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  • A Postmortem on Girlhood

    Everything I learned about being a woman I first learned by being a girl. On walks with a wiser older sister, in hushed voices at sleepovers, between the pages of trashy teen-romance novels. Being a girl was a necessary education—for everything which existed on the other side of adolescence. Lessons were gradual—before lipgloss and the push-up bra, there was chapstick and camisoles from The Gap. Before you knew you wanted to kiss anyone, you wanted to hurl at the thought. Before you were a woman, you played an internal match of tug-of-war: dollhouses and playdates on one side, the additions and losses of grown-up existence on the other. Often, it felt as though these lessons came at you in slow-motion; girlhood threatened to stretch on forever. Adolescence was purgatory: a half-way place, a pit-stop on the way to adulthood. Find in the diary of any teenage girl: “Are we there yet?” Just a few more stops! Girlhood is desperately wanting to pick up the pace with all of your growing up, and feeling instead the red–hot eternity of every humiliation (side-part, your first hopeless crush, failed attempts at winged eyeliner). And then, seemingly without warning, you’re there: an adult, on the other side. An entirely predictable, and yet totally unexpected development. How did you wind up here? You look back with sudden horror—where did she go? Wasn’t she just braiding hair at her seventh-grade birthday party? Now, she’s a decade out from a mortgage, maybe a marriage. Turning twenty a few weeks ago struck me as some small catastrophe. Not for the usual reason (pressing eschatological anxiety). Everyone’s afraid of death. With girlhood now fully in the rear-view, it occurred to me: part of me had already died. You’ve got to be careful with nostalgia. It isn’t memory, and in fact, it gets memory wrong. It couldn’t exist without the hazy–headed amnesia which seems to afflict most adults—the mechanism by which the past’s “bad parts” are excised from recollection. Nostalgia really is dis–orientation: the posture of misremembering. Knowing this, the new urge to reminisce about adolescence seemed suspect, maybe even unfair to a younger version of myself. Girlhood wasn’t a “better time.” All of the great tragedies of the period might seem trivial, now—well, that’s only because you’re through it. But the rotten parts, and all of the heartache, were real. And when you were there, it wasn’t at all clear if any of it was going to end. Isn’t it strange: you can be nostalgic for hell. Part of me really was—and still is. What explained the feeling of sudden loss—of mourning for the little girl who went away, and was glad to? So much of girlishness is oriented toward the promise of womanhood. Girls listen to Taylor Swift songs before their first love ever comes for them, and feel them way-down. Girls understand fairytales as representations of nearby realities—love isn’t fictional, and it really will happen to her. Playing dolls is practice. You watch your mother getting ready for the day, and then play dress-up in your room in sincere imitation of her. You wait for it to be your turn. Maybe, if the nostalgia was saying anything, it was this: don’t forget how badly she wanted to be you. If you do, you forget to notice just how wonderful it is to have arrived. In some ways, little girls have a better sense of the power of womanhood than women do. From her covetous vantage point, she could see it all: that being a woman is a magical thing. How nice for you, to be where she’d hoped to end up. You always get told: it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. And it’s true, the journey matters. But it’s about the destination, too. You set out for a reason, and you used to have a sense of what your reason was. And if the journey was long, and tough, and if you were in a great hurry to get to where you were going, you might as well know you’re here, when you are. Girlhood is over. But here’s something you can still do: celebrate it, mourn its passing, and resolve to hold onto a bit of it for the rest of your life.

  • Encampment Moves to Pomona Commencement Stage

    Early in the morning on May 6, students at Pomona College began to rearrange the commencement fences on Marston Quad, transforming the graduation stage into a barricaded encampment for ‘Palestinian Liberation.’ The students announced plans to stay until the administration agrees to divest from arms manufacturers accused of complicity in what they call 'Israeli war crimes and settler-colonialism.' The group Pomona Divest Apartheid put it bluntly on Instagram: “NO COMMENCEMENT UNTIL DIVESTMENT.” This protest follows the recent disbanding of a similar encampment at Pitzer College, where President Strom C. Thacker promised on May 3 to reveal any investments in military and weapons manufacturing by June 30. The action at Pomona also comes after a campus-wide referendum in February, showing over 80 percent support from respondents for divesting from companies tied to what they perceive as the apartheid system in Israel. On May 2, 64 percent of Pomona’s faculty supported a similar divestment resolution. President Gabriel Starr of Pomona assured the faculty that the police would not interfere with the protestors and announced plans to address divestment issues in a faculty meeting scheduled for today. Meanwhile, Avis Hinkson, Vice President for Student Affairs, advised students via email to avoid the encampment area while the administration was handling the situation. Within the encampment, the mood was one of calm determination — no shouting or chanting. Wearing black masks and keffiyehs, participants quietly brought in supplies and set up tables with vegan and halal food. As press members, we were asked to wear N95 masks for “COVID” precautions before being allowed inside, where a press liaison detailed the strategic goals for an "escalatory" campaign until the administration agreed to divest. The demonstrators, she explained, were a mix of students and community members, backed by legal counsel. When asked about potential compromises, the liaison rejected negotiating any further with what she called "settler-colonial institutions on Turtle Island." This is a developing story…

