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Dear Claremont Independent

November 14, 2015

Dear Claremont Independent
by Jessica Jin

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Forum or its other staff. 

Dear Claremont Independent,

Thank you for your dissent. Thank you for taking ownership of your views and for being willing to stand behind them without the shield of anonymity. That being said, I do not think that your Editorial Board has the burden to be the sole voice of opposition across the 5Cs. I’m tired of seeing the Claremont Independent act as the only public opposition to groupthink at the Claremont Colleges. If we cannot agree to disagree at a liberal arts college, how can we hope to bridge greater ideological divides in the “real world?” Fear can no longer be an excuse. Tolerance on both sides is required. I’m tired of seeing my peers lambasted as racists, as white supremacists, as personal targets for your disappointment and your censure (even if at times they may be tone-deaf). Though I think the CMCers of Color movement is doing tremendous work to advocate for underrepresented groups on this campus, their work is undermined each time one of their allies chooses to vilify a critic before engaging.

It’s true: they don’t agree with you; they don’t stand with you. And maybe you shouldn’t have to give them the time of day, but I think we all lose when you choose to silence them as opposed to accept and welcome their participation.

In an effort to engage with the recent Claremont Independent editorial “We Dissent,” I hope others will be encouraged to offer their own critiques, opinions, and responses. I hope that other dissenters take this opportunity to articulate their own thoughts. I would suggest that everyone read “We Dissent” before reading further — however, I have included in bold very brief statements to summarize my understanding of their critiques:

Dean Spellman and President Chodosh should be targets of censure for being bullied and not acting responsibly when faced with heated criticism.

I’m equally disappointed in Dean Spellman’s departure. However, I do not blame the administration, President Chodosh, or Mary Spellman for the circumstances of her departure. The lack of due process in Spellman’s resignation is on us. I echo your disappointment in the student body. We should not have encouraged (either explicitly or tacitly) our peers to put their livelihoods at stake. We should have asked for a trial by facts — not by fire. But, it’s important to note that directing blame at the administration on this point is misplaced. When students ransom their health, the school has a duty of care that they cannot just ignore. The job description of the Dean of Students requires Dean Spellman to do more than simply write off a student’s concerns and well-being with a flippant “so what?”

As for President Chodosh, it’s not his responsibility to police student speech. If students are concerned about censorship and restrictions on free speech, then we should be the ones responsible for intervening. Also, President Chodosh’s appeals to promote “leadership” and “personal and social responsibility” are an effort to remind students of their individual accountability. In this case, that would have required students to simply follow the golden rule: treat others like you’d like to be treated.

If we wanted to more carefully consider the future of Dean Spellman’s role at CMC, then we, as students, should have spoken out against the bold demands of some of our peers, which gave the student body less than 24 hours to react before Spellman, facing two students on hunger strike, stepped down. My guilt and what weighs heavily on my conscience is that I made no effort to communicate this prior to Dean Spellman’s resignation. We left the administration and Dean Spellman no other choice. There was only an offensive from the student body, and our inability to offer any defense has left our campus divided in the wake of her departure.

There is no need for a GE / curricular inclusion regarding ethnic, gender, and sexuality theory at CMC.

This argument frustrates me, because it fails to address the underlying question regarding values. General education requirements reflect the core of a liberal arts education — that individuals should be exposed to disciplines that perhaps they otherwise would not seek on their own. The idea that CMC traditionally has not specialized in ethnic, gender, and sexuality studies does not even attempt to articulate a view as to why these values and topics aren’t important for our individual growth and education. Just because something is the status quo, does not mean we should not aspire to change that status quo.

I believe that the CMCers of Color movement has made a powerful argument as to why it’s important to expand our world view by studying perspectives that are not our own. We take GEs to open our mind to other ways of understanding the human condition. To me, incorporating a new general education requirement seems to be a reasonable way of offering this perspective.

The calls for a safe space are unnecessary, given that the collegiate experience is meant to make you uncomfortable due to the exposure to new perspectives.

The argument here is that, as the Claremont Independent’s Editorial Board articulated: “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.”

In some ways, I find this argument to be the most ironic. To me, this seems to be the movement’s exact aim when they call for an inclusion of ethnic, gender, and sexuality theory in the classroom. But, if there is a distinction between the two that I’m missing, I welcome the clarification.

To borrow the language of a professor of color I heard from recently, marginalized students have the right to an environment where they don’t feel like guests at their own college.  As I understand it, a safe space is not a space for the coddling of the mind. Rather, it’s the basic requirement of a learning environment where you do not feel as if you are at odds with your professors and peers. It is a space where you are not viewed as a guest who is merely passing, but rather someone who truly belongs. I do not think CMCers of Color are advocating for a safe space where they can shield themselves from opinions that differ from theirs. I think a safe space should be something that we work toward as a community to encourage intellectual debate and endeavor to thoughtfully consider the serious issues that face our polity and our generation.

Yesterday, I called for dissent. Today, I welcome your opposition. I invite you, again, to speak openly about your disagreements and to be mindful of your peers. For those interested, I encourage you to follow the example of students like Patrick Jamal Elliott ‘19 and Rachel Lee ‘17, and submit your opinions to The Forum for consideration.

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