(Craig Stanfill/CC BY-SA 2.0, modified from original.) Claremont McKenna College.
Steven Glick is editor-in-chief of the The Claremont Independent, a student-run newspaper whose motto is “Upholding Truth and Excellence at The Claremont Colleges.” In addition to being a student-athlete, the 21-year-old rising senior majoring in economics at Pomona College was, until last semester, a writing fellow at the school’s Writing Center, which “provides faculty and students resources to teach, learn, and improve their writing.”
But Glick says his news stories at The Claremont Independent brought him under increasing scrutiny at the Writing Center, which he claims had a “political agenda.”
Glick wrote an open letter of resignation from the Writing Center, which was published in The Claremont Independent last semester. In it, Glick outlined what he says was hostile treatment from Writing Center staff, in which they found increasing “problems” with his work in direct proportion to his controversial reporting in the paper. Glick expressed his disappointment in the letter:
I had genuinely thought the purpose of the Writing Center was to teach writing. I hadn’t realized the writing instruction would be delivered with a side of ideology and that the ideology was not only mandatory but also more important than the actual teaching of writing. I’ve learned this over the past few months, which is the reason for my resignation.
The letter is worth a read in full.
Glick, who has since accepted a summer position at Fox News, tells FIRE more about the reporting that led him to his resignation, his take on the campus climate, and his hopes for the future of free speech at The Claremont Colleges.
Some questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
FIRE: What was The Claremont Independent reporting on that ruffled people’s feathers? Are these op-eds?
GLICK: It’s mostly been the news stories. People haven’t really gotten too worked up over most of our opinion articles. It’s mostly just been that we bring a lot of issues to light that people around here sort of wish we hadn’t. And then a lot of times they get picked up by national media outlets who might have some stronger words to use about those issues.
FIRE: What kinds of issues?
GLICK: There have been a ton over the course of the year. At the beginning of the year, there was a party at Harvey Mudd College, which is one of the schools in our consortium, that was going to have a mad scientist theme and be called “Mudd Goes Madd.” But that party got de-funded because apparently the phrase “going mad” is offensive to people with mental illnesses.
The student center turned down two clubs: The first one was a yacht club because they said the word “yacht” was offensive to people who were low-income. And then the next one they turned down was the DreamCatchers club, which was the Pitzer campus chapter of the national DreamCatchers Foundation, which essentially tries to provide positive experiences for terminally ill hospice patients. That club got rejected by the student center because the phrase “dream catcher” is cultural appropriation of Native American culture.
We had an event at Scripps College last semester called Project Vulva that was basically de-stigmatizing vulvas. But there was a lot of negative feedback from trans activists who were trying to talk about how vulvas were stigmatized in a way penises were not—that it was insensitive to women with penises, because their penises are stigmatized.
The big one that got me on the Writing Center’s radar was one I wrote on “safe spaces.”
We had kind of a series of protests at The Claremont Colleges during the fall semester. One of the events that came out of the protests was a series of so-called “safe spaces” throughout The Claremont Colleges. I think there were at least three or four where white students were not allowed in order to create a safe space. One of the event descriptions I remember was: “You may want to bring a white friend or ally, but to ensure that this is a safe space for students of color, we ask that you do not.”
Again, this was just a news story. I think probably a lot of people could have guessed what my opinion on it was, but the story itself didn’t really have any commentary. It was just quotes from different event descriptions, letting people know these things were happening.
That was the first time I got called into the Writing Center.
The woman I met with was essentially saying she was concerned because the Writing Center’s a safe space and she’s worried that people won’t feel safe if I’m there. She said people associate the Writing Center with The Claremont Independent, and that might make them feel unsafe. That was where the ball started rolling.
But from day one it became clear that there was some political mission at the Writing Center. My first day on the job, for example, we did a lot of diversity training and then they required a half-credit English class when you become a writing fellow. It was basically trying to provide special training for how you would work with students of different races, which I thought was a little bit ridiculous. My approach to the Writing Center was just to treat everybody the same and help them with their papers.
