Claremont Colleges

Jewish students allegedly complained before wall was rejected

A liberal arts school in California has gone the way of a gated community, rejecting permission for a political demonstration on the basis of its “aesthetics.”

The Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Pitzer College, part of the Claremont consortium, displayed a mock Israeli apartheid wall on March 31, three weeks after its permit was denied.

Set up to kick off “Apartheid Week” at Pitzer, the wall was intended to raise “awareness about Palestinian suffering and the realities of the Israeli occupation,” the SJP chapter said in a press release.

Though the release implied the wall would be taken down at the end of the day, the chapter told The College Fix in an email it stayed up until April 2.

Despite administration warnings that putting up the wall without permission would result in “consequences,” the school confirmed to The Fix it has not punished the chapter.

According to a March 30 letter to Pitzer President Laura Trombley from Palestinian Solidarity Legal Support, Pitzer Dean of Student Affairs Brian Carlisle tried to talk the SJP chapter out of setting up the wall.

He told its members in a Feb. 16 meeting that “someone” may try to vandalize or “burn down” the wall, according to the letter. Carlisle also warned the group that if someone submitted a formal complaint claiming the wall was “discriminatory,” members or the entire club may find themselves mired in a lengthy judicial proceeding.

Why is the ‘Aesthetics Committee’ judging this?

After the chapter submitted the wall proposal to the Campus Aesthetics Committee, as Carlisle directed them to do, the committee rejected it March 9 with no formal explanation.

The committee was established in 2003 to oversee the school’s “Public Art Policy.” According to its bylaws, the committee “will receive for review and possible approval unsolicited proposals for paintings, murals, sculptures, or installations from students, faculty, staff, alumni and other persons or groups that are in any way affiliated with the campus.”

The chapter, which reached out to the Palestinian legal group for help, told The Fix that it believed the committee’s rejection “was heavily influenced by the political message of the wall.”

It claimed committee members told the chapter after the denial that “that they were unsure why our proposal had been brought to them in the first place and felt uncomfortable making a decision.”

According to the chapter’s release, Pitzer warned the group again on March 27 that putting up the wall “would be in blatant defiance of College policy.”

‘We intend to do whatever is necessary’ to secure SJP’s rights

The Aesthetics Committee doesn’t have the jurisdiction to prevent students from exercising political expression, according to the Palestinian group’s letter to Pitzer.

“Based on the examples of ‘past and current art and murals Pitzer College’ … all of the projects under the Committee’s purview appear to be permanent or semi-permanent art displays affixed to campus infrastructure,” the letter said.

It said the wall project was, in fact, governed by the school’s Demonstration Policy, which doesn’t require “advance approval” for political demonstrations. The policy requires only that demonstrations not cause “material and substantial interference with education activities.”

The letter hints that the Palestinian legal group would sue Pitzer if it tried to stop the wall’s installation: “We intend to do whatever is necessary to ensure respect for the rights of the SJP students.”

If Pitzer really does “embrace a compelling interest in unfettered inquiry and the collective search for knowledge,” Liz Jackson of the Palestinian group said in the chapter’s release, “there can be no ‘Palestine exception’ to this policy” under California law.


Wall would make Jewish students ‘uncomfortable’

The chapter learned by word of mouth “on or before” Feb. 15 that the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance had complained to the Aesthetics Committee about the proposed wall, claiming the wall “would make Jewish students on campus uncomfortable,” the Palestinian group’s letter said.

Though it doesn’t have a copy of the alliance letter, the chapter said it knows of its contents because it was discussed during a student senate meeting and mentioned in the senate’s Feb. 15 committee reports.

On the eve of Apartheid Week, without mentioning the nascent wall itself, the alliance said on Facebook that it favors a “two state solution” but called the SJP chapter “ignorant” for playing down “the struggles that some Jewish students face on campus.”

The alliance said it was “legitimate” that some Jewish students see SJP’s actions during Apartheid Week – including holding two events on Passover itself – as evidence of “cultural and religious insensitivity.”


