Responding to campus protests and two reported hunger strikes over racial discrimination and faculty’s inadequate and tone-deaf response to student concerns, the dean of students at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California, has resigned her position, reports the Los Angeles Times.
At issue is the school’s apparent mishandling of a couple of high profile attempts by members of the student body to engage the school’s leadership on the topics of marginalization and inclusiveness. On April 9, 30 students of color sent a letter to the school’s president, Hiram Chodosh, offering a series of proposals to help Claremont McKenna provide better support to students who have felt isolated and even excluded on campus. That letter can be found in its entirety at the bottom of this post.
According to an article in the CMC Forum published November 10, despite receiving “assurances regarding several action plans for this fall semester,” “the students who were involved recognized that none of their proposals had been implemented.” Frustrated by an apparent lack of urgency by the school’s administrators in addressing their concerns, the student group sent another letter, this time chronicling specific aggressions experienced by students belonging to marginalized groups, and reframing their proposals as demands. Examples included vandalism of Queer Resource Center and Black Lives Matter posters, a student of color being called a “cockroach” by a professor, and a Civil War class that “simulated the pros and cons of slavery,” among many others.
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back and led to campus-wide protests and the hunger strikes was Dean Mary Spellman’s emailed response to an October 23 op-ed in The Student Life, written by a Lisette Espinosa, a CMC student, about the daily realities of attending Claremont McKenna as a Latina. Spellman’s email to Espinsoa did not go over well at all:
Specifically, the suggestion that students of color “don’t fit [the] CMC mold” “outraged several students of color, and the email was cited as another example of institutional racism at CMC,” according to The Claremont Independent.
In an open letter to the school published November 11 on Medium, student Taylor Lemmons announced the start of a hunger strike aimed at triggering Spellman’s resignation. Spellman apologized for her choice of words, but the damage had already been done among a significant and vocal segment of CMC’s student body. The campus was “roiled” by protests this week, leading to Spellman’s resignation this afternoon.
The student actions have inspired other changes at Claremont McKenna, too:
On Wednesday, Chodosh announced that new leadership positions on diversity and inclusion would be created in the offices of academic and student affairs. The administrators will work to increase diversity in hiring and in the curriculum, and a new space will be dedicated for work on diversity, identity and free speech, he said in a letter to the campus community.
Campuses around the country have seen protests along the lines of what happened at Missouri, where the school’s president and Chancellor both resigned after a student’s hunger strike and a strike among the football team’s athletes of color brought national attention to ongoing overt racism at the school. Ithaca College in New York, Smith College in Massachusetts, and Yale University in Connecticut are dealing with similar actions by students over issues of marginalization and racial discrimination.
The first letter to President Chodosh: