California college dean resigns after students protest racial bias in her e-mail to Latina student

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As college students across the United States protested racial bias on campus on Thursday (Nov 12), the dean of a prestigious Los Angeles-area liberal arts college resigned under pressure, the school said.

Ms Mary Spellman, the assistant vice-president and dean of students at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), stepped down following a protest over her e-mail to a Latina student saying the school would try to serve those "who don't fit our CMC mold".

Ms Spellman's decision comes days after student protests over racial discrimination at the University of Missouri's main campus in Columbia led to the resignation of the school's president and chancellor.

Demonstrations over diversity and bias have also spread to other institutions, including Yale University and Ithaca College.

About 30 students of color this year penned an open letter to Claremont McKenna President Hiram Chodosh saying they felt intimidated and isolated at the exclusive liberal arts school, which enrolls about 1,300 undergraduates.

There was "continual neglect" of diversity issues on campus, student Lisette Espinosa said last month in an op-ed article she wrote for the student newspaper.

As a Mexican woman from a low-income family, she had felt unwelcome at times, she added.

Tuition costs about US$46,000 (S$65,400) a year.

According to a copy of the message carried by the school newspaper, in response to the article, Ms Spellman e-mailed Ms Espinosa, saying: "We are working on better serving our students, especially those who don't fit our CMC mold."

The e-mail's wording prompted students to gather outside the dean's office on Wednesday, with one student vowing to go on a hunger strike until the dean resigned. "The dean's decision to step (down) was her own," Mr Max Benavidez, a spokesman for Claremont McKenna, told Reuters in an e-mail.

The college was now focusing on hiring two new leaders for diversity and inclusion, one in student affairs and the other for faculty diversity, he added.

The University of Missouri turmoil, which began last week, sparked demonstrations and marches on college campuses across the country over what students describe as an overly lenient approach to racial abuse by school administrators.

The protests build on the "Black Lives Matter" movement, which was involved in massive and sometimes violent demonstrations in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore over police killings of black men.