The Spreading Virus, Claremont Update (1)

Events have been unspooling so fast at Claremont McKenna College that it is hard to keep up. The dean of students has resigned. A female Asian student was shut down at one of the student rallies when she went off-script. And the conservative campus paper, the Claremont Independent, has published a terrific rejoinder to the kampus krazies. (I’ll post these in a separate item.)

Keep in mind, first, that Claremont McKenna College is often regarded as a conservative campus. In fact parts of just two departments—government and economics—lean to the right; the rest of the college is garden variety liberal (though that garden is mostly weeds, to be sure).

The chain of events at Claremont is even more absurd than at Missouri. After a magazine article had called CMC one of the happiest colleges in the country, a CMC student, Lisette Espinosa, wrote a long article in the student newspaper dissenting. You can get temper of the whole thing from this one paragraph:

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. It was uncomfortable coming to CMC and seeing my home being better represented in the poorly paid, working-class staff rather than those more central to managing the school’s trajectory and curriculum. Over the years, I have seen many people with similar backgrounds to mine build relationships with the workers at the 5Cs. Referring to the Colleges, a student in my Latina Activism class, Neftali Dominguez HM ’17, said in class the first week, “How can they say they care about students of color when they treat their brown workers like shit?” At the Claremont Colleges, it is not unusual for workers to get fired or harassed for organizing for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.

The Dean of Students, Mary Spellman, reached out to Ms. Espinosa with the following note:

Apwllman screen cap copy

Big mistake. The phrase “CMC mold” was an unwarned trigger!

Dean Spellman, in damage control mode, attempted to apologize with this email at 7:16 am Wednesday:

To: DL-Students

Subject: apology

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Many of you have seen my recent email to a CMC student in response to her TSL article about her experiences at CMC. There have been a lot of questions and concerns raised about my email and the role of the Dean of Students Office in serving the needs of students of color at CMC.

I am writing to apologize.  I am sorry.

When I read the TSL article “Who Is the Happiest at the ‘Happiest College in America’?” I was so saddened to read that my student’s experience at CMC and with the Dean of Students Office has left her feeling unsupported and caught in many situations in which her identity was devalued because it fell short of a stereotypical and shallow concept of the “CMC mold.”  I am deeply sorry that what was intended to be an email of support and outreach was another cause of her and other students’ pain.  I sent the author a personal apology similar to this one last night.

Please know my intention was to affirm the feelings and experiences expressed in the article and to provide support.  One of the most important parts of my work is helping students who feel disenfranchised and marginalized to understand that the caricatured stereotype of what it means to be a CMC student is false and that valuing such a “mold” and failing to embrace those that fall outside the “mold” limits our students and our college in so many ways.  The article illustrated what I talk about with students every day, and the issues that I am working to change at CMC.

I am sorry that my poorly worded ending to my email has further marginalized students.  I am devastated that many students don’t feel supported by the Dean of Students Office whose sole purpose is to serve and advocate for students.  I am working to change that and build trust in the office and the college.

I will be at the Hub this afternoon to hear your concerns and how I, the Dean of Students Office, and the college can better serve you.  For those of you who would prefer to talk with me individually, please email me and we will set up a time to talk.


Dean Spellman

This was not sufficient for the Dean of Faculty, Peter Uvin, who hung Spellman out to dry with this email sent at 6:39 pm on Wednesday.

To: “Uvin, Peter”

Subject: another important piece of information about current events on campus

Dear colleagues

I hereby share with you another, distressing, recent development.

https:[email protected]/dear-claremont-mckenna-college-community-1861eb1fe846 [A student, Taylor Lemmons, announces that she will go on a hunger strike until Spellman resigns.]

The email to which Taylor refers is the one you all received this morning at 7:16 from Dean Mary Spellman.

For those of you who are not in the loop, the background to that email is an article that had been written by a student, Lisette Espinosa, about two weeks ago, about how she did not recognize herself in the “happiest college in the US.” In an email, Dean Spellman, reaching out to Lisette, wrote that these issues, “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.” This email, and especially these last words, was circulated widely and seen as, at the very least, tone-deaf, by many students—and reflective of what ails this institution.

Peter Uvin [Emphasis added.]

Dean Spellman resigned yesterday.

Meanwhile, the president of CMC, Hiram E. Chodosh, is distinguishing himself as the squishiest of invertebrates. He sent out the following grovel of an email on Tuesday:

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

We have the right to expect Claremont McKenna College to be a caring, learning community – a place where each of us, regardless of our race, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, class, nationality, gender, or political ideology can live and learn from one another and together.

This does not mean that we always need to agree. This does not mean that we always can or should prevent all offense. But it does mean respect and a willingness to engage in direct, open conversations about what hurts and concerns us. This means, especially for me, holding ourselves accountable and ensuring the resources necessary to realize these commitments—yes, through the words we use, the listening we do, the lessons we learn, and most of all through the actions we take.