  • Protesters Disrupt Alumni Weekend

    On April 26, over 200 students and alumni marched into Pomona’s Alumni Dinner to call on the school to divest from weapons manufacturers supplying Israel. The protest took place in Marston Quad, outside Big Bridges Auditorium. Three alumni gave speeches on stage, addressing Pomona administrators and the dinner attendees. They all commented on Pomona’s student body activism and the arrest of 20 Pomona students at the Alexander Hall sit-in earlier this month: “The sense of urgency shown by these students is precisely what the moment calls for,” said  David Berkinsky PO’19. Amid the speeches, the dinner continued, with some guests stopping to watch while others continued conversations. “Join us tonight, this weekend, and beyond as we act in solidarity with the 20 arrested students and… the vast majority of the Pomona study body, to tell Pomona to do the right thing,” said aid Katie Duberg PO’10, before urging other alums to join the walk-out. The protests moved outside Little Bridges but continued on past the end of the dinner. The following day, around 3 p.m., before Pomona’s Alumni parade, protesters gathered again—though this time in a much smaller crowd. Protestors attempted to blockade Sixth Street to keep alumni from participating in the parade. The two groups met at the intersection of Sixth Street and College Avenue, where protestors drove the paraders away after some time. Similar protests occurred on the 27th at Pitzer and Harvey Mudd College. At Pitzer, protestors planted themselves at Pitzer’s “Taste of Pitzer” music and food event – where they called on Pitzer to divest. Alumni stood by as students chanted on stage. At Harvey Mudd, student and alumni protestors from Mudders Against Murder interrupted President Harriet Nembhard’s speech to alums.

  • Dire State of Press Freedom in Hong Kong

    With new media constraints and an unchecked legislature, Hong Kong’s once vibrant press landscape will soon resemble its anti-free press counterpart in China. When Beijing took control of Hong Kong in 1997, it promised citizens that civil liberties like freedom of the press would be preserved for the next 50 years. Much of this promise was kept until Xi came into power in 2013 when the CCP upped its control over the media and the price for those who disobeyed. In 2020, China imposed its national security law, which subjects pro-democracy voices to torture and undue legal processes. Dozens of journalists have been detained and indicted under the law since. On March 19, the Hong Kong Legislative Council unanimously passed legislation, further cracking down on opposition to the Beijing and Hong Kong governments. The legislation, known as Article 23, imposes life imprisonment for vague offenses such as treason and external interference. This policy endangers journalists and further strains the freedom of the press. Only a few weeks after Article 23 went into effect, a Reporters Without Borders representative investigating the state of press freedom in Hong Kong was detained at the airport and denied entry to the city. Security forces apparently want to suppress knowledge of Hong Kong’s restrictive media landscape. The Hong Kong legislature debated Article 23 for only 11 days before passing the resolution. This is no surprise since the majority of the legislative body was elected in a 2020 district election that China required to be between “patriots only.” Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader John Lee can now “bow” to Xi Jinping’s demands and citizens cannot interfere. The vague language of recent laws, the Hong Kong government’s pro-Beijing position, and Xi’s rising power leave journalists vulnerable to manipulation and arbitrary discretion. The Hong Kong government froze the assets of independent media outlets Apple Daily and Stand News in 2021, forcing them to close, and placed Stand’s senior editors on trial for sedition. Another “Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China” has been a new credential system in which journalists must pass a WeChat exam that demonstrates their obedience to Xi and the goals of the People’s Republic of China. Article 23 and the 2020 national security law informally bind Hong Kong journalists to conform to the same propaganda. With Hong Kong’s media under state control and independent outlets disappearing, it will become more difficult for the international community to learn of these injustices and see the unfolding of Hong Kong’s fate. Today’s Hong Kong is a far cry from the city’s history of free citizens and outspoken journalists. Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy protests in China, Hong Kong correspondents played a crucial role in transferring information and concepts, primarily in Chinese, to a broader audience. Hong Kong was also a rare site for people to commemorate Tiananmen while China tried to stifle its remembrance. Maya Wang, the acting China director for Human Rights Watch, argues, “The Chinese government wants the world to forget about Hong Kong, to forget what the city once was, to forget Beijing’s broken promises. But Hong Kong’s people will never forget.”

