Students of Color Fighting Uphill Battle at Conservative School

Claremont McKenna College is a small private college in the Los Angeles area known for its politically conservative culture.  In 2012, the college’s Campus Climate Task Force surveyed students and found that “variation among responses by Black and Latino students was more pronounced,” concluding “there are also those who feel disenfranchised.”  They made a long list of recommendations for changes on campus, detailed in the final pages of their report.  Eight months ago, CMC’ers of Color made a similar list of demands, which they have currently reduced to just four items.

CMC1Campus life, however, changed little.  Students of color reported, among other things, proposals for a “Colonial Bros and Nava-hoes” themed party (which generated nationwide controversy at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last year).  In recent weeks a number of incidences have generated controversy.  It began with offensive Halloween costumes and, especially, the motivation by students of color to speak out in protest and re-assert their demands from eight months earlier.

In response, some conservative students have responded aggressively against the students of color, generating a hashtag “#shushPOC” (POC = People of Color).  This hashtag is both paternalistic– “shush” being a term that parents say to young children– and evokes centuries of oppression when the voices of people of color were silenced.  Either the creators of the hashtag are completely ignorant of history or actively prefer a nation with racial censoring, red-lining, profiling, and segregation.   It should be pointed out that there is no diversity training for incoming freshmen during orientation week at CMC, nor is there racial sensitivity or diversity training for faculty and staff, which is surprising for an educational institution.

The most dramatic development in recent days was a protest held by the CMC’ers of Color in which they re-iterated their demands and called for the resignation of the Dean of Students, with whom they had both long-term and recent grievances.  Shortly thereafter, she resigned.  The faculty, at least 102 of them, have signed a statement supporting the students of color.

The mobilization of the marginalized students led to an editorial by some conservative students, entitled “We Dissent”, that is stunning for its lack of emotional maturity and respect for diversity.  The need for some basic diversity training is clear both in the editorial and in the comments posted under it at the Claremont Independent, a conservative paper at the Claremont Colleges.  The editorial fits squarely in the extensive on-line literature I would call #whitepeopletellingbrownpeoplewhytheirfeelingsarewrong.  The editorial takes particular aim at the students’ of color request for a “safe space”, essentially a meeting room.  A letter to the editor of the Claremont Independent countering this article was posted at a different website.  The letter describes “We Dissent” as an example of “the most inflammatory and polarizing fringe journalism.”

It is not clear to me why the concept of students of color meeting alone together is so threatening.  I don’t get why any student would object to another student’s feelings and requests for help, especially when those requests are in keeping with the college’s own recommendations.  I don’t understand why basic respect, understanding, and support for fellow students is a political issue.  It would do them well to watch this video on basic respect for people that are different from you.

Here is the conservative students’ editorial with my annotations:  We Dissent comments by SH

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