Marianne Williamson joins call with Claremont DISCOVR in support of hybrid learning options

A woman with brown hair smiles and holds a microphone.
Marianne Williamson attended Pomona College for two years before dropping out in 1972. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

On Saturday, former presidential candidate and previous Pomona College student Marianne Williamson participated in a Zoom call with Claremont DISCOVR — a 5C advocacy group for students with disabilities — in support of flexible hybrid learning options for vulnerable students.

Clips from the Zoom call were posted on Claremont DISCOVR’s Instagram page on Monday, showing Williamson in conversation with DISCOVR member Johnny Ellsworth PO ’24. 

Williamson told attendees that institutions that are truly invested in their students’ education should make learning accessible to all students.

“You know, it’s sad to me that we have to be fighting here for people to just have some human compassion for one another,” Williamson said. “You’re asking for a Zoom call.” 

“You know, it’s sad to me that we have to be fighting here for people to just have some human compassion for one another.”

Marianne Williamson

Ellsworth was excited about the potential impact that Williamson’s support for DISCOVR could have on administrative policies on hybrid options.

Marianne Williamson stepping in is a great step forward,” Ellsworth told TSL. “I’m hoping that her comments provide us more legitimacy with alumni, parents and the administration. That’s the main goal.”

Williamson, who attended Pomona for two years before leaving in 1972 without completing her degree, visited the college back in 2019 on her campaign trail.

The call with Williamson is just one of the many ways in which DISCOVR has been advocating for hybrid options for students since classes resumed in-person at the end of January. 

On Jan. 28, Ellsworth and 11 other immunocompromised students reached out to Pomona College Dean of Students Avis Hinkson to request a hybrid learning option. Their request was denied by the college.

In an email, Hinkson and Robert Gaines, the dean of the college, said that “contract tracing has revealed no evidence of COVID-19 spread in the classroom” and that hybrid learning is “characterized by the poorest and most disproportionate learning outcomes for students.” 

DISCOVR then circulated a petition titled “Claremont Colleges: Our education matters; let disabled students learn remotely!” that has received more than 1,100 signatures since Feb. 1.

Since then, DISCOVR has been hosting weekly Zoom advocacy meetings for students called “Hybrid Access Now!” They have also organized their activism via a Slack channel open to the college community. 

The group’s Instagram has also posted anonymous quotes from 5C students speaking out about their struggles with in-person classes. A form circulated by DISCOVR allows students to share their experiences with ableism on campus and their support for hybrid learning.

Our administration should not be putting the onus of self-education onto its disabled and immunocompromised students, it should be supporting and aiding them through the traumatic experience of living in a pandemic while still trying to get an undergraduate degree,” the group sad in a Feb. 18 post. “A hybrid class option is the first step in this process of support.”

Some 5C student governments have also joined in the campaign, making statements to offer support to students.

On Feb. 6, ASCMC sent an email to Claremont McKenna College students offering them support when contacting their professors to ask for accessibility accommodations. The decision to livestream classes is currently up to professors’ discretion. 

The ASPC Senate also put out a statement Feb. 18 in solidarity with immunocompromised students, calling for reasonable alternatives to in-person instruction when students are in isolation.

In their email to students, ASPC officials said they will work with immunocompromised students and their respective faculty on a class-by-class basis to find alternatives to in-person instruction. 

“We urge faculty to exercise a certain empathy and flexibility given the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic. A little goes a long way when it comes to making learning more accessible for all,” the statement said. “Empathy also goes both ways, which makes collaborating to reach solutions within professors’ bandwidth so critical.”

Scripps Associated Students emailed Scripps College’s student body Feb. 19 to explain the college’s current policy. Scripps currently requires students to provide documentation which demonstrates that they need learning accommodations. Much like at Pomona and CMC, the details of these accommodations are up to the professors.

In their email, SAS stated that it is currently working with faculty and is in communication with the Scripps interim dean of students to ensure more flexibility in the classroom.

Until there is an actual hybrid learning policy from the administration, Ellsworth and other students at DISCOVR plan to continue their advocacy. 

“I don’t think that we should have to think about the condition of our bodies when we walk through the classroom doors,” Ellsworth said. “We all deserve to feel safe.”

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