And… nothing happened

Despite the contentiousness of the situation, it seems that the wall staging concluded with little incident.

“Many people told us how much they learned from the wall and congratulated us on not being bullied by the administration,” the chapter told The Fix. “Some students were certainly not so happy with the wall but the reaction seemed to be mostly positive.”

“The College firmly supports the individual and collective rights of students to engage in freedom of speech and peaceful assembly,” Carlisle, the dean of student affairs, told The Fix. “As such, the wall was allowed to remain in place.”

Carlisle said there are currently no disciplinary charges against the chapter or any of its members.

Neither Claremont Colleges Hillel nor the faculty adviser for the Aesthetics Committee responded to Fix inquiries. The Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance did not respond to Fix inquiries.

College Fix reporter Curtis Chou is a student at Northwestern University.

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

IMAGES: Pitzer SJP, Pitzer College’s Flickr page

Trustees rejected even more radical policy sought by majority of students

A private college in California is broadening the definition of “woman” to affirm its own identity as a women’s institution.

At their meeting last week, the trustees of Scripps College adopted a new admissions policy for the 2016 school year.

At that time, the college said in a Saturday press release, it will consider applicants “who report that the sex currently listed on their birth certificate is female” or self-identify as women.

Additionally, the school will grant a degree to “any Scripps student who completes the baccalaureate requirements regardless of gender identity or expression.” It won’t “require government issued documentation to verify sex or gender identity,” either.

The college explained the change as part of its mission to affirm “Scripps’ identity as a women’s college.” The changes “uphold its legacy as a ‘community of women’ … while recognizing gender as a social construct that has evolved over time.”

Three in four community members back the new admission policy, while opponents were split, President Lori Bettison-Varga told The College Fix in an email.

Asked about criticism of the proposal before its approval, Bettison-Varga said: “Most opposition to the policy represented one of the following perspectives: the policy should be more inclusive, or trans men [biological females who identify as male] should no longer be eligible for admission.”

Transgender_symbol.PublicDomainThough the college appears to be walking a fine line between competing demands – to become coeducational or remain a women’s college – it rejected a more idiosyncratic admissions policy advocated by students.

The Forum, a news website covering the Claremont college consortium that includes Scripps, reported last month that more than half the Scripps student body signed a petition this fall that would accept everyone but male-identified men.

That means transgender women, transgender men and “non-binary” or “genderqueer” students whose gender identity is neither male nor female would be admissible.

Like the policy implemented by Mount Holyoke College this fall, the Scripps student petition “would have considered any non-binary identified students, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth,” The Forum said.

Adriana di Bartolo, director of the Queer Resource Center for the Claremont consortium, told The Forum she “did a training” for the trustees’ Student Affairs Committee and “felt hearts shift in the room” toward the proposal recommended to the trustees.

“Our student bodies are changing; we have to change our policies to meet our student bodies,” di Bartolo said.

Women’s colleges were founded as “a space where they’re not going to experience gender discrimination,” so the new admissions policy fits the “academic mission” of such schools to let students “learn and grow and take educational risks,” and not be “so concerned with what people’s sex assignment is,” di Bartolo said.

The Queer Resource Center did not return requests for comment.

Scripps seemed to be struggling with how to accommodate various proposals when a Slate writer interviewed a campus official in June. The article explored how women’s colleges are responding to trans women, meaning students who have transitioned from male to female identities.

“Cryptic language pointing in the eventual direction of acceptance [for trans women] seems like the new normal,” wrote Katy Waldman, Slate’s “words correspondent,” referring to her interview with a Scripps spokeswoman.

“Given explorations and discussions that we have begun and will continue to undertake in the coming year, we are not prepared at this time to provide a definitive answer that would preclude or encourage any given admission request,” the spokeswoman told Waldman. But the college’s “mission includes empowering those who face gender discrimination, and is thus inclusive” of transgender identities, she said.

College Fix reporter Matt Lamb is a student at Loyola University-Chicago.

