CMC appoints new dean of students in wake of protests

Claremont McKenna College named its acting dean of students Monday, November 16 following the resignation of former Dean Mary Spellman.

Jeff Huang, who prior to Monday was the vice president of student affairs, admission and financial Aid, will step into the role for the rest of the academic year. In a letter to students circulated Monday, Mr. Huang vowed that he will “always try to keep [students’] best interests close to my heart.”

“This is the time for CMC to move forward,” Mr. Huang wrote. “What I need from you now are three things: I need a chance to work things out, I need your best ideas for how we can improve the CMC student experience for all students and I need your support and acceptance, even through my mistakes.”

Mr. Huang said he aims to offer specialized assistance to students with different backgrounds, including bringing in additional psychological counselors to meet their needs.

“Some students need academic guidance, while others need emotional support. Some students have trouble articulating exactly what they need,” Mr. Huang said. “And so, this will be a process of meeting them one at a time and helping them individually. It’s a lot like you might envision: one student with one of our deans, sitting in an office together, discussing how the student is doing and what they need.”

Mr. Huang’s appointment comes during a tumultuous time for students and faculty at Claremont McKena. Amid demonstrations and protests at CMC and across the Claremont Colleges, Ms. Spellman resigned from her role as dean of students after an email circulated in which she wrote to student Lisette Espinosa that her staff was “working on how we can better serve students, especially those who don’t fit into the CMC mold.”

Ms. Espinosa filed a formal complaint against the college with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on November 10.

Mr. Huang had previously been the dean of students from 2003-2010, prior to Dean Spellman’s appointment. In an email to the COURIER, he touched on the differences between how students mobilize now versus how they did during his first stint as dean.

“In the digital age, today’s students embrace social networks and texting much more than they did just a few years ago,” he said. “That certainly changes the speed at which things happen.”

In an email to students and staff announcing Mr. Huang’s new position, CMC President Hiram Chodosh said Mr. Huang deserves full support from the college.

“Dean Huang has taken on this role during a very important time for the College,” Mr. Chodosh wrote. “He will be in close touch with our immediate and long-term plans across the spectrum of student services, enrichment, and personal and social responsibility.”

Mr. Chodosh also released a letter Monday outlining CMC’s plan to better serve marginalized students on campus.

“We have invited an independent expert, who began conversations with students, staff, and faculty on diversity and inclusion last spring, to conduct a deeper and broader review of the Dean of Students office and its capacity and performance in support of our students,” Mr. Chodosh wrote.

According to the letter, CMC also invited “an experienced expert in diversity and inclusion” to meet with students and will scope out a temporary and, eventually, a permanent space for students dedicated to diversity on campus.

Mr. Huang said a temporary space had been selected out, with a permanent one on the way, possibly in the new building currently under construction on Sixth Street and Mills Avenue.

“I think we have found something that will work for the rest of this academic year,” Mr. Huang said. “However, we have a new building coming online in the late spring and into the summer, which will allow us to move some things around and consider other options for the next academic year.”

Meanwhile, in the days following the demonstrations on campus, students and faculty alike are voicing their frustrations. CMC professor Charles Kesler penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on November 18, criticizing the demonstrators and admonishing Mr. Chodosh for giving in to demands.

“When the leftists lacked power, they embraced free speech,” Mr. Kesler wrote. “Now that they have power, they don’t need it.”

On November 16, a letter pledging support for the demonstrators, signed by the chairs of the departments of Asian-American, Africana and Chicano/a-Latino/a Studies, was released.

“The recent events and related discussions underline the institutionalized inequalities our students cannot tolerate,” the letter stated. “We want to make clear that a few token calls for greater diversity do not and will not resolve the experience of racism, devaluation and marginalization.”

An editorial in the Claremont Independent, written by CMC student Nathaniel Tsai and signed by more than 270 other students, criticized the demonstrations over the past week and what he characterized as bullying Ms. Spellman out of her job.

“Though you have every right to assembly, the message you preached on Wednesday was tainted by the profanity in both your voices and on your signs,” Mr. Tsai wrote. “There was no room for discussion or debate at your rally, and voices opposed to yours were silenced. You have the freedom of speech to say what you will, as we do so in this letter, but you have publicly humiliated CMC and tarnished your legitimacy as student leaders.”

The letter also called out Mr. Huang for standing by while Ms. Spellman and Mr. Chodosh took the brunt of protests from students.

“Jeff Huang, you stood idle as Mary Spellman went through all of this,” Mr. Tsai wrote. “You were content to sit against the Athenaeum wall while Hiram and Mary took every word spoken to them.”

CMC student Taylor Lemmons, whose hunger strike against Ms. Spellman made waves throughout the college, responded to the letter in a blog post on on November 16.

“At the demonstration, I looked into the former Dean’s teary eyes, and explained myself, without the use of profanity or curses, and without raising my voice above the same volume and tone she herself spoke with,” Ms. Lemmons wrote. “The former Dean seemed to listen very well. She even had a chance to respond. But she remained silent. Perhaps her listening, and her inability to come up with any more excuses, is what led to the resignation we received a short 21 hours later.”

—Matthew Bramlett


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