Pitzer College is Failing its Students


Pitzer College, one of the prestigious Claremont Colleges, is an unabashedly far, far left institution which grants undergraduate degrees at more than $66,000 per year.  The latest viral news story coming out of Pitzer is that some so-called "people of color" are now beseeching (strong-arming) white women to not wear hoop earrings because wearing them is a politically-incorrect cultural appropriation (never mind that hoop earrings were worn by the ancient Parthians).


Per the Claremont Independent, (which, as its name implies, is a student-run tabloid distributed to students at the Claremont Colleges),

A wall on the side of a dormitory at Pitzer College devoted to unmoderated free speech through art (colloquially named “the free wall”), was recently painted by a group of Latino students who wrote the message, “White Girl, take off your [hoop earrings]!!!”

When one white student expressed confusion about the message, Alegria Martinez (PZ ’18) – a Pitzer College Resident Assistant (RA) and active member of the “Latinx Student Union” – responded in an email thread sent to the entire student body: “[T]he art was created by myself and a few other WOC [women of color] after being tired and annoyed with the reoccuring [sic] theme of white women appropriating styles … that belong to the black and brown folks who created the culture. The culture actually comes from a historical background of oppression and exclusion. The black and brown bodies who typically wear hooped earrings, (and other accessories like winged eyeliner, gold name plate necklaces, etc) are typically viewed as ghetto, and are not taken seriously by others in their daily lives. Because of this, I see our winged eyeliner, lined lips, and big hoop earrings serving as symbols [and] as an everyday act of resistance, especially here at the Claremont Colleges. Meanwhile we wonder, why should white girls be able to take part in this culture (wearing hoop earrings just being one case of it) and be seen as cute/aesthetic/ethnic. White people have actually exploited the culture and made it into fashion.”

Jacquelyn Aguilera (PZ ’19), another student claiming credit for the spray-painted message, responded to the school-wide email thread, “If you didn’t create the culture as a coping mechanism for marginalization, take off those hoops, if your feminism isn’t intersectional take off those hoops, if you try to wear mi cultura when the creators can no longer afford it, take off those hoops, if you are incapable of using a search engine and expect other people to educate you, take off those hoops, if you can’t pronounce my name or spell it … take off those hoops / I use “those” instead of “your” because hoops were never “yours” to begin with.” Aguilera attached an image of herself and the others who spray-painted the wall exposing their own hoop earrings.

Pitzer’s website states that on the free wall  “you’ll find artistic representation of local and global issues that usually spark educational discussion across campus!”

Never mind the example that is set by permitting graffiti-writing practices.  The graffiti and its aftermath have apparently set off a conflagration involving, among other things, harassment and death threats.  Pitzer president Melvin Oliver has reportedly sent out a campus-wide e-mail statement purportedly condemning the hate speech and the atmosphere it is creating:

“As a place of higher education, we strongly cherish and defend intellectual curiosity, productive discourse and opposing views that may broaden our perspectives as global citizens,” Mr. Oliver wrote. “However, when speech resorts to hate, violence and threats, we will not tolerate these acts nor the perpetrators of these actions.

“Coverage in a local publication of a recent posting on the free wall has ignited a cycle of violent hate speech that threatens the safety and well-being of every member of our community,” he said. “Some students are experiencing harassment and death threats.”

Some problems here:  First of all, one of the perpetrators of this all is a college Resident Assistant.  Shouldn't the job of a Resident Assistant be to ensure that the students under his or her charge be ensured all the college-defined rights and responsibilities, and shouldn't the RAs be held to no less a standard in guaranteeing/enforcing the same?  To what standard does Pitzer hold its own employees?

Secondly, per Pitzer's stated Community Values:

These aspirations for all members of our community are not enforceable requirements but rather ideals that promote ethical practices in a diverse community built upon trust:

Community – We come together to live and work in a shared learning environment where every member is valued, respected, and entitled to dignity and honor founded upon the following rights and responsibilities:

Diversity – We learn from the rich and complex histories, view points, and life experiences in our community. We value and celebrate the synergy created by our differences and similarities.

Dialogue – We support the thoughtful exchange of ideas to increase understanding and awareness, and to work across difference without intimidation. We have the right to be heard and the responsibility to listen. Communication, even at its most vigorous, should be respectful and without the intent to harm.

Inquiry – We prize the powerful possibilities of learning and the principles reflected in our educational objectives including our dedication to access and justice, civic involvement and environmental sustainability, and our respect for pluralism, freedom of expression, and the sustained effort necessary for achieving academic excellence.

Action – These values are mere words until we practice them. We expect to see them evidenced, hear them named, debate their integrity, and demand change on their behalf. We are committed to the hard work and dedication this will demand.

The writing and dissemination of the "No Hoop Earrings" comment does not measure up against Pitzer's "Community Values." If  Pitzer's values are "not enforceable requirements but rather ideals that promote ethical practices in a diverse community built upon trust," and Dr. Oliver is unable or unwilling to lead by example and inspiration in creating and maintaining the "trust" required to achieve those "ideals," then they are little more than empty and ineffectual palabra. 

Just how credible are Dr. Oliver's claims that "when speech resorts to hate, violence and threats, we will not tolerate these acts nor the perpetrators of these actions"?

Thirdly, did the written and spray-painted words and actions that ignited this conflagration cross that line that demarcates uttering free speech from yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater?  Coming at the heels of the Middlebury riot, will there be threats to the safety of women on other campuses who are not "of color" but who sport fashions such as "winged eyeliner, lined lips, and big hoop earrings?"  If so, will such threats (and the inevitable resulting assaults) be confined to the college campuses

With 4-year degrees costing north of $260,000, are Pitzer students (and their parents) getting good bang for the buck?

Exit question:  When did attending college become part of the culture of "people of color?"  Just who is appropriating whose culture?


Kenneth H. Ryesky is a lawyer now based in Petach Tikva, Israel who taught business law and taxation at Queens College CUNY for more than 20 years.