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In Wake of Police Report Calling Hate Crime at CMC a Hoax, Colleges Reaffirm Commitment to Improving Our Community

In recent weeks, the campus has experienced a series of shocks as students, faculty and staff have been confronted by a number of racially-charged incidents, the most serious of which has now been alleged by the Claremont Police and the FBI to have been a hoax perpetrated by the alleged victim.

On March 10, the campuses of The Claremont Colleges cancelled classes and closed ranks to express their horror and outrage over what appeared to be a hate crime aimed at silencing a vocal member of the community. The incident--which involved the vandalism of a car belonging to a member of the Claremont McKenna College faculty and included the painting of racist, misogynist and anti-Semitic remarks on the vehicle--galvanized the campuses in a massive demonstration of support and concern, as well as a day-long series of discussions about underlying issues.

A week later, however, on March 17, with students gone from the campuses for Spring Break, the colleges again found themselves dealing with the unthinkable when the Claremont Police Department issued a statement saying that their joint investigation with the FBI had concluded that the supposed victim had staged the entire incident. The statement said two eyewitnesses had positively identified the professor as the person they had seen defacing and vandalizing her own car. The police have turned the case over to the District Attorney's Office for review.

In an e-mail to the College community on March 18, President David Oxtoby said the College remains committed to finding ways to improve the racial climate on campus and noted that this development, while shocking, did not lessen that commitment in any way. He added that he was particularly concerned "that some members of our community may feel disillusioned by yesterday's revelations, and perhaps may even feel that their idealism was misplaced."

He concluded that he is proud of the reaction that the College community exhibited in the face of an apparent hate crime. "Wednesday's discussions, marches, and speeches were a wonderful example of the best of education, even though all of our classrooms were closed," he said. "Most fundamentally, I remain committed to the directions of change that we have been discussing over the last several months in order to create a truly diverse and supportive community. I look forward to reporting in the future on some steps that we are taking, and to continuing to explore with all of you new approaches that will lead to real change."

Reactions to the event from across the campuses and the city of Claremont sounded a common theme: concern for continued progress in dealing with the underlying issues of racism and community-building. Claremont McKenna College President Pamela Gann said in a public statement that CMC plans to conduct a further investigation and has not yet made a decision concerning the professor's employment status. "While this information certainly comes as a shock and surprise to our community," she added, "Claremont McKenna College remains committed to its mission as an undergraduate residential college in which academic freedom and free speech are wholeheartedly supported, and in which all individuals feel welcome to study and teach, and free to express their viewpoints, thoughts, and ideas."

Speaking to a range of media outlets, some of the few students and faculty who remained on the five campuses during the week expressed a range of emotions, from confusion to concern.

"We've taken our second stab in the back at a time when we thought we were secure," Marc Bathgate, president-elect of the Claremont McKenna student government, told the Associated Press.

"My fear ... is that people will say, 'See, they're blowing this all out of proportion. There are no real incidents of racism,'" said Pomona Professor Sidney Lemelle, also speaking to the AP.

"I'm just afraid that all that community spirit is going to be lost and become cynicism and anger," Warren Katzenstein, student body president of Harvey Mudd College, told the Los Angeles Times.

Katherine Lind, chairwoman of the city¹s Committee on Human Relations, told the Times that what the students had done following the apparent hate crime "was really inspiring. Their passion was a lesson for us all." She added: "I urge the students to continue to articulate their problems and not let this incident dissuade them in any way."

 

Related stories:

3/19/04: In wake of police report calling hate crime at CMC a hoax, colleges reaffirm commitment to improving our community

3/11/04: Pomona College joins other Claremont Colleges in day of solidarity.

3/10/04: Pomona College joins other Claremont Colleges in canceling classes for one day on March 10 in response to hate crime.