Gillian Chen PO ’17 recently became interested in the protests going on in Hong Kong and wanted to talk to professors about the issue. However, she found one crucial obstacle to her inquiry: She couldn’t find many professors whom she could talk to about the protest.
Her experience was one of many shared during the “Let’s Talk Diversity” student forum held the night of Oct. 29 in Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center.
Hosted by a collective of student organizations, including the Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP), the Women’s Union and the Outdoor Education Center, the forum invited students to discuss the draft of Pomona’s strategic plan on diversity that was released Oct. 10.
One of the main goals of the event was to help students take a bigger role in the revision process of the diversity plan. Students can submit feedback about the plan by accessing the campus portal, my.pomona.edu, and clicking on the “Diversity at Pomona College” tab in the lower left-hand corner. The feedback period will last through Friday, Oct. 31.
“There’s this concern that we have that the plan isn’t really accessible,” said Kian Vesteinsson PO ’17, an AAMP mentor and one of the organizers of the event, to TSL several nights before the event.
Many students during the forum also voiced concerns that the plan seems to lack important details, such as how the administration will evaluate its progress toward increasing the representation of different student groups.
Vesteinsson, who identifies as queer, and Chen, also an AAMP mentor, expressed dissatisfaction with what they see as a lack of diversity at Pomona.
“As diverse and politically correct as many people think that Pomona is, it’s actually missing a lot of voices,” Chen said. “We’re asking the question, ‘Who is not here?’”
Chen added that she has noticed that some students do not pay attention to power dynamics within the classroom and “being aware of your own positionality.”
“You may be talking about experiences that not everyone can relate to, and other people might have opposing experiences, but they don’t feel safe talking about it,” Chen said.
The forum gave students the opportunity to voice such concerns, first in the large group and then in 13 different small groups. Conversation topics ranged from former theater professor Alma Martinez—who has sued the college, alleging that she was denied tenure because of discrimination—to a lack of diversity in math study groups.
“What’s really encouraging, in terms of diversity, is having everyone willing to engage,” Sunny Jeong PO ’17 said to TSL after the event.
Jeong was one of the roughly 50 students who attended the event and commended the participants for “talking about things that would make both sides really uncomfortable … and not being discouraged by that.”
The organizers of the event had laptops with the feedback form open available to attendees at the end of the event. Daren Mooko, the associate dean of students for student development and leadership, encouraged all students—not just students in particular organizations, classes or activities—to give feedback on the plan.
“Every student, if they’re enrolled, and if they’re a member of this community, they have every right to read the plan and then to react to it,” Mooko said.
Mooko said he would like to see students be active in responding to the diversity plan, giving examples of students at other campuses who “are taking to the streets and are fired up” when demanding administrative response to student opinion.
“I don’t think I can overstate how important [student input] is,” Mooko said. “It is crucial to the point where I think if we found that we didn’t have enough student input, we may take a look at extending the deadline. It’s that critical.”
Update: The lead of the article originally stated that Chen could not find any professors who had enough knowledge about the protests in Hong Kong. The article was updated Oct. 31 to correct this error.