In the last two weeks, unknown persons vandalized spaces at Scripps College and Pitzer College with Donald Trump’s name, slogan, and hashtags. At Scripps, a Mexican-American student reported on Mar. 26 that her whiteboard was vandalized with “#Trump2016.” Between Apr. 1 and Apr. 2, six murals and buildings at Pitzer were vandalized with Trump’s name and slogan, “make America great again.” The campaign advertisement of Pitzer Student Senate presidential candidate Elijah Pantoja PZ ‘17 on the Pitzter Free Wal was also defaced with paint.
Both Scripps and Pitzer are conducting investigations into the incidents.
Pitzer Dean of Students Moya Carter wrote in an email to TSL that Pitzer has “made significant progress with the investigation,” and Scripps Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson wrote in an email to TSL that Scripps “is speaking with potential witnesses to determine if the incident was intended to harass or intimidate the student involved.”
According to Campus Safety Director Stan Skipworth, Campus Safety made a vandalism report on Apr. 2.
“This was forwarded to the Claremont Police Department, as per our normal procedure,” Skipworth wrote in an email to TSL.
However, Campus Safety is neither conducting its own investigation nor has it sent any email alerts to the entire 5C community.
To many students, the vandalism at Scripps and Pitzer further underlines the racial violence perpetrated against students of color at the Claremont Colleges.
“I’m honestly not surprised that something like this would happen at the Claremont Colleges,” Nikki Roman SC ‘17, the student whose whiteboard was vandalized, wrote in an email to TSL. “But no matter how many microaggressions and blatant acts of racism you witness they never stop having an impact on you because that is what they are meant to do.”
“These acts of racism are meant to dehumanize marginalized groups and remind them who holds power/privileges over them and who can easily mistreat them and get away with it,” Roman added.
In an email to TSL, Pantoja described the vandalism as a hate crime.
“My emotions got the best of me when I stood in front of an alumni’s mural depicting race relations in the United States that had been defaced with, “Make America Great Again” written across a large portion of the mural in spray-paint,” Pantoja wrote. “In that moment, as I stood alone, surrounded by the hate put forth by the message in front of me, I felt unsafe on campus for the first time.”
The vandalized mural, painted by Adrian Brandon PZ ‘15, features an American flag with one stripe covering a black man’s mouth and another stripe covering a white man’s eyes.
The vandalism incidents have also sparked discussion about free speech on campus, with some students criticizing administrators for characterizing the vandalism as hate crimes.
In the Claremont Independent article, “Scripps Dean: Writing #Trump2016 is ‘Harassment,’ ‘Intimidation,’” Olivia Wu wrote, “The Scripps Guide to Student Life makes no mention of any policies pertaining to whiteboards.”
Another Claremont Independent article, “#TheChalkening Hits Pitzer College,” by Steven Glick PO ’17, said, “Some students were more concerned by the outrage in response to the Trump postings than by the actual postings themselves.”
When Minjoo Kim, Scripps Associated Students president, emailed the school about the vandalism at Scripps, many called her response disproportionate and said that students have the right to free speech. Meanwhile Scripps and Pitzer deans affirmed their schools’ commitments to First Amendment rights but also made it clear that harassment is unacceptable.
In an email to Scripps students, Johnson wrote, “While it is true that under most circumstances the mere iteration of a President’s name would not be regarded as a form of harassment or intimidation, the circumstances here are unique.”
With regard to the same issue, Carter wrote to TSL, “We never condone messaging that creates an intimidating, hostile, or unsafe living or work environment for our community. Covering a beautiful mural or salient quote is heartbreaking and infuriating.”
In their emails to students, Johnson and Brian Carlisle, vice president of student affairs, referred to how people have invoked Trump’s name and message to discriminate against people of color. Both cited the Mar. 15 Inside Higher Ed article, “Trump As a Taunt” by Josh Logue, which discusses recent Trump-invoking taunts and physical attacks directed towards students of color at colleges and universities nationwide, including Northwestern University and Wichita State University.
Since then, there have been similar instances at Emory University and the University of Michigan. Emory students of color have received death threats.
Roman also differentiated between free speech and the racist targeting of an individual.
“This had nothing to do with free speech, if the person or people who wrote that note on my whiteboard support Donald Trump that’s on them, there are a million other ways for them to voice their support for Trump that do not involve them writing #trump2016 on the whiteboard that belongs to a Mexican-American student who they have no relationship with,” Roman wrote.
Both Roman and Pantoja criticized Campus Safety’s failure to send an email about the incident to students.
Skipworth wrote that Campus Safety did not do so because, “There was no indication that there was a threat to 5C students or any other members of the campus community.”
Roman wrote that although she was told by Campus Safety that similar incidents had occurred recently, “no email was sent out to the 5Cs about this being a hate crime even though it was known that this was not an isolated incident.”
Pantoja wrote, “Less than a couple of months ago, an email was sent to all students within the consortium regarding a potential hate crime against Jewish students. This was even before an investigation had occurred…Despite walking with Pitzer students to find locations of the vandalism, there has been no follow up.”
Roman wrote that the process of filing a report with Campus Safety was discomfiting, but she did not have another option because Scripps administrators are not in over the weekend.
“I was a bit uncomfortable that this was the most immediate way for me to report it because camp sec has a history of criminalizing students of color at the 5Cs,” she wrote. “I was also uncomfortable with the fact that part of the process of reporting this incident was explaining why I felt targeted and why the action should be considered a serious offense.”
Roman and Pantoja expressed frustration with the administrative response, with Pantoja criticizing administrators for not sending a strong email or starting an investigation until they received pressure from the faculty.
Roman wrote that he would “never take the concern of the admins as sincere until they stop silencing these students of color when they speak out.”
Pantoja also wrote that many students who call themselves allies did not speak up against the attacks on students of color.
“I, like many marginalized students, am tired of defending the value of my life and the equity I deserve,” he wrote. “We demand more, from our administrations, and the students who attend these institutions alongside us.”
Lauren Ison contributed reporting.