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College is the last place that should be a ‘safe space’: A voice of protest against student protests

Steven Glick, publisher; Hannah Oh, editor-in-chief; and Taylor Schmitt, managing editor of the Claremont Independent, the right-leaning publication of the Claremont colleges. (Photo courtesy of Steven Glick.)

Students are protesting at campuses across the country, more fervently than ever in the wake of demonstrations at the University of Missouri that forced the resignations of the university system president and the chancellor last week.

At Claremont McKenna College, students who have been raising awareness about race issues on campus presented a list of demands to the president Wednesday, including asking the dean of students to step down. One particular objection centered around an e-mail the dean, Mary Spellman, sent to a Latina student pledging to work with those who don’t fit the “CMC mold,” a phrase her opponents echoed in angry protests. On Thursday, Spellman resigned. 

[Mizzou’s impact is felt at campuses nationwide]

The president of the junior class, Kris Brackmann, resigned after another student posted a photo of her with a group wearing Halloween costumes many found offensive, including two blond women wearing stereotypical Mexican sombreros and giant black mustaches; the student wrote in her post that this exemplified what people of color are faced with on the campus. (Brackmann was not in a sombrero; she was wearing a costume drawn from a Justin Bieber video.)

As protests continued, three students sent an alternative message. Hannah Oh is the editor-in-chief, Steven Glick is the publisher, and Taylor Schmitt is the managing editor of the Claremont Independent, the right-leaning publication of the Claremont colleges.

Oh is a senior at Claremont McKenna College, and Glick and Schmitt are juniors at Pomona College, one of the other member institutions of the Claremont University Consortium. “We try to fill in the gaps in campus dialogue that are left by the overwhelmingly progressive political atmosphere on campus,” they wrote.

Here is their take on the protests at Claremont McKenna, excerpts from an opinion piece titled, “We dissent” which ran in the Claremont Independent:

By Hannah Oh, Steven Glick and Taylor Schmitt

The student protests that have swept through Claremont McKenna College (CMC) over the past few days—and the ensuing fallout—have made us disappointed in many of those involved.

First, former Dean Mary Spellman. We are sorry that your career had to end this way, as the email in contention was a clear case of good intentions being overlooked because of poor phrasing. However, we are disappointed in you as well.

We are disappointed that you allowed a group of angry students to bully you into resignation.

We are disappointed that you taught Claremont students that reacting with emotion and anger will force the administration to act.

… We are disappointed that you and President [Hiram] Chodosh put up with students yelling and swearing at you for an hour. You could have made this a productive dialogue, but instead you humored the students and allowed them to get caught up in the furor.

Above all, we are disappointed that you and President Chodosh weren’t brave enough to come to the defense of a student who was told she was “derailing” because her opinions regarding racism didn’t align with those of the mob around her.

… These protesters were asking you to protect your students, but you didn’t even defend the one who needed to be protected right in front of you.

Second, 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.”  …

[That] 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.

Third, [the president of student government] …. we are disappointed in you for the manner in which you called for the resignation of junior class president Kris Brackmann and for so quickly caving in to the demands of a few students without consulting the student body as a whole. …

We are disappointed that you did not allow for any time for reflection before making your quick executive decisions to announce a student-wide endorsement of this movement and to grant these students a temporary “safe space” in the [student government] offices.

To our fellow Claremont students, we are disappointed in you as well.

We are ashamed of you for trying to end someone’s career over a poorly worded email. This is not a political statement––this is a person’s livelihood that you so carelessly sought to destroy.

We are disappointed that you chose to scream and swear at your administrators.

That is not how adults solve problems, and your behavior reflects poorly on all of us here in Claremont. This is not who we are and this is not how we conduct ourselves, but this is the image of us that has now reached the national stage.

We are disappointed in your demands. If you want to take a class in “ethnic, racial, and sexuality theory,” feel free to take one, but don’t force such an ideologically driven course on all CMC students.  …

And though it wouldn’t hurt to have a more diverse faculty, the demand that CMC increase the number of minority faculty members either rests on the assumption that CMC has a history of discriminating against qualified professors of color, or, more realistically, it advocates for the hiring of less qualified faculty based simply on the fact that they belong to marginalized groups. A hiring practice of this sort would not benefit any CMC students, yourselves included.

We are disappointed in the fact that your movement has successfully managed to convince its members that anyone who dissents does so not for intelligent reasons, but due to moral failure or maliciousness.

We are disappointed that you’ve used phrases like “silence is violence” to not only demonize those who oppose you, but all who are not actively supporting you.

We are most disappointed, however, in the rhetoric surrounding “safe spaces.”

College is the last place that should be a safe space. We come here to learn about views that differ from our own, and if we aren’t made to feel uncomfortable by these ideas, then perhaps we aren’t venturing far enough outside of our comfort zone.

We would be doing ourselves a disservice to ignore viewpoints solely on the grounds that they may make us uncomfortable, and we would not be preparing ourselves to cope well with adversity in the future.

Dealing with ideas that make us uncomfortable is an important part of growing as students and as people, and your ideas will inhibit opportunities for that growth. …

Lastly, we are disappointed in students like ourselves, who were scared into silence.

We are not racist for having different opinions.

We are not immoral because we don’t buy the flawed rhetoric of a spiteful movement.

We are not evil because we don’t want this movement to tear across our campuses completely unchecked.

We are no longer afraid to be voices of dissent.