Debate Over Private Space Picks Up at Pomona

Some Pomona College students are organizing to open a conversation about the policy of Residence Hall Staff (RHS) and what constitutes private space and public space on North Campus.  

Karl Kumbier PO ‘13 said that the college’s current policy causes resident advisors to enter suites without sufficient reason to believe that rules are being broken.

“We see this invasion of privacy, and the school hasn’t given any justification as to why it’s necessary, and I think it’s making students pretty upset and uncomfortable,” Kumbier said.

Pomona Dean of Campus Life and Associate Dean of Students Ric Townes said that the administration is sensitive to these concerns, but they need to be balanced with the concerns of students who prefer a quiet environment and want their RAs to stop parties from becoming disruptive.

“We also have … other students who are near those activities who are livid with us for not doing a better job of addressing their concerns about how loud things are, how many people are around that space,” Townes said.

Kumbier said that his goal is to enact a policy change to define common rooms as private space.

“We were hoping to explore all the avenues that the school gives us to enact policy change,” he said. “We’d like to make it so that private space is private.”

However, Townes said that there is no true “private space” on the Pomona campus.

“It’s still Pomona College property, so it’s not private,” Townes said.

He added, however, that some spaces afford students a greater degree of privacy than others do. For example, there is a minor difference between common rooms in the Sontag and Pomona Halls, which have restricted swipe access by default, and common rooms in Lawry Court, which have universal swipe access for Pomona students unless members of the suite request restricted swipe access. 

Kumbier organized a Facebook group called “Keep Private Spaces Private” for students who share his views on student privacy.

Emma Wolfarth PO ’14, who is also the Commissioner of Clubs and Sports on the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Senate, echoed Kumbier’s concerns and said she hopes to bring the conversation to Senate.  Wolfarth said there is a systemic problem in the relationship between RAs and other residents.

Pomona Hall RA Wiley Cole PO ’13, however, said he has found that it is possible to maintain his role as a peer to the other residents of the building.

“I feel like I’ve developed a positive relationship with my residents and the residents of the dorms where I do walkthroughs,” Cole said.

Cole said that RAs are required to do walkthroughs every night in order to keep students safe.

“That’s the number one priority: safety. So long as everything is safe and under control, we leave,” Cole said.

Cole added that he agrees that the difference between public and private space is not clear.

Wolfarth plans to bring up issues related to public and private space in a Senate meeting.

“This is something that has been troubling me as a student for a long time,” she said. “We can have an open discussion about what’s going on, and my intended purpose is I want to actually express the concerns and fears of the student population that is often heard in Senate.”

Wolfarth said that issues surrounding policy enforcement are hurting the sense of community at Pomona. She said that neither the student body nor the administration is exclusively responsible for these issues. She said that students should learn more about legal restrictions that are beyond the administration’s control.

“However, I think the way that the policy is implemented can be much more successful than it is right now,” Wolfarth said. She added that she felt that students do not recognize or understand the intentions of the administration.

Townes and Wolfarth both said that it is necessary to open up a conversation about these topics with students and administration.

 “Something needs to change, and it could really go either direction,” Wolfarth said. “I was a little concerned because dealing with this kind of issue is very sensitive, because it’s so easy to only see one side of the story.”

“I just hope we can stay together as a community and work through what is obviously a frustrating and difficult situation, and so that we are not demonizing each other or disrespecting each other,” Townes said.

An earlier version of this article contained improper statements about the impetus for the campaign to change residence hall policy at Pomona College. In his interview with TSL, Karl Kumbier PO ’13 did not say that his efforts were prompted by incidents related to the Harwood Halloween party. He spoke more generally about what he sees as issues of student privacy. We regret this error.

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