Blog: Latino Ed Beat

‘Mexican’ Costume Photos Spark Changes on College Campuses

Claremont McKenna College student protests led to the resignation of the college's dean of students last week. Source: YouTube

University of Louisville President James Ramsey made national headlines after he was photographed wearing a sombrero and multi-colored poncho at a Mexican-themed Halloween party last month. 

He’s since apologized for his actions and pledged to hire more Hispanic and Latino professors, boost financial aid opportunities for Hispanic and Latino students, and take steps to improve diversity support programs on campus. 

But Ramsey isn’t the only one who dressed as a “Mexican” for Halloween. Nor is University of Louisville the only college campus to see changes as a result. 

Last week, a dean at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California resigned after student protesters accused her of “not doing enough to address minority students’ concerns over issues of safety and feeling marginalized on campus,” Fox News Latino reports.

In the weeks leading up to the protests, Mary Spellman, who is still listed on the college’s website as a vice president and dean of students, allegedly told a Latina student in an email that minority students ”don’t fit our CMC mold” – an email she has since apologized for and admitted was poorly worded. 

Students also complained about a Halloween photo showing two CMC students wearing outfits similar to Ramsey’s. Casey Garcelon, a black student at the college, posted the photo to her Tumblr and Facebook accounts. On Nov. 8, she captioned the photo: 

Dear Claremont community, 
For anyone who ever tries to invalidate the experiences of POC [people of color] at the Claremont Colleges, here is a reminder of why we feel the way we do. Don’t tell me I’m overreacting, don’t tell me I’m being too sensitive. My voice will not be silenced. I’m mentally drained from being a part of this community and I’ve had enough. If you feel uncomfortable by my cover photo, I want you to know I feel uncomfortable as a person of color everyday on this campus.

According to the Los Angeles Times, CMC students have compiled a list of instances of bias, “including vandalism at the Queer Resource Center, the defacement of Black Lives Matter posters, racial slurs, perceived mockery of their cultures and what they allege were university efforts to silence their complaints.”

The article goes on to say that about 30 students of color wrote to the university’s president last spring, expressing their feelings of exclusion, isolation and intimidation at CMC, which is 43 percent white, 12 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian American and 4 percent black.

Both the Claremont and University of Louisville controversies come at a time when racial tensions across the country are high — especially on college campuses. Last week, high-profile student-led protests at the University of Missouri led to the resignation of its president.

Protests on other campuses like Yale, Virginia Commonwealth University and others also have called for change. Among the demands – greater faculty diversity on the faculty, more spending on scholarships for minority students, diversity training, and other resources, such as cultural centers.