With One Voice, a Call to Action

“Every year, at least one discriminatory and racially biased
incident occurs, and many more go unreported. To allow these attacks to remain
unaddressed, whether they are intended to hurt or draw attention, is to tacitly
endorse the marginalization of our community, to accept being painted as
perpetual foreigners, and to allow for the exotification and objectification of
women of color. These racially biased
‘incidents’ cannot continue.

– University of
California, Los Angeles Student Statement (Feb. 6, 2013)

“A poignant story shared
last night was the old tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, where an emperor
walked around in nude because no one had the guts to tell him that he was
naked. In the same way, these higher ed
institutions have been walking around claiming to be ‘safe’ and ‘diverse’, but
it’s time to speak up.
We as students through our personal experiences know
the truth. The administration and our peers won’t like us making noise. But
only by doing so can we get our schools to live up to their true potential.”        

– Andy Su, University of Southern
California (Feb. 20, 2014)

“Whether or not the negative connotations of the proposed theme
were unintentional, the theme has still caused emotional harm and has offended
members of the Claremont community, both Native and non-native. We are
especially concerned about the responses from community members claiming that
the proposed theme was “innocuous and light-hearted”. We believe that the
proposed theme is an example of an oppressive system that perpetuates the
invisibility of contemporary indigenous peoples and issues. In addition, we fear that the discussion of the article
has turned into a ‘CMC v. the 4C’s’ discourse rather than addressing the larger
issue of how the Claremont Colleges perpetuate the violent erasure of
indigenous peoples.”  

 – Indigenous Student Alliance of the Claremont Colleges (November 2012)


Statements like the ones above are often seen as isolated calls to action centered around the
actions of a single university or a single group of students. Yet together, those actions reveal an alarming
pattern of silencing student voices and institutional complicity in
structural oppression. We reject the racial borders that surround us. We at the Claremont Colleges are joining these calls for a new approach to ensuring
a safe, informed, and responsible racial climate on higher education campuses.

To advance this
goal, a group of students of color and allies from various organizations met Wednesday night at
the Office of Black Student Affairs to talk about the racial climate at the
Claremont Colleges. We
talked about Kappa Delta’s America Pub and other incidents that have
generated outrage over a short span of time only to quickly fade away. We
talked about the hatred directed at four Claremont students, whose full names and
pictures were taken from Facebook and posted on an external blog because they spoke out against U.S. imperialism
and settler colonialism. We talked about the historical amnesia on college
campuses, where students cycle in and out, rarely able to make the connection between different struggles. We talked about the death threats
directed toward a Palestinian student last year for bravely condemning Israeli
apartheid. We talked about the vicious tirades directed toward American Indian students for challenging the proposed Thursday Night Club party theme “Colonial Bros, Pilgrims, and
Navajos.” And we talked about how to take concrete steps to build the power of
students of color and their allies at the Claremont Colleges.

These “incidents” or “controversies”
are not isolated events. They are rooted in the perpetuation of racial myths, and in larger cycles of oppression both historic and ongoing. We cannot change these
dynamics through dialogue alone, or by appealing to the collective conscience
of our peers. The reality is that challenging oppression is never popular. Historically, oppressed groups have never found justice by appealing to the
better natures of decision-makers, or even to the un-oppressed majority. Rather, change is
always won by building the power and organizational capacity of those most
impacted by interlocking systems of oppression.

It is for these reasons that we have chosen to focus on building student power in order to change the
conditions that students of color face at the Claremont Colleges.

We are partnering with the Indigenous Students Alliance to
create a coalition for institutional changes to the racial climate on the
campuses. Students who are concerned about recent events must come together in
solidarity with student organizers at UCLA, USC, and California State University, Los Angeles to seize upon this
moment of unified outrage and demand, not request, change. We must build a base
of student organizations, departments, and community groups, and create lines of
solidarity between students at the Claremont Colleges and those at other institutions of higher education in the region. We must make transformative
demands that challenge the unsustainable politics of our schools.

The first demand every student at the Claremont
Colleges who cares about racial justice must make is to push for the creation of a department for Native American and indigenous studies (NAIS). These last three controversies
have centered around the expression of outrage over students of color and their
allies daring to speak out about settler colonialism. Settler colonialism, the
system of oppression that made the United States possible, has an impact on everyone. We are all complicit. On campus, its manifestations are
experienced most acutely by American Indian students, whose voices,
intentionally or not, are silenced every day. An NAIS department would
promote diversity, expand research and knowledge, support local indigenous
communities, and increase the social justice work of the colleges. These forms
of solutions are the only real answers to the racial climate issues the
campuses face.

Centers of higher
learning are often fragile places. They function by placing people in predefined groups. However, when those false borders start
to fall, the institutions have no choice but to listen. We are committed to
breaking down those borders that falsely enclose groups.

Our plan is to build a solid coalition that can win. We are on an unsustainable path that is detrimental to the students of color on campus and in local communities. But the
Claremont Colleges can decide to lead the way on racial climate issues, and can ultimately
serve as a model for other institutions grappling with racism and lack of
representation. Please
join us at the Progressive Dinner on Feb. 27, where we will publicly
announce our demands, starting with NAIS.​

Coalition on Racial Climate at the Claremont Colleges is an alliance of 7C organizations working to establish racial justice, diversity and representation, and ethnic studies.

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