Claremont McKenna Dean Quits After Campus Bias Protests

Friday, November 13, 2015
Mary Spellman

An impromptu college protest Thursday―dubbed the Million Student March, but scattered at campuses and venues across the nation―demanded tuition-free college, cancellation of all student debt and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers.

But the occasion was used to focus attention on a range of student concerns, and at the small, prestigious Los Angeles-area liberal arts school, Claremont McKenna College, the issue of race brought down Dean of Students Mary Spellman.

The administrator, who has held her post for nearly six years, resigned after an e-mail she wrote October 25 to a Latina student was made public. The note pledged that the school was working “to better serve students, especially those who don’t fit our CMC mold.” The student body is 43% white, 12% Latino, 10% Asian-American, 8% mixed race and 4% black. The rest are international students or otherwise categorized.

The e-mail did no go over any better with students than a photograph that popped up on Facebook of non-Latino students dressed in mariachi costumes despite a school plea for kids not to don offensive costumes for Halloween. One of the students in the picture, although not in offensive dress, was the junior class president. She apologized for being in the photo and resigned her position.

Past incidents include a campus Pirate Party that was promoted with a picture of slaves surrounding President George Washington. Black Lives Matter posters were vandalized on campus. Posters at the Queer Resource Center were scrawled up with anti-gay remarks.

Students complained that the administration was not responding to them. College President Hiram Chodosh announced on Wednesday that two new leadership positions would be established to handle diversity and inclusion issues. He promised the school would strive to increase diversity in hiring and the curriculum.

Students have been protesting at Claremont McKenna for more than six months and they are not alone. More than 1,000 students took part in a solidarity walkout at Ithaca College in New York Wednesday where President Tom Rochon faces demands he resign over his response to admittedly insensitive racial behavior. Rochon told students:

“In general, the college cannot prevent the use of hurtful language on campus. Such language, intentional or unintentional, exists in the world and will seep into our community. We can’t promise that the college will never host a speaker who could say something racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise disrespectful.”

University of Missouri President Timothy M. Wolfe announced on Monday he would resign after the football team, backed by the coach, said they wouldn’t play until he stepped down. The chancellor joined Wolfe. The campus was wracked with turmoil over a succession of racial incidents when a galvanizing moment occurred October 10 at the Homecoming Parade.

A group of black students blocked the car carrying President Wolfe as protesters chanted about injustice. After 10 minutes of confrontation, white folks and police intervened to clear a path for Wolfe’s vehicle. There was yelling back and forth and contact between the car and a student. Through it all, Wolfe remained silent.

He apologized a month later for not speaking up, but waited until a hunger strike by a student, demanding his ouster, was already underway.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Claremont McKenna Dean Resigns After Students Protest Campus Racial Bias (by Teresa Watanabe and Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times)

Claremont McKenna Dean Resigns Following Protests, Hunger Strike (by Tyler Kingkade, Huffington Post)

California College Dean Resigns After Students Protest Bias (by Victoria Cavaliere, Reuters)

Another College President Is Facing Calls to Step Down (by Katelyn Harrop, ThinkProgress)

University of Missouri President and Chancellor Step Down amid Race (by Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN)

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