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

IMAGE: Nicole Wilkins/Flickr

Scripps College administrators this week defended their decision to revoke a speaking invitation to conservative syndicated columnist George Will, accusing the pundit of trivializing campus rape by questioning the oft-cited but controversial figure that one in five women is sexually assaulted during college.

“Sexual assault … is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy,” stated Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga in a letter to the campus community. “For that reason, after Mr. Will authored a column questioning the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students, we decided not to finalize the speaker agreement.”

Administrators and faculty did not respond to numerous emails and phone calls by The College Fix seeking additional comment about their decision to disinvite Will, who had been asked to speak on behalf of the university’s conservative speaker series.

Will, for his part, illustrated recently how university leaders actually misunderstood the whole point of his column, which is that rape is too serious of a crime to be exaggerated, used as a political tool, or investigated or prosecuted by anything less than the criminal justice system.

He made the comments in an interview Wednesday with radio talk show host Dennis Prager:

George Will:  ‘It was clear that they [Scripps College officials] changed their mind after there was a brouhaha about a column I wrote concerning the current hysteria about the rape culture and sexual assault on campus, the column in which I said the current administration is using spurious statistics.

Statistic one, that one in five women is sexually assaulted during four years of college, and spurious statistic two, that only 12 percent of sexual assaults are reported. If you put those two together and do the arithmetic, you come up with absurd results.

But anyway, they are using spurious statistics to generate hysteria for the purpose of sweeping away 300 years of due process protections. My argument was that sexual assault is so serious – we rank it in our Western law as just shy of murder … and we have lots of laws against it. And if someone is accused of rape – it’s serious business – and should be put in the hands of professionals, that is the criminal justice system, instead of jerrybuilt, due-process challenged, semi-courts on campuses.

Well anyway, there was a lot of kerfuffle and people said I should be fired and flogged and all kinds of things, and at that point Scripps withdrew.’

Prager then summed up irony of the situation, saying: “It’s unbelievable, because as you point out, you’re the one taking this seriously.”

But Scripps officials have not budged from their decision, even after Christopher DeMuth, the highly respected former president of the American Enterprise Institute, resigned his role on the selection committee for the Scripps conservative lecture series over the cancellation of Will’s speech.

DeMuth said the decision to revoke the invite was entirely on Scripps College administrators.

“Mr. Will’s invitation was withdrawn by the Scripps administration without any pressure from students,” DeMuth told The College Fix in an email.

Chris Gaarder, co-editor-in-chief of The Claremont Independent campus newspaper, is highly critical of the decision to uninvite Will, calling it “disappointing, but not surprising.”

“Far-left liberals talk about tolerance, diversity, and open-mindedness but then when faced with someone with a different perspective it’s amazing how quickly they seek to silence that person,” Gaarder told The College Fix via email. “We lose a great deal as an academic community and as a society when we shut people down because of their ideas.”

Will, who holds a PhD in political philosophy from Princeton University, was also defended by fellow conservative scholar and Princeton Professor Dr. Robert P. George.

“By any account, George Will is one of our nation’s most thoughtful and influential public intellectuals,” George, a friend of Will’s, told The College Fix in a message. “He is a man of exceptionally broad and deep learning and penetrating insight.”

“Any putative academic institution that would bar him from its campus is simply not an academic institution,” Dr. George went on to say. “At true academic institutions, intellectually impressive and accomplished people such as Mr. Will are welcomed by students and faculty from across the spectrum, and their visits are occasions of serious reflection and dialogue.”

Gaarder said he hopes the trend of uninviting conservatives will become anathema to college administrators as they live up to leftist students’ own demands for tolerance.

“History has plenty of lessons about intolerance for those who think differently,” Gaarder said. “I’d hope the smart students at the Claremont Colleges and other schools around the country would learn from them.”

Read the full letter from Scripps College President Lorri Bettison-Varga.

College Fix reporter Derek Draplin is a student at the University of Michigan.

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

IMAGE: Penn State/Flickr

Prominent gender and media studies professors from across the country converged recently to help host what was dubbed by organizers as a “Feminist, Anti-Racist Wikipedia Edit-a-thon” to create or influence dozens of entries on the online encyclopedia.