  • Alumna Candace Valenzuela Reflects on Role as Biden HUD Appointee

    Last month, CMC alumna Candace Valenzuela ‘06 returned to campus to speak at the Athenaeum and present Housing and Urban Development (HUD) career opportunities to CMC students. As a Regional Administrator, Valenzuela is responsible for implementing HUD initiatives in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and her home state of Texas. To deliver HUD services to her region effectively, Valenzuela must coordinate with officials from five states. Apart from New Mexico, her region is composed of red states whose representatives do not align with the Biden Administration or its policies. Valenzuela reflected on the role of partisanship in HUD-state coordination in her region. “As a political appointee, your job, even though to a certain extent is partisan, is to talk to everybody to make sure that localities get the services they need,” she said. Despite her best efforts, she encounters roadblocks with some members of Congress who she believes face “social pressure not to give victories to the Biden Administration.” According to Valenzuela, Republican members of Congress’ refusal to engage in conversation with HUD officials impedes HUD’s ability to deliver much-needed services to their constituents. State and local officials, unlike their counterparts in Congress, seem to understand that interparty cooperation benefits their constituents. Valenzuela shared positive experiences with state and local officials across her region, calling them her “favorite people” and praising mayors and city council members for their focus on constituent services. “When you are carrying a multimillion-dollar check, you are smarter, funnier, and more attractive,” she joked. Because she delivers material resources to their constituents, state and local leaders are happy to work with her despite partisan divides. Reflecting on her region, Valenzuela commented on one clear divide between blue and red states: source of income discrimination. In New Mexico, the only blue state under her jurisdiction, the state bars landlords from refusing to accept HUD vouchers as payment. In Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, landlords can deny applicants housing solely because they do not want to accept HUD vouchers. Valenzuela lamented this policy in her red states, acknowledging that more work needs to be done to dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding HUD funding. She argued that HUD vouchers should not be weighed differently from other sources of income by renters because government funding is relatively stable. Despite this partisan divide on source of income discrimination, Valenzuela warned against considering red states a monolith when it comes to housing. Two states in her region have particularly distinct housing landscapes. “Arkansas is the only state in the country in which you can get arrested for not paying your rent,” she explained. Furthermore, the state continues to fail to pass habitability laws – “last year, they tried to pass a law requiring apartments to have smoke detectors, and it failed,” she shared. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s extensive experience with natural disasters makes it more willing to work with HUD on disaster-resilient housing. These states’ housing landscapes demonstrate the diversity among what might seem to be politically similar red states. Valenzuela also discussed HUD’s extensive involvement in the Biden Administration’s climate change strategy. She emphasized HUD’s role in implementing the landmark Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA created the Green Resilient Retrofit Program, which provides $800 million in grants and $4 billion in loans for HUD-funded properties to reduce their carbon footprints and make them more climate resilient. This program is especially important to Valenzuela’s region as a 2021 Winter Storm demonstrated significant vulnerabilities in Texas’ infrastructure, including its housing landscape. Valenzuela recently visited Port Arthur, Texas, where she delivered a $52 million check to fund three apartment complexes to invest in storm resistant roofs, better insulated windows, and electric vehicle chargers. Valenzuela also underscored that the federal government must integrate environmental considerations into its housing policy in order to spend taxpayers’ money responsibly. “We need to know if we’re putting housing in areas where it’s likely to flood, or where natural disasters are likely to happen,” she explained. HUD’s environmental programs, while perhaps lesser known by the public, are critically important because it is estimated that up to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, making housing emissions a significant climate concern. Towards the end of our conversation, Valenzuela shared advice for CMC students. Valenzuela recalled her time at CMC with gratitude and fondness. “CMC is the place to find like minded folks,” she said, explaining that the friends she made at the Claremont Colleges were the ones rooting for her and sending her care packages during her 2020 congressional campaign. She urged CMCers to invest in Claremont relationships, knowing that Claremont students may rely on each other for support later in life. Valenzuela also urged CMC government students to pursue local service. She recalled how much CMC students focus on the federal government. She urged students, “look at what your city council is doing, what your country, borough, state, and local folks are doing, because you will see that there are easier and more tenable wins than tackling the federal government.” Finally, she urged CMC students to take part in programs that benefit our community here in Southern California. Critics of the census have long highlighted that it undercounts unhoused populations and therefore leads policymakers to allocate insufficient resources to address homelessness. At HUD, the Point-in-Time Count seeks to count people who lack housing but are not in shelters. Communities come together to walk through neighborhoods late at night and count the people they encounter. Valenzuela applauded Point-in-Time participants, saying “it can be a little emotionally trying when you are talking to someone who wants to share their experience with you, but the count makes such a huge difference in our knowledge and our ability to distribute resources.” The Point-in-Time Count occurs each January, and the County of San Bernardino seeks volunteers to assist the count each year.

