Citing No Call to Disperse, Pomona Will Not Sanction Heather Mac Donald Blockaders

CMC and Pomona seem to disagree on the need for officers to instruct demonstrators to disperse before administrators can sanction them for violating policy. (Liam Brooks / The Student Life)

Pomona College students who blocked access to conservative commentator Heather Mac Donald’s speech at Claremont McKenna College in April will not be punished, the college announced Monday.

After an investigation using “photographs and information” provided to the college by CMC, Pomona concluded that its students did stop people from entering building where Mac Donald was to speak, but “there was no evidence that participants were instructed to disperse,” Associate Dean of Students Ric Townes wrote in a campus-wide email. “Further, there was no indication of property damage or physical altercations.”

Pomona’s response to the policy violation stands in stark contrast to Claremont McKenna, which suspended five students and placed two more on conduct probation this summer for participating in the blockade. The contrast lies not only in the decision to sanction or not to sanction, but in the interpretation of the demonstration policy — specifically, whether it matters if blockaders were instructed to disperse.

While Pomona explicitly mentions the lack of dispersal instructions as a reason not to sanction involved students, CMC did not claim it to be factor. In the college’s own timeline of the events of April 6, officers are not explicitly said to have informed blockaders that they were violating policy.

The shared campus demonstration policy states that “ignorance of this policy or lack of intent to violate this policy is not an acceptable justification for violating it.”

However, the policy also states that “all individuals who are engaged in disruptive or non-peaceful action will be notified that they are trespassing,” and that students may be charged “if an officer or designee of an affected College or CUC informs individuals in a given area that their collective actions are judged non-peaceful or disruptive and that they should disperse.”

The policy does not specify if this instruction is required for students to be charged, but it does not explain other ways for students to be charged that do not follow a procedure that includes such instruction.

Students sit outside the main entrance of the Marian Miner Cook Athanaeum during a protest against a scheduled speaking event by conservative writer Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna College on April 6, 2017.

Furthermore, participants in the protest would also have been responsible for not violating CMC’s own code of conduct while on CMC’s campus. When CMC announced sanctions on its own students, it was unclear whether the punishment was in reponse to a violation of CMC policy, the demonstration policy, or both. At the time, spokesperson Joann Young declined TSL’s request for clarification.

Regardless, Pomona’s approach to policy violations has been to “engage in conversations with students” and “provide notice… that future violations could result in more severe disciplinary action,” Townes wrote.

Pitzer College announced in August that they had concluded the majority of investigations into violations by Pitzer College students, and had concluded that “while evidence shows Pitzer College students did block access to buildings, no evidence of damage to property” was found, according to an email sent out by Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Carlisle. Carlisle wrote that the college would review one reported incident involving a student who allegedly threatened the safety of others.

“Demonstrations and protests have been powerful public testaments of our commitment to our core value of social responsibility,” Carlisle wrote. “While demonstrations by their very nature are designed to create disruption, complying with our College and Consortium policies is critical if we are to promote individual and community safety and to maximize the protection of our coveted freedom of speech.”

Harvey Mudd College and Scripps College previously told TSL that they are conducting their own reviews of information about the protest and alleged policy violations by their students.

Samuel Breslow contributed reporting.

This is a developing story, and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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