Students at Pomona College in California stated in a letter to outgoing President David Oxtoby that the truth is a “myth” and “white supremacist concept” after Oxtoby reaffirmed the college‘s commitment to free speech, the Claremont Independent reported. These same students also demanded that the college take “action” against journalists who work at the Independent.
The Claremont Independent is a conservative student paper for the Claremont Colleges consortium – of which Pomona College is a member – and is connected to the conservative Leadership Institute.
Three self-identified black students wrote the letter after Oxtoby sent an email in April that reiterated “the exercise of free speech and academic freedom” after protesters blocked the exits to Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum in order to shut down a scheduled lecture by Heather Mac Donald, a Black Lives Matter critic.
According to the Claremont Independent, people who attempted to enter the building were met with physical force:
Even faculty members who sought to enter the building were denied, with waves of protesters screaming and resorting to physical force to repel anyone who drew too close to the building. At one point, a crowd of White students screaming “F*** White supremacy, f*** White supremacy” pushed an elderly White professor away from the Athenaeum entrance.
In his email about the incident, Oxtoby wrote that “protest has a legitimate and celebrated place on college campuses” but noted that protesters cannot prevent others from engaging with speakers invited to campus. “Our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society,” he concluded.
The student letter writers opposed this idea.
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 then wrote that there is no such thing as truth, and that this “Euro-West” concept has often be used to “silence oppressed peoples.”
Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–’the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.
After claiming that students were right to attempt to silence Mac Donald, whom they labeled “a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live,” the students demanded that Oxtoby apologize for his email promoting free speech.
The students then turned their sights on the Claremont Independent journalists who reported on the protest against Mac Donald for their “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds
We also demand that Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium entities take action against the Claremont Independent editorial 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.
The letter had 30 signatories and requested a response by Tuesday afternoon.