OPINION: A Love Letter to Qwalala — and to CMC

(Quinn Nachtrieb • The Student Life)

When I entered my dorm room in Mid-Quad for the first time, I immediately sprinted towards the windows, threw open the curtains and watched the California sun illuminate a snaking stack of rainbow bricks. I was in awe.

The glass sculpture, as I would soon learn, is Qwalala, the newest public art installation at Claremont McKenna College (CMC). While I immediately fell in love with my view, when I shared my adoration with my peers, I was met with immediate backlash and a plethora of critiques.

CMC’s collection of public art is definitely … interesting to say the least, but I was shocked to hear that so many CMCers have severe beef with this seemingly-innocent sculpture.

Criticism is necessary. Our school prides itself on viewpoint diversity and constructive dialogue, and justifiably so. But I fear we’ve become critics to a fault, which wounds school pride and casts a negative lens over our college experiences.

Most of the opposition against Qwalala has stemmed from its occupation of a former large green space in the center of Mid-Quad. But when the glass sculpture debuted, I sat outside of Valach Hall and watched as people gravitated towards it, touching the bricks and exploring its rocky terrain. Since then, I’ve seen students host picnics on the green space adjacent to the structure and cut through to interact with it while walking in the Quad. Yes, Qwalala has decreased the available green space. But green space still exists in the area, and Qwalala actually encourages students to interact with it in new ways.

A recent TSL article touched on how students believe the piece “divides and diminishes important social spaces in Mid-Quad,” but I’d argue it hasn’t had too much of an impact. First years and sophomores never experienced the space pre-Qwalala — it had been under construction for the last two years — yet still use Mid-Quad as a social space. Valach Courtyard often hosts Thursday Night Club for students across the 5Cs, students are always skateboarding and scootering around the Quad’s slopes and Mid-Quad lounges are hubs for community building.

We can appreciate the new environment public art creates while still advocating for increased transparency from the CMC administration about how our green spaces are being modified and fighting for their expansion — it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

On a broader scale, there’s a stark difference between authentic commentary on campus issues versus a default negative critique of anything new or different. I hold no judgment against CMCers for being averse to Qwalala: It’s human nature to feel wariness around modifications to our environments, as it often feels like we may be losing a piece of our identities and lifestyles to these sudden changes. 

But as we keep relentlessly critiquing our campus, it hurts our pride as a school. Not because critique in itself is a negative force — when wielded well, it can move mountains. However, we can often mistakenly neglect gratitude in the process.

Dining halls are a shining example: Discourse around expanding allergen-friendly and gluten-free options, extending hours and diversifying food options is crucial, yet we need not forget and appreciate the work put in by our dining hall workers across the 5Cs, allowing us to cultivate and embrace community during our meals. We shouldn’t let our critiques drown out our appreciation and vice versa.

Our criticism is clouding our judgment. To combat this, we need to practice showing our gratitude.

During one of your more menial tasks — a particularly long walk to one of your classes, for instance, or when you’re brushing your teeth — take a minute of solo time to hone into some things you’re thankful for. Whether a classmate loans you a pencil for a midterm, your coffee was particularly refreshing or a public art piece brightens your day, increased gratitude for the small things will push you to look for the good in the big ones.

I’m not saying you need to be head-over-heels obsessed with your college — in fact, it’s better if you can find things which can be improved, and perhaps play a part in making that happen. But acknowledging your gratitude will push you to feel more connected to your community, and thus, make you more equipped to fight for what’s right for yourself and for the people around you. 

CMC’s art would seem wildly out-of-place at any other college or university. But I can proudly say that on our mildly corporate, overly geometric campus, it fits right in.

Criticism and community can coexist. So can the student body and Qwalala.

Kahani Malhotra CM ’27 is from New Delhi, India. She loves grabbing mango-strawberry smoothies from the Hub and falling off of her longboard.

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