Next year, approximately eight Pomona College sponsor groups will have two sponsors of the same gender. The same-sex pairing was the result of a significantly smaller applicant pool, and it marks the first time that Pomona has ever paired co-sponsors of the same gender together in first-year halls.
92 first-year students, including only 30-35 male students, applied to be sponsors for next year. According to Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes, this is a significant decrease from previous years when the sponsor program has seen around 150 applicants in any given year.
56 sponsors and two alternates were chosen for next year. According to Head Sponsor Mindy Hagan PO '12, the head sponsors felt it was more important to choose the most qualified applicants to be sponsors than to ensure that equal numbers of male and female sponsors were chosen.
“If we wanted to split it 50/50 we literally would have eliminated two or three guys, and we just felt that wasn't fair,” Hagan said. “The people we chose, we chose because they will be great sponsors, not just because of their gender.”
According to Head Sponsor Seanna Leath PO '13, the head sponsors did consider that situations might arise where a first-year student would prefer to discuss a problem with a male student. To address this issue, Leath said the head sponsors will ensure that sponsor groups are set up so a male upperclassman lives nearby.
“We're looking into strategically placing RAs, head sponsors, or alternate sponsors in specific hallways so that there will be a male or a couple of males in each hall even if the specific sponsors are both females,” Leath said. “We'll let that resource be known at the beginning of the year with the first-years.”
Given that first-years may be less comfortable speaking with an RA than a sponsor, the head sponsors are also making efforts to create a more unified sponsor program next year. According to Head Sponsor Thuy Ly PO '12, this might involve matching each sponsor group with another sponsor group from a different building so that sponsor groups can branch out and build networks with other groups.
According to Townes, no discussion of extending the deadline for sponsor applications to encourage more male students to apply was ever considered.
“[The head sponsors] weren't sure that you needed to necessarily have someone of your gender to relate to,” Townes said. “The point was to have good people who connect with their first years and do a good job mentoring.”
Future sponsor Jamie Garcia PO '14 said she felt that having two sponsors of opposite genders was not crucial to having a successful sponsor group. She currently lives in a hallway with only one female sponsor, and she feels as if she and her sponsor group have not been adversely affected by not having a male sponsor for the full year.
“Some first years are just going to click with certain sponsors,” said Marilyn Creswell PO '14, who will also be a sponsor next year. “I don't think it matters if it's a girl of a guy.”
Though the head sponsors said challenging the heteronormativity of sponsor pairings was not the main reason for moving to same-sex sponsor pairings, they did admit that they saw it as an added benefit. Ly pointed to terms like”spamma” and “spapa,” which have become associated with the sponsor program, as alienating to some students.
“Housing has been degenderized—opposite genders can live together, you have gender neutral housing, [and] gender neutral bathrooms,” said Head Sponsor Alex Garver PO '12. “The housing in general has de-emphasized gender in the past. This is a continuation of the same policy.”
Zach Barnett PO '11, who was involved in the sponsor selection process this year after being both a head sponsor and a sponsor, said that having same-sex sponsor pairs sets an important precedent for Pomona.
“Some people like that the sponsor group is modeled after a traditional family, but overall I contend that it does more harm than good,” said Barnett in an e-mail to The Student Life. “I think that sometimes in sponsor groups, it is often assumed that the male sponsor is there to lead the group and that the female sponsor is supposed to take on the 'caring' and 'emotional' role. I think that it is a positive thing that Pomona College is challenging that idea…. There are [a] few openly trans-identified and gender queer-identified students at Pomona [and] the change opens the position up to such students.”
Even if the sponsor program sees a rise in applications for sponsor next year, Townes said he hopes to see same-sex sponsor pairings continued into future years.
“I think we'll continue this in the future,” Townes said. “They want to put good working pairs together and not be trapped by the gender binary that it always has to be a male and a female.”
Though Townes said that the drop in sponsor applications was an anomaly this year, he did add that the people involved in the sponsor process would look at more ways to encourage students to apply to be sponsors next year. He also added that he is open to exploring the possibility of monetary compensation for sponsors in order to encourage more students to apply in the future.