  • Biden Tries to Stop the Steel (Acquisition)

    Nippon Steel, Japan’s largest steelmaker, has been trying for months to finalize its acquisition of U.S. Steel. On April 12, U.S. Steel stockholders voted overwhelmingly in favor of the all-cash transaction, offering $55.00 per share — a nearly 40% premium over U.S. Steel’s December closing price. Despite near unanimous support from stockholders and executives, the $14.1 billion deal faces formidable opposition. Founded in 1901, U.S. Steel is one of America’s most storied companies. With a market capitalization estimated at $1.4 billion in the early twentieth century, U.S. Steel was the world’s first billion-dollar corporation. However, the company has recently struggled, and in 2021, it had to shelve a $1.2 billion upgrade to a Pennsylvania plant due to financial constraints from environmental fines. Nippon Steel aims to provide the necessary investments to rejuvenate U.S. Steel's aging plants. For a merger of this size, antitrust laws typically present the primary obstacle to a successful acquisition. In this case, the Justice Department is in the process of reviewing the merger for market-concentration concerns. Yet, for Nippon Steel, antitrust concerns are secondary to the political sensitivities surrounding the deal, particularly as the 2024 U.S. presidential election approaches. President Biden has repeatedly expressed his opposition to a foreign acquisition, arguing that “it is vital for U.S. Steel to remain an American company that is domestically owned and operated.” Other populist-minded politicians from across the aisle, like the Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, have also objected, citing national security risks due to steel's critical role in wartime production. This has led to a national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is often criticized for its opaque operations. Nippon Steel counters that the takeover poses no national security threat, especially since U.S. Steel does not produce military-grade steel and Japan is a key U.S. ally. The deal's implications extend beyond national security; they also have significant electoral consequences. Both Democratic and Republican politicians have strong reasons to publicly reject the U.S. Steel takeover. The constituency most affected by the acquisition are blue collar workers employed by U.S. Steel who reside in crucial swing states such as Pennsylvania. These workers are represented by the influential United Steelworkers union, which has opposed the takeover, fearing job losses and plant closures. Although Nippon Steel has committed to honoring past contracts, union leaders are skeptical. Biden has made union support one of the foundations of his re-election campaign, and it appears that his strategy is paying immediate dividends. Within a week of Biden’s public opposition to the acquisition, the United Steelworkers union endorsed Biden for re-election. If the deal successfully passes regulatory hurdles, however, Republicans will likely use the foreign takeover to claim that Biden has failed to protect American jobs. Donald Trump, when asked about the acquisition, said that he would “block it instantaneously.” These strong political motivations threaten the integrity of the regulatory process. Legally, President Biden can only stop the acquisition should CFIUS refer the matter to him and there is strong evidence that the transaction “threatens to impair national security.” Thomas P. Freddo, the former head of the CFIUS, argues that a presidential prohibition of the acquisition would “signal that national security is whatever the president says it is, making CFIUS a secretive, arbitrary, and capricious tool for the party in power.” While blocking the deal has immediate political benefits, it may have long-term negative impacts on America’s position as the top destination for foreign investment. With no direct national security threat, ruling against the Nippon acquisition would turn the already enigmatic CFIUS investigation process into an instrument for political advancement.

