On October 6, 2015, the Council of Presidents of the Claremont Colleges approved a revision of the Claremont Colleges Policy on Demonstrations that effectively outlaws our ability to demonstrate. When I received the email from Pomona College Dean Miriam Feldblum with this news, I was very baffled and upset, especially since I had no idea what she was talking about. I had no idea what she was talking about in regards to my own institution. A review of the policy apparently began in Fall 2014, but no one even thought to approach students about possibly taking away our constitutional right to demonstrate.
According to the new measures, demonstrations are considered in violation of 5C policy if they include “amplified sound that can be heard inside of classrooms or other TCC or CUC buildings during times of use” or “the stationary positioning of demonstrators upon any roadway on or adjacent to any of the colleges that blocks passage.”
Now, in my head, as a black student who actively partook in demonstrations this past year with Black Lives Matter, I immediately thought about the protest we did across all 5Cs last May, handing a list of demands to each college president, which could also be heavily correlated with point one. I also think of the die-in that took place in Frary Dining Hall last fall, which could be heavily correlated with point two. Dozens of students complained and called black students out for blocking their way to get food during finals. They called what the demonstrators were doing stupid, idiotic and such a burden to their whole day, which is interesting to me since the die-in only took place for about an hour, yet black people live their whole lives in fear of police-sanctioned violence. That is, if their life is not taken from them too soon.
I assume that Dean Feldblum received some negative responses to her initial email, because a day later she sent another email with an invitation to discuss the new revision of the Claremont Colleges Policy on Demonstrations that same day. She also wasted no time mentioning in her email that she had heard that students may have thought that the revision to the policy was in direct response to the “important” Black Lives Matter marches and events that took place at the campuses last year, but that they started revising the policy last fall. She then offered students the chance to meet with her in Walker Lounge four hours later, on a Sunday, a day students usually do homework—very last-minute.
At the meeting in Walker Lounge, dozens of students were in attendance, half of the room where the meeting was being held was packed, and students were quick to give their opinions about the policy. Dean Feldblum made it clear that from the beginning that, from her perspective and Pomona’s perspective, there were no substantive changes in the revised policy, but instead language was made more explicit.
One student rebutted this, saying that she must have been misinformed because in the original policy there was nothing against amplified sound. Another student also questioned what would happen if the amplified sound originating outside the building is heard from the inside of classrooms or other buildings during use. Was there any way to exactly define what would be “amplified sound”? There are clauses all throughout the policy that are disturbingly unclear, which directly contradicts with what Dean Feldblum said the revision to the policy was for.
The main points I took away from Dean Feldblum’s responses were: First, according to Dean Feldblum, everything that happened with the Black Lives Matter events and marches from last year would not have caused the college to say that these protests were in violation of the demonstration policy; second, the administration claims that it wants to work with student protesters and demonstrators to make sure they are not breaking violations; and third, the policy itself is still very vague, because even Dean Feldblum had problems coming up with examples for terms—for example, what it means to be “disruptive.”
It saddens me that the colleges have gotten to this point, where they have the audacity to try to silence students. When the institutions are being dismissive and unresponsive to student issues, this policy shuts down numerous courses of action that students can take to be heard. The schools are trying to argue that this policy is not in response to Black Lives Matter, but the fact that they would just revise the policy out of context, disregarding one of the most heated and politically-active school years in the past couple of years, makes me even more suspicious of their intentions.
Dean Feldblum claimed that the administration wants to work with student protesters, but what does that actually mean? It feels like censoring, like the schools are trying to filter what will happen before it happens, especially since most of the time demonstrations go directly against the beliefs of school administrations. Also, the fact that this is a 7C policy, and that we as students have no idea how our actions at institutions we don’t attend are going to be reprimanded, is really sketchy. From Pomona’s perspective, Black Lives Matter demonstrations will not be in violation of the policy, but what about the other schools? Everything is too subjective right now.
What is most disturbing is how language is being used to manipulate students into not fighting for what they believe in. The Council of Presidents has consistently said that the policy is to prevent “non-peaceful or disruptive” demonstration, but by the nature of the word demonstrations are supposed to be disruptive. They are supposed to combat institutional forces. They are supposed to be messy. They are supposed to make an impact.
Some of the repercussions of violating policy include arrest and suspension, and as I reflect again on the Black Lives Matter protest that occurred last spring, I think about how I read the list of demands from my fellow black peers, and myself, to Pomona’s President, David Oxtoby. In that moment, I felt heard. I felt strong. I felt powerful. To think that I, as a student, could be arrested for asserting myself, for attempting to push back against a place that was not created for people like me, for proclaiming that my life matters and that all Black Lives Matter—it is ridiculous.
Dean Feldblum mentioned in the student discussion that “words matter.” All the schools have claimed that they are in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but as we as students are fighting a war against grand-scale institutional violence, the colleges are coming up with demonstration policies that promote institutional violence. They are attempting to shut down demonstrations, one of the most prominent tactics of Black Lives Matter. We need to seriously think about our values as an institution, as a community, and on a basic level, as fellow human beings.
Ashley Land PO ’16 is a Chicago native majoring in media studies. She enjoys dancing, engaging in meaningful conversations, and standing up for what she believes in.