Steve Volk, April 24, 2017
It has been an unsettled period at the Claremont colleges in California. On April 6, about 250 protesters at Claremont McKenna College blocked the entrance to the building where Heather MacDonald was scheduled to speak. MacDonald, a critic of the #Black Lives Matter movement, authored The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. She ultimately gave her talk for live streaming before a largely empty hall.
Students at Harvey Mudd staged an 8- hour sit-in demanding greater support for mental health issues on campus following the placement of an associate dean for Mental Health and Wellness on administrative leave. The president then closed the college for two days of campus-wide conversations on April 17-18 to discuss those protests and a series of other issues, including the leaking of what some characterized as “stinging remarks from professors” about students.
Following the death of a student at Scripps on April 6, the Residential Advisors at that college announced that they would go on strike on April 20 unless their demands, including the resignation of that college’s Dean of Students, were met.
Students at Pomona also responded negatively to a campus-wide letter sent by Pomona College president, David Oxtoby voicing his opposition to students who blocked MacDonald’s talk.
By coincidence, or perhaps less-than-divine intervention, I had been invited many months ago to speak at the colleges on April 18 as the 2017 Claremont Colleges Center for Teaching and Learning Distinguished Lecturer. My announced topic: “New Student Activism: Challenges and Possibilities.” This week’s “Article of the Week,” is the talk that I gave, with some edits, additions, and links to sources. Your comments, as always, are quite welcome.
What can we say about the moment we’re living in terms of student activism on campuses since the inauguration of Mr. Trump? On the one hand, students from Oregon State to San Diego State and from Auburn to Wichita State have staged powerful actions in support of undocumented students, DACA registrants, immigrants and refugees from around the world. On the other, events at Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, Canada’s McMaster University and elsewhere have attracted the media’s attention when students either shouted down speakers or refused to allow audiences access to hear them. Concerns over the erosion of civil rights under Attorney General Sessions have competed for airtime with protests over the cultural appropriation of hoop earrings (Pitzer College) or hair braiding (Hampshire College). That there are about 6,400 institutions of higher education in the United States and yet the actions of students at a handful of selective liberal arts colleges seems to set the tone for what the public thinks about this generation of students, activist or not, is probably par for the course. It nods to both the influence that a certain tier of private colleges and flagship universities has always exercised, and the (wearisome) pleasure that many in the media take in ridiculing students who protest at very expensive, elite colleges and who, in their opinion, should be thanking their lucky stars (or their wealthy parents) for being where they are rather than carrying on. Continue reading