Dispelling Spellman Rumors
Despite initial worries, party policies remain unchanged.
Upon the January arrival of Mary Spellman, Claremont McKenna’s new Dean of Students, much speculation arose about the motivations behind her hiring and her intentions for the student body.
A piece of this speculation came in the form of a Claremont Conservative blog post by Charles Johnson, CMC ‘11, that took large excerpts from an anonymous opinion article in The Sadie Lou Standard, a student publication at Sarah Lawrence College. Though the Standard no longer publishes, the article provides useful insight into Spellman’s approach to alcohol and the campus party culture in her position as Sarah Lawrence Dean of Students. The author of the 2007 piece argued that Spellman gained campus-wide notoriety for her “disdain for sexually-imbued or alcohol-containing events” and that “responsible, periodic, socially-endorsed drinking seems to be a concept that completely eludes” her.
In both excerpting this opinion and citing Spellman’s multiple donations to Republican candidates – including $2000 to George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign – Johnson portrayed Spellman’s appointment as a possible “hope for conservatives” at a time when CMC “lurches still further to the left.” And, if he sought to define conservatives as either the residents of the substance-free Stark Hall or any individual opposed to the typical rowdiness of weekend life at CMC, he had a point. After the March cancellation of Thursday Night Club, and in light of the Alcohol Task Force’s impending conclusions, concern developed that Spellman’s arrival signaled the beginning of profound changes to CMC’s alcohol policy, and therefore, to its social scene as a whole.
To address some of these concerns, the Port Side sat down with Spellman. The meeting was the ultimate campus culture war – staffers of this progressive publication, which has a clear stake in ensuring that CMC “lurches still further to the left,” faced Spellman, the beacon of “hope for conservatives.” After our chat, however, we concluded that such concerns are overblown and that our new dean has no intention to overturn CMC’s time-honored social traditions.
When asked about the anonymous opinion piece in The Sadie Lou Standard, Spellman emphasized that most of the policy changes the author cited actually occurred prior to her tenure. As for the changes she did undertake, Spellman asserted that they strayed far from the kind of fundamental crackdown that would inspire fear on our campus.
In fact, based on our conversation, it seems that Spellman does not find anything about CMC’s social life particularly objectionable relative to other college campuses. “I think every college has their issues with alcohol. They are different here than they were at Sarah Lawrence, or at Dickinson, and I’m sure they are different at all of the other colleges here,” she said, stressing that she believes alcohol has a role to play on every campus, including ours.
Spellman also spoke about TNC’s temporary cancellation, emphasizing that “TNC is separate” from any kind of investigation into CMC’s alcohol policy. “There were major problems with TNC: major damage issues, unpaid bills, students getting hurt, and those events were not being managed well,” she said. “Things were just sort of escalating with that event, and it was time to put a pause on it, however brief.”
Spellman’s actual concerns center on creating an environment in which students can feel comfortable not drinking. “I think there are students who don’t mind alcohol being present, but the focus at some events, being so focused on the alcohol and less on a positive, fun event, makes people not want to go.”
The future of CMC’s alcohol policy – our main area of interest – is unclear at this time and appears contingent on the conclusions of the Alcohol Task Force, chaired by Vice President for Student Affairs Jefferson Huang. When asked what CMC could improve on vis-à-vis its alcohol policy and drinking culture, Spellman deferred to the task force. “I’m just learning it,” she said, adding that the “group is still doing its work” and should be done towards the end of the semester. Spellman stated that the purpose of the committee, formed before her tenure, is to “look at our alcohol policy and the role alcohol plays on campus and how we can do this better, if at all.”
Spellman also sought to reassure us of the kinds of changes that the administration may implement. While again emphasizing that the Task Force is still completing its work and that she does not sit on it, she said she does not think that a “sea-change” in policy or culture is impending. “I don’t think that next year will be a totally different social life on campus,” she said. “The purpose of the Task Force is not to crush students’ social life and access to alcohol… It’s really about how we create a positive environment that all of us can agree to and feel comfortable with.”