  • With 31% Voter Turnout, CMC Students Vote in Favor of ASCMC Resolution

    From 8 a.m. Thursday morning until 8 a.m. Friday morning, CMC students had the opportunity to vote on a resolution passed by the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC). The header of the resolution describes its purpose: On April 5, 2024, Pomona College’s administration called for the arrest of Claremont Colleges students as they exercised their right to free speech and assembly in support of divestment from ‘Israeli apartheid and weapons manufacturing.’ We condemn the escalation of violence on campus by Pomona College and the administration’s subsequent institutional retaliation due to their chilling impact on discourse, free speech, and the principles of Open Academy. We also reject the use of police due to their presence causing particular risk for Black, Indigenous, brown, Undocumented, and other students. In light of these findings, we call for the 7C Demonstration Policy and CMC FAQs to be revised to protect students’ right to protest and speech. The resolution was approved by 22% percent of the student body and rejected by 9% of the student body. Out of a student body of 1362 students, 419 submitted ballots for a voter turnout of 31%. Of students who submitted a ballot, 70% voted to approve the resolution and 30% voted to reject. According to ASCMC Chief Ethics and Procedural Officer Paloma Oliveri, “Approval of this resolution means that ASCMC will continue to collaborate with the authors and DOS to determine next steps. We will be in touch shortly with further updates.”

  • CMC Students to Vote on Demonstration Policy Resolution

    This morning at 8:00 AM, all CMC students received an email inviting them to vote on a resolution calling for a revision of 7C and CMC demonstration policies. Voting will close at 8:00 AM on Friday, April 19. Why are CMC students voting on this resolution? On April 5, 2024, Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr called the Claremont Police Department on student demonstrators at Alexander Hall, leading to the arrests of 20 students. President Starr also issued interim suspensions to the Pomona students who were arrested, revoking their building access. The arrests followed a series of escalations between protestors and administrators, which began when Pomona Divest From Apartheid (PDFA) initiated a sleep-in in front of Pomona’s Smith Campus Center eight days earlier. Campus staff began removing demonstration materials on April 5, including PDFA’s “mock apartheid wall,” attracting demonstrators who attempted to prevent the removal of the wall. Later that afternoon, protestors moved to Alexander Hall to voice their demands directly to President Starr. Soon after, Starr authorized the call, citing protestors’ refusal to identify themselves or leave the building as justification. Pomona administrators’ decision to call the police on demonstrators and subsequent disciplinary prosecutions drew criticism from organizations across the Claremont Colleges. The Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC), Executive Board of the Pitzer Student Senate, and Scripps Associated Students (SAS) all issued statements demanding that disciplinary measures be lifted. On April 7, the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC) Executive Board discussed issuing a statement themselves. During an ASCMC  Senate meeting the next day, the Executive Board heard student opinions on the pending statement. Some students vehemently expressed their concern with the lack of transparency that accompanied the Executive Board’s decision to draft and release it themselves. After a lengthy discussion period, the Executive Board agreed to incorporate a list of items agreed upon by those present into their statement. The Executive Board released their statement on April 10. It said that ASCMC was “deeply disappointed” by Pomona’s response, expressed “solidarity with students and their right to free speech,” affirmed CMC’s commitment to open dialogue, and called for a revision of the 7C demonstration policy. Some students, dissatisfied  with the Executive Board’s statement, submitted their own statement, the proposed resolution sent out to the CMC student body this morning. According to ASCMC’s Constitution, the Senate has the authority to pass “resolutions reflecting the opinion of the student body on topical issues,” but it must be approved by a majority vote of Senators and the entire student body. On Monday, the Senate approved the resolution in a 11 to 3 vote. Now, all CMC students have the opportunity to assert their opinions on the statement. What does the resolution say? The resolution strongly condemns the Pomona administration’s response to the protests on April 5, argues that it is in direct opposition to CMC’s ethos of open dialogue, and calls for the revision of the 7C demonstration policy (and CMC’s interpretation of the policy). The resolution denounces the arrests and interim suspensions of students on the grounds that they caused a “chilling” effect on free speech. The decisions to call the police and issue interim suspensions, the authors of the resolution argue, were intended to silence opinions in opposition to the college and deter students from criticizing administrators in the future. They contend that, because CMC has a unique commitment to open dialogue between opposing viewpoints, Pomona’s actions directly contradict CMC’s values. The authors claim that CMC’s administration could justify consequences of a similar nature against its own dissenting students because the 7Cs share a single overarching demonstration policy. Thus, it argues that the policy — and CMC’s interpretation of the policy — needs to be revised to specify the circumstances that allow for administrators to call the police and make justifying interim suspensions of demonstrators more difficult. To do so, the resolution proposes a 7C-wide “committee that is comprised of students, administrators, and all relevant stakeholders” tasked with reviewing and modifying the policy so that it “can better protect the safety and rights of all.” To revise the CMC interpretation, it urges the formation of a similar CMC-specific committee that includes student activists. The resolution also underscores the disproportionate risk police presence poses to marginalized students. Citing a video of a student being shoved by police and the 2022 HEDS survey results, it suggests that the calling of police officers created a climate of fear for minority students who already feel unsafe on campus. Why does voting on this resolution matter? Whether the resolution passes or not will be interpreted as a reflection of the sentiments of CMC’s student body as a whole. The more informed students are and the more students vote, the closer it will reflect our true opinions. What will happen if the resolution passes? The results will be sent to the Dean of Students Office as a demonstration of the student body’s beliefs. What will happen if the resolution doesn’t pass? It will be eligible to be reissued for a vote after the Senate substantially alters it.