But I got more active with The Claremont Independent, and [the Writing Center] got more active in pushing their political position, and that sort of brought us to where were are today.
FIRE: Where exactly are you today? What’s been the response to your resignation on campus?
GLICK: I would say the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The other writing fellows were not so fond of it, but almost everyone else I talked to has been really just shocked to find out that this is happening at our school. Mostly it’s been a positive reaction. Then again, the people I’ve talked to in the Writing Center have not been so thrilled about it.
It’s almost exactly the same now as it was before, except now I no longer have a job on campus.
FIRE: What’s the campus climate like? Are a vast majority of students in favor of things like safe spaces?
GLICK: It’s hard for me to say for sure whether the vast majority of students support the idea of safe spaces or things like that. But definitely a very sizeable group, if not a large majority of students, are big fans of trigger warnings and just doing everything you can to avoid anything that might hurt your feelings a little bit.
But at the same time, there’s a growing group of students who are looking to push back. We’re definitely seeing a lot more pro-free speech students on campus.
FIRE: How about the administration at The Claremont Colleges? It sounds like you’re accusing them of being pro-speech in theory, but not in practice.
GLICK: They’re not really pro-free speech in practice.
Throughout the course of the year, there have been so many issues with free speech and so many people who are just really afraid to speak up. We have a lot of people, even on the Claremont Independent staff, who like to come to the meetings and hang out and talk, but who don’t want to write anything because they’re worried about what pushback they’re going to get.
That’s definitely a very real fear. It’s something that’s happened to people who have written for The Claremont Independent, in varying amounts. And for a lot of people that kind of thing is enough to stop you from wanting to write anything. If you know people are gonna come up to you in the dining halls and call you a white supremacist or things like that, that’s something that is a big deterrent for a lot of people obviously.
FIRE: You’ve personally had that happen to you? Being called a white supremacist?
GLICK: Yeah. That did actually happen. Not many times but a small handful of times.
It’s mainly because last semester I was the guy writing most of the articles and I was the guy handing out the issues. And I was in most of the pictures we shared on social media. These are people we don’t really know. So, if I’m like, the face of The Claremont Independent, they’re going to go after that guy.
But it was nothing especially horrible. No physical violence or anything like that. But a lot of people just over the course of the semester would just come up to me and say they’re not so fond of The Claremont Independent.
FIRE: I assume they used different words?
GLICK: I got called a bigot a lot, and a white supremacist, and a sexist, and told I needed to “check my privilege.” All the usual buzzwords.
And what was a shame about it was most of these students hadn’t actually read the articles they were so upset about. They sort of just looked at the title and decided this was something they were going to be upset about. And most of the articles were not anything I offered any opinion on. They were straight news articles. Almost exclusively quotes. I thought that was interesting.
FIRE: Are you any of those things that these people accused you of being?
GLICK: I’m absolutely not any of those things. Really, all that I try to do with my writing is bring the facts to light. Showing situations where the colleges are not treating people equally, in one capacity or another. So I’ll often write an article about that. And then people get upset at me for these presumed views they think I hold.
I think that’s a big problem at college campuses nationwide, is that it’s from people who are from one particular area of the political spectrum and who have grown up with people who think just like they do, and then go to college to be surrounded by more people who think like they do. They have kind of this caricature vision of what someone who disagrees with them thinks, and they have this sincere belief that the only way you could disagree is if you’re a racist or a sexist or whatever.
FIRE: Where do you and the school go from here?
GLICK: I think it’s all about further encouraging free speech. Right from day one, at freshman orientation, we talk about “safe spaces,” but there’s no conversation about free speech. So what I would like to seek is, right when students arrive on campus, make it very clear that this is a place where speech is OK. Perhaps even the speech you find extremely offensive, instead of calling it racist, sexist, or whatever it may be, encourage students to try to understand what’s being said and try to come up with a strong argument to refute it if they’re not convinced, instead of letting people just say they’re offended and having the school cater to their every whim.
My hope is that there will be more statements in support of free speech, and more actions to go along with that.
I do believe there is hope for free speech at Pomona in the future.