Scripps College recently postponed a scheduled visit by a CIA recruiter at the request of students. A Monsanto recruiter visiting Harvey Mudd also cancelled a planned event amid student protests. As the Claremont Colleges consider how to manage recruitment events by employers with distasteful human rights track records, I encourage transparency in on-campus recruiting at the Claremont Colleges.
The Claremont Colleges could benefit from clarifying when and how students may interact with recruiters. May students leave fliers critical of the recruiting organization in the host career center during the recruitment event? I would say yes. When career centers send out blurbs about recruiting organizations through student listservs, should faculty and student groups be invited to add “counterarguments” that discuss and critique the recruiting organization? I would say yes.
May students interrupt speakers at talks? I would say yes, although what is permissible is not necessarily advisable. From one perspective, recruiters often come to campus with a list of canned talking points, and no amount of polite questioning will get them to engage in meaningful discussion. In such instances, disruption acknowledges and calls out run-arounds, evasion, non-responses, and cop-outs. Examples include “die-in” protests in solidarity with Black Lives Matter a year ago and when the Pomona College Class of 2015 turned their backs on President David Oxtoby during graduation to protest for improved sexual assault policies and responses. Interrupting an event could also incite a backlash that outweighs the attention-raising effect of the disruption, if the disruption irritates and mobilizes opponents more than it mobilizes allies.
Does that mean opponents should stay silent? No. It means acting strategically. Depending on the circumstances, that could include putting up fliers, painting Walker Wall, and/or publishing op-eds in Conscious or TSL. What about swearing? I would distinguish between swearing at someone (“f— you”) and swearing about something (“I waited five f—— weeks to see a therapist”). While the first one should be out of bounds, the second one ought to be permissible.
Critics may twist the idea of a safe space and argue that off-campus recruiters and interested students are entitled to ‘safe space’ when interacting, free of interference or disruption. I reject that argument. Recruiters have a position of power on college campuses, and power should be questioned and challenged. Their presence is acknowledgement that employers view colleges and universities as legitimate and as talent sources.
Would the same rules apply to organizations I support? What if increasing student interaction with recruiters exposed a Planned Parenthood recruiter to protests? I believe that advocacy organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and UNITE HERE are well-prepared for scrutiny. They deal with protests, and far worse, every day.
Should Planned Parenthood staff have to deal with arson and death threats every day? No! Is that their reality? Yes. Should Claremont tolerate arson and death threats? No! Should they tolerate nonviolent demonstrations? Yes. That said, I wish that we could make the grisly, triggering Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust posters that appear once or twice a year less visible to casual passers-by.
Developing clear rules of conduct will reduce the likelihood of administrative overreach. In December 2013, a student at New Mexico State University went to a recruiting event, stood next to the NSA booth, and was arrested for holding a sign that said “Work for Big Brother, Apply Today.” To reduce the likelihood of a repeat in Claremont, students involved in recent protests and organizations like IDEAS and the Pan-African Student Association should be part of drafting rules of engagement for students at on-campus recruiting events.
I believe that demonstrations within the lines I’ve laid out above would encourage discourse about organizations that try to stifle discourse. They're unlikely to change students’ willingness to apply to advocacy organizations, but they may be able to raise awareness about organizations that thrive on secrecy and non-disclosure. Organizations like Monsanto, Goldman Sachs and the CIA are often seen as technocratic agents of progress and modernity, so long as their actions remain poorly understood and little-known.
Setting up expectations for engagement during on-campus recruiting events will require students, staff, and faculty to listen and be accountable to each other. Recent events with on-campus recruiting demonstrate the importance of setting mutual accountability to increase awareness, promote engagement, and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings and overreach.
Nick Sundback PO '14 majored in international relations. He lives in L.A. and enjoys exploring the city.