Many Pomona students’ housing petitions rejected, organizers say

Two students carrying mattresses walk up a street.
Students carry mattresses while moving out, following the announcement that the 5Cs are moving classes online after spring break and asking students to leave campus. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

Pomona College administrators have rejected a large number of students’ petitions to remain on campus amid the mandatory COVID-19 evacuation, a coalition of Pomona College first-generation, low-income and international students says.

When Pomona told students on Wednesday to leave campus by March 18, it distributed forms allowing students who “have no other option” to ask to stay on campus.

But a group of students organizing as Occupy Pomona and #HomelessAtPomona said that many of these petitions were rejected.

Of 135 students who responded to a survey circulated by FLI leaders, 98 reported having petitions denied and 37 said their petitions were approved, according to results shared in the Pomona alumni Facebook group. 

Some students say more have been rejected, but no official tally has been made available, and Pomona spokesperson Mark Kendall declined to share the actual number of those accepted or rejected.

The Occupy Pomona organizers declined to comment to TSL. 

“Recognition without action is not enough; we as [Pomona College] students deserve stable housing whether that is through Pomona obtaining apartments, housing in the LA area, or allowing students to remain on campus,” the organizers said in a tweet.

In every category of reported circumstances — including concerns about resources and security, immunocompromised families, hostile family environments, travel visa concerns and homelessness — the majority of respondents saw their petitions denied, according to the survey.

“We have reviewed your petition carefully and are not able to accommodate your request to remain on campus,” emails to students from President G. Gabrielle Starr and Vice Presidents Avis Hinkson and Robert Gaines said. “We recognize that we are in unprecedented times and we are all trying to navigate our next steps.”

Starr, Hinkson and Gaines also acknowledged the issue in a community update email Saturday night.

“We reviewed petitions to stay on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the varied impact of our decisions on family structures, geographical settings, immigration issues, financial standing and health concerns among other issues,” they said.

“We are prioritizing educational continuity when possible as well as our assessment of our ability to provide essential services during this emergency situation,” the email continued.

Many notifications of the rejections were sent out late Friday night, according to a GoFundMe the Pomona FLI Scholars organized. That left students with fewer than five days to leave campus and find a place to live for the foreseeable future.

“We adamantly denounce the conditions which students have undergone to justify their traumas and limited or nonexistent housing alternatives,” students wrote in a list of demands. “We adamantly denounce the insensitive nature with which college administration and deans have asked students to justify their instability. 

On Sunday night, Starr said in an email to students that the college was approving some additional funding requests for expenses related to transportation.

“No request for funding has been denied,” Starr said. “Any student needing assistance should contact their class dean, who can authorize emergency funding as required and work with students one on one.”

An email sent Saturday morning from administrators to community members, including parents of current students, further frustrated organizers.

The email asked for donations to the Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund to support a variety of institutional and student support causes, including “refunds of a portion of room and board for students leaving campus.”

The email advised recipients against offering to house students with nowhere else to turn, as some parents and alumni had offered to do.

“While this is the most generous of offers, as we carry out our careful plans in response to the crisis, we strongly recommend that families and students do not carry out these types of ad-hoc arrangements,” the administrators said.

Harvey Mudd College, however, encouraged such offers in an FAQ posted Friday on its website.

“If parents have space and are willing to host international students in their homes for the rest of the semester, that would be helpful,” administrators said.

The FLI GoFundMe, to raise “emergency funding for evicted Pomona College students,” had raised more than $51,644, as of 2 p.m Monday.

Recent alumna Nina Zhou PO ’19 said she reached out to Vice President for Advancement Maria Watson after hearing about students’ difficulties.

“Like a lot of other alums, I was concerned about the lack of transparency on the usage of existing and new funds to support students, and alarmed at the petition decisions,” she said via message. “It seemed uncharacteristic for Pomona to be acting in such poor faith.”

Scripps College received 83 requests to stay on campus and approved 45, according to spokesperson Rachael Warecki.

“Petitions were approved for international students, students who present with a documented medical emergency and students for whom leaving would be an extreme hardship,” Warecki said in an email to TSL.

International students who live in a country with a Centers for Disease Control designation of level two or above were granted permission to stay at the college, according to the email sent to Scripps students whose petitions were rejected.

Pitzer College spokesperson Anna Chang said via email that petitions for Pitzer students to stay were granted based on criteria agreed by the 5Cs. 

This included students who are immunocompromised and have other health-related issues, students who are housing insecure and international students who are from CDC Level three and four countries — one level higher than Scripps’ criteria. The health criteria also considered the student’s home situation, Chang said. She did not specify how many petitions were accepted.

At Claremont McKenna College, 150 students had submitted requests to remain on campus by Thursday evening, TSL previously reported.

Eighty-five people will ultimately stay in CMC’s on-campus housing, according to dean of students Dianna Graves.

“We have been working with every student who petitioned to stay on campus,” Graves said in a statement. “Students who have a viable domestic address have been supported with travel costs and have been contacted by our IT department to ensure they have the equipment necessary to move online.”

Harvey Mudd is not mandating that students leave campus.

This article was last updated March 21 at 5:49 p.m.

This article was updated March 17 at 2:25 p.m.

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