In response to recent events at Claremont McKenna College, Nathaniel Tsai CM '17 wrote a letter criticizing the tactics of protesters and hunger strikers in calling for former Dean of Students Mary Spellman to resign. He also chastised protesters and student government representatives for not properly representing the interests of the student body and called out CMC Vice President of Student Affairs for “standing idle” while students called for Spellman to step down. Tsai claimed that 236 students—nearly a fifth of CMC's student body—supported the letter, although he wrote that these students are not named “[o]ut of respect for a request of anonymity.” The letter was forwarded to faculty, staff and students today by CMC Dean of Faculty Peter Uvin. The full text of the email, titled “Letter from the student body,” can be found below.
Update: Taylor Lemmons CM '17, one of the hunger strikers that Tsai alluded to in his letter, has published an essay in response to this letter. The piece, titled “In Response to a Letter from [1/5 of] the Student Body,” can be viewed here.
Fellow Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and CMC Community,
Undoubtedly, the events of the past week have resulted in much pain, anger, and sadness. It is now more important than ever for us to remain a community and family. However, before we begin the reconciliation process, it is our obligation as students, and citizens of this college, to speak our minds free of any fear of retaliation. With the utmost amount of respect for the movement, we ask that you hear us out so that we may begin to resolve the issues that have consumed our campus and the nation.
To preface our opinions we would like to state that discrimination is not an aspect of society that we will ever endorse. No matter what form of prejudice exists, we acknowledge that such behavior is harmful to both the victims of it and those around them. We reiterate that such acts of bias and intolerance will be met with the same amount of tenacity that compels you to your activism, and we shall channel that strength to more effective and productive means of resolution. We acknowledge that marginalization is a problem throughout the entire nation, and regardless of the color of our skin we promise to continue to change the status quo until people of all backgrounds and dispositions can live together without any fear of racial intolerance.
That being said, we do not condone many of the actions of the movement this past week. We have tried our very best to listen, and stand with you. In spite of the patience we have shown, we can no longer be silent. Members of the CMC community will always stand by one another, and we have done so, but it is now time to share how we feel.
Keep in mind that we are not your opposition, we do not fight against what you are trying to accomplish, nor do we seek to discredit you. Rather, we are another voice, different as it may be from yours. We cannot be silent any longer for this is now an issue that has an impact on all of us. It is of utmost importance that we begin to openly share with each other how we feel so that all voices have the opportunity to be heard.
The following grievances listed are those that the signers of this letter reprimand:
I. Halloween: While we do not condone the costumes and cultural insensitivity that the girls in costumes displayed, it is not permissible to publicly humiliate and essentially cyber bully girls that have repeatedly apologized. We are young and we make mistakes. Though that does not excuse actions, it warrants forgiveness and understanding that we learn from our mistakes. This letter serves as a petition and a request for you to remove your photos of those girls online. They are already in the news, and were on live television for multiple nights in a row. It is time that you see this from peer to peer. These girls made mistakes, they do not deserve to publicly shamed for the rest of their lives.
II. A student has opened a federal investigation of Claremont McKenna College. The investigator, Mr. Howard has made it very clear that the consequences are severe whether or not CMC is found guilty. We have already written to Mr. Howard and it is now up to you to decide what course of action to take. We realize that you have a right to do so, and ask that you reflect if CMC’s offenses are so great that you would ask for an audit of every and all programs and resources on campus that could take years. Unlike the movement, we do not publicly ostracize the student responsible, but instead ask you to reconsider what you’re doing for the future of CMC. The future of the incoming class of 2020, and the generations of CMCers to come relies on whether or not you decide to pursue the investigation by the Department of Education, that may indeed cripple CMC. Please, please rethink your actions and ask yourself if you have that much hatred for this school, that you would knowingly soon depart and leave this mess in the hands of those students who inherit it from you. This is not the route to take for resolutions of the issues on campus, and doing so will simply divide CMC further.
III. Regardless of how you interpreted the former Dean’s email, it was extremely inappropriate to hunger strike for Mary Spellman’s resignation. A hunger strike implies that you are willing to die for the cause you strike for. Were Mary Spellman’s offenses so great that you would die for her resignation? You ask what the alternative is? It sits in front of you, a petition, a civil and democratic tool. Instead you accuse the Dean of not caring about your health and not listening to you when you chose to starve yourself. If we were to starve ourselves unless you left this campus, how would you feel? The most effective form of government reform comes from petition by the people, not drastic measures by the few. Mary Spellman is a person, a human being, and you put her in a situation where the Dean had to decide to sacrifice her whole career or let you starve. No matter what you think of her, as an administrator of this campus she would do anything to ensure your health and well-being. Your claims of democratic principles through assembly are invalidated by the savagery of your actions. According to sources in the faculty, Dean Spellman was not pressured to resign, nor were members of the administration expecting her to. She resigned of her own accord, showing that she does indeed care about you. Reflect on what you forced her to do as human beings with feelings and emotions. In 2 days you destroyed a career that a woman has worked for years to build, and you have removed a resource from campus that many marginalized students were using as theirs. We pray that someday when you are all in positions of power, and you will be because you are CMCers, that acts such as these will never force your hand and make you feel the way you made Mary Spellman feel.
