In past years, Residence Hall Staff (RHS) trainees at Pomona College_x000D_
used finger-snapping to express their thoughts about group discussions. This year, it was the finger-snapping that Resident Advisors (RAs) and sponsors were discussing.
this year’s RA-sponsor training, an old practice of snapping_x000D_
erupted in controversy as_x000D_
some RHS members came to think of the gesture as symbolically linked to
issues like racial politics in America and as a commentary on
RA-sponsor relations at Pomona. After three meetings about the issue and a_x000D_
month’s worth of reflection time, students are still struggling to explain what_x000D_
the debate over snapping was really about.
whole snapping thing almost unravelled the training,” said_x000D_
Ric Townes, Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life, who
snapping had been consistently present at RHS training for several
years. Townes oversees the Office of Campus Life (OCL), which hires RAs
and chooses sponsors, who are Pomona sophomores that are assigned a
group of freshmen to live with and mentor during the year. While
sponsors serve a similar function to that of RAs, they do not enforce
policy, which RAs do.
Niger Washington PO ’12, an RA in Smiley Hall, said that snapping_x000D_
is “mostly an RA thing” used to express agreement with a speaker during_x000D_
“Whenever someone says a statement that someone else feels_x000D_
particularly aligned with, then they snap,” Washington said. “It’s a subtle form of clapping. That’s basically all it is.”
For some new RHS members, however, the effects of snapping were_x000D_
“As sponsors, we didn’t know what the snapping was, and so we_x000D_
didn’t snap,” said Daniel Martin PO ’14, a sponsor in Harwood Court. “And so it became a very isolating thing_x000D_
where I felt that only one viewpoint was being expressed by the snapping, and_x000D_
so instead of doing the job of affirming that it said it was doing, it was_x000D_
really just alienating the rest of us.”
Martin said that he came to dislike snapping as early as the_x000D_
first day of training. Many students,_x000D_
however, developed strong opinions about the gesture later in the week, after a_x000D_
discussion of race that left some feeling inspired and others feeling attacked.
Professor April Mayes, an expert on Latin America who teaches_x000D_
history at Pomona, gave a presentation to RAs and sponsors in which she_x000D_
described her own experience as a student of color at Pomona and urged student_x000D_
leaders not to give up on “frustrating” conversations about race.
“I wanted to give them a set of tools so they could understand_x000D_
where their frustration was coming from, and then they could be the leaders_x000D_
that they are and shift the conversation,” Mayes said.
Frustration ran high in the aftermath of Mayes’s speech, as_x000D_
tension mounted between those who had greeted the speech with loud snapping and_x000D_
those who found this snapping offensive.
“April Mayes is a very passionate speaker, and when she talks she_x000D_
evokes a lot of responses,” said Thuy Ly PO ’12, one of this year’s four head sponsors. “It’s not because of the race talk that the snapping became an issue but_x000D_
the snapping was there: louder and more apparent.”
Justin Gutzwa PO ’14, a sponsor in Wig Hall, agreed that the_x000D_
snapping became especially abundant, and especially divisive, while Mayes_x000D_
“The majority of people whom I spoke with and I myself felt that_x000D_
[the] tension got the greatest during the race discussion,” Gutzwa said. He added that some white students had_x000D_
interpreted the snapping during Mayes’s lecture as an effort by students of_x000D_
color to “rage against the oppressor.”
Head Sponsor Seanna Leath PO ’13, known to many as Cadé, said it was incorrect to assume “that it was only colored people snapping for what_x000D_
[Mayes] was saying.” In fact, she said,_x000D_
there were white students who snapped for Mayes and students of color who_x000D_
Meanwhile, Washington said that “some sponsors did snap”_x000D_
throughout training, even though the gesture has been associated primarily with_x000D_
Within RHS, it can be difficult to determine which trends are_x000D_
linked to race, which ones are correlated with job title, and which ones arise_x000D_
at random. This difficulty may be due in_x000D_
part to differences in racial composition of sponsors and RAs. Martin said that_x000D_
while both programs value diversity in their selection processes, RAs are much_x000D_
more likely to be students of color.
