On May 16, a group of Pomona College students and faculty will wear white stoles to the commencement ceremony of the class of 2010 to express concerns with commencement speaker Janet Napolitano’s stance on immigration.
The planned action will augment the efforts of the May 16th Coalition, a group of community organizations and other concerned parties created to protest Napolitano, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, as Pomona’s commencement speaker choice.
The Pomona Economic Opportunity Center (PEOC), also known as the Pomona Day Labor Center, a non-profit organization that aims to facilitate safe and fair day-laborer employment, is one of several organizations affiliated with the coalition.
“May 16th Coalition includes numerous groups and individuals, including immigrant workers, community residents, labor unions, students from colleges throughout the area, immigrant rights organizations, community-based organizations, faith-based groups, national immigrant advocacy organizations, statewide immigrant policy groups, teachers, etc.,” PEOC Executive Director Suzanne Foster said. “The groups all support immigrant rights and the need to fix the broken immigration system.”
A march and rally, which will start at the Greyhound bus station on Indian Hill Boulevard and end in a public park in downtown Claremont, has been planned for the day of graduation.
Some students and faculty are also planning to wear white stoles, rather than traditional graduation stoles, to commencement as a way to unobtrusively voice their concern.
On Apr. 21, Assistant Professor of History and Chicano/a – Latino/a Studies Toms Summers Sandoval created a Facebook page titled “Ms. Napolitano: I STAND FOR HUMAN RIGHTS,” on which students could request a white stole.
“The Chicana/o Studies faculty of Pomona College invite members of the class of 2010, as well as interested faculty, to join them in a symbolic statement in support of immigrants’ fundamental human rights,” Summers Sandoval wrote on the Facebook page.
According to another of Summers Sandoval’s posts, there were approximately 60 requests for one of these white stoles as of Apr. 23.
While the Facebook page states that the Chicano/a Studies faculty are supportive of the protest, Summers Sandoval denied any involvement.
“I am not working with any students on anything related to graduation,” he wrote in an e-mail. “If there is something in addition to [what was in the first TSL article on the topic] I haven’t heard about it.”
Senior Class President Calvin Kagan ‘10 said he found wearing white stoles to be an acceptable method of protest.
“I am happy with the choice of stoles since I believe they will provide an effective way to communicate people’s opinions while preserving the specialness of the commencement ceremony for students, families, and guests,” said Kagan. “With this in mind, I think it is important to emphasize that the purpose of Commencement is not Janet Napolitano but to celebrate the Class of 2010.”
College President David Oxtoby expressed similar sentiments.
“It seems to me an appropriate expression of opinion in a way that will bring attention to the issue without disrupting the ceremony,” he said. “I hope that those who choose to demonstrate in this way will also consider that wearing white stoles is not just a protest against the choice of graduation speaker, but also a gesture in support of providing legal status for immigrants.”
Nick Gerber PO ’10, who is involved with the May 16 Coalition, says there are currently no plans to turn backs to Napolitano during her speech.
“For myself, anything that would be done would be keeping in mind that this is mainly a celebration for people’s families and I don’t want to disrespect that,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Foster said the May 16th Coalition is determined to spread awareness about their concerns about Napolitano in the upcoming weeks.
“The May 16th Coalition is speaking in classes, answering students’ questions, and sharing information and fact sheets about the recent practices of the Department of Homeland Security and its expansion of local immigration enforcement,” she said.
Pomeroy said many Pomona students have joined the protest movement, and she predicts more may decide to get involved due to the recent controversy over Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant measures.
She added that many faculty are hesitant to get involved.
“When we went to meet with Oxtoby, we couldn’t get any faculty to come with us,” she said. “I think a lot of people support it, but they’re not going to come out and protest.”
She added it was an unfortunate time for Napolitano to be chosen as commencement speaker, due to the ongoing disputes over Pomona workers’ attempts to form a union.
“Our commencement speaker probably wants all [the workers’] families deported,” she said.
Foster said PEOC’s hopes for this protest are to raise awareness and ultimately create federal policy change.
“We think that more students, faculty, parents, community members, and the general public will hear about the disastrous impact of local immigration enforcement on innocent, hard-working immigrants and their families,” she said. “We hope that Secretary Napolitano hears us and terminates local immigration enforcement programs like 287g and Secure Communities, which criminalize our immigrant brothers and sisters.”
287g refers to Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g), an Immigration and Nationality Act that allows local law enforcement agencies the opportunity to team up with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to combat immigration challenges in their communities.