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Striptease Touches Off College Controversy : Academia: Birthday-gift performance took place in Claremont McKenna dining hall. Some students are demanding that the administration condemn it as sexist.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Halloween, a young woman strolled onto the tree-lined campus at Claremont McKenna College, walked up to a male student in the dining hall and, as 300 students watched in astonishment, began a striptease that soon had some male students scrambling onto tables to hoot their appreciation.

But the lunchtime incident left some deeply offended at having to witness such a spectacle. On Monday, nearly a week later, anger was still percolating through the normally restrained halls of the small college on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, where a group of students and faculty members contended that the administration was whitewashing the matter by refusing to issue a blanket indictment of it.

“We’re asking that the administration condemn blatant sexist activity in a public setting,” student Chris Welniak, 21, said.

Welniak said she left the dining hall in disgust when the woman--who took off everything but a G-string and skimpy bikini top as a birthday present for a male student--began her act.

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Welniak said she has obtained the signatures of one-fifth of the 800-member student body on a petition condemning the incident and asking the administration to take a strong stance against it.

Claremont McKenna administrators said they do not condone what happened. They have issued a statement to the student body expressing their concern, but they have stopped short of taking further action.

“I think it exhibits some bad judgement,” Dean of Students Torrey Sun said. “On the other hand, we treat our students as adults, and it’s not possible to regulate their conduct. . . .

“I don’t think it’s the greatest way to celebrate somebody’s birthday. But there’s a lot of people out there who would disagree,” the dean said.

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A public forum on the issue, scheduled for Monday night, was expected to draw up to 50 students, organizers said.

Concerned students and faculty member say that, by failing to condemn the stripper, the administration is tacitly condoning acts that are sexist and degrading to both men and women.

“The school has to set the standard that makes that kind of harassment and denigration as unacceptable as it would be for any other minority,” history professor Sue Mansfield said.

Claremont McKenna--one of the six Claremont Colleges, small and expensive private schools that often show up on best-colleges lists--was founded in 1946 and was a men’s college until the mid-1970s.

The controversy has also drawn in students at the other colleges.

Leaders of the Women’s Union, a feminist group at Pomona College, another of the Claremont group, said the incident at Claremont McKenna reinforces a stereotype that the college is more insensitive to gender issues than its sister Claremont colleges.

“It’s abominable. I’m dismayed and quite angry that this has happened,” said Aurora Sherman, 21, a senior at Pomona and one of the leaders of the Women’s Union.

She contends that the disparity is evident just from walking around the Claremont McKenna campus.

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“There’s a different feel to the campus, a macho feel,” she said.


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