“[OCL] hires people who are minorities in the United States as RAs,_x000D_
primarily,” he said. “These people_x000D_
are more likely to be interested in issues of structural lack of privilege_x000D_
[and] therefore more likely to be part of what I think is the dominant way of_x000D_
viewing these issues at Pomona amongst the group that studies it, and that is_x000D_
very intense social constructionism and the belief that these social_x000D_
constructions are negative things.”
He added, “I’m certainly not going to say that racial identity_x000D_
was not one of the factors that created tension, because it was.”
Some RHS members, however, said that they were still trying to_x000D_
understand how snapping and race came to be perceived as related issues. OCL held three meetings about snapping and_x000D_
its implications–two optional discussions and one required session–during_x000D_
training week, but sponsor Abeni Tinubu PO ’14 said that the issue was never_x000D_
resolved to her satisfaction.
“I kind of felt frustrated with how everything ended,” Tinubu_x000D_
said. “I feel like we talked around the_x000D_
issue. No one really got to the issue as_x000D_
to why this has become a race talk so quickly.”
Tinubu said that she chose not to snap during training, not_x000D_
because she felt alienated but because she preferred to express agreement by_x000D_
talking to the speaker later on.
“I could understand some of the things [Mayes] was coming from,_x000D_
but that doesn’t necessarily mean just because I’m a person of color that I’m_x000D_
snapping at everything she’s saying, or snapping at all for that matter,”_x000D_
She also pointed out what she considered to be inappropriate_x000D_
actions by both anti-snapping and pro-snapping factions within RHS.
Tinubu said that a group of RHS members who opposed snapping_x000D_
acted in a “hypocritical” way during one presentation by Townes shortly after_x000D_
the discussion of race. During the_x000D_
presentation, Townes said that snapping was a “trigger” for him and asked those_x000D_
who were snapping to stop. A large group_x000D_
of anti-snapping students responded with loud applause.
“I just thought it was disrespectful,” Tinubu said of the_x000D_
applause, which she described as an unfair action in which one form of_x000D_
expression was used to suppress another. Many of those who applauded later apologized.
Tinubu also said that there were scattered incidents of_x000D_
“I know that there were definitely instances in which snapping_x000D_
was used to shut someone down, which I wasn’t comfortable with,” she said,_x000D_
referring to a discussion on sexual misconduct during which some students_x000D_
snapped to express the view that another student had asked an ignorant and_x000D_
During the RHS meetings about snapping, many snappers and_x000D_
non-snappers explained their understanding of the issue, and some shared personal_x000D_
stories in an attempt to show where their viewpoints were coming from. Some RAs, for instance, said that they had_x000D_
learned the practice of snapping at home or at church during childhood, Gutzwa_x000D_
Martin said that the meetings helped clear up misunderstandings_x000D_
“on a racial front,” but that they also raised some issues that were specific to_x000D_
RHS and still unresolved. During the_x000D_
mandatory meeting on snapping, he said, a group of RAs squared off against a_x000D_
group of sponsors on the question of whether sponsors should report their_x000D_
sponsees to an RA for alcohol policy violations.
“Anything that was left from the racial conversation had been_x000D_
kind of transmogrified from a rift that was racial in nature to a rift between_x000D_
sponsors and RAs,” Martin said. “I think this is what we had really been_x000D_
fighting about all along.”
Head sponsor Alex Garver PO ’12 said that the meetings on snapping helped to build a group that can deal with disagreement.
“Everyone has a different perspective, and if we come together_x000D_
and talk about it, there’s a lot of growth that can happen. And I think that happened successfully,” he_x000D_
Mindy Hagan PO ’12, also a head sponsor, agreed with Garver but_x000D_
cautioned that there was still much to discuss.
“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily something that was altogether_x000D_
resolved as a whole,” she said. “Because it became these bigger issues, it was_x000D_
definitely the beginning of a conversation.”