Pomona Says Meme Page is "Protected Speech," Will Not Investigate

 Pomona College will not initiate an investigation into a secret meme group.

After declaring the secret meme group U PC BREAUX a ‘bias-related incident’ last week, Pomona College’s bias Incident Response Team has decided that the posts in the group do not violate Pomona policies and do not merit a disciplinary investigation.

“Reviewing the information received, the IRT found the memes were bias-related and protected speech,” Dean of Student Miriam Feldblum wrote in a campus-wide email Tuesday. “In addition, the College did not find a basis to initiate an investigation into the Facebook group or individual students for possible violations of the Student Code or our Discrimination and Harassment Policy.”

U PC BREAUX – read “You Political Correct, Bro?” – is a secret 5C Facebook group dedicated to sharing memes, many of them highly offensive. It was first reported on by The Claremont Indepedent in a Sept. 20 article.

U PC BREAUX’s former administrator, who spoke to TSL on condition of anonymity, praised Pomona’s decision not to investigate.

This is “a great victory for freedom of speech in a world where it seems to be increasingly attacked and suppressed,” the student wrote in a message to TSL. “The whole idea of free speech is to protect people who say things others may take offense to."

Ross Steinberg PO '18 – who wrote about the group for the Independent and was subsequently fired as the Indepedent's managing editor – thinks Pomona's decision not to investigate is a mistake.

"I am very disappointed in the administration's decision not to formally investigate the hate speech that permeated U PC BREAUX," he wrote in a message to TSL. "Pomona has lost the opportunity to be a leader in condemning hate speech on college campuses."

During a community meeting hosted by the Pomona Student Union Wednesday, associate dean and IRT chair M. Ricardo Townes said some Pomona students are deeply concerned by the college's decision not to pursue investigations.

“Right now, I can tell you there are so many students who do not feel safe at Pomona College,” he said. “I have had too many people reach out to me over the last 24 hours … who have been quite upset, who have been in tears, feeling like this is not a safe space.”

Townes said the IRT could look into U PC BREAUX again in the future if additional information germane to its recommendations surfaced.

Representatives of the other 5Cs said they do not currently plan to pursue their own investigations of U PC BREAUX.

Later in her email, Feldblum disavowed the memes and criticized their contents.

“The memes are an affront to our community values and our expectations of each other as we live, learn and work together,” she wrote. “They are ... deeply offensive, and include misogynistic, racist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic images and texts.”

Following the IRT’s recommendations, Pomona will be taking steps to educate students about bias and the student code, and will be sharing the IRT’s recommendations with the other 5C administrations.

Steinberg hopes that Pomona's educational programs can prompt thoughtful discussions on campus.

"I am heartened by Dean Feldblum’s call for thoughtful engagement and hope that the 'proactive education' on bias mentioned by Dean Feldblum is carried out in an effective manner," Steinberg wrote in a message to TSL. "Our community still should open up a dialogue on what the values of our community are, why our peers engaged in such hateful speech, and how we students can decrease the likelihood that these groups will be formed in the future."

As part of the ongoing discussion about U PC BREAUX, the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity will be holding an open space for students Friday at 4 p.m. for community members to share their feelings.

This article was updated on Oct. 3 with comments from Ross Steinberg.

This article was updated on Oct. 6 with comments from associate dean M. Ricardo Townes from the community meeting about the IRT.