'Sacrificed on an Altar of Heated Rhetoric,' Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Teresa Watanabe of the L.A. Times reports on the rising dissent at Claremont McKenna College, illustrated in our earlier email from a CMC senior and a rousing editorial in the Claremont Independent:

One letter to the Claremont community, endorsed by nearly 300 students, expressed support for the broad goals to combat racial discrimination. But it called the use of hunger strikes to force the resignation of Mary Spellman, dean of students, “extremely inappropriate.” The letter also castigated the “cyber bullying” of students over an offensive Halloween costume, the filing of a federal civil rights complaint against Claremont and foul language used against administrators at a protest last week.

Details of that Halloween controversy covered in Notes here. And then there’s this tragic irony:

[CMC seniors Rachel Doehr and Katharine Eger] said Spellman had counseled hundreds of students during her years at Claremont and was a particularly strong advocate for those who suffered from sexual assaults. The dean led efforts to establish a new campus center for sexual assault prevention and support and helped strengthen education about the issue at student orientations, among other things, they said.

Safety from sexual violence should be a higher priority than a safe space for offensive speech. Taylor Lemmons, one of the two CMC students who threatened a hunger strike, responds to the backlash at Medium:

This is not to say that Dean Spellman did not help some students. Her actions reflected that she was unable to help all students.

I appreciate the definition of a hunger strike. I do not appreciate the patronizing assumption that I am unaware of what a hunger strike means. “Were Mary Spellman’s offenses so great that you would die for her resignation?”

Yes. I would die for my people: for every student that felt unsupported, not-advocated for and silenced by the Dean of Students office and the former Dean of Students.

Meanwhile, Conor has a new post up this morning responding to criticism from TNR’s Roxane Gay. A reader differs with Conor here:

As I see it, their core error is not one particular to Yale activists, or participants in the nationwide protest movement about race on campus, but is shared by one faction of the left, diverse in race, gender, and cause of choice, that relies too heavily on stigma and too little on persuasion.

Close, but not quite. The core issue is that the protests are about the activists, not some slight they have been subjected to or, more likely, heard about third hand. Issues are secondary. The core is that the activists want to join the firmament of activists of old. To be a part of a movement to be remembered. If you’re looking for some unifying ideology you’ll be sorely disappointed. Narcissism is the core, not ideology.

As always, email hello@theatlantic.com if you’d like to join the debate.