As I read last night and then further this morning about the recent Facebook post of two students trading in ethnic stereotypes for Halloween and the compounded error of our own responses, I grew very upset.

Upset, not only because of this incident, but even more because it reflects deeper, persistently troubling conditions in the world around us and in our own community. And I feel personal disappointment in and sorrow for not being able to do more and to do it more quickly and publicly.

Today is a day for listening, and I’m holding a sit-in in my office on the second floor of Bauer. I am meeting with individual students this afternoon and invite any and all students who want to come to speak with me, from 5:30 p.m. until however long you care to join me. And for those of you not able to make it, I urge you to keep talking with one another as well as with all of us.

Tomorrow (along with each day that follows) is a time for action. With the recommendations of the College’s personal and social responsibility committee on climate (chaired by Dean Uvin), we will intensify implementation of several ongoing plans: to improve and grow our staff support and expertise, to intensify our public programs and implement our planned Day of Dialogue, to work closely with the faculty, and to invest even more in direct student support.

We must and will do better.

After campus protests, president Chodosh sent out this follow up note, where it is clear the capitulation will be complete, and that Dean Uvin will be the key person in running the asylum:

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Yesterday, I spent the day and evening with about forty students in my office, actively listening to their personal and shared experiences, deep concerns, and imaginative, constructive suggestions.

As you know, our students have documented many disturbing stories, and disseminated them through flyers across the campus. I stand by our students. I support their right to speak out forcefully, and want their voices to be heard. In this extraordinarily important moment for our campus, I have asked that staff disregard our campus posting rules and refrain from removing these flyers until Monday morning to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to read and reflect on these narratives. I urge each of you to consider, discuss, and engage thoughtfully with what you read and hear from your own experience and point of view.

In full alignment with the conversations with our students, we have highlighted a number of institutional needs and action steps—much foundational work has been done across the College and in the climate committee, now chaired by Dean Uvin. As I promised yesterday, I want to set forth today, key, concrete actions we have taken, highlighting those of primary concern to our students.

Student Affairs

We have authorized the creation of a new leadership position on diversity and inclusion within Student Affairs, dedicated to provide direct student support and educational and experiential programming for the entire campus. Dean Huang crafted a job description last week, and it will be posted soon.

We have replaced Barbara Guerra-Torres with Sean J. Rollalazo, who joins us from Elon University in North Carolina. We will welcome his arrival to campus in early December. Also, we are extending the role of one of our admissions and financial aid officers to provide transitional assistance to incoming students, especially those who are the first in their family to attend college.

We will continue to work with KLI to expand programs such as the sophomore leadership experience that enhance students’ skills in engaging in difficult discourse. We will utilize the Athenaeum to build a series of regularly scheduled, ongoing participatory programs to bring students, faculty, and staff together for serious discussions about issues that affect our campus community and society more broadly.

We will improve the performance of student affairs. To start, I have asked Dean Huang to conduct a full review of the Dean of Students office and its capacity and performance in support of our students.

Academic Affairs

We have authorized the creation of a new leadership position on diversity and inclusion within Academic Affairs, dedicated to supporting faculty recruitment, ongoing efforts to integrate and strengthen diversity throughout the curriculum, and the provision of resources to faculty in their work with students from diverse experiences and backgrounds. Dean Uvin created a job description last week, and it will be posted soon.

Dean Uvin also created a task force to provide concrete recommendations in spring 2016 that will bolster and increase access to academic support services for students from orientation to graduation. This includes enhancements to established support systems as well as adjustments to institutional advising and mentorship. Since last Summer, the Dean of the Faculty’s office has been working with every faculty search committee to (i) ensure that proactive measures are adopted to create the most talented and diverse pool of applicants possible, and (ii) become more aware of the way implicit biases play a role in all of our lives, and what we can do to minimize these. All faculty involved in searches this year participated in these discussions and workshops.

Dialogue and PSR Climate Space

Last week, we authorized Dean Uvin to organize a day of dialogue this Spring. We are in the process of planning a set of events for students, faculty, and staff to discuss the best way to do this—identify clear goals and topics and approaches. In preparation for this event, we will provide in-depth facilitator training to faculty and staff in how to manage difficult conversations. An important additional benefit of such a day of dialogue, then, would be the presence on our campus of a significant group of people equipped with more tools and confidence to more ably engage in this sort of conversation in the future.

To be supported by the two staff positions in student and academic affairs, we have authorized the creation of a new programming space to support campus climate (identity, diversity, and free speech). This space 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. A specific location will be chosen among identified alternatives in the coming weeks, and plans will be finalized by the beginning of the spring semester.

Each of these foregoing efforts will heavily involve students, and will be supported by faculty and staff.

Thank you in advance for your shared commitment to these and future actions.

Very best,


Stay tuned; more to come shortly. In the meantime, may I suggest that CMC alumni contact the college and let them know that they’ll withhold further contributions?