Pomona College will rewrite its admissions materials based in part on the study conducted by marketing professional Mark Neustadt, said Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Seth Allen. Meanwhile, many members of the community continue to discuss whether Neustadt’s findings accurately reflect Pomona and warrant changes in the college’s branding.
One of Neustadt’s main observations was that Pomona is often perceived as having a laid-back and easygoing atmosphere and that this undermines its image as being academically rigorous.
“He commented on the fact that a number of prospective students were looking for environments where they felt they could be challenged by their peers,” Allen said. “So, in sort of describing that sort of a scenario, he basically pointed out that there’s a perception on campus that has been successful in bringing students to Pomona who may or may not sort of agree with that.”
As an article in the March 1 issue of TSL reported, at a presentation he gave Feb. 28, Neustadt said, “The students at Pomona do not follow through on passions and commitments, because follow-through would interfere with the prevailing culture. If you take [a successful high school student] and bring that student to Pomona, and tell that student that the prevailing expectation of the community is that they maintain balance and ease as the path to success, they will completely buy into that.”
Neustadt recommended that the college work to change the culture through the admissions process.
While Allen said changing admission materials can affect who applies to Pomona and thus the composition of the student body, he did not confirm that the college will be actively trying to change the culture on campus.
“We’re not at that stage to talk about that yet,” he said.
He said that Pomona’s main goal in rewriting its admissions material next year is to “create a unified story about the college.”
“I think what needs to change, and the reason we did this research, is in a counterpoint to a number of the other Claremont Colleges, Pomona doesn’t have this one strong identity about itself,” he said. “So part of this is to begin to think about is what is the Pomona story, and what is an effective Pomona story, and so that’s where we’re going with all of this, is to actually have a narrative about the college that holds true to what the college actually is, resonates with the community, is exciting to prospective students.”
To gather information for the rewrite, Allen said the admissions office has been speaking with faculty members, administrators, and students on the admissions and financial aid committee.
Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes denied the assertion that a laid-back attitude would result in lack of follow-through among Pomona students.
“I don’t know how someone comes away with that, someone who comes to Pomona on a visit and leaves thinking … they’re so laid-back here,” he said. “My perspective goes to the opposite extreme, that Pomona students are passionate about too many things. They have 47 things on their plate.”
“It’s not unusual to find a Pomona student who’s a neuroscience major or an economics major who’s also into theater, or dance, or some other art form, and they take both very, very seriously,” he added.
However, he pointed out that while he only interacts with current Pomona students, Neustadt spoke with applicants who were accepted to Pomona and chose not to attend.
Sarah Appelbaum PO ’13, President of the Associated Students of Pomona College, also said that she feels that Pomona students are generally dedicated to their academics and extracurricular activities.
“It’s not necessarily an easy or relaxed environment all the time,” she said.
However, she said she has observed that Pomona does project a casual environment emphasizing “the flip-flop lifestyle,” and that this may not convey the academic opportunities the college has to offer.
“I think there are other things despite being laid-back that are distinctive about Pomona,” she said, citing a collaborative environment, close interaction with faculty, and the accessibility of resources.
Another observation Neustadt made was the laid-back lifestyle’s capacity to divide the study body, as European-American students are more likely to perceive a laid-back atmosphere at Pomona than Asian-American, African-American, Latino, and international students, and that wealthier students have this perception more than lower-income students.
Townes said that he thinks this is partially due to cultural differences.
“Often a student of color who’s from a moderate- to low-income family background gets encouraged from their earliest days to work hard, do well, to push themselves, and that’s just the way it is,” he said. “That’s how it was for me. I came from a moderate- to low-income family, and you’re just always encouraged to do your best, always encouraged to persevere against odds.”
He said that he has spoken with many students from lower-income families at Pomona who spend a lot of time working to pay for their education or to send money to their families.
Joseph Reynolds PO ’15 also made this observation.
“There is privilege in being able to have free time,” Reynolds said. “If you have free time, that means that you are well enough in some other way or don’t care to be using that time to do work or whatnot, and I think a lot of people here take that for granted.”
However, Townes said, this is not a problem unique to Pomona, and he does not think that Pomona’s atmosphere is responsible for a divide in the student body.
Sefa Aina, director of the Asian American Resource Center, expressed a similar view.
“I don’t think that’s unlike other colleges, where students who feel disadvantaged because of their identity look to folks who are part of the dominant group as having things easier than themselves,” he said.
“The feelings that they have are very legitimate,” he said. “There are times when our students maybe don’t feel comfortable accessing things like the Career Development Office, because they don’t always understand what they’re going through as a person of color, or what their familial obligations are, and some of that is perception, and some of that is real.”
However, he said, “These kinds of structural inequalities are based in history. It’s not necessarily something that was created by the people who are here now.”
He said that one way he tries to help students of color have more of a voice on campus is by encouraging them to take on roles in student government, and as Head Sponsors, Orientation Adventure leaders, and Writing Fellows.
He also noted that a more relaxed vibe on campus contributes to success for all students.
“Part of the environment here is that students can be free,” he said. “It’s really trying to help you all tap into your better selves.”