Login to Claremont COURIER

Thousands march across Claremont Colleges, call for solidarity

Thousands of people marched across the five Claremont Colleges Thursday afternoon in solidarity over what they say is the systemic marginalization of minority students at the five Cs and beyond.

The “Million Student March,” with the vast majority of participants clad all in black, made its way across the Claremont McKenna College campus, through Pomona College to the Honnold-Mudd Library. Marchers could be heard chanting, “Black lives, they matter here,” “Break the mold,” and “F**k white supremacy.”

“Today is the first day in two months where I felt like I was a part of something bigger and connected to the people around me,” CMC freshman Nikaya Manley told the COURIER. “And it’s sad that’s the first time that’s happened to me in the past two months.”

According to many of the students who participated, the march was less about recent events at CMC—including the viral circulation of a photo featuring two students wearing a costume deemed racially insensitive—and more about creating solidarity with people of color at local schools and across the country. Some signs paid homage to Concerned Student 1950, the University of Missouri group put together to fight pervasive racial turmoil at their campus.

At the head of the march, demonstrators hoisted a large white banner that read, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere,” and “We are not just tokens for diversity and inclusion, we are serious about justice.”

The march occurred one day after CMC students gathered at the Hub patio to protest a campus atmosphere they allege is not racially inclusive. On Wednesday, scores of students demonstrated in front of the Hub patio, where they called on Dean of Students Mary Spellman to resign over an email she sent to a student that contained, in part, “…we are working on how we can better serve our students, especially those who don’t fit the CMC mold.” Two students, Taylor Lemmons and Zain el-Jazara, started hunger strikes they said would end only in Ms. Spellman’s termination or resignation.

Ms. Spellman resigned on Thursday. In a letter sent out to students on Friday, CMC President Hiram Chodosh said Ms. Spellman's decision to resign was "her's alone," and "reflected personal courage and commitment to put our community first."

Mr. Chodosh also agreed to create a “safe space” for marginalized students and mandated the appointment of staff dedicated to students of color and other minorities.

“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 provisions of resources to faculty in their work with students from diverse experiences and backgrounds,” Mr. Chodosh wrote in an email circulated to students and staff on Wednesday.

Mr. Chodosh also said a location for the space will be determined “in the coming weeks” and plans will be finalized before the start of spring semester.

Ms. Lemmons hailed Ms. Spellman’s resignation as a positive development in a blog posted Thursday on Medium.com, but cautioned that the movement is not over.

“It is the responsibility of all of us to continue talking about the issues that impact marginalized students on this campus,” Ms. Lemmons wrote. “We find ourselves in a position where we as students are taking the time to hold up a mirror, and take a real look at the ways we can do better; the ways we can better support each other; and the ways we can hold each other accountable, and to the highest standard possible.”

Student responses posted on outlets like the social media app Yik Yak have ranged from approval of the dean stepping down to disbelief to what some view as an overblown response to a poor choice of words.

The march made its way across the colleges, stopping in front of the Honnold-Mudd Library where organizers and students spoke to the crowd.

Local leaders, including Pitzer College Chicano studies professor Jose Calderon and NAACP Pomona Valley President Jeanette Ellis-Royston, were invited to speak to the crowd along with students.

“[The march] speaks volumes. It also sends a message to the community, to the valley, particularly to the staff and faculty at the Claremont Colleges,” Ms. Ellis-Royston told the COURIER. “If you look through this circle here, you have people from all walks of life. And they’re here for one reason, because of discrimination and injustice to an individual or to a group. When we come together like this, it tells the faculty—or those in the community or those in power—that we’re not going to have it.”

The rally in front of Honnold-Mudd Library included personal stories from students about instances of discrimination, encouragements to move forward and calls for unity.

In her initial post on Medium announcing her hunger strike, Ms. Lemmons outlined examples of what she characterized as a racially insensitive atmosphere at CMC. “While I have never been called a ‘n****r’ to my face, I have had peers imply that I was only admitted to CMC because of my race, to fill a diversity quota,” she wrote.

At the end of the rally, the crowd chanted in unison, “It is our duty to fight for freedom, it is our duty to win. We must love and respect one another, we have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Ms. Ellis-Royston encouraged the students to rethink the presentation of their concerns, noting that excessive profanity can be off-putting.

“People listen to you when you’re being diplomatic,” Ms. Ellis-Royston said. “They might hear you, or listen, but they are not going to respect what you’re saying. So take your time, be positive, be matter-of-fact and get the message across.”

She added, “We as African-Americans, and as young people today and people of color, we want to be heard, not exploited.”

Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com