After Death Threat, CMC Students Leave Campus, Criticize Administration’s Response

The Claremont McKenna College community received word on Dec. 5 of a threat against the CMC students who had been calling for greater administrative support for students of color. The threat was posted in an online survey created by a CMC alumnus, asking that alumni share stories about their experiences at CMC “as a sign of solidarity with students,” according to an email sent by Acting Dean of Students Jeff Huang.

The message, which was posted on Nov. 16, addressed the protesters directly, threatening to “personally fucking shoot each and every one of you.” 

The alumnus who created the survey using Google Forms emailed the acting dean on Nov. 19, informing him of the post, which was “signed in the name of one of the students who has been active in campus discussions about diversity and inclusion,” Huang wrote. The alumnus also informed the student of the threat.

Huang wrote in his email that the student initiated contact with the administration on Dec. 3, after which CMC's investigator updated the student on the findings.

CMCers of Color, the coalition that organized protests against the colleges' lack of support for marginalized students, released a statement on Dec. 7 criticizing the administration's handling of the issue and Huang's email, which they argued “did not adequately convey the severity of this situation.” The statement said that the online survey was created Nov. 16 by an alumnus in an act of solidarity with CMCers of Color and was “meant to provide students of color and of other marginalized identities with a platform to write about their experiences of discrimination on campus.”

CMCers of Color also criticized the administration for taking 15 days to inform the police of the threat and for not informing the targets of the threat or the larger student body sooner. The statement said that the group was first informed of the threat on Dec. 4 from the student whose name was used to make the threat, not from the administration. When they were informed of the threat, many members of CMCers of Color immediately moved off campus out of concern for their safety, according to some students in the group.

Aaron McKinney CM '18, a student in CMCers of Color, said that when he was first informed of the threat, he was “extremely shocked and went into a panic, as did a whole lot of the other students that were with me at the time.”

“We felt so much distrust and fear for our own lives toward our administration in that they would keep something like this from us for such an extended period of time,” McKinney wrote.

Another student in CMCers of Color who wished to remain anonymous due to safety concerns said that “the administration's failure to notify the student body put students' lives at risk.”

“Why did you take 15 days to go to the police department?” the student said. “Why did you not notify students whose lives were clearly in danger and allow us to walk around for two weeks with targets on our back and being clearly visible? We had our names posted on our doors, and a lot of us had signs facing out the quad identifying us with the movement. They allowed us to be very visible and vocal on campus knowing that there was a threat made against our lives. And that, I think, is deeply disturbing and hurtful.”

McKinney said that he and many students in CMCers of Color are still living off campus and did not attend classes last week. He said that the administration has been helping the students with living and academic accommodations, and that professors have been very understanding in working with the students to finish up the semester.

Huang wrote in his Dec. 5 email that CMC's “in-house investigator spoke with the alumnus about the Google form” on Nov. 19 and, after consulting Chief Technology Officer Cynthia Humes, determined that the source of the threat could not be traced with the college's resources. According to students in CMCers of Color, CMC's Assistant Vice President for Investigations Marcie Gardner conducted this internal investigation.

Huang wrote that the investigator decided to contact the police but that the alumnus was concerned about having the police trace his account for “personal and professional reasons.”

Huang wrote that he regretted not having “demanded more information about what was happening and communicated with some or all of our students about it” at that point in the investigation.

Matthew Bibbens, CMC's General Counsel, wrote in an email to the CMC community on Dec. 8 that the college had not been able to determine whether the threat is credible.

“[It] is important to emphasize that, based on the College's initial and ongoing review of this matter, including consultation with threat assessment professionals and law enforcement, we had and continue to have no information to indicate that this threat was or is credible. In addition, this incident did not trigger a timely warning notification to the campus as a whole, because non-credible threats do not present an immediate, serious, or ongoing threat to the campus,” Bibbens wrote.

Bibbens also indicated that the threat was being treated as a hate crime and that CMC does not tolerate such threats that seek to “intimidate our students based on their race or ethnicity and their right to free expression.”

He added, “We have followed up immediately on any associated leads or other allegations potentially connected to this threat and have taken effective action as appropriate.”

Representatives of CMCers of Color met with Huang and Gardner on Dec. 5 off campus, voicing concerns for their safety asking what steps the administration has taken to address the threat. They also asked Huang to inform the entire CMC student body of the threat. The students met with a larger group of administrators, including President Hiram Chodosh, on Dec. 6.

CMC administrators could not be reached for comment.

According to the student who wished to remain anonymous, the administration informed students that they had hired Hilard Heintze, “a leading investigation and security risk management company,” according to the company's website, to investigate the matter. Students in CMCers of Color had a conference call with the firm last week during which they were informed that the college had contacted the company on Dec. 5.

McKinney said that he was concerned that the college deemed the threat non-credible before consulting with Hilard Heintze.

“Another element that we are deeply disturbed about is the fact that whoever made this threat, whether the administration deems it credible or not, is still out there,” the anonymous student said. “It seems that there has been no major effort to even determine a suspect in terms of who made this threat. That's really concerning.”

Students in CMCers of Color also said that Huang's email failed to state clearly that the threat was targeted at the CMCers of Color group. The student who wished to remain anonymous said that she would have liked to see Huang's email state that CMC does not tolerate racism and clearly express support for students of color.

“If anything, this should be a wake-up call to the community to realize how racism still exists. This was clearly a threat that was racially motivated. I think that people need to realize that racism is very prevalent on our campus and our campuses,” the student said.

Claremont Police Department Detective Lieutenant Mike Ciszek said that the method for determining if a threat is “credible” varies from case to case. Ciszek said that he cannot comment on open investigations but that the police are “looking to see what's being said that can actually be acted upon.”

Ciszek said that in most cases, a perpetrator does not announce in advance his or her intention to harm because he or she will then lose the “element of surprise.”

“If you say you're going to do something as a threat, it's more [that] you are trying to get a reaction,” Ciszek said.

Ciszek said that information has been coming in “piecemeal.” He said that the investigation might take up to two weeks, but that the police do not know yet where the evidence will lead them.

Lauren Ison contributed reporting.

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