Pomona Trustees Discuss Diversity with Students

Pomona College students and trustees gathered Oct. 10 in the Hahn Social Sciences Building at the college’s 16th Annual Student-Trustee Retreat. This year’s retreat had a special emphasis on diversity, in light of the strategic plan released by the college last week that aims at creating a more diverse and inclusive campus over the next decade.

The retreat, open to all students who RSVP, allowed students to personally connect with trustees. Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said that she does not know of another
college in the United States that offers this type of opportunity to students.

Trustee Joel Fueur PO ’76 called the retreat “one of the most important things we do every year.”

“I look forward to discussing the information we gained from this retreat with the trustees and with Pomona’s administration,” Fueur said. “I very much hope that next year even more students will participate in the retreat because it is very valuable to us.”

Each
year, approximately 100 students and 20 trustees participate in the
retreat. This year’s event included presentations and small group
discussions followed by a dinner. Among the topics students and trustees
considered were what students’ success means; how changing student, faculty and staff demographics shapes learning at Pomona; and where they envision Pomona in 2025.

Parth
Patel PO ’15 attended this event for the third time last Friday.

“I’ve gone back every year because I think it has
been a pretty incredible experience,” Patel said. “The fact that the college as an
institution organizes the Student-Trustee Retreat speaks to its commitment to
caring about the student body, and I feel like for the trustees to all come out
here and participate in this retreat and talk to students shows that they …
have a vested interest in the well-being of students and how they feel about
their college experience.”

Despite the retreat’s focus on diversity, some students were critical of the discussions. 

Ben Bleiberg PO ’15 mentioned a trustee’s response that he found problematic. The trustee, responding to a comment by a Latina student who said she wished there was a Latino or Latina professor in her department, said that this lack of diversity is explained by the competitiveness of the applicant pool and the 50 percent high school dropout rate among black and hispanic people in L.A. 

“He was kind of skirting around, saying that there are not enough qualified people of color,” Bleiberg said. 

Catherine Dugan PO ’15 criticized a trustee’s comment that Pomona has already attained its diversity goals based on the photos of multicultural friend groups that the trustee has seen in a weekly email that trustees receive. 

She said that she thought the comment represented an “out of touch” approach to understanding diversity. 

Bleiberg also expressed concerns about “white students taking up a lot of space” in his discussion session. He said that in the future, he thinks that participants should be more attuned to how their identities can shape a conversation, and should be more careful about not dominating a discussion. 

Bleiberg added that he had positive experiences at the presentation and dinner, including his conversation with Jeanne Buckley, the chair of the board. Dugan also said that she appreciates the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with the trustees. 

“Overall, I’m really happy that I went,” Dugan said. “There were a lot of good things about it and there were just some things that were less good.”

Fueur said that a function of the retreat is to help improve connection between trustees and students.

“The
trustees understand that Pomona College today is very different from the Pomona
College that they attended,” he said. “It is helpful for us to talk directly to students
and try to understand as much as we can about your world.”

Trustees
and administrators encourage students to continue to contribute their opinions and
ideas about issues on campus.

“From
the selfish standpoint, it helps the trustees do their job better—to
understand what’s happening with you folks,” trustee Mark Fukunaga PO ’78 said. “If we understand student life
better, we can be better trustees, because ultimately, we’re all trying to do
the same thing: make this place a great place.”

For
those who missed the retreat, there will be more opportunities for
students to give their input, especially on the strategic diversity plan. There will be a student-organized forum about the plan Oct. 27 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Smith Campus Center 201. Students can also access the college’s feedback form at pomona.edu/about/diversity/Presidents-Advisory-Committee.aspx. The deadline for feedback is Oct. 31. 

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