A Claremont Graduate University endowment fund sponsored the effort, which promoted creating and “improving” entries dedicated to: feminists; feminist theories; science studies; science, technology and society; human sexuality; artificial intelligence; and film theory; according to an email that announced the event to the Claremont Colleges community, as well as the “Edit-a-thon Wikipedia Page.”

“This event is … proposed because an increasing number of undergraduates are utilizing digital humanities techniques in their research, as well as studying and publishing their findings using the Internet and online spaces that can be hostile, sexist, hierarchical, overly entertainment-focused, and identity neutral,” states a blog post on the Claremont Digital Humanities website. “The Feminist/Anti-Racist Digital Humanities BLAIS project encourages more complicated expressions of difference and identity in online spaces.”

The event, also dubbed by organizers as “Wikistorm,” took place in late October at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Professors involved with the effort did not respond to emails fromThe College Fix seeking comment. With that, it remains unclear exactly what additions and changes were made to Wikipedia during the event.

The “Edit-a-thon Wikipedia Page,” however, listed 22 women involved in feminist theory and various science, society and technology studies who either needed a biographical entry created for them, or their current articles allegedly needed additions and edits.

The Edit-a-thon page also suggested editing famed philosopher Rene Descartes’ page, noting its contemporary reception category “could include critiques and debates, including feminist philosophers who have criticized Cartesian dualism and its legacies.”

Another of the subjects targeted by the “Wikistorm” included “human sexuality.”

It’s unclear what changes, if any, were made to the entry, but its introduction currently reads that “human sexuality … can refer to issues of morality, ethics, theology, spirituality or religion. It is not, however, directly tied to gender.” It also reads that “socio-cultural aspects of sexuality include … Christian views on avoidance of sexual pleasure.”

Wikistorm was open to the public,  and students were encouraged to attend and take part. Its agenda also included a roundtable discussion on “feminist, anti-racist approaches to technology,” according to organizers.

Educators who led the talk, according to organizers, included UC Irvine Women’s Studies Professor Kavita Philip, whose essays have been published in journals such as Postmodern Culture and Radical History Review, according to the college’s website.

Also slated to attend was UC San Diego’s Professor Elizabeth Losh, who teaches courses such as “media seductions” and “digital journalism,” the school’s website states.

Claremont’s Pitzer College Media Studies Professor Alexandra Juhasz was among the mix of leaders as well; Juhasz’ professor profile page links to a “media praxis” website that promotes “media for social change,” among other causes.

Also on tap for the Wiki edit-a-thon was Anne Balsamo, dean of the School of Media Studies at The New School in New York; Lisa Parks, a UC Santa Barbara Film and Media studies professor and an affiliate of the Department of Feminist Studies; and Lisa Cartwright, a UC San Diego gender studies professor.

When asked to address the appropriateness of the effort, in terms of editing Wikipedia to promote ideologies, Rod Leveque, assistant director of media and online relations for Claremont Graduate University, told The College Fix in an email he could not comment on the question because “I haven’t seen any information to suggest the premise is correct.”

He also stated he did not know how much university endowment money was provided to fund the endeavor.

“The edit-a-thon appears to be one workshop that is a piece of larger project aimed in part at helping graduate and undergraduate students from a wide range of disciplines, primarily in the humanities, learn how to experiment with digital scholarship and expression,” he stated. “I’m not sure I could break out the costs of this particular workshop from the funding of the larger endeavor, but the costs don’t appear to be substantial.”

The BLAIS grants come from an endowed fund established with private donations a few decades ago, Leveque said.

“Grants from this fund are awarded for projects that promote collaboration among faculty and students from across the borders of the various colleges that comprise the Claremont Colleges Consortium,” he said.

Indeed, more “Wikistorms” are in the offing, according to the inaugural effort’s organizers.

Assistant Editor Jennifer Kabbany contributed to this report.

Fix contributor Nicole Swinford is a student at Chapman University.

IMAGE: Nojhan/Flickr

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook.