The Claremont Colleges have received both acclaim and criticism for the strength and impact of the various resource centers sprinkled around the campuses. As most of us know, many of these centers exist to allow students the opportunity to build the community they feel they need. I believe that this is a great thing. I can only speak to my experience, but I have definitely found that a number of the resources that these centers offer have played a significant role in my personal growth as a college student and as a young adult. But I think it’s worth saying that growth doesn’t always go down so smoothly.
I found a home at the Queer Resource Center (QRC), and within the Queer, Questioning, and Allied Mentor Program and the Queer People of Color groups. I found people and conversations there that I needed in my life, but that was in part because I felt comfortable accessing that space. On the other hand, I didn’t feel a need to use the Office of Black Student Affairs because my skin color, as an entity of its own, wasn’t what I needed (or just wanted) support for. I am comfortable as an African-American living among a diverse group of students in what is so popularly called a “wealthy, predominantly white institution” (read: Claremont). Claremont resembles my upbringing in many ways, socioeconomically and racially, and what I was missing when I started in college was a space to explore my queer identity.
I think it is great that the colleges allow you to pick and choose the resources you want and need, which really makes it possible for students to go forth and nurture themselves as much as they care to, for as long as they like. Every pro comes with a con, however.
I’d like to entertain the following ideas as opportunities for growth in the Claremont Resource Center Community: What happens when, for example, a student doesn’t feel Latin@ enough to visit the Chican@/Latin@ Student Affairs office? And what does that even mean? What happens when an asexual student doesn’t feel supported by the sex-heavy atmosphere within the queer community? How can we maintain a sex-positive atmosphere without forcing sex upon those who don’t see it as a primary matter of importance?
Consider this idea as maybe the most fundamental question of all: What happens to the students who don’t feel like they have a resource on campus? What then?
I don’t have answers for these questions, but I have a few ideas that could prompt a discussion that could, in turn, produce a solution.
I think it’s safe to assume that Pomona College and the other Claremont Colleges are very open to student initiatives. It’s easier said than done, but Claremont students are able to create spaces for themselves that allow them to thrive emotionally, academically, physically, mentally, and socially. What isn’t always clear is the process to create these spaces and publicize them. If that information were made a lot more apparent for those who haven’t started a student group before, it might be easier for those who feel uninvited and alone to reach out and see who else is out there feeling the same way.
What is also not as evident is whether or not the existing groups allow for students to explore different aspects of their identity, which may not fall under just one resource center’s jurisdiction. I personally think that all resource centers and student groups should focus on this idea of intersectionality, which incorporates the many aspects of identity that comprise an individual. It’s one thing to be queer, Filipino, Jewish and from the urban South—with a resource center for each of these identities–but is there a place for that student to be able to build community based upon all of these factors, as opposed to just learning to tackle each facet of identity individually? I will admit it’s a tall order, but I don’t think it’s too difficult for our campus centers to discuss how the different parts of our identity come together. It’s especially important to discuss intersectionality because having a multi-dimensional identity can oftentimes make life more complicated for some individuals.
My next suggestion for the 5Cs addresses the feeling of not being ‘____ enough.’ Back in the day when I was a first-year, I remember feeling intimidated when I wanted to be a part of the QRC. I knew I was gay, but I didn’t think I was queer enough. I didn’t even know what it meant to be queer. After a short time in which I felt pretty left out and awful, my hunger to learn trumped my fear of being unable to live up to the expectations of those really well-educated and active seniors, and I joined in without a problem.
The solution to this inclusion and education problem is simple: Be understanding with other students who may not have the same education as you. For example, if someone candidly says something a little insensitive or offensive, but they didn’t mean it harmfully and it wasn’t directed at someone in an aggressive manner, there is a large chance the individual didn’t know that what they said was hurtful. Help that person understand by talking with them, not at them. The same logic goes for resource centers. If someone doesn’t yet know how to be an ally, walk through the process with them, as opposed to breaking them down by telling them, “Duh, it’s not that hard, you should already know.” I could go on.
Similarly, for students that may not appear to belong in a certain space or to a certain group: Do not question them. They have their reasons for being there, and they should be respected like everyone else. Chances are they are already anxious about being misread, and questioning their presence only helps them feel more excluded and unwanted.
What it really comes down to is the fact that Claremont is a community full of really bright and diverse students. The fact that we aren’t constantly throwing fist fights amazes me; it’s great that most of us know how to have difficult discussions productively, especially when we disagree. Sometimes Claremont can play the Written-In-Stone card, not allowing for much fluidity and experimentation when it comes to forming The Self. I think that the resource centers could help by opening up even more to those who are curious, to those who want to learn … to those who are just trying to get their feet wet.
Even though it’s always easier to just think and talk about these sorts of things, I think Claremont is really close to landing in that sweet spot. It’s unrealistic to think that a Claremont utopia will exist, but I think the campus and the people on it are making strides socially to be much more inclusive to all experiences and identities. The resource centers just need to be sure to follow suit, and to do so earnestly.