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More Campus Racism: Dean of School with ‘Happiest Students’ Resigns

Former Dean of Claremont McKenna College Mary Spellman resigned last week as more college students confront racial tensions on their campuses.

Yet another college official has resigned following protests from students speaking out against racial injustices on campus.

Mary Spellman, who served as a dean of Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles, announced her resignation last Thursday following an email she wrote in which she seemed to infer minority students don’t necessarily belong.

The school was ranked number three on the Princeton Review’s colleges with the happiest students; however, recent events showcase a different side of the college and some less than happy feelings.

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CMC, a liberal arts college with about 1,300 students, has a more diverse population than the University of Missouri and Ithaca, both of which were at the center of protests over the past couple of weeks. According to its website, Claremont McKenna’s student body is just 43 percent white. However, only 12 percent of CMC’s students are Hispanic; meanwhile, nearly half of Los Angeles is Hispanic.

The tipping point for the call of the dean’s resignation came following her response to the publication of an op-ed in The Student Life. Lisette Espinosa, a senior at CMC, published “Who Is the Happiest at the ‘Happiest College in America’?” on Oct. 23. In the piece, Espinosa describes her difficulties on a campus where, in her words, the “institutional culture [is] primarily grounded in western, white, cisheteronormative upper to upper-middle class values”:

Within the first weeks of school, I told an upperclassman Latino that I felt like I was admitted to fill a racial quota. Why would they want me here? Imposter syndrome is prevalent among first-generation students. … The week after classes started, I cried at the Chicanx/Latinx New Student Retreat, where I felt comfortable enough to voice my concerns about the school. Feelings of inadequacy have haunted me throughout my time at CMC, and my struggles with anxiety and depression first arose at the end of my second year.

In a response to Espinosa, Spellman wrote, “We have a lot to do as a college and a community. … [These issues] are important to me and the DOS staff and we are working on how we can better serve students … who don’t fit our CMC mold.”

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For many students at the college, Spellman’s description of students “who don’t fit our CMC mold” proved just how much the college still has to do to be more inclusive.

However, Spellman’s email serves as just one example of the campus’s battle with diversity and inclusion. In April, “a group of approximately 30 students of color at Claremont McKenna College” wrote a letter to the university’s president, Hiram Chodosh, with numerous proposals “to better support students of color,” according to the letter. Some of the proposals included the creation of a diversity chair in the dean of students office, more diversity in the staff, required racial sensitivity training for professors and a wider variety of courses that discuss different social justice issues.

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Last week, Chodosh revealed in an email to students that the college was creating two new positions to support diversity and inclusion. But having such positions does not always guarantee progression in diversity and inclusion, as demonstrated by the University of Louisville, where the school’s president hosted a costume party deemed very offensive to the Hispanic community — despite the fact that the university houses an Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives.

RELATED STORY: University Apologizes for President’s Offensive Costume Party

Diversity initiatives have fallen flat at CMC in recent years as well, even though the university has a Diversity Committee, according to the school’s 2011-2012 Report of the Campus Climate Task Force: “In the summer of 2011, members of the Diversity Committee voiced concern that the active role of the Committee had decreased in recent years and that the existing model by which the members gathered for ongoing dialogue about diversity had become stale and limited in effectiveness.” No matter how many committees, diversity chairs or offices dedicated to initiatives a school may have, it means nothing if meaningful dialogue or effective action is not taking place.

RELATED STORY: Black Alum Named Interim Pres. of Mizzou

At a protest Wednesday afternoon, organized by a group called CMCers of Color, junior Taylor Lemmons announced she would engage in a hunger strike until Spellman resigned. Spellman insisted she still would not leave her position but evidently had a change of heart by the following day. In her resignation email, Spellman said she hoped her departure would “enable a truly thoughtful, civil and productive discussion about the very real issues of diversity and inclusion facing Claremont McKenna, higher education and other institutions across our society.”

Indeed, Spellman’s departure only signifies the beginning. Student Jessica Jin wrote an op-ed regarding last week’s events:

I’m not interested in contesting the justification or merits of her resignation. Whether or not she truly was unfit to serve as Dean of Students due to implicit racial bias is a debate that, though important, is beyond the scope of what I see as the real issue at hand. To be distracted by her departure is to take the easy route by debating extraneous consequences rather than contemplating our own actions and behavior.

Just like at Mizzou, the resignation of inadequate campus leaders does not solve the problems at hand. It is up to the rest of the college to use this as an opportunity to start the appropriate dialogue on how to achieve the diversity and inclusion CMC’s students are fighting for.

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