Pomona Perceptions Do Not Warrant Change

The day of the Pomona Perceptions presentation, I had a hard time peeling myself off of the hammock I had sprawled out on during my break between classes. It was the first really warm day in a while, so why wouldn’t I take advantage of the beautiful sunshine from just right behind my dorm?

This seems to be the main dilemma that we all face here at Pomona College—go to class, do homework, show up for work, OR lay out and enjoy campus life at its best? Always having something fun to do in an amazing setting is what drew me, and many of you, to Pomona. Yet this attractive, lax attitude has apparently been the topic of much debate, as expressed by Mark Neustadt during his presentation entitled: “Recommendations on Brand Strategy and Marketing Steps” which took place in the Frank Blue Room this Thursday. Neustadt argued that there are several issues with Pomona’s self presentation and that we need to seriously think of what this institution’s brand should be. There is a discrepancy between what the current and future Pomona communities think Pomona is.

I work on campus as a student caller, and one alumna emphatically expressed that she did not like the direction in which Pomona is going. She said that she thinks since her time at Pomona, the institution has grown (or rather faltered) in that it now caters to the upper middle class. Some alumni who participated in the study expressed that sure, they had fun and enjoyed all their experiences at Pomona, yet they are still trying to get their act together since leaving the Claremont Bubble.

Our alumni, parents, and other friends of Pomona fund a lot of our educations and our student activities. Obviously, these people’s opinions are incredibly valuable and important in our consideration of the institution’s image. This means that pushing an opposing image—one of elitism and strict focus—just might push away our loyal supporters.

On the other hand, Neustadt’s research revealed that some students of color on campus far more often expressed distaste in the laid-back attitude of the school. These students said they observed that many of their peers can simply enjoy their time at Pomona and drop academics and serious things for fun, whereas they—and surely many others from varying backgrounds—feel the stress of growing up in perhaps underprivileged homes or simply homes that emphasized the importance of moving on and getting a job right after college.

I too, have felt this in the past. But this is a personal struggle that I believe must be solved alone. Once I realized what was important to me, and why I was admitted to Pomona, I dropped the hard sciences for the social sciences because I realized I didn’t fit into the strict, competitive, work for “success” narrative. Pomona students are friendly; they have an unmatchable curiosity for the world, across all subjects. Pomona preaches about diversity. Now, would you find such diverse people in an institution that only puts people on the track to “success” but also limits them to a single field of interest without any fun, enriching experiences? I think not.

This is not to speak poorly of larger private schools. But the fact of the matter is that if we want to talk about image, and about sociological components such as elite classes and our role as an institution to funnel students for certain classes or not, we need to realize that ideology is built into the very infrastructure. We need to realize that a lot of work went into the placement of our dorms, which are quaint, homey and conducive to human interaction as exhibited by my beloved hammocks installed behind Mudd-Blaisdell or the grills strategically placed across campus where students gather to cook meals together and collaborate on work. Not to mention the fact that we are isolated in a quiet little college town, in a place where you can almost always expect the sun to shine bright and the people to shine even brighter. The ideology that is being attacked is the very one that facilitates our opportunities to have small gatherings in which we can talk about the pressing issues of our school.

These are the things that have earned us our treasured ranking as the number-4 liberal arts school in America according to US News & World Report. This is why we have some of the happiest students on Earth. This is why many of us came to Pomona College. This is why we feel the freedom to change our minds and pursue things we are actually passionate about and to make substantial change, not just do the things that will make us wealthy.

I agree that there is always room for progress and change. (I’m all for Pomona website renovations.) But I do not feel that we need to fix things. And if the consensus is that students do not know how to take advantage of our rich resources, we need to work harder to reach out to students and not blame them for poor communication. Instead of band-aid solutions, let’s target those issues of communication and consider what is best for the students, not what is best for the school’s image. Pomona handpicks students and faculty to create a certain feel; if Pomona isn’t a good fit for a select few, that does not mean we should change the entire institution and snatch away the benefits others get from the culture. We here should know that appearance is not as important as action. If we are creating leaders who happen to be fun-loving and relaxed and who believe they are succeeding and doing good in the world, then changing our values to fit the mainstream would undermine everything we have achieved so far.