Pomona, CMC students struggle amid last week’s heat wave without AC

A blue bed lies on the ground with a black and white patterned pillow and blue and white checked blanket on top. A fan stands next to the head of the bed
Some Pomona students resorted to sleeping on bare mattresses on the floor provided by Pomona’s administration. (Florence Pun • The Student Life)

Amid a week of sweltering temperatures that exceeded 100°F,  students, faculty and staff at the Claremont Colleges were left to grapple with how to best beat the heat. Some students had it especially tough — not all dorm rooms are equipped with air conditioning units at the 5Cs.

In an Sept. 6 email, Robert Robinson, Pomona College’s dean of facilities and campus services, sent an email to students with the college’s plans to deal with the heat wave. 

Robinson’s message said that the college would provide temporary cooling systems, cots in lounge areas and water stations throughout main campus walkways, among other relief measures. 

Pomona had previously employed the same tactics to combat the heatwave that happened in September 2017, when TSL reported that over 800 Pomona students did not have AC

Nine out of 14 residence halls at Pomona still do not have AC. 

Robinson told TSL via email that adding individual AC units for each dorm room would “exceed the capacity of [their] electrical infrastructure.”

“With our residence halls built over the span of more than a century, installing central air conditioning in all locations would be quite costly and complex,” Robinson said.

Robinson did not respond to TSL’s specific questions about Pomona’s future AC plans.

Meanwhile, Pomona Dean of Students Avis Hinkson spoke to Inside HigherEd about the heat wave on Sept. 7. 

“We know that it may be a short amount of time, but it’s an intense amount of time, so how can we be responsive to students’ needs and be as creative as we possibly can?” Hinkson told Inside HigherEd. “The various cooling stations and cots [were] really our effort to think outside of the box and provide some opportunities for students to find a cool space on campus.”

Despite the college’s intention to create innovative solutions, some students said they were upset with Pomona’s response.

“It’s disappointing and frustrating that the college has experienced heatwaves in the past and knows to anticipate them, yet their tactics, I would argue, are far from creative,” Thea Barovick PO ’23 said. “In the future, I would hope that instead of taking the time to speak to outside press organizations, Dean Hinkson would speak to students about how they’re doing. Because, I can tell you, from my experience, I’m not doing well.”

Stella Favaro PO ’23 said she hasn’t slept in her room in Clark V Residence Hall for seven nights in a row. She said her friends with AC had their couches booked out nights in advance, making it difficult to find somewhere to sleep at times.

“Obviously, in the long term, Pomona really has to come to terms with the fact that with a changing climate, this isn’t a sustainable approach to heat waves,” Favaro said. “And really the onus is on Pomona to come up with a solution to the heat waves that are just going to become more frequent and get longer. They can’t just keep doing this.”

Favaro expressed disappointment in the “cots” near her that were offered by the college — which she described as “a stack of bare mattresses wrapped in plastic in the corner of Walker Lounge.”

“It felt disrespectful, just kind of like ‘suck it up and deal with it,’” she said.

Eileen Kim PO ’24, who lives in a double in Wig Hall without AC, created a survey to gather data on how the heatwave is “affecting their daily lives and how students think Pomona is handling the situation.”

Her survey is similar to a 2017 survey conducted by the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College, which looked at students displaced during the heatwave because their dorms didn’t have AC.

CMC’s North Quad dorms still do not have AC, making it the only other college at the 5Cs to house students in dorms without air-conditioning. 

In response to last week’s heatwave, CMC’s Dean of Students Dianna Graves CM ’98 emailed CMC students about possible sleeping situations during the heatwave, including sleeping bags and air mattresses for sleeping in spaces with AC along with the possibility to stay in empty, air-conditioned dorm rooms. 

As temperatures rose, Holly Shankle CMC ’25 and her roommate left their room on Sept. 4 and slept elsewhere for the next six nights. 

Originally, Shankle said, they crashed on the couches of friends at the CMC senior apartments. They said they didn’t want to take advantage of their friends’ kindness for too long, though, and sleeping in lounges felt too public. 

Shankle got in touch with Graves, who still had a room available in Berger Hall, where Shankle and her roommate slept for the rest of the week. 

To Shankle, although the situation was not one she expected, she said it was still manageable to her.

“It was weird, but in the end, I did choose to live in North Quad,” Shankle said. “And obviously no one can predict that hot of a heat wave, so it was doable, especially [since it was] the first couple weeks of school, and we weren’t overloaded with work yet.”

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