Oh, what a week it’s been.
Who would’ve imagined at the beginning of the semester that Claremont McKenna College would be on the cusp of what looks like a cultural revolution?
Not me, that’s for sure.
In just four days, the Claremont Colleges student body—fueled by a widely-shared snapshot of two Halloween “mariachis” and indignation towards the “CMC mold” (not to mention the momentum provided by Black students at universities nationwide)—forced the administration to renew its commitment to providing vital campus resources for marginalized students along with, most notably, the turbulent resignation of now-former Dean of Students Mary Spellman.
However, the viral incidents that kindled this unprecedented wave of public outcry are not a historical anomaly. Marginalized students at CMC—myself included—have denounced the college’s toxic atmosphere for years. As best shown by a list of incidents recently compiled by some of the main organizers of Wednesday’s rally at the Hub and plastered all around campus, hatred and discrimination at CMC are anything but uncommon.
And now we’re here.
A new dean of students will soon be on the way, more than a hundred professors and faculty members have endorsed CMC’s coalition of marginalized students’ Call to Action, and a couple of new administrators primarily focused on diversity and inclusion will soon join us at “Camp Claremont.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a protesting student that truly believes these developments will, in and of themselves, make CMC a racial utopia. Indeed, the fight to create a more harmonious campus must and will continue. It’s one that requires us to look not only at the administration and its policies, but also at the attitudes of the student body itself, as well as American society at large.
But we shouldn’t let that harsh reality bring us down.
Instead, I think we should all celebrate this week’s most important victory: the voices of the marginalized at CMC will never be as dismissed as they once were. I use the word revolution purposefully, because it implies a drastic societal shift in our corner of the world.
Years from now, administrators will look back at this week and remember that ignoring the concerns of those whose livelihoods are most challenged on this campus will eventually lead to disarray and, quite possibly, the loss of their jobs. And for that, we should feel proud of ourselves.
Now the real fight begins.
I’m certain that many students will come forth and denounce this week’s protests. I can think of two main points: First, many will come out in defense of Spellman, particularly for her role in fighting against campus sexual assault; and second, some will also condemn the ‘coddling’ effect a resource center, diversity deans and faculty commitments to the protestors will have on campus.
On the first, students would be right to commend Spellman’s active role in curbing sexual assault on CMC. As Dean of Students, she led and sponsored many initiatives that brought the issue to forefront of students’ minds. In terms of the second, much ink has been spilled on both sides of the issue, and I don’t intend to spill even more.
These dissenting students—who I am sure constitute a hefty portion of the entire student body—will ultimately miss the point. They should really look toward the administration, not the students they disagree with, as the main culprits behind their grievances. By continuously ignoring the voices of those who are marginalized on campus and giving them no choice but to come out in full force, the administration holds the most responsibility for creating this particular political atmosphere that makes drawn-out dialogue between advocates and opponents of these sudden administrative and policy changes impossible.
For much too long, the CMC administration brushed off the concerns of its own students. Just last year, a group of concerned students of color were promised by President Chodosh that the school would soon open a new resource center devoted to those who are marginalized on campus. Eight months later, the school had done almost nothing on the matter.
Furthermore, the dean of students office has been de-diversified. As best put by a recent CMC graduate who worked at DOS, “Dean of students used to be one of the most diverse offices on campus. With Jim Nauls, ‘Fid’ Castro, Donald Delgado, Maria Alfaro, and Jennifer Marana in the office, students of color, queer students, and female students knew that someone in DOS would lend an ear or helping hand if they asked, and even if they didn’t. Though, as each staff member resigned, retired, or relocated, they were replaced, for the most part, by people who did not have the same desire to support these groups of students. At the center of all those search committees was Dean Spellman.”
This isn’t to mention that CMC has the lowest Black graduation rate out of any college in the consortium, that it has the lowest percentage of Black professors on campus, and that only 10 percent of its student body comes from low-income backgrounds.
Yes, the school created a new scholarship fund for low-income students; yes, the college summoned a task force to analyze the issue of campus climate; yes, the college sponsored talks at the Athenaeum given by marginalized speakers. But this isn’t commitment. Commitment would entail a genuine concern and repent over its historical atmosphere, which, as shown time and again, suffocates many of its own students.
Instead, the college decided to brush these issues to the margins and unabashedly proclaim itself as the “Happiest College in America.”
Essentially, the CMC administration was its own worst enemy, constantly missing opportunities to amend its relationship with those who are now seeking radical change. If administrators would’ve truly acted on any of these issues brought up over the last three years, students might not have committed themselves to a hunger strike asking for Spellman’s resignation.
I left campus this semester not only to pursue my dreams but also because I genuinely believed going back would’ve broken me in more ways than one. Now, witnessing all of what’s happened through a screen, I find myself wishing I would’ve stayed put.
Here’s to all the students, past and present, that have been on the frontlines of these battles for years. Here’s to everyone that’s fought through the desire to escape “Camp Claremont.” Here’s to everyone that succumbed to such desires. Here’s to those who will be there tomorrow when the cameras aren’t rolling. Here’s to the workers that make our daily existence on that campus a five-star retreat. Here’s to students from the other 4Cs that have always been there for those of us who couldn’t bear our own institution.
But, most importantly, here’s to a brighter future.
Carlos Ballesteros CM ’16 is from Chicago and majored in history and sociology. He’s currently an editorial intern at The Nation.