Protests Through 5C History

Pomona’s Frary Dining Hall was integrated in 1961, allowing both male and female students to eat there, together, for the first time. In reaction to Frary’s integration, male students held protests largely emphasizing Prometheus, the mural painted on Frary’s north wall by Jose Clemente Orozco in 1930. The male protestors congregated beneath the mural, holding signs that read, “A man’s dining hall is his Castle” and “Mothers of America, do you want your daughters looking at Prometheus?” alluding to the massive male nude included at the center of the mural. In response, female students also gathered in the same space, beneath Prometheus, with their signs that read, “We like Prometheus and so does mom” as well as “He ain’t nothin’ but a fresco.”

Throughout the 1960s, many students organized activist events surrounding their opposition to the Vietnam War. One particularly memorable event occurred in February 1968 when Air Force recruiters visited campus and were greeted with a march held by 150 students and a 79-student sit-in. That same year, Pomona’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), a college-based program for training officers of the U.S. military, came under attack. At the ROTC Award ceremony in May, 80 students held another demonstration. In response to the continued student activism, Pomona’s administration established a committee, comprised of students, trustees, administrators and faculty members, which enacted a new ROTC policy in Fall 1969. The committee decided to continue the ROTC program at Pomona in support of generating well-educated military officers, but students entering the program in the fall of 1969 would not receive course credit for ROTC. This adjustment to the ROTC policy was largely a result of student activists’ opposition to the Vietnam War and resistance to the military presence on campus.  

Scripps began the construction of a new Humanities Building in May 1968, which would replace an area known as Olive Grove, a space containing over 60 olive trees. Students opposed to the cutting down of these trees protested the construction of the new building by occupying each of the trees. The students were adamant in their protest, and their efforts were successful. The majority of the trees were dug up and placed in storage for the duration of the construction until they were eventually replanted. Today, eight of the trees from the original Olive Grove still stand in Lyddon Court in the center of the Humanities Building. Scripps students have a tendency to passionately protect their campus’ landscaping. In 1936, the central quadrangle was grassed after two students swore off dessert two days a week for the rest of their college career to raise money in a “Grass Before We Graduate” campaign. In 1999, it was found that the original trees in the Elm Tree Lawn, planted in 1947, were suffering from Dutch Elm Disease. But before new trees could be planted, a heated debate took place about whether the elm trees really needed to be replaced or not. In the summer of 2008, the Elm Tree Lawn began a new life.

In 1969, students of color at the Claremont Colleges addressed several issues related to Civil Rights. Pomona’s Black Student Union (BSU) advocated the establishment of a Black Studies Center and faced much opposition from the administration. In their request, BSU affiliates expressed several requests, including financial support, faculty guarantees and privileges, and a black architect to design a permanent structure for the center. The BSU held teach-ins on campus Feb. 25 regarding the development of the BSU and the establishment of the Center. On that same day, two bombs exploded in Claremont: one in Scripps’ Balch Hall and the other in Pomona’s Carnegie Building. Members and leaders of BSU immediately came under attack as suspected perpetrators; however, BSU President Danny Wilks maintained that there was no connection between BSU and the bombings. The exact details of these attacks remain unclear. OBSA Interim Dean Clayburn Peters described the event in an e-mail to TSL. “I was present at most meetings that led up to the formation and establishment of the Black Studies Center and I never heard of plans to engage in violence as a tactic or any form of illegal activity,” Peters wrote. “It was frightening to learn of the bombings and the fire that occurred in a Pitzer College residence hall. Some black students were fearful they might be blamed for these actions, and that as a result, we might be retaliated against.” 

In 1975, several college administrations expressed hesitation about continuing funding for the Black and Chicano Studies Center Pre-Freshman program. A kind of mentoring, this program was intended to welcome accepted black and Chicano students into the college community and provide them with support. Pitzer students organized a sit-in outside the Pendleton Business Building May 6, 1975 in support of the continuation of these programs. Associate Dean of Students Dean Mooko said, “Nationally, in the late ‘60s, there was a movement—at Berkeley, San Francisco State—for ethnic studies. The Claremont Colleges kind of followed suit. CLSA and OBSA were established in the late ‘60s as a direct result of student activism. Just like other students at other campuses across the country, they were asking the same questions about, ‘How does this institution support us?’ ‘Where are we in the curriculum?’”

Students supporting the establishment of the Asian American Studies department faced great opposition in the early 1990s. The conflict exploded in March of 1992 when a statement on Walker Wall reading “Asian American studies now” was changed to “Asian Americans die now.” The following year, in the spring of 1993, a team of student activists entered Pomona’s Alexander Hall demanding greater support for ethnic studies programs. “That office also was a direct result of student activism,” Mooko said, who first served as Director of the Pomona Asian American Resource Center when he came to Pomona in 1997, before taking on his current position.

In 1999, community members, students and faculty joined in protest of the killing of Irvin Landrum Jr., a local 18-year-old African American man. Landrum was shot by two Claremont police officers during a routine traffic stop Jan. 11, 1999. He died Jan. 17, six days later, and his death initiated more than a year of protests outside City Hall and numerous investigations into the shooting. A rally, one of many protests, was held at the Pitzer Mounds, where African-American civil rights activist and Baptist minister Jesse Jackson visited to speak about the issue. Having been at Pomona College for three years by then, Mooko recalled, “The circumstances of the case were very suspicious. There were a lot of people who believed he was wrongfully killed.  Within a short period of time, students, faculty and staff got involved in the case, because that could have been any one of our students, really. But more importantly, there were a lot us who felt like there was a bad situation.”

The 1999-2000 school year witnessed some of the first activism surrounding fair treatment of the colleges’ dining hall workers. At this time, all dining workers at the Claremont Colleges were employed by ARAMARK, a large food service provider that employs over 200,000 workers. Students learned of accusations of unfair labor practices and became involved in the disputes. Students again centered their protests around Pomona’s Alexander Hall, blockading the building with their bodies on May 1, 2000. Their demonstration was successful, ARAMARK’s contract was terminated and all dining hall workers were hired as Pomona employees.

In the Fall 2011, Pomona’s Board of Trustees was approached with complaints of negligent hiring practices. In order to address these allegations, the college hired an outside firm to investigate the issue. Student activists protested these document checks by boycotting Pomona dining halls. Ultimately, these allegations resulted in the termination of 17 Pomona employees, 16 of whom were dining hall workers. In opposition to the college’s decision to terminate these workers, students organized several protests including a march from Frary to Alexander as well as an extended vigil outside Alexander. In addition, 15 students were arrested for sitting in the street and refusing to leave in a planned act of civil disobedience, a protest that attracted over 100 spectators. Two months after the 17 terminations occurred, students remain active in supporting the workers who continue to ask for their old jobs back and engage in efforts to start a union.

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