College Doesn’t Owe You Beer Or Sunshine

Tim Wise had a lot to say in his two hours here on Tuesday. One thing stuck in my mind.

“This place doesn’t exist for you. College doesn’t exist to hand you four years’ worth of party favors for your high school GPA. Colleges are longstanding institutions with their own missions; they exist to be a community of learners. They are greater than you.”

I’m paraphrasing this out of its context, an eloquent tirade about affirmative action policies. That’s because I think this statement, in general, is food for our thought at the 5Cs.

Over 600 students have signed a petition urging a dialogue about how current policy at Claremont McKenna College is tampering with CMC’s social culture. This movement is centered on a memo that the president of the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC) sent to the CMC administration. Meanwhile, at Pomona College, a movement to rebrand the college as more academic has met solid resistance from students. They complain that Pomona shouldn’t be a replica of East Coast institutions, that we should stay true to our laid-back, sun-drenched spirit.

To clarify, I have nothing against encouraging dialogue between the CMC administrators and students. Nor do I want Pomona to lose its quirky essence, which drew me here in the first place. The schools of the Claremont Consortium are about far more than their academic strength, a defining characteristic that I and many others desire to preserve.

However, in the related conversations that have ensued both online and in person, I have noticed an undercurrent of entitlement. Some students have twisted the valid concerns of the memo by Aditya Pai CM ’13 into a justification for their less-than-valid behaviors. Sorry, but a “beeramid” isn’t a grassroots movement. It’s an unfortunate reflection on the otherwise admirable solidarity behind this petition. If this dialogue is supposed to be about more than alcohol, then this choice of symbol is a poor one.

CMC Vice President Jeff Huang responded to the social policy movement in a public memo. While open to compromise, he reminded ASCMC that the administration has the “unenviable job” of maintaining safety, and that “we are often vilified” as a result. And I agree. Not necessarily that CMC safety policies are effective or tenable, but that the people behind them, the people who are doing their best to balance safety with fun, are overly criticized for their efforts.

I urge students at all five schools to remember that colleges weren’t built to pass out party favors in celebration of how awesome we are. Rather, they’re here to foster a community of awesomeness and perpetuate awesomeness throughout future generations.

We’re entitled to ask questions, and we’re entitled to demand answers. But in the end, we’re not entitled to decide how our schools advertise themselves to the world. Nor are we entitled to the final say on what constitutes student safety. Those decisions have consequences that far outlast our four-year stay.

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