  • Activism and the Claremont Colleges

    In a recent article for The Forum, Henry Long argues that student activism is incompatible with the liberal arts. Specifically, he suggests that protests such as those sweeping the Claremont Colleges this Spring “distract from the university’s role as a truth-seeking institution and undermine liberal education.” I hold Long in the highest regard and sympathize with his characterization of “the liberal arts” as a mode of education that once existed at elite institutions of higher education, but his comments are ill-suited to the context of the Claremont Colleges. Despite their classification as liberal arts colleges in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, the Claremont Colleges do not conform to the standards Long sets for institutions of liberal education. Therefore, while his discussion of the incompatibility of student activism and the liberal arts is fascinating, it has no bearing on how the Claremont Colleges or its students should conduct themselves, lest we wholly restructure the colleges to turn them into true embodiments of liberal education. Claremont McKenna College’s mission is to “prepare its students for thoughtful and productive lives and responsible leadership in business, government, and the professions.” Though it purports to be a liberal arts college, its stated mission explicitly considers – and urges – the practical application of what students learn during their undergraduate education. By specifically referencing leadership in government, the college endorses the political application of the CMC education. In no way, shape, or form does the college’s mission align with Long’s description of “disinterested study” or the pursuit of education as an end in itself rather than a means to achieve some other, possibly political, end. CMC’s history aligns with its practical mission. CMC was founded in the wake of World War II to train veterans for leadership in business and government. CMC taught history, philosophy, literature, arts, and sciences, aiming to “produce graduates able to apply lessons from not only business and government courses” but a wide range of sources. Even at the college’s inception, its curriculum was designed to be applied in graduates’ future endeavors. Education was never CMC’s ultimate end. Furthermore, Long should accept this characterization of CMC. In an October article for The Forum, he noted himself that CMC’s pre-professional emphasis and motto challenge its status as a practitioner of “the special project of the liberal arts.” Like CMC, the Claremont Colleges at large fail to live up to Long’s standards for liberal education. Even Pomona College, probably the most widely regarded as a liberal arts college out of the five undergraduate schools, emphasizes the importance of its graduates contributing as “the next generation of leaders, scholars, artists and engaged members of society” in its mission. A true embodiment of liberal arts education, as Long defines it, does not demand engagement with society – it demands a retreat from it. Scripps College’s mission specifically aims to give graduates the tools to “contribute to society through public and private lives of leadership, service, integrity, and creativity.” Furthermore, as a women’s college, Scripps values and pursues gender equality in broader society through its role as an institution of higher education. A practitioner of liberal education per Long’s definition would shy away from such a learning for the sake of doing approach. Harvey Mudd College’s mission is to produce “engineers, scientists and mathematicians who… have a clear understanding of the impact their work has on society,” not only indicating a clear pre-professional goal but also urging HMC graduates to apply what they learn as undergraduates to their later careers. Finally, Pitzer College has five core values, one of which is social responsibility, which the college describes as recognizing “individual responsibility in making the world better.” Pitzer also promulgates official community values, including putting their commitments into action. Clearly, none of the five colleges embody liberal education as Long describes it. They all concern themselves with how students will act upon what they learn in practical ways. And they are not alone. Scholars and journalists have long reported on the decline of the liberal arts in the United States, positing a wide range of explanations. Higher education is expensive. Possibly, the prospect of learning for the sake of learning with no consideration of future practical, professional, or political outcomes is a luxury a critical mass of American college students can no longer afford. Possibly, the political quandaries of our time are pressing and existential, making students feel obligated to apply their learned talents to ameliorating what they see as grave problems. No matter the explanation, liberal arts is declining, in Claremont and across the country. Where does this leave us? Long argues that student activism is “antithetical to liberal education,” but liberal education is honestly not what we do here. We would be fooling ourselves to think otherwise. Long’s analysis of the relationship between political agitation and the liberal education project may be sound. Nonetheless, arguing against student protest without also arguing against every other way in which we depart from the Platonic ideal of the liberal arts college would be inconsistent and futile. The Claremont Colleges are not going to roll back their pre-professional emphasis or their initiatives to train leaders. Why, then, should they single out student activism as the particular departure from liberal education they need to eliminate?

