Beer and Jell-O Wrestling
Perhaps Claremont McKenna should add a new GE: “HIST 54 – Bread and Circuses: The Politics of Roman Private Life.”
The Hunger Games – so I’m told – and Brave New World both expand on second century satirist Juvenal’s account of how Romans were gradually stripped of their political power: “Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things – Bread and Circuses!”
Claremont McKenna lacks neither bread nor circuses – nor beer and Jell-O wrestling, mozzarella sticks and mechanical bulls, food trucks and Pirate Party. We’re frequently named the happiest college in the country. That’s fine – but it’s not fine when these perks distract us from the more important issues within our community. What should the admissions office prioritize? Do we want our college to expand to its maximum enrollment of 1,400 students? Should a new athletic complex really be our president’s “number one project”? Both before and after the SAT scandal, very few, if any, students discussed these issues.
So when it comes to governing our college, what are CMC students concerned about? When I arrived on campus in fall 2009, upperclassmen were abuzz about two things: the cancellation of Sunday night snack and the possibility that new Dean of Students Mary Spellman threatened our lenient drinking policy. We fought to keep the circuses.
And while we should enjoy the luxuries Camp Claremont offers, there are more important things we could care about. Like many colleges, our tuition increases each year. But with generous financial aid and parents paying many of our bills, this impacts only a few of us. It’s the circuses that affect our daily lives, so it’s the circuses that we rally to save. That’s why we are more concerned when CMC attempts to cancel TNC than when it spends an undoubtedly enormous amount on a partisan Ath speaker.
If students ever had a substantive voice in governing our college, we lost it. But we still feel entitled to one. So the administration satisfies that entitlement by giving students a few token positions – ASCMC-appointed students serve on trustee and faculty committees, we were invited to a daylong workshop to comment on the plan for CMC’s physical expansion, students participate in the faculty search process. In a potential nod to students’ disengagement from official decision-making, the new ASCMC leadership has invited an administration official to each Senate meeting since spring break.
Students may play token roles in governing our college, but we do not lead. If we were to influence the administration, it would be through our student government. But when our community faced a crisis of confidence – the SAT scandal – ASCMC responded by issuing a Vice Presidential statement assuring national media that Vos’s actions do not reflect on the larger CMC community. What about pushing for transparency from the administration? President Gann didn’t speak to Senate until two months after the scandal. Why didn’t Senate demand she address students earlier? Because ASCMC neglects the most important discussions. Either our “representatives” just don’t care, or they don’t think they have the power to do anything other than plan circuses.
CMC is a private college; students aren’t legally entitled to a voice and the administration is not required to listen to us. But the purpose of a college’s administration is to serve the faculty and students, not to protect themselves. We must demand they listen to us. We’re leaders in training, but why don’t we lead on our own campus?