IV. There is not a single college president in the United States, and perhaps even the world, that will not only allow you to call him by his first name, but also allow you to berate and yell at him for more than 3 hours. While you accused him of taking too long to respond, and belittled him for speaking through a microphone, you began to lose the legitimacy the movement had, and the humanity that you had. Did Hiram not open his doors for office hours the night before? Did he not open his ears to listen to all that you had to say? For someone who has listened to so many voices, so many stories, and so many profanities, is it not warranted for him to have a pause before his response? This is not a Presidential debate where an answer is prepared for every possible question. This was an open forum with the opportunity to have constructive criticisms and productive discussions, yet it became an open humiliation of the one of the most important people that will ever be on your side.
V. Though you have every right to assembly, the message you preached on Wednesday was tainted by the profanity in both your voices and on your signs. On live television, 3 students yelled profanities and the crowd cheered them on. On live television you told the world that we are too immature to handle these issues on our own. On live television, you compromised your legitimacy as educated students and protestors, and instead appeared as though you just wanted someone to blame. There was no room for discussion or debate at your rally, and voices opposed to yours were silenced. You have the freedom of speech to say what you will, as we do so in this letter, but you have publicly humiliated CMC and tarnished your legitimacy as student leaders.
VI. Jeff Huang, you stood idle as Mary Spellman went through all of this. You were content to sit against the Athenaeum wall while Hiram and Mary took every word spoken to them. You are a Vice President of CMC, and Mary Spellman was often under your directive. It is shameful that you are more protective of your position as an administrator than of your employees, coworkers, and the students of which you are an administrator for. You have as much to answer for to the students of this college as Dean Spellman, and we are disappointed in the lack of your response to any of the events occurring. We have not received a single email or note from you, yet you are supposedly one of the most powerful voices on campus. You did not even show up to the Athenaeum discussions on Friday night. Where’s Waldo Jeff Huang?
VII. Our grievance with ASCMC lies mainly in the lack of representation of your student population. While we realize that you as individuals have the right to the freedom of speech and assembly, some of you chose to utilize your positions to push for this movement, and by doing so marginalized many students who voted for you. In this sense, we do not feel that we are represented by the Executive Board officers and request that more thought be given to your actions as members of the student government, before participating in actions that would cause your constituents to question whether you truly represent them.
All these acts were not those of integrity, democracy, and educated CMCers. These actions were the result of emotional and angered students. While your good intentions of reform and change were present, many of your actions proved to have a negative impact on the progress that has been made. Nevertheless, we choose to move on; we have learned from your mistakes and are sure that you will as well.
Claremont McKenna College is a special place. The nation praises us for our tight knit community, the quality of our education, and the professionalism that students display as they dip their feet into the real world. Amongst thousands of applicants, you were chosen because of your merits, to attend a school that many pray to receive a letter of acceptance from. Before you even arrived here at CMC, the college began its preparation to welcome you with open arms into its classrooms, dormitories, and dining halls. CMC’s attitude of not having money become an obstacle for your attendance is the first of many resources that were offered to ensure that you could continue your education without interruption.
Never have we been more divided as a community. Never have we been more humiliated on national television with profanities being yelled at the only college president who will come out and let you berate him for 3 hours. Never did we think we would regret the day we became “Buzzfeed famous”. Never did we think the day would come where we were scared to speak our minds, where fear of our fellow students’ rage silenced us.
Numerous resources have been created in response to the needs of the student body in the past years; the Student Disability Resource Center, the Title IX investigator that now resides on campus, the partnership between the Claremont Colleges and the Project Sister Family Services to provide resources for victims of sexual assault, the Queer Resource Center, and numerous student panels and representative positions. Those are just a fraction of the resources that Claremont McKenna College offers you, and none of these programs and centers resulted from the threats of an angry student movement.
You are our friends, our family, and people that we talk to everyday, but out of fear for what you might say to us, we held our tongues. But as of this moment, we are speaking up. It is time for the demonstrations and the hostile rhetoric to stop. Hiram and the rest of the administration are offering us seats at the table to resolve these issues together. It would be foolish and immature to reject the opportunity to discuss the inequality issues on campus.
In fact, as a show of faith, we still promise to help improve the lives of every person in the CMC Community by working with you to fight discrimination and racial intolerance. There are student committees we can form, support groups that can start meeting, and open forums where our voices will be heard. If we can organize such student organizations as well as you organized your demonstrations, there is nothing that will stand in our way of reforming Claremont McKenna College. Together, we can shape the future of CMC, and help change the attitudes of the nation. And we will achieve this through progress, communication, and collaboration.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We are grateful for CMC.
Claremont McKenna College c/o 2017
236 Claremont McKenna College students support this letter. Out of respect for a request of anonymity, those students will not be named publicly.