On Monday, March 4th, Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) kicked off a series of events recognizing Israeli Apartheid Week by holding an “activist street performance” outside of CMC’s Collins Dining Hall. CMC Dean of Students (DOS) Mary Spellman and Pitzer DOS Moya Carter sent a joint email on Thursday informing their respective college communities of “some form of verbal exchange…involving a Pitzer student and CMC faculty member” and a joint investigation into “this matter to determine what occurred and whether the Policy on Demonstrations was followed.” (See below for the joint statement.)
In a bias-related incident statement submitted to Carter Thursday evening and posted on SJP’s Facebook page on Friday, the group claims that a man—identified in the statement as CMC Associate Professor of Economics Yaron Raviv—told SJP member Najib Hamideh PZ ‘15 to “fuck off you cockroach” and “you should fuck off little cockroach, you’re all cockroaches.” When Raviv asked which school Hamideh attends, Raviv allegedly responded “all Pitzer kids are cockroaches.”
In an interview with the Port Side, Hamideh explained the event: “The goal of the street performance was, one, to educate the college population on the treatment Palestinians feel every day living in the occupied territories, and two, to make students feel uncomfortable living with checkpoints on their campus.”
According to multiple witnesses, club members stood in front of the entrance to Collins and spoke with students as they entered, asking, “May we see your ID? This is an Israeli checkpoint simulation.” Intermittently, a club member would attempt to enter the dining hall without identification and SJP would stage a fake arrest.
In SJP’s statement, the group specifies that “Every aspect of the performance had been carefully planned and we had obtained written permission prior to setting up the checkpoint simulation from CMC Dean Spellman. Therefore, we were breaking absolutely no rules and were solely practicing our free speech rights to raise awareness about an issue that we are deeply passionate about.”
A copy of the event registration form obtained by the Port Side shows that a CMC student registered Monday’s event as “Psuedo-Israeli [sic] Checkpoints” and that it was approved by Assistant Dean of Students Jim Nauls and Story House. The form says that “audience will only be asked to present ID.”
The SJP statement describes the confrontation with Raviv as follows:
“Shortly after the performance began, an older man who had been speaking with the group of students earlier approached the performers. He then entered the dining hall, spoke to the managerial staff, and brought them, insisting that they remove us from the premises, though it was our right and we had even obtained written permission to do exactly what we were doing. At this point the managerial staff expressed concerns about the ropes that we had used to section off the sides of the entrance. We would like to make it clear that though ropes had been tied to the columns outside of the dining hall, students were already free to pass without being forced to participate and could also enter from the other entrance.They asked us to remove the ropes and we immediately complied and further restructured the checkpoint simulation so that students were free to enter the dining hall from multiple sides. Shortly afterwards the man went to speak with a campus security officer who was standing off to the side, presumably to continue his efforts to shut down the event.”
At this point, Hamideh says he approached Raviv and the campus safety officer. According to Hamideh, “I walked up to him and politely asked who he was and why he was interfering with our event. I said to him ‘if you are a visitor, I’d like to see your visitor pass. If you’re a professor you need to identify yourself,’ to which he replied ‘fuck off you cockroach’ to which I replied, ‘Excuse me you can’t be addressing me in this way. I need to see your guest pass.’ He responded by saying ‘you should fuck off little cockroach, you’re all cockroaches.’ He then questioned me about which school I attended and when I informed him that I attend Pitzer College, his response was ‘all Pitzer kids are cockroaches.’” According to the statement, Raviv left after Campus Safety checked his ID card.
Hamideh emphasized that Raviv’s alleged comments were particularly personal “because the professor’s an Israeli and I’m a Palestinian.” According to Raviv’s CV, he is an Israeli citizen and a U.S. permanent resident. SJP’s statement describes the inflammatory history of the term “cockroach” and concludes, “We would like to see all appropriate actions taken on the behalf of not only the one student who was verbally assaulted, but of all the students whom he included in his hate speech as ‘cockroaches.’”
When asked to confirm the incident, Raviv referred the Port Side to CMC’s Office of Public Affairs. When the Port Side attempted to contact Dean Spellman through the Office of Public Affairs, Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications Max Benavidez responded, “The college does not comment about an incident while it is under investigation.” Pitzer DOS Moya Carter also declined to comment. As reported by The Student Life, the Campus Safety officer involved filed an incident report but Campus Safety will not release further information.
The DOS email says that the colleges are investigating ‘whether the Policy on Demonstrations was followed.’
The DOS email says that the colleges are investigating “whether the Policy on Demonstrations was followed.” That policy—contained in the CMC Guide to Student Life —prohibits “disruptive or nonpeaceful actions,” where disruptive actions are defined as “those that restrict free movement on any of the campuses, or interfere with, or impede access to, regular activities or facilities of any of the Colleges or CUC.” While CMC does not require pre-approval of demonstrations, per se, they are subject to the Event Registration Guidelines, which are distinct from the demonstration policy.
