[NOTE: The dancing bear reference is to this quote from Allan Bloom’s 1989 description of the behavior of most faculty and administrators in response to Cornell’s crisis in 1969:
[S]tudents discovered that pompous teachers who catechized them about academic freedom could, with a little shove, be made into dancing bears.]
…[A] group of over a hundred students gathered around the Hub patio in a demonstration led by students in the CMCers of Color group…
Prior to the protest’s start, CMC junior Taylor Lemmons ’17 announced in a post on Medium that in protest of the lack of support she believes DOS has shown towards students of color and of other marginalized identities, she is undergoing a hunger strike until Dean Spellman resigns from her post…
In an email from President Chodosh sent to students before the protest, Chodosh committed that the college will move forward with hiring two new positions, one under the umbrella of student affairs and one under the Dean of Faculty and academics, to support diversity and inclusion on campus. With the support of these two new positions, he added, the College has “authorized the creation of a new programming space to support campus climate (identity, diversity, and free speech)” which “will be dedicated to collaborative, educational work by students, professional staff, and other experts on diversity, identity, civil rights, and free speech issues on our campus.”…
One of the primary demands articulated in the open letter (released earlier today) from CMCers of Color, SAGA, APAM, BSA, and GenU was the creation of a resource center on campus for students of marginalized identities. At the demonstration, President Chodosh publicly committed to providing a temporary space for a resource center in the interim period while they work on establishing a permanent center.
Apparently, that particular dance was not good enough. After a one-day hunger strike (even I could accomplish one that long) Spellman resigned, as had her predecessors Wolfe and Loftis before her. In her letter, she wrote:
To all who have been so supportive, please know how sorry I am if my decision disappoints you. I believe it is the best way to gain closure of a controversy that has divided the student body and disrupted the mission of this fine institution. 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.
Indeed. I’ve long noticed—haven’t you?—that bowing to the pressure of a small group of determined demonstrators with non-negotiable demands invariably “enables” a thoughtful, civil, and productive “discussion.” Actually, as many of the demonstrators at Mizzou made clear, a “discussion” was not the goal. But educators love that word “discussion.” It’s second only to “dialogue.” And a dialogue is not a one-sided set of demands accompanied by a hunger strike.
What started the ruckus at CMC? Words, of course:
In October, a student shared an article with Spellman that she had written about feeling marginalized at Claremont McKenna. Spellman’s responsed that she is trying to better serve students who don’t fit the “CMC mold.”
Spellman’s emailed reply went like this:
Thank you for writing and sharing this article with me. We have a lot to do as a college and community. Would you be willing to talk sometimes about these issues? They are important to me and the DOS staff and we are working on how we can better serve students, especially those who don’t fit our CMC mold.
Notice that what Spellman was very clearly offering was a discussion. However, anyone who’s not been asleep for the last 20 years or so can see the problem in that last phrase. It’s going to hurt someone’s feelings, even though—and this is especially important—that idea is the sort of thing that was in the very article that the student had called to Spellman’s attention, and which occasioned Spellman’s response:
Maybe most of us have felt out of place at Claremont McKenna College for one reason or another, but my feelings of not belonging cut deep across economic and racial lines…
Within the first weeks of school, I told an upperclassman Latino that I felt like I was admitted to fill a racial quota. Why would they want me here? Impostor syndrome is prevalent among first-generation students. These feelings caught me by surprise as I had never known what it felt like to be the “minority” in my predominantly immigrant, low-income Latinx hometown…
Students of color often report feeling unwelcome at predominantly-white institutions, and CMC is far from an exception. Our campus climate and institutional culture are primarily grounded in western, white, cisheteronormative upper to upper-middle class values…
Some will think I am overreacting. Some will say I do not belong at CMC and should have transferred (which I cannot afford). Some will believe I am “biting the hand that feeds me.”
I suggest you read the whole thing. But the excerpts I’ve offered go a long way, I think, towards explaining some (not all, by any means) of what’s happening at Mizzou and CMC and other places around the country. The emotionally-laden demands of the students for more and more of a feeling of safety and inclusion can never be assuaged because they have their origins in the nature of the affirmative action and diversity programs themselves, which have fostered what this student refers to as “imposter syndrome” and is explained here. Irony of ironies; but it makes a certain amount of sense psychologically as a reaction in those with who seem to have a somewhat fragile sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
Note, also, when you think about Spellman’s phrase “our CMC mold,” that the protesters were making demands on the behalf of “marginalized” students, a phrase that I assume they were using even before Spellman wrote her otherwise-impeccably-PC note.
Here is Spellman’s previous statement in response to the matter of her offending email:
In a demonstration on Wednesday afternoon, students confronted Spellman, who apologized for her “poorly worded email.”
“The CMC mold is a thing I talk about with students every day,” she said. “They come to me and tell me how they don’t fit in … That is what I am referring to as the mold.”
Spellman’s resignation comes a few days after the resignation of junior class president Kris Brackmann, who stepped down when a photo of her from Halloween circulated on Facebook. The picture features two female students wearing sombreros, fake mustaches and ponchos, with Brackmann posing in front as a dancer from Justin Bieber’s music video, “Sorry.”
Shades of Yale’s Halloween costume brouhaha.
Expect to see more and more and more of this sort of sequence of events, as craven administrators cave to the pressures of their empowered and angry students’ demands.
[ADDENDUM: The editorial board of the student newspaper at CMC offers an impassioned defense of liberty, criticizing the demonstrators and Spellman’s reaction. Well worth reading the entire thing, but here’s an excerpt:
…President Chodosh. We were disappointed to see you idly stand by and watch students berate, curse at, and attack Dean Spellman for being a “racist.” For someone who preaches about “leadership” and “personal and social responsibility,” your actions are particularly disappointing. You let your colleague, someone who has been helping your administration for the past three years and the college for six years, be publicly mocked and humiliated. Why? Because you were afraid. You were afraid that students would also mock and humiliate you if you defended Dean Spellman, so you let her be thrown under the bus. You were so afraid that it only took you five minutes to flip-flop on their demand for a temporary “safe space” on campus. Your fear-driven action (or lack thereof) only further reinforced the fear among the student body to speak out against this movement. We needed your leadership more than ever this week, and you failed us miserably.
Apparently the editors are not happy to see bears dancing. Good.]