Flipping the Scripps
By Tommy A. Purvis
Student protesters slam a leadership institute they say is connected to the United States’ “oppressive” foreign policy
Students and others recently protested at Scripps College in response to a leadership institute that critics say is more about pushing questionable and exploitative U.S. foreign policy than it is about empowering women and prompting real political and social change.
Such was the reception that the the Institute for Women’s Leadership in Latin America got from Claremont students and some faculty on March 12. As far as the administration was concerned, the protest was a shining example of the First Amendment in action.
The institute is part of the U.S. State Department’s Women in Public Service Project (WPSP). This effort, which started under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, aims to educate and train a new generation of women leaders to enter the public sector—or to put it in WPSP’s terms, “to increase the participation and efficacy of women in all spheres of public service.”
But protesters say what the effort really does is recruit women that will later be used to advance neocolonialism and adverse socio-economic policies in Latin America and the southern hemisphere. . . to the benefit of the U.S.
Originally launched at Clinton’s alma matter, Wellesley College, the WPSP is funded through the U.S. State Department and donations from corporations—Exxon, Boeing, Coca-Cola—and the other front groups like the Lehman Brothers Foundation and the Lily Endowment Corp. The WPSP quickly spread to Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Smith followed by Mills, Mount St. Mary’s and now Scripps.
“The U.S. State Department is co-opting universities with programs such as the Women’s Leadership in Latin America Institute,’ Scripps alumna Jeanette Charles told the Weekly.
The Claremont Port Side, the Claremont Colleges’ newsmagazine, reports that 30 students took part in a March 12 half-hour-long vocal protest directed towards Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga regarding the U.S. State Department’s involvement in Latin America. The interruption inside the college’s Garrison Theater started near the end of a speech by former Mexican Presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota. Students held up a banner in Spanish that read, “The people united will never be defeated.”
Prior to the ceremony, students handed out literature to audience members that depicted one of the ceremony’s other speakers: Maria Echaveste. The former Bill Clinton White House deputy chief of staff managed policy for Latin America. She is known her role in developing free trade initiatives that critics say severely rolled back workers’ rights and forced illegal migration to the U.S. along with Plan Columbia. This plan was an anti-drug campaign that delivered 90 helicopters to spray deadly herbicide on 3.2 million acres of coca-growing land . . . that also happened to leave behind an allegedly brutal military and police force. Some critics say the plan was more of an effort to fight leftist guerillas fighting for social reform—fighting that hinders international efforts to exploit Columbia’s natural resources (read: oil).
Charles—who majored in Latin American studies at Scripps and now works to reform Los Angeles high schools through the Community Rights Campaign—wrote a scathing letter to Bettison-Varga upon hearing about the WPSP coming to campus:
“It’s incredibly concerning to believe that an institution that provided me with some of the most amazing educational experiences [and] dynamic faculty and prestigious research grants believes that building women’s leadership should lend itself to a globally oppressive and genocidal framework that the State Department implements rather than seeking out opportunities to make these same relationships with many local and social justice organizations that have exciting and successful strategies to build women and youth leadership every day,’ she wrote.
In a video released before the WPSP came to Scripps, Bettison-Varga told interested applicants that the political dynamic is changing rapidly—it presents an opportune time for woman to enter in and bring their voices to the table.
In response to the March 12 action, Bettison-Varga and Mount St. Mary’s College President Ann McElaney-Johnson released a joint public statement via the Port Side: “Scripps and Mount St. Mary’s colleges are proud to host the Institute for Women’s Leadership in Latin America and to celebrate women’s leadership at the opening ceremony. We are passionate about advancing women’s leadership because it will contribute to a future that promises dignity and respect for every person and child. By providing our colleges as a space for dialogue and networking, we can contribute to positive change. This Institute supports the next generation of women leaders who will invest in their countries and communities, provide leadership for their governments and societies and help change the way global solutions are developed. In regards to the [March 12] demonstration, we also celebrate our democracy and the protected right to freedom of speech.”