Reed Saxon / AP Photo

S. California college dean resigns amid racial tensions

Mary Spellman, dean of students at Claremont McKenna College, steps down after protests over campus racial concerns

The dean of students at a small Southern California college resigned Thursday after protests linked to racial concerns on campus.

Mary Spellman, who held the position at Claremont McKenna College since 2010, announced her resignation in an email to students.

"I hope this will help enable a truly thoughtful, civil and productive discussion about the very real issues of diversity and inclusion facing Claremont McKenna, higher education and other institutions across our society," Spellman wrote.

Her resignation comes at a time of widespread campus unrest prompted by concerns about racial and income inequality. Mounting protests prompted by racial tensions helped force Monday's abrupt resignation of University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe and another top administrator, R. Bowen Loftin. And on Thursday, students held rallies on more than 100 college campuses across the United States on Thursday to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education, and to rally for tuition-free public colleges and a minimum wage hike for campus workers.

Claremont-McKenna student protesters had demanded her resignation amid complaints that her office wasn't doing enough to deal with the concerns of students of color and others who felt marginalized.

Last month, Spellman responded to a college newspaper piece by a Latina student discussing her concerns by saying that Spellman would work to help students who "don't fit our CMC mold."

Spellman later apologized, reported the Los Angeles Times.

"This was her decision. She did not consult with anyone in the administration before making her decision," college spokesman Max Benavidez said.

However, "it was the right thing to do given the situation," he said.

A student who began a hunger strike earlier this week calling for Spellman’s resignation, thanked supporters on Thursday. Taylor Lemmon wrote “Let this be a message to anyone who sees a wrong and speaks out to make it right. You can do it. … All you have to do is speak up, be strong in your convictions and never give up.”

Spellman's resignation came a day after the school president announced the creation of new "leadership positions" on diversity and inclusion in student and academic affairs.

The liberal arts school east of Los Angeles has a high academic reputation and around 20 percent of its students are international students. School figures showed that as of last fall, the campus had 1,325 students, including 57 African-Americans, 180 Hispanics and 137 Asians.

Last April, about 30 students wrote to President Hiram E. Chodosh to say they felt excluded, isolated and intimidated, the Times reported.

The student newspaper, The Forum, reported the tense response to a photo that appeared on social media showing the junior class president with white women who were wearing false mustaches, sombreros, ponchos and holding maracas at a Halloween party.

Before Halloween, there were posters displayed on campus showing examples of culturally insensitive costumes, including women wearing sombreros and fake mustaches.

Al Jazeera with The Associated Press


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