By Anna Liss-Roy ‘20
On the evening of Friday, February 10, managers at The Motley observed as several Scripps students entered the coffeehouse and left written messages on the chalkboard, including “F**k white people,” “F**k Zionism,” “F**k fascism,” “F**k liberalism,” and “Death to Amerikkka.”
These messages were written minutes after a Motley-hosted poetry slam for Black History Month called “Brown Noise,” though the messages and event were said to be unrelated. By Sunday evening, Motley managers had received a request from Scripps administration demanding that the messages be removed.
The Motley staff that witnessed the incident left the messages untouched.
By Saturday morning, a photograph of the board had been sent in the group chat with all ten managers. The Motley staff made the joint decision not to remove the messages.
“The general motto for the board is ‘don’t erase anyone else’s thoughts,’” said Motley Networking Manager Layne Wells ‘19. “If you have any sort of response to it, write a comment next to it. But erasing things is literally erasing history. The voices that are being recognized on the wall right there are voices that don’t tend to be heard in this space. And so, if anything, we were celebrating the fact that there were these thoughts being showcased there.”
Immediately after the Motley’s decision to leave the messages on the board, students began to register complaints.
Throughout Saturday, responses appeared surrounding the writings on the chalkboard. One student transcribed a quote by Audre Lorde; soon after, an article titled “Appropriating Audre” was posted on a Scripps-only Facebook page.Several students reportedly approached baristas, asking why the messages were still being displayed.
The email from Scripps administration on Sunday evening demanded the removal of the writings on the basis that the statements “use obscenities and violate the College’s Principles of Community.” The email specified the “Death to Amerikkka” statement as one that “could have the purpose or effect of inciting violence.”
“I can tell you, personally, as someone who’s contributed to the board, that the ‘F**k’ word has been written on the board before,” said Wells.
In the email, Scripps administrators wrote, “The College is not taking the position that students may not intellectually subscribe to these statements or make them in an appropriate setting. The College has determined that they may not be written on Scripps College property within a business establishment operated on campus.”
In response, the Motley staff promptly erased the writings and printed the email from the administration, which was taped on the board for public display. Though abiding by the administration’s demands for removal, the Motley staff expressed disapproval in an official statement that was taped to the board alongside the email. In the message, Motley staff wrote, “We call into question the swiftness with which Scripps College responds to speech that challenges systematically privileged identities, and we challenge the community to think critically about what speech makes them feel uncomfortable versus unsafe.”
Some Scripps students were disappointed by what appeared to be The Motley’s stance of solidarity with the writings.
“[These messages] create an unnecessary divide,” said one Scripps student. “They’re real emotions, but I think it’s fostering an unhealthy culture that doesn’t need to be in a campus coffee shop.”
Another student commented, “I don’t think it’s fair that they’re choosing who can feel unsafe and who can feel uncomfortable. I agree that [The Motley] shouldn’t be catering to white people, but I think that when multiple people voice their concerns, then it is The Motley’s responsibility to create an open dialogue on how to best move forward so that everyone who sees the writing has a better understanding of why it’s there.”
This Scripps student continued “To provide the most power to what was written, I believe that space for open dialogue to promote a better understanding of the emotion and context of the writing would have been a proper reaction.”
Knowledge of the incident became more widespread when, on February 15, The Claremont Independent published an article about the incident with the headline, “Scripps Students: ‘Death to Amerikkka,’ ‘F**k White People’ is ‘Valued Speech.’” In the article, the writer alluded to controversy from last November that unfolded after the decision to temporarily designate the sitting room of The Motley as a safe space for students of color during the turmoil on campus in response to racist comments made by a Claremont McKenna dean who later resigned.
The article in the Claremont Independent, which made national headlines, inspired people with no ties to the Consortium or to Scripps itself to leave reviews on The Motley’s Facebook page containing hostile messages, including accusations of racism against white people. These comments eventually led to The Motley’s decision to change its Facebook status from “restaurant” to “personal blog,” which removed the ability for online users to leave reviews.
There has been ample discussion surrounding the immediacy of Scripps’ response to the writings on the board.
“This is a really volatile time for things to be happening,” said Wells. “You’ve got students who are stressed, prospective students walking around, and Scripps is trying its best to look like the best college in the entire world. But it’s not. And we can’t pretend like it is.”
“I wish that there could’ve been a discussion but, very literally, erasing that board erased that chance of having that,” Wells said. “And so it’s hard not to have that talk because the physical proof is almost no longer there.”
New writing has gradually appeared on the board. And yet, though weeks have passed, the faded outlines of the five messages remain partly visible, despite attempts at removal.
“It’s this underlying thing and it’s begging to not be forgotten,” Wells said.
“And we really can’t let it.”