Scripps College and its students, staff, and faculty received “hostile and threatening” messages and phone calls in response to a planned pool party initially advertised for students of color only, President Lara Tiedens announced in an email to students April 13. The event, as originally advertised, may also have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The now-deleted Facebook description for the event at the Sallie Tiernan Field House, organized by Scripps student group Café con Leche, which focuses on Latinx issues, originally said the event was “only open to 5C students that identify as [people of color].”
The “vile and threatening” messages came from outside of the Claremont Colleges and “[expressed] hostility and [threatened physical violence],” Tiedens wrote. The communications included “racist and misogynist insults,” Scripps spokesperson Carolyn Robles added in an email to TSL.
Information Technology Director Jeffrey Sessler is collecting the communications and Scripps is coordinating with Campus Safety and the Claremont Police Department to respond, Tiedens wrote.
The pool party, originally scheduled for April 13, was postponed following the threatening communications. Organizers also changed the Facebook event description to read that it was “a safe space for 5C students that identify as [people of color] to come together and build community and is open to all 5C students,” but the event was later taken down entirely.
“When the administration discovered the way the party had been characterized on Facebook, we worked with the student organizers to clarify that the event was open to all 5C students,” Robles wrote.
The story was subsequently picked up by various right-wing media organizations. Campus Reform republished the CI’s article, and outlets like Breitbart, the Washington Examiner, The College Fix, and The Blaze wrote about the subject.
The CI article said the pool party was “sanctioned by the college,” but Robles contended that this is false.
“Media outlets falsely reported that Scripps had ‘sanctioned’ a pool party that restricted attendance based on race or ethnicity,” Robles wrote.
“The CI has not received a request for a correction or retraction from Scripps College,” CI Editor-in-Chief Will Gu PO ’20 wrote in an email to TSL. “All campus events using campus facilities are approved by college administrators.”
The Dean of Students Office did not respond to TSL’s inquiry as to whether administrators must approve all events using campus facilities before press time.
The threatening and offensive messages to Scripps community members came “from readers of media sites that reported and republished the inaccurate information” and the communications began “following the false reporting that Scripps administration approved an event that restricted attendance based upon race or ethnicity,” Robles wrote.
Following the publication of its initial article and an April 13 follow-up article about the pool party, the CI added a disclaimer at the top of both articles reading “The Claremont Independent does not condone violent acts or threats of violence in response to our articles. Please respect our request.”
Gu did not respond to TSL’s questions about why the disclaimer was added.
The event, as initially advertised, may have violated Scripps policy and/or Title VI.
“All forms of harassment and discrimination on the basis of … creed, color, race, national or ethnic origin, ancestry … or any other basis prohibited by state or federal law destroy the foundation for respect and violate the sense of community vital to the College’s educational enterprise,” Scripps’ policy reads.
Such behavior “is prohibited by College policy and, in some instances, by civil and criminal laws,” the policy continues, and the “policy strictly prohibits discrimination against … any individual at the College or at College activities occurring away from campus.”
Scripps also falls under federal Title VI regulations, which prohibit discrimination or segregation against any individual or group on the basis of race, color, or national origin by educational institutions, including Scripps, that receive federal funding. Title VI violations can result in the loss of federal assistance.
“Scripps policies and practices are consistent and compliant with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” Robles said. “Scripps does not register any [club or organization] whose membership is restricted based on race or ethnicity and does not approve the use of Scripps resources for events that restrict participation on race, ethnicity, or other protected characteristic.”
Jack Chin, a University of California, Davis law professor specializing in civil rights, said the event, as originally advertised, might have violated Title VI.
“If a student organization receives institutional funds or other support, it is likely a program of the school, and therefore subject to the nondiscrimination provisions of Title VI,” Chin wrote in an email to TSL.
Café con Leche does receive funding from SAS — $5,000 this year — and is a registered Scripps organization, but it is unclear whether these conditions would qualify it as receiving “institutional funds or other support.”
“Private, non-disruptive discrimination by individual students or groups of students is not covered by Title VI,” Chin added. “If a group of students decided to start an informal single-race, religion or sex swimming group, there would be no violation. This would be true even if they used publicly available facilities of a school or government entity.”
It’s fairly common for student government-funded clubs and organizations across the 5Cs to organize events open only to students of specific identities, like students of color, but most have not attracted the same level of scrutiny as the pool party. For example, Pitzer College’s Climbing Club hosted a people of color-only climbing event April 12.
TSL contacted the Department of Justice and Department of Education about whether the event, as initially described, would have been a Title VI violation, but did not receive responses by press time.