Back on the BLOC: Students revive mentorship program

Men sit on couches in a circle.
Building Leaders on Campus, a student-led organization, aims to enhance the campus experience for male students of color. (Zoe Cowan • The Student Life)

Building Leaders on Campus, a student organization dedicated to enhancing the campus experience of male students of color, is returning in force this semester, after a few semesters of lessened activity.

The group of about 30 members meets biweekly for discussion, planning and mentoring. They also have weekly mentoring sessions with local high school students at Pomona High School in a program called Young Men’s Circle and will occasionally host 5C social events, according to Ric Townes, one of its faculty advisers and a Pomona associate dean of students.

Its membership is open to men of color across the 5Cs but is mostly Pomona College students, according to Townes. 

BLOC collaborates with, but is not officially affiliated with the Office of Black Student Affairs. It is also not a registered club with ASPC, instead receiving its funding from an active alumni network of over 100 people, according to BLOC member Anaa Jibicho PO ’23.

Townes, who has been involved with BLOC since its inception in 2010, said it originally served as a space for men of color to find community and solidarity in their identity.

“If you go back 12 to 14 years ago at Pomona, the number of black and Latino men on campus was really small. There was a desire to create a space where people could be comfortable just being who they were,” he said.

“When you’re the only black male in your major … it felt to them like they always had to represent black students and black people, and that’s just completely unfair,” Townes said. 

Townes said that while levels of men of color at Pomona have certainly increased since, it is still relatively small, and the need for BLOC remains. According to statistics from the Pomona registrar’s office, there are currently 69 black men and 138 Hispanic men enrolled.

BLOC was less active in the 2018-19 academic year and spent the majority of the fall 2019 semester “reevaluating its purpose,” according to Townes.

Townes attributed this slowdown of activity to BLOC’s president, Niles Brooks PO ’20, studying abroad. Townes still met with the executive board throughout the spring 2019 semester and the group held meetings and continued its mentorship program, but attendance was low. 

Students such as Jibicho and Troy Bailey PO ’23 helped bring it back this semester.

Bailey found out about BLOC when he visited as a prospective student from Cris Monroy PO ’14, a BLOC alumnus and current Pomona admissions officer.

“When I was looking for a college, I wanted diversity, but I also wanted a cohort of people who were like-minded and who especially looked like me,” Bailey said. “This was a luxury I didn’t encounter as much back home.”

As he adjusted to his first semester at Pomona, Bailey realized BLOC did not have as big of a role on campus as he had expected. He and Jibicho decided to revamp the organization — “because we knew we could handle it,” he said. 

Their refocused goal for BLOC is clear.

“We essentially wanted it to be a space for males of color to come and decompress and talk about their experiences at the 5Cs, but also just a space where they can go with other people that look like them and have their backs,” Jibicho said.

For Bailey, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I personally have seen the benefits of hanging out and debriefing with people who have had similar experiences and it is drastic and so beneficial,” he said.

Jibicho cited data from a 2018 Gallup survey of Pomona’s campus climate as inspiration for reviving the group. 

Thirty percent of black students responded that Pomona was not a good place for students of racial or ethnic minorities, compared to four percent of white students, according to the survey. 

“I think a lot of that source for unhappiness is not feeling like they belong at Pomona,” Jibicho said. “Not enough is being done. … We are bringing students to the school, but what are we doing while they are here?”

The “new BLOC,” as Jibicho called it, is enhancing its alumni board to encourage engagement. 

Townes said the group reached out to various male faculty of color across the 5Cs for support, such as Travis Brown, John Lopes and Michael Walden at Pomona and Vince Greer at Claremont McKenna College, throughout the fall 2019 semester in order to reevaluate the organization’s mission and purpose.

“Dean Townes and [Lopes] have been here the longest out of all of us, since before BLOC was even a thing. … They know what the zenith of BLOC looked like before, and they are just helping guide us back there,” Bailey said. 

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