We wholeheartedly disavow the sanctions Claremont McKenna College imposed this week on students involved in the blockade of Heather Mac Donald’s talk in April.
They are the actions of a school anxious to make a good example of itself by making an example of its own students. They are the lashings-out of an animal that, still bearing the scratches of protest nearly two years ago, has learned nothing except for how much it hates to see itself in the mirror. This is an educational institution that, when faced with adversity, takes an opportunity to shift the status quo — by evicting its few students who were doing exactly that.
The events of April 6 match those at UC Berkeley, Middlebury, and other colleges around the country. But, in sanctioning its students so severely and so decisively, Claremont McKenna did something those other schools didn’t — because it thought it knew what it could get away with.
This is a school that, among its neighboring schools, is stereotyped as the most conservative, the bro-iest, the least likely to have a firm grasp on social justice among an otherwise hyper-liberal, if not hyper-leftist, consortium.
This is an administration that types answers to complex, generation-defining questions of free speech as if every keystroke drops it down a rank in U.S. News & World Report.
But this is also a school that, not to its own credit, helped shape at least seven students into organizers and activists that, over the course of a few hours, handily threatened an image crafted by 60-million-dollar sports facilities and multi-billionaire Republican donors.
If there is one good thing to take away from the suspension of our fellow students, it is this — Claremont McKenna, once again, just couldn’t deal. The sanctions are not thought through. The school is on the back foot, and is trying its best to hide it by throwing whatever weight it can towards the front — at its own student body.
Two years ago, we watched President Hiram Chodosh stand in a ring of CMCers of Color and at least give off the impression of joining a debate. Remarkably, the dean of students resigned. Funding was finally allocated towards a resource center for students of color.
Likewise, this week’s sanctions, which administrators surely mean as a wake-up call for would-be activists in coming years, are probably not going to work as intended.
In the long path towards equity on campus and in society at large, it’s tempting to see small victories as turning points for a movement. CMCers of Color felt like that. To see a dean resign so quickly after an organized action felt tangible, even if it was just image, even if we knew somewhere deep down that it was not a change of heart but a change in scenery. It was still an immense feeling to watch Claremont McKenna allow its image to be one of giving in.
Time and recent events help clarify the past. We can now see November 2015 reflected in the Athenaeum windows, which trembled under chants in April. It looks smaller, a minor blip in time, not a fundamental change in direction.
November also looks smaller for another reason. We are watching its reflection in a rear-view mirror.
But the smaller it feels now, the bigger it will feel after a semester or two. Because if there’s anything we’ve learned in our time in Claremont — anything we’ve read or watched or seen scribbled on a blackboard as a mark of some time past, as if it’s not connected to the present — it’s that the objects in this mirror are always larger than they appear.