Controversy Over Free Airport Ride Program Takes Off

With eye-catching headlines warning of free transportation “for marginalized students only” and for “illegal immigrants – paid for by students,” The Claremont Independent and The Daily Caller recently stoked controversy about an Associated Students of Pomona College pilot program providing free transportation from airports to campus for first-years and transfer students on move-in day.

ASPC President Maria Jose Vides PO ‘18 claims much of the criticism is overblown and comes from outside Pomona College.

“A lot of this ‘controversy’ mainly came from individuals not affiliated to the college or the student body. I represent students,” Vides wrote in an email to TSL.

This pilot program ultimately had only 15 users, but ASPC plans to offer airport transportation for the entire Pomona student body at the beginning and end of future semesters.

One paragraph in ASPC’s initial advertisement, which was posted to its Facebook page and in the Pomona College Class of 2021 Facebook group, was largely responsible for the outcry.

"For the launch of this program, we are prioritizing students from low-income, first-generation, DACA/undocumented, mixed (immigration) status family, and/or ‘non-traditional’ family structure backgrounds,” ASPC wrote in the posts.

The Claremont Independent and Daily Caller articles questioned whether all of the categories of students specified in the advertisement needed free transportation.

"The program was heavily flawed because while its intention was to help financially with transportation to move-in day, many of the categories used to prioritize students were not relevant to determining financial need," wrote William Gu PO '20, who wrote the Independent article and serves as the Independent's publisher, in an email to TSL.

The Daily Caller’s article further criticized ASPC for using an annual student fee that funds ASPC programs to pay for a supposedly “exclusive” program.

Vides said the program was never intended to be selective, and that ASPC had no plans to deny rides to any students who requested them. The only limitation on the program was that, due to their earlier arrival date, only first-year and transfer students would be able to use it.

“We asked students to self-identify their needs and didn’t say we wouldn’t be providing rides to those who could afford it," she wrote. "We only mentioned we would like to prioritize the needs of those who couldn’t."

The entire program ultimately cost $340, less than the $355 annual fee each Pomona student pays to ASPC.

Nevertheless, after the Independent and Daily Caller published their articles, angry commenters flooded the ASPC Facebook page, many of them unconnected to the 5Cs, alongside confused Pomona students seeking clarification about the program.

In an effort to clear up misunderstandings and mitigate the controversy, Vides published a response to a series of questions she received from the Independent on the ASPC Facebook page and answered individual student questions in comments on the page.

In her responses, Vides acknowledged that the Independent article highlighted some wording in the initial advertisement that may have caused confusion about the program.

“There were some concerns presented by the [Independent] in terms of different understandings of definitions. However, I do hope my open statement served to clear up any misunderstandings,” Vides told TSL.

Pomona’s administration has been largely supportive of the way Vides and ASPC have managed the controversy.

“I admired [Vides’] approach to put the questions/critiques and answers about the program on the ASPC website," Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum wrote in an email to TSL. "I thought that was a very good approach, as is her commitment to welcome and work with students from across the community."

However, Feldblum believes future ridesharing programs should be targeted at students traveling by themselves.

“In reality, the key is whether the student is traveling alone, and I would encourage ASPC – as I told [Vides] – [to focus] on students traveling alone, without family members, and how we can support their transition,” Feldblum wrote.

Feldblum added that her office would be happy to collaborate with ASPC on programs to support unaccompanied student travelers.