This piece is the second in a series on mutual aid groups at the 5Cs.
When Pomona College sent students home in March 2020, some were left scrambling to find housing on just days of notice.
Occupy Pomona emerged almost immediately following the announcement, advocating to allow housing-insecure students to remain on campus. Soon after, Pomona allowed around 100 students to remain on campus for the remainder of the semester. The group’s work soon became a crowdfunding effort to financially support students who lacked secure housing.
In the coming months, the group expanded its efforts, becoming the first in a collective of organizations supporting students around the 5Cs. As the year unfolded, the students following Occupy Pomona’s lead continued to adapt, responding to new challenges and developing strategies to get community members what they needed.
Linda Phan PO ’24 recalls joining Occupy Pomona as a first-year and organizing to support Pomona staff, raising mutual aid for campus workers furloughed by the college during the pandemic.
“We were in contact with workers [who] had been fully cut off by the college and didn’t have any other means of supporting their families,” Phan said. “Occupy didn’t just fundraise for students, they recognized the need for workers who were unemployed and didn’t have other means.”
Pomona FLI Scholars, a mentorship program for low-income and first generation students, also took on a major role in mutual aid efforts, raising nearly $170,000 for impacted students and workers.
“It wasn’t just Occupy doing that work, FLI was doing it alongside them.” said Phan, who is also a mentor for FLI Scholars. “Mutual aid doesn’t just come in [the form of] money. The mentorship program is one example of mutual aid.”
Shaheen Collen-Baratloo HM ’23 was one of several Harvey Mudd students who, inspired by other 5C student-led fundraising efforts, created Harvey Mudd Solidarity to address the growing need for financial support.
Occupy Pomona, FLI Scholars, and Harvey Mudd Solidarity ran mutual aid campaigns throughout the year of remote instruction. But the shift to fall of 2021 brought major changes, and not every organization was able to sustain membership and leadership.
Occupy Pomona was the largest of the groups that didn’t make it past the pandemic. Phan was one of the only underclassmen in Occupy Pomona, and as older students began to graduate or make plans for graduation, the organization faltered and has since been relatively inactive, she said.
Phan said she doesn’t view Occupy’s hiatus as a bad thing because many other organizations began to step up in Occupy’s wake such as the Black Student Union, Broken Silence 5Cs, Student-Workers Alliance and more.
“I think that there’s no necessity for a certain name or organization to take on the lead, because students at the 5Cs are so motivated to help one another and build community and redistribute wealth anyways,” she said.
Collen-Baratloo echoed this sentiment, expressing that while a central mutual aid group is nice in theory, in practice it may not be as effective. Unlike Phan, however, he feels individual mutual aid groups for the colleges are necessary. He worries about a 5C group becoming too big and losing the support of Harvey Mudd community members who are peripherally involved, using a recent alumni donor as an example.
“The reason she was donating was because she was attached to the Harvey Mudd community, and she felt that if we were like a 5C thing she would be less likely to donate,” he said. “I [also] feel like people would be even less involved with HMC Solidarity if it kind of just got consumed into like a general 5C thing … [so] having more small-scale or local organizations makes people feel more involved in it.”
Even without a central organization, mutual aid groups have worked collectively as a larger network since their inception at the 5Cs.
Many organizations have overlapping membership. Even beyond that, the organizations aid each other in their individual endeavors.
For example, Collen-Baratloo remembers that in their initial months, the 5C mutual aid groups were all very interconnected, signal boosting each other’s work and even occasionally sharing extra funds.
Now back on campus and with the support of their smaller communities and the greater 5C network, the groups are already looking ahead to different causes.
HMC Solidarity closed its semesterly fundraising round last week. The group sent need forms to the entire student body in which students reported how much money they were in need of, their timeline of need, and the areas for which they planned to use the funds.
According to Collen-Baratloo, during virtual classes many students were in need of rent money, while expenses now have tended to come more from tuition and medical bills.
HMC Solidarity popularizes its fundraisers by incorporating a more engaging fundraising activity. For instance, this semester HMC Solidarity ran a dorm competition with money provided by Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College.
FLI Scholars is also looking ahead this semester.
With uncertainty about winter break causing stress for students who rely on campus housing, the organization has already begun thinking about fundraising and other support they can offer to students facing housing insecurity over winter break.
The future of mutual aid extends far beyond winter break, however, and largely depends on every student and administration to take action.
Collen-Baratloo said the “organic nature” of mutual aid organizing makes it more appealing in some ways.
“It feels sort of more freeing than a lot of the top down hierarchical [organizing],” he said. “One of the reasons I liked it and I’m still working with it is because it feels more authentic.”
Phan said the groups’ success requires participation from people of all socioeconomic backgrounds at the 5Cs.
“Mutual aid is almost exclusively on the burden of the people most impacted … I watch people at the 5Cs spend, like, hundreds of dollars on room decor, or stuff that could pay someone’s rent or go to someone’s grocery bills. And I just wish that people were more conscious of their spending, like their consumption,” she said.
She called for those from high-income backgrounds to get involved because “rich people know other rich people more than poor people know rich people. So I just recommend [that people] get involved in mutual aid and show that support to another person who doesn’t have those connections.”
Collen-Baratloo urged all students to be more actively engaged, or at least aware, of their schools’ student organizing.
“Try to get involved, or at least kind of know about the mutual aid group at your college. Because even if you’re not directly involved, just knowing about it and helping out with a couple dollars every fundraising round makes it more important to the community,” he said.