How Should a Campus Be? Notes from a CMC Summit

Over the past year, there has been tension between Claremont McKenna College’s students and administration, triggered in part by a letter from former Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College President Aditya Pai CM ’13 detailing his concerns with the evolution of the party scene at CMC and the increased regulation by the administration. Since then, there has been a back-and-forth argument: Students feel the administration is too restrictive regarding the party scene, while the administration worries about legality and safety.

I believe that the Mirza Summit Sessions on Personal and Social Responsibility, which began Feb. 26, are a step in the right direction by CMC’s administration to address both sides of the issue. The summit is meant for students and faculty and staff members to come together and discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of CMC’s social scene and where the school can go from here. I believe the summit will propel CMC’s community toward a happier, safer, and—sorry, literature majors—funner community. 

I had the pleasure of attending the first summit meeting last week. One point that came up in discussion was the idea of “work hard, play hard.” This concept contributes to the language and stereotypes that surround all college students, but especially those of CMC students. Talking to most CMCers, you sense an underlying belief that they are expected to excel academically, be very involved, have internships and jobs locked down, and be able to party like an animal when called upon. 

To an outsider, this might seem crazy—if you tried to uphold every aspect of this stereotype, you’d snap. Students can feel as if they do not belong, or feel less worthy, just because they do not or cannot fit this mold. Moving forward, I hope that both the administration and the students—while still striving for excellence—change the language surrounding this image of the “ideal CMCer” to put less pressure on students to subscribe to a stress-inducing stereotype. 

The idea of “work hard, play hard” is also clearly at work in the culture surrounding drinking and hard drug use at CMC, both of which were discussed in the summit. I think that this is the core of the problem facing CMC, where tumultuous debates on these issues have been raging among students and the administration all year. 

To many students, it seems as if the administration has been tightening control of the party scene. However, as interesting as it would be to see what would happen if our wet campus went dry in the blink of an eye, this is not something to worry about at CMC. In the summit discussion, I did not get the feeling that anyone was looking to establish a dry campus or create an environment hostile to drinking.

Yet it is important for students, not just at CMC but at all the colleges, to remember that drinking under the age of 21 is illegal. This is the problem facing the administration as it tries to work toward a policy that covers themselves legally while also keeping their students safe on a wet campus. 

As a CMC student and resident assistant (RA), I believe that one of our greatest assets is our relatively relaxed approach toward alcohol. Having a wet campus creates an environment where students feel safe approaching authority figures when a friend is in trouble so the proper authorities can be reached to provide assistance. This is validated to me when I see students from other schools come to our campus, drink too much, and end up needing to be hospitalized, and then their friends resist the RAs and Campus Safety despite Good Samaritan rules that may be in place.

Yet this lax alcohol policy has also created problems, as noted in the Mirza summit. Some alumni may recall a time when the focus was less on binge drinking and more on kicking back, with less of a hard-alcohol, pre-game-intensive attitude. I believe that was true then, but that type of culture has not been apparent during my time here in college. 

During this time of social change at CMC, it is crucial that the student culture shift back toward this safer, more relaxed approach to drinking. If students want the administration to loosen up, they must prove that they can handle themselves responsibly.

They should also shift the language surrounding parties to focus less on drinking, as that can isolate students who want to participate socially without drinking. Students need to stop polarizing the party scene between drinkers and nondrinkers.

Meanwhile, the administration should write rules that result in less of a tug-of-war between students and themselves; they should take a more blended approach instead, where rules provide a structure but the details can be malleable. In the case of hard drugs, I firmly believe that the administration’s policy should be zero tolerance, but still allow us to help a friend in need.

In the end, the Mirza summit will provide an opportunity for the administration to see where the CMC community stands. As the administration moves forward, I hope that they remember to include the points brought up in these discussions and continue to include student input. They need to look for ways to make flexible rules that keep them within the law and promote student safety as well as a fun social environment.

As for the students, I hope that they make a conscious change to the language surrounding the social scene. We should still promote a “go-getter” mentality without encouraging the idea that students should overwhelm themselves. Students also need to rethink their ideas about why they go to parties. Our language should lean less toward drinking and more toward enjoying the company of others. Going forward, both sides should continue this dialogue so everyone has the opportunity to make changes and, together, work toward a better CMC community for tomorrow.

Benjamin Baker CM ’14, a resident assistant at Claremont McKenna College, is majoring in physics and history. 

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