  • ASCMC Passes Resolution Calling for Revision of 7C Demonstration Policy

    On Monday evening, the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC) passed a resolution calling for the revision of the Claremont Colleges demonstration policy. The header summarizes the major points of the resolution: On April 5, 2024, Pomona College’s administration called for the arrest of Claremont Colleges students as they exercised their right to free speech and assembly in support of divestment from ‘Israeli apartheid and weapons manufacturing.’ We condemn the escalation of violence on campus by Pomona College and the administration’s subsequent institutional retaliation due to their chilling impact on discourse, free speech, and the principles of Open Academy. We also reject the use of police due to their presence causing particular risk for Black, Indigenous, brown, Undocumented, and other students. In light of these findings, we call for the 7C Demonstration Policy and CMC FAQs to be revised to protect students’ right to protest and speech. Of the 14 senators who voted, there were 11 votes in favor of the resolution and 3 in opposition. In the coming week, the resolution will be sent out to the CMC student body to vote on whether to support the resolution. The results of the vote will be transmitted to the Dean of Students Office, who will decide whether to take further action.

  • Activism and the Liberal Arts

    On April 5, 2024, about twenty students occupied Pomona President Gabrielle Starr’s office in Alexander Hall. On April 6, 2017, exactly seven years before the final activists were released from the Claremont Jail, about 250 protestors obstructed the entrance of Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum to prevent author Heather MacDonald from speaking. Campus protests like these are deeply American. Since the free speech movement at Berkeley in the 1960s, students have leveraged free assembly to advocate for myriad causes, resorting to civil disobedience where protected expression has failed. But might protests distract from the university’s role as a truth-seeking institution and undermine liberal education? David Corey explains that liberal education involves the study of subjects like “history, science, physics, music, and art as ends in themselves” rather than as a means to some practical, professional, or political end. In other words, liberal education is liberal because it is freed from practical concerns. Elizabeth Corey argues that when universities prioritize activism, they regard education as “a vehicle for the intellectual and moral transformation of society” rather than as an end in itself. At such universities, she writes, “students arrive with views already formed, ready to get the diploma that will allow them to go out and act as agents of social change.” Two recent op-eds in The Student Life (TSL) condemn Pomona for infringing activists’ “​​right to free speech.” Beyond conflating civil disobedience and protected speech, the authors misunderstand the purpose of campus free expression. Free expression commitments are meant to promote the fearless pursuit of truth in the classroom—not to indulge megaphones and megalomania on the campus quad. For this reason, Claremont Colleges policies include content-neutral restrictions on protests that are peaceful but disruptive to the academic mission of the colleges. Moreover, walk-outs and sit-ins are not particularly educational. Regardless of the activists’ cause, demonstrations that involve skipping class or occupying educational facilities distract from liberal education. Both TSL writers object, instead claiming that activism is essential to liberal education. They insist that liberal education is vain if classroom learning is not applied into practical action through “praxis.” But the invocation of “praxis” betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the liberal arts project. “Praxis,” originally a Greek term used by Aristotle, was co-opted by Karl Marx and later by Paulo Freire. Those who invoke praxis in relation to education reveal themselves—whether knowingly or unknowingly—as disciples of Freire. In his seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire writes that “only men are praxis, the praxis which, as the reflection and action which truly transform reality, is the source of knowledge and creation.” Since praxis continually shapes reality and is the source of knowledge, “education is thus constantly remade in the praxis.” Under this view, education is and only ought to be a medium for actively reshaping the world. Freire’s pedagogy aims at liberation—albeit a very different kind of liberation than the one offered by liberal education. Freire understands liberation as a continual struggle towards the removal of external limitations on human self-affirmation. According to Freire, nothing is constant except the eternal struggle for liberation. History has no final horizon, and there is no telos or final end for the human person. David Corey writes that Paulo Freire’s model of “liberation education is rapidly replacing the older educational tradition known as liberal education.” While liberal education focuses on knowledge insofar as it is intrinsically valuable, liberation education focuses on knowledge insofar as it is instrumentally valuable in the fight for liberation. But if, as Freire admits, the Sisyphean struggle for liberation is endless, the value of knowledge can never be realized. As such, while activism may indeed be a noble pursuit, it is a pursuit antithetical to liberal education. Liberal education and disinterested study demand a modicum of separation from the concerns of daily life. Activism renders education a mere means of prolonging the quotidian quest for political liberation. Back in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, Claremont Colleges faculty voted to cancel classes amidst escalating student protests. Harry Neumann, a philosophy professor at Scripps, continued to hold class. When a faculty member asked whether Neumann would ever close the university, Neumann replied, “when all the answers to all the important questions have been found, then it would be appropriate to close the university, and for all the people who have all the answers to all the important questions, the university is already closed.” Let us not prematurely close the university, for there is still much learning to do.

