South Asian Mentorship Program launches campaign for caste protections in 5C nondiscrimination policies

A white clocktower emerges from the trees and towers over other buildings in front of an orange and red sunset.
The South Asian Mentorship Program aims to bring awareness of caste discrimation at the Claremont Colleges. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

The South Asian Mentorship Program is currently undergoing a campaign to revise the Claremont Colleges’ nondiscrimination policies to include caste protections. The 5C organization’s campaign includes a petition created April 5 and a Caste 101 event held April 12 to provide an understanding of caste discrimination to the Claremont community.

The distinction would add caste to a list of identities, demographics and characteristics protected under the 5Cs’ current nondiscrimation policies, such as sex, gender, sexual orientation and religion. 

SAMP head mentor Arun Ramakrishna PZ ’22 said that SAMP created their campaign in November of 2020 after being contacted by Equality Labs, a South Asian power building organization. Equality Labs asked SAMP to participate in their campaign to create caste protections at college campuses across the country. 

“As the South Asian diaspora increases in the United States, the influence of caste and casteism also increases. So in cases of caste discrimination on our campuses, we need to have some sort of framework for the schools to address these things,” Ramakrishna said. “Also this move would signal to prospective caste-oppressed students that the Claremont Colleges is not a place that tolerates casteism.” 

Ramakrishna cited a recent high-profile lawsuit from the state of California against tech company Cisco as an example of casteism’s rise in the United States. The lawsuit alleged that a Cisco employee of the Dalit caste was discriminated against by higher-caste managers.

SAMP has been having monthly meetings with this network of other colleges working on similar initiatives, according to Ramakrishna. Colleges that have been successful in adding caste protections at their respective institutions include Brandeis University and University of California, Davis.

Ramakrishna said SAMP chose this particular project because they believed it “upheld SAMP’s origins of being a space for marginalized South Asian identities.” 

Since November, SAMP mentors have been meeting with faculty and administration from the Claremont Colleges to pass a resolution to add caste to nondiscrimination policies. Binita Pandya SC ’22, a SAMP mentor, said that the campaign has been most well-received at Pitzer College and Scripps College. 

“Because each of the colleges have a different harassment and discrimination policy, we have to get it changed individually at each of the colleges and the process of each of the schools is different,” Pandya said.

When Ramakrishna proposed the resolution to the Pitzer Diversity Committee, he said they wanted to see more student support for the campaign. Pandya said that the petition currently has 101 individual signatures and 20 signatures from Claremont student organizations.  

“[Now] we just need the faculty executive committee and [Pitzer President] Melvin Oliver to vote and approve of this change to the discrimination and harassment policy and then it’ll be officially codified,” Ramakrishna said.

SAMP’s Caste 101 event boasted 35 participants and featured a lecture from M. Bilal Nasir, a postdoctoral fellow in the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies at Pomona College who has been supportive of the student movement to add caste protections to Title IX policies.

“The students hope to use this workshop as an opportunity to educate the Claremont community about caste oppression and build a student-led movement against it — most notably by amending Title IX,” Nasir said. “Caste in the [United States], as well as internationally, importantly overlaps with class and often serves as a barrier to college access. It is for this reason that this push to include caste in Title IX protections is important and long overdue.”

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