OPINION: Pomona’s expectations for first-year presidents are way too high

Alyssa Yao sits putting beads on a line as she converses with a friend in front of Frary Dining Hall.
Pomona first-years voted in their first ASPC election before having survived even their first month of college. As a result, candidates were making false promises and unknowingly spreading misinformation about student government, argues Paul Yan PO ‘26. (Wendy Zhang • The Student Life)

My first month of college consisted of stressing about course registration, finding the fastest routes to my classes and remembering the names of my classmates. In the midst of this chaos, Pomona College struck me with first-year student elections. 

From Sept. 11 to Sept. 13, all first-year students at Pomona gathered their thoughts to make the tough decision: “Who should I vote for as first-year president?” A week before the election dates, candidates started their campaigns. Instagram accounts appeared in my follow requests, and posters were hung around my dorm. 

The candidates shared their plans of action on the issues they would tackle as president. On Sept. 1, a formal forum allowed them to discuss their platforms in depth and answer questions. During this meeting, I applauded the candidates for their ideas but simultaneously questioned the validity of their approaches. The bold claims some candidates discussed made me wonder what the first-year president could actually achieve — especially since we’d been on campus for barely a month.

Alyssa “Amy” Yao PO ’26, the current first-year president, contrasted some of her opponents by being more grounded with her campaign goals. Yao’s campaign focused on “comfort in and out of the dorms, class bondings and socials and engagement with policies and services,” said Yao. When I first heard Yao’s proposals, I felt everything she promised could be achieved.

On the other hand, other candidates running against Yao had a different approach to their campaigns. Specifically, some candidates made bold claims in comparison to Yao’s goals — such as a no-credit grading first semester and gradual divestment from fossil fuel investments. 

Before the forum, I was clueless about the first-year president’s responsibilities. Pomona expects first-year students to vote or run; however, I didn’t experience any efforts to educate us on the roles of the first-year president. Despite personally being uneducated, the claims struck me as overly ambitious. The variation of claims from candidate to candidate further echoed my confusion and underscored the need for education on the responsibilities of first-year president — how can students be expected to run a realistic campaign for first-year president when they don’t know what the responsibilities of first-year president entail?

Part of the problem is that the first-year elections occur in the fall and during the first month of classes, as opposed to the spring. Being unfamiliar with the school and candidates, first-year students face a fall election barely a month into their time at school, when they are already dealing with the hectic adjustment to college. 

“Since we are freshmen and it was a fall election, I felt I didn’t know much about Pomona as I probably would later on in the year,” Yao said. “In a sense, I still greatly enjoyed the charm of fall elections as everything feels new, and it was a great opportunity for me to get involved within ASPC early on.”

This confusion doesn’t magically go away once candidates are elected.

Devlin Orlin PO ’25, the current sophomore and previous first-year president, reflected on his campaign and work within ASPC last year. “Seeing what committees the first-year president oversees guided my campaign and policy making,” Orlin said. Despite doing research, Orlin still expressed confusion during his first months of being president. “I truly learned the ins and outs of being president after first-hand experience,” Orlin said.

The confusion I first held about first-year presidents ended up being extensive throughout the student body, spreading  even to the first-year presidents themselves. My initial concerns about false claims within campaigns reflects a greater trend: a wide-spread lack of information about the student government. The lack of knowledge on this issue reflects students’ relationship with ASPC; or rather, the absence of a relationship.

“I feel the connection between ASPC and the student body is pretty weak,” said Ariana Makar PO ’24, vice president of ASPC. “I think a lot of what happens in ASPC is very internal. And a lot of people don’t even know what ASPC does, like the powers we have and our relationship with admin.” 

Along with other members of ASPC, Makar hopes to build a stronger connection between ASPC and students. “We’re trying to encourage more students to come to our meetings and for them to have a better understanding of what ASPC does and can do,” Makar said. 

Makar shared ideas to incentivize the weekly ASPC meetings and the executive board’s hope to implement luncheons for students to ask questions and express concerns. 

Moving forward, I’m excited to see the much-needed change ASPC will bring forth in bridging the gap between students and ASPC. Improved communication with first-years and the whole student population through luncheons with APSC and educational emails before elections seem like solid action plans to me, personally. However, until the relationship between students and ASPC is mended, Pomona’s expectations for first-year presidents are way too high.

Paul Yan PO ’26 is from Miami, Florida. They love eating fast food, going to concerts and taking naps.

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