In an open letter to outgoing Pomona College President David Oxtoby, a group of self-identified black students from the Claremont Colleges assail the president for, of all things, affirming Pomona’s commitment to free speech, a concept which they argue simply allows “hegemonic institutions” who seek to “perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.”
The letter was written in response to an April 7th email from President Oxtoby in which he reiterated the college’s commitment to “the exercise of free speech and academic freedom” in the aftermath of protests that shut down a scheduled appearance by an invited speaker, scholar and Black Lives Matter critic Heather Mac Donald, on April 6.
“Protest has a legitimate and celebrated place on college campuses,” Oxtoby wrote. “What we cannot support is the act of preventing others from engaging with an invited speaker. Our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society.”
But that statement was just more than the ‘triggered’ snowflakes of Pomona could handle. As such, they fired off a letter to the president explaining that apparently the notion of “free speech” was only intended for “marginalized” persons and not society as a whole.
Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions. It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.
“Thus, if ‘our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, how does free speech uphold that value?”
The students go on blast the president for apparently requiring minority students to “subject themselves routinely to the hate speech of fascists”….because ignoring visitors with whom they have a difference of opinion would simply be impossible.
As President, you are charged with upholding principles of Pomona College. Though this institution as well as many others including this entire country, have been founded upon the oppression and degradation of marginalized bodies, it has a liability to protect the students that it serves. The paradox is that Pomona’s past is rooted in domination of marginalized peoples and communities and the student body has a significant population of students from these backgrounds. Your recent statement reveals where Pomona’s true intentions lie.
Either you support students of marginalized identities, particularly Black students, or leave us to protect and organize for our communities without the impositions of your patronization, without your binary respectability politics, and without your monolithic perceptions of protest and organizing. In addition, non-Black individuals do not have the right to prescribe how Black people respond to anti-Blackness.
The idea that we must subject ourselves routinely to the hate speech of fascists who want for us not to exist plays on the same Eurocentric constructs that believed Black people to be impervious to pain and apathetic to the brutal and violent conditions of white supremacy.
And, of course, the students finish their letter with a list of demands that includes, among other things, a call for punishment of the entire “Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.”
Also, we demand a revised email sent to the entire student body, faculty, and staff by Thursday, April 20, 2017, apologizing for the previous patronizing statement, enforcing that Pomona College does not tolerate hate speech and speech that projects violence onto the bodies of its marginalized students and oppressed peoples, especially Black students who straddle the intersection of marginalized identities, and explaining the steps the institution will take and the resources it will allocate to protect the aforementioned students.
We also demand that Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium entities take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff (http://claremontindependent.com/meet-the-staff/) for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds. Provided that the Claremont Independent releases the identity of students involved with this letter and such students begin to receive threats and hate mail, we demand that this institution and its constituents take legal action against members of the Claremont Independent involved with the editing and publication process as well as disciplinary action, such as expulsion on the grounds of endangering the wellbeing of others.
Let this be a lesson to all you college presidents out there who may be thinking about taking a stand in support of ‘free speech’…that kind of aggression will not stand, man.
The full letter can be viewed here: