OPINION: Pitzer should revoke Kevin de León’s degree — or at least say something

A view of LA City Hall on a clear, sunny day.
In a recently leaked audio recording, LA city council member and Pitzer alumnus Kevin de León PZ ’03 made racist remarks. (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

“The 5Cs are so small” is a complaint that anyone who goes to the Claremont Colleges has likely heard before, if not said themselves. This smallness has effects on how we perceive and what we expect from the people around us. Because we interact so closely with the people on the campuses around us, we expect the people in our community to subscribe to similar values, such as inclusion and social responsibility. 

This unsaid social contract that we have cultivates a strong community at the 5Cs, and so when someone in our community violates this social contract, it sets everything off balance. When this balance becomes unsteady, we must address it. But, in the case of the harmful comments made by Pitzer College alumnus and Los Angeles city councilmember Kevin de León PZ ’03, nothing has yet been said — and the silence is highly noticeable. 

In early October, an audio recording of a conversation between members of the Los Angeles City Council was leaked. On it, the voices of Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, Councilmember Gil Cedillo, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera and de León are heard. The racist comments made are wholly disgusting and horrifying, especially coming from the mouths of government officials. The conversation impacted the Black community, used stereotypes to allude to Oaxaqueño people and perpetuated harmful racial identity politics, pitting Latinx people against Black people. And the voice that hit the closest to home was de León’s.

There have to be consequences for our actions. As a Pitzer graduate, de León should be upholding the values of the college. However, he did not exhibit behavior aligning with the values of intercultural understanding and social responsibility. As a small school, Pitzer has a very traceable alumni network. There isn’t any excuse for not recognizing this scandal — and a lack of comment on it quickly becomes apparent. 

Kevin de León has since apologized for his comments during this leaked meeting. Yet the comments he made about his fellow council member, Mike Bonin’s son, comparing him to a handbag, can’t be taken back. Nury Martinez, who resigned as president of the Los Angeles City Council after the leak, seemed to lead this conversation, making the bulk of the comments during this discussion. But de León should not be pardoned because his fellow council member made many of these comments. He should be held accountable for not stopping this rhetoric as someone present in the room.

What has Pitzer done to address Kevin de León’s comments? Nothing. There has been no official message from the college about his actions. The only message that was sent to the Pitzer community was an unofficial email from psychology professor Mita Banerjee, who asked us all to send a message directly to de León’s office that communicated our disapproval. Nothing was sent from the president’s office, deans or any administrative staff — there’s just been silence. 

Pitzer, as an institution, has the power to go so far as revoke his degree, and they should. De León’s words and lack of action clearly show that he doesn’t follow Pitzer’s core values. Although de León has since apologized for his words, his seeming inability to resign from office shows his lack of humility and stubbornness to own up to his mistakes. 

This was news that happened very close to Claremont. This was news that had repercussions for Pitzer students and their families. This was despicable rhetoric that an alumnus participated in — and yet Pitzer stays silent. It doesn’t have to be as radical as taking away his degree, but they should at least address the possible impacts of his actions on Pitzer and larger 7C community and his misalignment with Pitzer’s core values. 

A month has passed since this story began to unfold. The Pitzer administration needs to stay true to the college’s core values and be held accountable for addressing remarks said by students — current or former — understanding that these comments impacted students on campus. Pitzer should’ve said something, anything, but they didn’t. As the bid for Kevin de León’s recall is launched, Pitzer has another chance at acknowledging this situation, getting behind it and advocating for its student body and the whole Pitzer community. 

Aaron Matsuoka PZ ’26 is from Redding, Connecticut. He enjoys spending time with friends, being outside and scented candles.

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