When the Scripps Career Planning and Resources Center initially announced their talk, “Women in the CIA,” many students looked forward to an interesting discussion about a potential career path. The event was scheduled for Nov. 12, and would have been a place for a female representative from the National Clandestine Service (NCS) to “share her experience as a woman working in the CIA.”
The morning of the event, Vicki Klopsch, executive director of career planning and resources, sent out a cancellation email to students who had expressed interest. The email explained that the logic behind the cancellation was in response to “students who have voiced concerns about what they assert to be the involvement of the CIA in racist and imperialist practices.” The email further justified the cancellation “in light of increasing national and local student resistance to institutional marginalization” and declared that “given the current climate, it would be inappropriate to hold the event at this time.”
At first glance, it may seem that this is just showing respect for the “current climate” at Scripps College, and expressing “solidarity with the students of color at Scripps.” There is merit to the idea that certain speakers who promote racist or imperialist agendas should not be paid to speak on campus; however, the scheduled speaker was not claiming to justify past actions of the CIA, but to educate students on a potential career path.
While it is important to value the voices and concerns of marginalized groups, canceling a talk that is only tangentially related to the student protests deprives students of an educational opportunity. In trying to avoid any controversy over the talk, the career center moved away from one of the goals in its stated mission, which is to offer “specialized networking opportunities and events with alumnae and industry experts.”
While the argument could be made that the CIA has traditionally been an institution that practices racism in its hiring, almost every organization that has a legacy as long as the CIA does has at one point practiced or contributed to racism. But cutting off access to information about joining previously racist institutions does not help address the problem. In fact, in the original information provided to Scripps students about the Women in the CIA talk, it stated that the NCS is seeking a “diverse workforce comprised of individuals from a wide variety of academic backgrounds.” This talk was specifically advertised as a woman talking about being female and in the CIA, and could have helped open up options and connections for groups not traditionally welcomed by the National Clandestine Service, such as women and students of color.
The job of the Scripps Career Planning and Resources Center is to help students explore potential careers, not to pass judgement on the validity of these paths. Just because some students may find the idea of a certain career path to have negative connotations does not mean that access to that career path, the kind of access these introductory talks provide, should be closed to other interested students. Canceling a talk because certain students find the CIA’s history distasteful opens the door to canceling future talks in other potentially contentious fields.
When Scripps turns away people who have affiliations with controversial organizations, like the CIA, it closes the door on discussions about the merit of these organizations or how to work to reform these organizations. Just because a speaker invites controversy does not mean that they should be turned away. Scripps should embrace these discussions about the merit of these organizations, not cancel informational events at the first signs of debate. College should be a space for students to feel free to learn about and explore different career paths, regardless of the politics surrounding these paths.
Emily Petillon is a first-year at Scripps College and is planning on majoring in history.