  • Poet Laureate Reflects on Being a "First"

    Two-term Poet Laureate and Time Magazine Women of the Year Ada Limón spoke at the Atheneum on February 27th. Speaking on her impact as Poet Laureate, Limón said “because it is sort of a nonpartisan role, you can't advocate for policy.” Nonetheless, she describes herself as “as a political activist,” and shared, “I think of myself as someone who's an artistic activist in my poems.” Nonpartisanship does not prevent her from saying what she means in her poetry. She said, “my politics have always been really open and on the page, and, if you read all six of my books, you pretty much know how I felt.” When you Google “Ada Limón,” one of the first phrases you’ll find is “first Latina Poet Laureate.” When asked about the potential pressure she felt being a first, she said “it's sort of heartbreaking that a first even has to exist.” Limón acknowledged the prevalence of trauma dumping in the works of authors of color. The fact is that trauma sells, and publishers often require trauma dumping from rising writers from minority backgrounds. Limón commented on this phenomenon: “I think it's tricky because we live in a society that monetizes everything, and we also live in a society that would like to keep us all siloed and separate in boxes that we can understand.” But emphasis on identity can be limiting to authors of color. Limón discussed the challenge of meeting publishers’ expectations for what Latina representation should look like. People often expect (or even demand) Latina writers to produce memoirs about their border experiences. “Well, I never crossed the border,” she said. She added, “I'm always very, very cautious when I'm asked to perform my identity… because it's hard to stop once you’ve started.” She concluded her discussion on race and literature saying, “There’s a lot of responsibility with holding that ‘first Latina’ title because I want to make my ancestors proud… But in the same way, I want to show identity as endless possibilities and not as a container for something that people are safe around.” An assignment from NASA prompted Limón to reflect on if and how she could represent all of humanity through her work. On October 10th, NASA will release a space-probe, the Europa Clipper, from the Kennedy Space Center which is decorated with Limón’s poem: “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa.” During a small discussion at the Gould Center, Limón joked that the 4th grade reading level requirement for the poem was because NASA assumed aliens couldn’t read past a 4th grade level. With a project assignment like this one, Limón was tasked with creating a message from humanity as a whole. She struggled producing this poem. She explained, “I don’t like to work with the word we” because “I'm always interrogating the we. We The People, who does that mean? Does that mean women? Does it mean people that look like me?” She realized she “had to shift my relationship with the word we” because “when I was writing the poem, I realized it was [truly] a we—it's those of us on this planet.” She reflects, “I was focusing so much on the assignment and doing a good job because it was for NASA, that I forgot to write a poem I actually liked.” When a student asked about her writing process generally and how committed she is to a topic beforehand, Límon responded, “things that you already know for certain, generally, aren't the best subjects for poetry because you have to ask to reveal something to yourself.” Límon said poetry is similar to science because “even when you do get any kind of answer, it just leads to more questions.” She warned against trying to explain a poem using the author’s biography, saying sometimes a poem “wash[es] over you” and advises to “let [the poem] be an experience or a feeling or a total shift, as opposed to having to elucidate it.” She reflected on poetry as craft saying “I've always felt that poetry is the voice underneath the voice. Like it's for me, the truest voice that I have.”

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