Dozens of Pomona College students identifying as “a group of marginalized students who have not been served by Pomona College” presented a list of demands to President David Oxtoby and the President's Advisory Committee on Diversity (PACD) on Nov. 17, calling for greater institutional and administrative support from their college.
The list of demands were presented during a forum that was called by Oxtoby in light of recent student actions at Claremont McKenna College and across the nation.
The students set forth the following demands: issuing a statement in solidarity with CMCers of Color, who led a protest at CMC last week calling for greater institutional support for students belonging to marginalized groups; implementing or improving resource centers and/or cultural spaces; increasing the quality and funding for mental health resources at Pomona; and pledging to increase faculty diversity, both in terms of academic departments and the faculty themselves.
Quest Mentor Program Vice President Teofanny Saragi PO '18 said that students, especially leaders of the various mentor groups and identity-based groups on campus, met before the forum to draft the list of demands.
“We really tried to work with the Lighting the Path diversity document that PACD came up with because we wanted to use the college's language to hold them accountable for what they promised,” Saragi said.
Pomona College students entered the 9 p.m. meeting with Oxtoby and members of PACD to present the demands. Following an initial statement, students present at the meeting aired their grievances with the Pomona administration for nearly two hours, citing examples of insensitivity and lack of diversity on behalf of the administration, including the faculty, Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services and the financial aid office.
Fernando Lozano, PACD chair and associate dean of the college, said that he first suggested having this open meeting with students in order to inform students of the committee’s continued efforts to increase and support diversity on campus.
“I thought that that conversation was about us having the opportunity to tell the students all that we're doing in terms of inclusivity and diversity because we're doing a lot,” Lozano said. “But only later I realized that really the value of such conversation was not about … what we're doing in my office, but rather it's a conversation to learn about the experiences of the students.”
Some students talked about problems they had met with during their interactions with the Financial Aid Office. Jun Park PO '16, one of the student organizers at the forum, had created a survey earlier in the semester to collect student experiences about the office.
“Many students spoke about how invalidating their interactions with Financial Aid have been, from insensitivity to a complete lack of empathy and compassion. What they said wasn't a surprise to most students who have already interacted with the office, and President Oxtoby has heard all of these experiences,” Park wrote in an email to TSL. “Now that the committee has also heard it, I think it will be easier for changes to happen more quickly.”
In response to students' concern about inclusivity and equity in the classroom, Lozano said that during his term as associate dean of the college, he has organized 12 workshops for faculty to address these topics. Lozano also said that faculty now will be asked to reflect on inclusivity and equity in their classes in the annual professional activities report that all faculty are required to fill out. These forms are reviewed by the dean of the college and are a factor in determining faculty’s salaries.
“We have incentivized faculty development in inclusivity and equity to the level of research and teaching,” Lozano said. “It's a priority of this office to enhance inclusivity in our classrooms, and we're thinking of this as part of our work as much as research, teaching and service. It's just as important.”
After students were finished speaking, Associated Students of Pomona College President Nico Kass PO '16 announced that the students presenting the demands did not intend to leave the room until Oxtoby signed the demands.
Even though Oxtoby did not sign all the demands, he signed on two promises: that he intended to release a statement of solidarity with CMCers of Color by today, Nov. 20, and that he would offer a “detailed response” to the students' demands by Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Before the group of students presenting the demands entered the room, Oxtoby had set forth three goals addressing some, but not all, of the students' demands. He pledged to set aside a day for all students of the Claremont Colleges to talk about diversity issues, increase the funding allotted to Monsour and increase the diversity of counselors, and create a space on campus for first-generation and undocumented students.
Saragi said that students were frustrated that some administrators and constitutents of the college who the students' messages are directed to were not in attendance.
“The panel included a lot of awesome people who aren't the ones who need to hear this … Where are the people we need to say these things to? Because a lot of the PACD people are people that we know and love,” Saragi said. “I don't think it was fair to throw this in their faces because they know it, and the admin who needed to be there were not there.”
Saragi said that even though she doesn't expect immediate changes at Pomona, she wants to “leave the space in a better place.”
“These struggles are nothing new. Students have faced these things from the very beginning since they let people like us into these institutions,” Saragi said. “I don't think the people who think this is an issue of being coddled or an issue of not knowing how to face the real world [know], if anything, the people who are doing these things, who are putting these demands together, are more in the face of real world than you are because they know how to point out the problem and address it and try to solve it.”
Editor's note: The full list of demands presented to President Oxtoby can be found here.