By Blake Neff
Protesters at California’s Claremont McKenna College have forced out a dean they say hasn’t helped enough with campus race issues, imitating protests at the University of Missouri that resulted in the resignation of the school’s president.
A CMC student embarked on a hunger strike Wednesday that quickly resulted in the resignation of Dean of Students Mary Spellman. Much like those at Missouri, CMC students have complained about both specific incidents and a general climate of alleged hostility towards minority groups.
The strike was over Spellman’s response to an email from CMC student Lisette Espinosa, which according to critics showed CMC regards itself as a place for white, upper-class students who view all others as outsiders.
Espinosa had shared an article with Spellman she had written about feeling unwelcome at the school as a low-income racial minority, and Spellman had responded by saying she was working hard to assist students “who don’t fit our CMC mold.”
In response to Spellman’s email, CMC student Taylor Lemmons announced Wednesday she was embarking on a hunger strike until Spellman resigned. While Spellman had quickly apologized for her wording, Lemmons said “the empty words and promises did not resonate with me,” and persisted.
Spellman announced her resignation Thursday afternoon.
“I believe [resigning] is the best way to gain closure of a controversy that has divided the student body and disrupted the mission of this fine institution,” she said in a statement. “Most important, I hope this will help enable a truly thoughtful, civil and productive discussion about the very real issues of diversity and inclusion facing Claremont McKenna, higher education and other institutions across our society.”
CMC protesters also circulated a lengthy email around the CMC campus earlier this week, complaining school official’s had not met a lengthy list of demands, and listing harmful incidents they had been forced to endure as students.
Incidents the students complained about included:
In 2013, a CMC student posted an anti-LGBTQ hate speech online. When numerous students brought this up to Dean of Students, they were dismissed, and inadequate resources were offered to change campus climate or supporting hurt students.
In a social psychology course in 2014, a student reported that, during an implicit bias test, many students in the class joked about their racism. Instead of interfering or using this opportunity to discuss how implicit bias has often been used to justify violence against people of color, the professor laughed and began a discussion about whether or not people should even try to unlearn their implicit bias.
There is a current class on the civil war that simulated the pros and cons of slavery; many students of color viewed this discussion to be extremely insensitive and hurtful.
One of the most recent crisis points, bubbling up over the weekend, were pictures that surfaced online of two CMC students wearing stereotypical Mexican costumes for Halloween.
Spellman is the third administrator to fall in a wave of November protests, after Missouri’s president and chancellor, but she may not be the last. Protests are popping up all over the country. At Ithaca College in upstate New York, hundreds of students have marched for the resignation of college president Tom Rochon, and a protest movement is also brewing at the University of Kansas.
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