor Lemmons CM ’17 and Zain el-Jazara CM ’16 started a hunger strike before the protest Wednesday, Nov. 11, saying they would not eat solid food until Spellman had been removed from her position. Both students also called for Spellman to step down during a protest at CMC the same day.
“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 understand the students at CMC,” Lemmons wrote in a Medium post.
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, organized the protest which happened at 2 p.m. on Nov. 11. Lemmons and el-Jazara announced their hunger strike about an hour before the protest.
Less than 24 hours after the protest and hunger strike, Spellman resigned.
“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.”
Other activists at CMC said that Spellman’s resignation did not solve institutional problems at CMC.
“Hopefully she saw that she did fail to advocate for the students,” said Veda Beltran CM ’17, a member of GenU and Las Claremont Señoritas, the Latina student organization. “It’s not like we feel completely safe, because everything that needs to be done isn’t done yet.”
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.
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.
Many of these demands originated from suggestions in CMC’s 2011-12 Campus Climate Task Force report, which found that “[b]y some, CMC is perceived as an institution that fails to prioritize diversity and lacks sensitivity to diversity issues.”
“This isn’t a new conversation,” BSA co-president Michaiah Young CM ’18 said. “People have been feeling this way for years now.”
Most of CMCers of Color’s proposed actions had not been met seven months after CMCers presented their proposed actions, although Chodosh committed at today’s protest to create both a temporary and permanent resource center. According to Chodosh, CMC has authorized diversity positions in both the Student Affairs and Academic Affairs offices, although the hiring processes for each of these positions has not yet begun.
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. At the protest, students criticized Chodosh’s email for implementing change without consulting CMCers of Color beforehand. 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. Finding a suitable space for the center was also an issue, 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.
Members of CMCers of Color expressed frustration with the lack of administrative response to their demands to this point.
“We want to make it very clear that we have been organizing through the proper channels for eight months,” said Edgar Morelos CM ’16, a co-chair of CMCers of Color, in an interview with TSL. “Eight months meeting with administration, taking time out of our hands.”
Student organizers also asked for input in the hiring process for the diversity chair and the new dean of students.
“We want to be included in the hiring process of the next person, because if we’re not included, they’re going to hire a new Dean Spellman,” Morelos said. “Do we feel safe now that she’s gone? No.”
On the morning of Nov. 11, 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.
That same morning, Spellman addressed what she meant by the “CMC mold” in an email to CMC community members.
“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.”
Spellman showed no signs of stepping down at the Nov. 11 protest, saying to students who called for her to resign that she intended to work to regain the trust she had lost.
“I will continue to be here to fight for students and support students,” Spellman said to protesters on Wednesday.
However, by yesterday, Nov. 12, at noon, Spellman had changed her decision.
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.”
Protesters at the Nov. 11 protest at CMC and a Nov. 12 protest across the 5Cs professed solidarity with students of color, particularly Black students, across the nation.
“We need to be aware and we need to support the most oppressed among us, and that is the Black community,” Morelos said.