When planning the Pomona Student Union (PSU) event “The Politics of Race: The 2012 Presidential Election,” organizer Iris Nevins PO ’14 wanted to give students a forum for addressing race and American identity.
“The 2012 presidential campaign is an opportunity for us,” Nevins said. “Now that we have our first black president, we have the ability to see what our society looks like, and I thought it was really important to give people the opportunity to evaluate that and communicate with each other.”
The event took place Monday and was co-sponsored by the PSU and Building Student Leaders on Campus to discuss the implications of American racial perspectives and stereotypes in the upcoming election.
The event featured Pomona politics professor Lorn Foster as the keynote speaker.
“The question I want to pose to you all is, can Barack Obama be a black president? I don’t think he can,” Foster said.
This question, often asked by the media when Obama was first elected, became the major point of discussion in many of the break-out groups that formed after Foster’s remarks.
Foster discussed the history of race in American politics, reaching back to the Missouri Compromise in 1820 as an early example of the role of race in American politics.
Using this historical background, Foster connected Obama’s election in 2008 to a gradually increasing public awareness of race as a political reality.
Some of the break-out groups’ discussions focused on this idea of “black” policies, especially their pertinence to overall policy and their perceived political correctness.
“I feel like assigning a ‘black experience’ to all black people is limiting because it generalizes the experience of being black in America,” Montez Brownlee PO ’16 said. “The experiences of black people in certain parts of California are very different from those of black people … in Chicago.”
Brownlee also discussed his experiences as a black male with regard to politics.
“People definitely make assumptions about my political beliefs, and whether or not I’m even interested in politics, based on my race,” Brownlee said.
Nevins also mentioned her experience with race as an important aspect in her motivation for organizing the event.
“I didn’t experience the macro-aggressions of racism, but I definitely had a lot of racial insecurities growing up and that was a big issue for me,” she said. “Being a minority in a school that was very heavily populated by white people and overcoming that and getting to a place where race didn’t make me feel really bad was difficult.”
Nevins cited organizations such as the Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA) as integral to her own success.
“I think organizations like OBSA are a fantastic resource for a lot of minority students, many of whom would leave after freshman year if they weren’t there. As time goes by, I find myself getting more and more involved [with OBSA],” she said.
Conversely, Angie Bi PO ’16, who also attended the PSU event, said she believes that Pomona’s intense focus on racial differences increases racial separation on campus.
“I personally don’t feel marginalized as an Asian-American, but I do feel that the presence of the mentor groups like [the Asian American Mentor Program] and [Chicano Latino Student Affairs] creates unnecessary distinctions between students,” Bi said.
Audrey Glaser PO ’16, however, said that she has seen nothing but positive effects from Pomona’s focus on supporting racial minorities.
“All of my friends who are involved with the mentor programs have really enjoyed their experiences with them,” Glaser said.
Glaser also said that the PSU event was a great way to get students talking about race and politics on campus.
“I think the event was very enlightening because it is a topic that people are often hesitant to speak about,” she said.