SJP disagrees with the perceived focus of the investigation. Hamideh noted his objection to the email’s mentioning that “the organization involved in now under investigation, with no talk of unfounded behavior or racially charged speech [or his] dehumanizing a student by calling him a cockroach.” While the email does not identify Raviv, it does name SJP.
Friday afternoon, Hamideh and other SJP members met with Dean Carter and Pitzer Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Marchant to discuss their concern that the investigators were not focusing on the professor’s actions. Following the meeting, Marchant sent another email to the Pitzer student body explaining that SJP went through the proper procedures to register their “street theater event” with both Campus Safety and CMC. Marchant alludes that Pitzer is investigating the incident with the professor, not the event itself. “I am conducting interviews with the involved parties and witnesses and these should be concluded by early next week,” he writes.
CMC students did not receive a similar email. (See below for the Pitzer-only email.)
The Claremont Colleges Communication Protocol of Bias Related Incidents states that, “Bias related incidents are expressions of hostility against another person (or group) because of that person’s (or group’s) race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation, or because the perpetrator perceives that the other person (or group) has one or more of those characteristics.” According to the policy, the Consortium responds to bias-related incidents only when the conduct “violates one or more of the Claremont colleges’ disciplinary codes and which is not protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution or by analogous provisions of state law.” Unless the bias-related incident is found to be a hate crime and outside of constitutional protection, it seems as if the Colleges’ only obligation under the Communication Protocol is to inform their respective student bodies of the incident.
There is no indication that individuals involved have filed a formal grievance with CMC Dean of the Faculty Greg Hess, nor that administrators other than Spellman are looking into the incident. Any formal disciplinary action brought against Raviv, who has been at CMC since 2004, would be sought through Hess and the CMC Grievance Committee, a judicial body composed of tenured faculty members and administrators. According to the CMC Faculty Handbook, “covered individuals,” including students, staff, and faculty, may “seek redress or remedy for grievances arising from actions by Faculty members.” However, a student wishing to file a complaint must attend CMC or be enrolled in a CMC class, making the student demonstrators from Pitzer ineligible to initiate the grievance process.
SJP plans to bring in outside groups if they are not satisfied with the DOS investigation. Says Hamideh, “If the administration is not satisfactory in their reaction to the bias-related crime that happened on campus, then we will contact the American Civil Liberties Union and FIRE to come on campus and help us prosecute the perpetrator of the crime.”
In their email, Spellman and Carter stressed that during the investigation, “CMC and Pitzer remain committed to providing an environment that is supportive of free speech and peaceful assembly, consistent with all applicable policies and laws.”
Below is the email sent on Thursday, March 7, as a joint statement from Pitzer and CMC DOS.
March 7, 2013
Dear Members of the Claremont McKenna College and Pitzer College Communities:
On Monday, March 4, 2013, The Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organized a series of events at the Claremont Colleges. The event at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) took place early Monday evening at the entrance to Collins Dining Hall. Both CMC and Pitzer College have received information that some form of verbal exchange occurred involving a Pitzer student and CMC faculty member.
CMC and Pitzer are jointly investigating this matter to determine what occurred and whether the Policy on Demonstrations was followed. Based on the results of this investigation the colleges will take appropriate steps.
In the meantime, CMC and Pitzer remain committed to providing an environment that is supportive of free speech and peaceful assembly, consistent with all applicable policies and laws.
Dean of Students
Claremont McKenna College
Dean of Students
Below is the email sent on Friday, March 8, to Pitzer students. CMC students did not receive a similar email.
March 8, 2013
Dear Members of the Pitzer Community,
This message is a follow-up to the information that was sent to the Pitzer Community yesterday regarding the street theater event organized by the 5-College student group, Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), on Monday evening, March 4 at CMC.
While an investigation is underway, it has been determined that the group informed Campus Safety of their intentions prior to the events on Monday, and also completed an event registration form at CMC that was approved. Participants in the street theater event included students from Scripps, CMC, Pomona, and Pitzer. At one point during the event the CMC Dean of Students asked the performers to move so as not to impede access to the building, which they did. Later, upon arriving at the scene a campus safety officer reported that the entrance to the building was not blocked; however, after being requested to move the students away from the door, the officer asked the students to move and they complied.
In the course of their performance, it has been alleged that a Pitzer student was the subject of inappropriate and hostile verbal comments by a CMC faculty member. My office is handling the investigation for Pitzer and is committed to determining the facts of the situation directly from those involved and present on Monday evening. I am conducting interviews with the involved parties and witnesses and these should be concluded by early next week.
Dean of Students Moya Carter and I met with members of the SJP group this evening to listen to their concerns. Also, I have been in communication with the Chair of FEC and the President of the College about this matter and will keep them apprised as the investigation is conducted. In the meantime, I ask members of the Pitzer Community to please be patient while the investigation continues, and to keep our shared community values of diversity, dialogue, inquiry, and action in mind as we move forward.
Vice President for Student Affairs