Women’s Union Holds Panel on Students’ Struggles with Issues of Class

The Women’s Union (WU) at Pomona College held a panel discussion Monday entitled “Class Struggles at Pomona.” The panel, which was organized by Joaquín Estrada PO ’14 and Maria Zhu PO ’13, aimed to address issues of class in a college setting.

The speakers at the panel were Quinn Lester PO '13, Theresa Pfister PO ’13 and Daniela Meza PO ’14. All three are attending Pomona through the QuestBridge program, which provides scholarships for low-income, high-achieving students.

“At first, I didn’t really know how to approach it, because when you come here the first week, no one really asks you how much your family makes a year,” Meza said of the topic of class at the panel. “It’s all this happy-go-lucky, meeting everyone, and once you get to know people as the year progresses, it becomes a topic most people don’t want to talk about.”

Pfister spoke about fitting in at Pomona despite financial hardships.

“I wasn’t telling very many people I was a QuestBridge,” she said at the panel. “I wasn’t owning the fact that I wasn’t going out to dinner with you because I couldn’t afford it.”

“I think a lot of it has to do with being white and assumptions that are made about white individuals,” she added. “It was just really interesting to see that class was also something you could pass as.”

All three student panelists mentioned instances in which they felt that lower-income students were being marginalized, both inside and outside the classroom.

“For my own position, I could never go back to where I grew up, because in a way, that community no longer serves the person I’ve become through Pomona, in ways both good and bad,” said Lester, who grew up in rural Virginia. “I feel like that’s also something we should be more upfront in talking about: what kind of college is Pomona; what, on a sociological level, students who graduate from Pomona move on to do, how they interact with other sectors of society.”

Estrada and Zhu presented questions to the panel, giving each panelist time to respond. Following this portion, the audience members asked questions and joined the discussion.

Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum attended the talk and spoke about the college's role in improving class relations on campus.

“We have a lot of first-generation staff and faculty as well as students, which is important. I think that the mentoring groups that started this year are really important,” she said. “I think there’s a lot more we can do, there’s a lot more we should do, but it has to grow organically, and there also have to be realistic parameters about what the school can do.”

Estrada and Zhu said they hope that that the event increases dialogue about class issues at Pomona.

“There’s a lot of issues of class that aren’t talked about,” Zhu said. “It goes by largely unnoticed. At the same time, I feel like class tension is very palpable on campus.”

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