One More Voice: Unaddressed Concerns

Fellow students of Claremont McKenna College,

In the fervor of the moment, we must not allow ourselves to abandon objective reflection. Passion has been the driving force of this movement, and has taken it incredibly far. Now, as the dust settles, let us take a step back from raw emotion. Regardless of your position on campus, you are allowed to speak, to question, to be skeptical. We call on our fellow students to not fall into the trap of ad hominem attacks. An argument’s validity must rest on its own merit. We wish to express our concerns about the possible effects of the proposed changes on our campus. Specifically, we fear the institutionalized suppression of ideas and the establishment of physically enforced safe spaces.

We are in full and vigorous support of freedom of expression, both as individuals and in light of our culture’s expectation that all citizens embrace this most basic principle. Unfortunately, many students are concerned that it has become uncomfortable to express opposing points of view in the current campus climate. Some even believe that their freedom of expression has been restricted. We want to make clear, freedom of expression implies the right for others to disagree, contradict, and decry the statement or action, no matter how disproportionately. We find any suppression of ideas distasteful and morally reprehensible. However, there is a distinction between suppression and social stigmatization, which does not include slander, harassment, etc. What we are currently experiencing is the latter. We must not allow ourselves to make the mistake of thinking that because we are being confronted or criticized, that our rights are being taken from us. Regardless of position, when we cross a boundary which others subjectively deem unacceptable, they may voice their discontent loudly and fervently. That being said, we are concerned that some of the proposals from CMCers of Color may unintentionally create institutionalized threats to this freedom of expression.

The movement has made no demands that explicitly threaten free discourse or flow of information, but we feel uneasy that their trajectory mimics that of comparable movements, such as those at Yale and Amherst, which have called for the silencing of certain types of speech. We have faith that CMC would never intentionally prevent discussion of controversial ideas. However, we fear that institutional suppression of speech and information may manifest itself in more subtle ways.

Two of CMCers of Color’s central proposals, a GE requirement and increased tenure opportunities, concern academics. One of their secondary proposals calls for students and faculty to take yearly sensitivity training in matters of race and religion. We truly believe that understanding realities other than our own is important, and that these requests are rooted in good intentions. That being said, we cannot forget that this movement intends to represent narratives that go beyond race and gender, to issues of religion and class, and even to such broader issues as geopolitical tension and financial inequality. We need to be cognizant, especially in regards to academics, of how this group’s broad interests could affect the flow of information from professor to student. We must not allow sensitivity training to encroach on that grey area, and we must be unapologetically critical of such trespasses. As a private institution CMC has the right to emulate colleges like Wheaton or BYU that have enforced morality laws and distinct intellectual biases. It is entirely within CMC’s power to walk down this path and collectively we must not turn a blind eye to this disquieting possibility. These propositions could compromise the institution’s academic and disciplinary objectivity and neutrality. We unequivocally declare our opposition to CMC instituting policies that lead to systematic moral and intellectual bias.

We are also concerned about the potential institutionalization of safe spaces on our campus. We are in support of spaces where all ideas are acceptable, everyone is allowed to speak, and opinions are thoughtfully considered no matter their source. We are in support of every person’s right to associate, or not associate, with whomever they choose. However, we object in the strongest fashion to institution-sanctioned physical safe spaces whose purpose is to discriminate based on racial or sexual identities, and which physically bar certain students from their premises.

The CMC Students of Color movement has called for a resource center. Such a center would provide support and professional staff to students of marginalized identities. We do not object to a specialized support center and recognize the desire for such places. We recognize that this center’s resources would be designed to serve only a specific group of students. This is not our concern.

Our concern runs deeper than this.

Last Wednesday the Motley coffeehouse at Scripps posted on Facebook that their sitting room was available exclusively to people of color and the allies they invited. Last Thursday, the sitting room was open only to black people of color. Non-black people of color and white allies were directed to the HIVE. The morality of such spaces is subject to intense debate, but what we fear is that such spaces will be instituted by CMC.

There is a profound distinction between an individual’s freedom of association and the institutionalization of segregated spaces. Every person reserves the right to spend time only with people who share certain backgrounds, faiths, or orientations. We do not seek to deny any person or group of people the right to cultivate friends or acquaintances based on their own personal criteria, no matter how systematic or how arbitrary. We support fully the right of private groups or clubs to accept members based on whatever criteria they choose. Such groups, however, must be formed, hosted, and funded by private individuals, not by our school. While individuals may choose with whom they interact, institutionalized centers may not create such arbitrary distinctions. CMC guidelines forbid organizations associated with the college to deny membership based on sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability, as they ought to. Such exclusion would undermine the very goals of diversity and equality that CMC values so highly. School organizations cannot and must not be allowed to segregate based on the personal identity of individuals.

We speak publicly in order to encourage students to keep themselves and the administration accountable for actions taken. As this movement has shown, students can have a profound effect on administration, but it is far more powerful if student’s thoughts and opinions are open to the public, instead of voiced behind closed doors. While our fellow students may not agree with our opinions, we cannot stand by and allow our concerns to go unspoken.

We are unapologetic in our convictions, recognize the ramifications of this sort of expression, and welcome both support and disagreement the same.

Respectfully,

Erin Tully (’18) and Sebastian Luna (‘17)