OPINION: BIPOC upperclassmen, thank you for doing the work you shouldn’t have to

(Sasha Matthews • The Student Life)

“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what I would do,” one of my friends said this week.

This comment made me take some time to think about my support systems on campus, which have mostly been student-led, not administration-led.

A couple days ago, some friends and I helped another friend of ours with her anthropology project. She took notes as we discussed what being first-generation has felt like in Claremont. I quickly noticed a pattern: each of us mentioned an upperclassman that has taken us under their wings.

Before coming to Pomona College, I was part of Pitzer College’s fly-in diversity program where I met a lot of my close friends, and where I met a handful of upperclassmen that — even though I don’t go to Pitzer — feel like my older siblings.

During Pomona’s admitted students day, I met some students during a workshop that focused on the student of color experience in Claremont. In that workshop, I met people I now consider my friends, even though I’m one of the campus “freshies.”

During the conversation —which became much more than just a discussion for a project — we realized that a big factor is the upperclassmen, who share the same experiences as us, doing the hard work. 

They are the ones leading the affinity spaces. The ones being mentors and TAs. The ones who tell us the ins and outs of intentionally hidden resources. It wasn’t the administration making me feel welcomed; it was them.

Before I even committed to Pomona, I felt the instant support and welcome from students who truly did not have to be as nice and supportive as they were.

They didn’t have to follow me back on Instagram and answer my questions through DMs. But they did.

It’s one of the reasons why I decided to come here, and as I’m wrapping up my first semester of college, they remain at the top of my list of why I feel so loved.

However, I feel a disconnect from administration when it comes to supporting first-generation, first-year students of color. Walking into Alexander Hall or sending an email to an administrator feels nerve-wracking. At times, it feels like an endless cycle of asking questions to administration and being directed to other people. Or simply, we don’t know who to ask, and although we can actively search for it, it’s often way more difficult than it should be.

It shouldn’t lay on the shoulders of other students to help us do this work.

To be more specific, students of color shouldn’t be responsible for doing the work of making new students of color feel like they belong.

The upperclassmen my friends and I now consider family help us first-years navigate college life, which is something a lot of us are the first ones ever to navigate. We know they do this out of their genuine heart and passion, but it makes me think about how we’re surviving because of each other and with each other, and they deserve that recognition.

Maybe it’s because I’ve only been here a few months, but I have yet to see that recognition.

Whether it’s the ease and comfort of sending a text to an upperclassman about catching a meal, asking them about classes or a simple “hi” as we bump into each other around campus, their kindness speaks volumes to me. I leave with a warm feeling in my chest after every interaction.

Writing this piece serves as an ode to all of you, the upperclassmen who have supported me.

You don’t know how much that wave or “hi” in the hallway means to us. Thank you, truly, for making us feel like we have a community we can count on. Thank you for doing the work that shouldn’t be on your shoulders only. Thank you.

Lizette Gonzalez PO ’27 is a first-year at Pomona. She grew up in Inglewood, CA.

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