A group of students at Pomona College in California has published an open letter urging the outgoing college president to retract his commitment to free speech as a way to “discover truth” because “objectivity” is a white supremacist myth.
In the letter addressed to outgoing Pomona College President David Oxtoby, three self-identified black students slammed the president for claiming that the college is committed to freedom of speech and urged him to “take action” against journalists at the Claremont Independent, an on-campus newspaper.
The letter comes in response to April 7 email from President Oxtoby who said the college is committed to “the exercise of free speech and academic freedom” following the protests against distinguished academic and Black Lives Matter critic Heather Mac Donald at next door Claremont McKenna College (which is part of the same Claremont Colleges system as Pomona) that led to the shutdown of the event.
“Protest has a legitimate and celebrated place on college campuses,” President Oxtoby wrote in the email. “What we cannot support is the act of preventing others from engaging with an invited speaker. Our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society.”
The students, however, disagreed with the college’s position on free speech, saying free speech has been coopted by hegemonic powers.
“Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions,” the letter read. “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.”
Pomona College students then asked, citing the president’s email: “Thus, if ‘our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth,’ how does free speech uphold that value?”
The group that released the letter also described the idea of objectivity as a “myth” and a white supremacist concept used against people of color. They wrote:
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.
The letter claims that allowing Mac Donald to speak would have been not merely a debate with different opinions, but on “the right of Black people to exist.”
It added: “Heather Mac Donald is 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.
“Why are you [President Oxtoby], and other persons in positions of power at these institutions, protecting a fascist and her hate speech and not students that are directly affected by her presence?”
The group ended the letter demanding an apology from the president of the college for standing up for free speech on campus and the release of a new statement saying that the college “does not tolerate hate speech and speech that projects violence onto the bodies of its marginalized students and oppressed peoples.”
The students also demand that the college “takes action” — including expulsion from the college — against the staff of the student newspaper for perpetuating “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 demanded.