No punishment for student blockade of conservative speaker

In an email sent this evening, Pomona College administrators characterized policy violations by Pomona students who blockaded the appearance of conservative speaker Heather Mac Donald at neighboring Claremont McKenna College (CMC) as “minor” and said that they would issue no sanctions for the students’ conduct, claiming falsely that “there was no evidence that participants were instructed to disperse” by campus authorities.

Declaring that the college had conducted “a comprehensive review of photos and videos sent by CMC,” the email, signed by Pomona deans Ric Townes and Christopher Waugh, acknowledged that “Pomona students were present and did block access to buildings” in violation of college policy, but stopped short of issuing any sanctions for their conduct.

The deans justified the college’s inaction with a number of claims, including that “there was no evidence that participants were instructed to disperse” and that “there was no indication of property damage or physical altercations.”

In such situations, the deans said, “Pomona College’s approach has been to engage in conversations with students, reminding them of the policy,” rather than giving the policy any force.

The deans neglected to address CMC’s findings that the blockading students “breached institutional values of freedom of expression and assembly” and “violated policies … that prohibit material disruption of college programs and created unsafe conditions in disregard of state law.”

Additionally, at least one of the deans’ claims—that there was “no evidence” that campus authorities instructed student protesters to disperse—is directly contradicted by the findings of Claremont McKenna’s investigation and independent eyewitness accounts.

In a July statement discussing the protests, CMC announced that its investigation had revealed that “three Campus Safety Officers moved toward the [blockading] Group to advise them to stop [dismantling security fencing].”

According to the same statement, later on, as campus security “retreated … to establish a secondary security boundary,” students “paused their movement in acknowledgement of that boundary for almost two minutes” before pressing through the officers to establish their illicit blockade.

Pomona’s statement also asserts that “there was no indication of property damage or physical altercations.” A video of the protests taken by an Independent staffer, however, shows the staffer being accosted, and other students and journalists were subjected to threats and physical intimidation from the mob of protesters.

Asked by the Independent whether he would clarify the basis for the Pomona administrators’ apparently false claim, a Pomona College spokesperson has yet to respond.

The Pomona deans’ email is the first public acknowledgement by campus officials of an investigation into the conduct of Pomona students at the April protest at CMC, which, along with Pomona and three other undergraduate colleges, is part of the Claremont Colleges consortium and occupies the same Claremont, California campus.

The April protest, which ended with Claremont police officers rushing the speaker into an unmarked police vehicle to escape the student mob, ignited a firestorm of controversy across the country as well as on campus.

Under heavy pressure to defend CMC’s commitment to freedom of speech on campus—a commitment already bruised after he capitulated to student protesters and facilitated the highly visible resignation of a college dean in November 2015—CMC President Hiram Chodosh responded quickly to the April protest, launching an investigation that resulted in multi-semester suspensions for a number of students by summer’s end.

This swift justice was unique among the Claremont Colleges. Despite being the source of most of the protesters at Mac Donald’s talk, none of the other colleges has issued sanctions to its students for blockading her speech and compromising the physical safety of those trapped inside the venue.

In a statement to the Independent in June, Pitzer College, another member of the Claremont Colleges consortium, said that it was not even in correspondence with CMC regarding any student code violations. At this point, Claremont McKenna had already completed its investigation and had scheduled disciplinary hearings.

Asked about the deans’ email, several Pomona students expressed strong disagreement with the college’s decision to impose no sanctions on its policy violators.

One of these students, Matthew Ludlam, a sophomore at Pomona, told the Independent in a message that “when Pomona doesn’t punish the protesters they tell Claremont McKenna that they [Pomona] endorse their students actively disrupting [CMC’s] campus activities.”

Ludlam added that “Pomona students need to be punished if our school is to be taken seriously. What we [the students] did was wrong, and we should be held accountable for our actions.”

“The administration is being lazy and cowardly,” said another Pomona student, who wished to remain anonymous. “This is going to affect relations between schools and how each holds both their own and other students accountable on its campus.”

“This is no doubt preemptive damage control,” he continued, “for if Pomona’s administration were to hold the college’s students accountable, they would no doubt face backlash on their own campus that they don’t want to be responsible for.”

Besides Pomona College and Claremont McKenna College, the Claremont Colleges consortium also includes Scripps College, Pitzer College, and Harvey Mudd College.

Alec Sweet and William Gu contributed reporting.

This article was originally published in The Claremont Independent, a conservative student newspaper affiliated with the Leadership Institute's Campus Leadership Program. Its articles are republished here with permission.

Follow the Claremont Independent on Twitter: @CmontInd