This semester, Pomona College President David Oxtoby plans to meet with the leaders of student cohort groups at Pomona to learn more about the issues students of a range of different identities are facing on campus.
Oxtoby met with many of these groups, including the International Student Mentor Program (ISMP), the student immigrant group IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success), and the Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP) last semester as well and says he has spoken to all the groups that indicated an interest in meeting with him.
“I’ve learned a lot from the first meetings,” Oxtoby said. “It was really helpful to get a sense of some of the significant issues which might not have occurred to me that a particular group of students face in their everyday life, in their classroom, or in a residential setting.”
Students who met with Oxtoby held a similar view that the meetings were productive in helping to bridge the gap between what students experience and the president’s awareness of those experiences.
ISMP head mentor Hélène Ries PO ’16 said that usually, mentor groups communicate with other administrators, and so Oxtoby “did not have an exact understanding of what students were thinking or feeling, because all the information he gets is filtered through people like the Dean of Students, who hear from students and then report to him. So that was definitely important for him to realize those things.”
Oxtoby noticed that while some of the needs and demands mentioned were specific to one cohort group, many of the demands were common across mentor groups. The president’s goal in meeting with these groups this semester is to find ways in which the college can find solutions that will solve the problems of many groups, rather than trying to tailor strategies for each group.
“As I’ve said to each group, we, for various reasons—and it’s not just budget reasons—can’t separately implement strategies for each separate group,” Oxtoby said. “It has to be thinking together about ways in which strategies can help several groups.”
The head mentors of different cohort groups have already begun working together and communicating with one another more frequently this year, through monthly meetings with Dean Rick Townes and Dean Sefa Aina.
“We’ve started working with other mentor groups to mix it up because we feel it’s segmented by mentor groups or social groups. There’s these social structures that separate people,” said ISMP Head Mentor Saad Nadeem PO ‘17. “We’ve started that process, so hopefully more people will be involved with it.”
The cohort groups are trying to coordinate requests and demands, and also cover intersectionality for students who identify as being part of multiple groups.
One issue that many groups have brought up is the issue of having spaces for their groups. Oxtoby said that the issue of spaces is complicated on a campus that encourages interaction between students from different backgrounds.
“On the one hand, we welcome the opportunity for students to spend time in a space with people who share very much the same life experience that they have,” Oxtoby said. “On the other hand, this is a college where we want to encourage students from all different types and experiences to connect with each other, and not always to agree, but to relate and listen to each other.”
However, there are also logistic issues in finding spaces for so many groups on campus.
“Space, that’s always a challenge,” Oxtoby said. “If we were to provide separate space…I don’t think the spaces would be used effectively. They’d be used a few times a week, but we need to figure out ways in which the spaces that we have, and there may be need for new spaces…[that] they could be used by more than one group.”
While solutions to these issues are still forthcoming, Oxtoby says that he has a better understanding of the changes the representatives of these mentor groups would like to see, as well of as the challenges involved in making these changes a reality.
“There isn’t one simple thing to do that will solve everything,” Oxtoby said. “But we need to make sure that all of our students are supported, that every student feels that they have the opportunity to succeed in every area in Pomona, that they don’t feel marginalized.”
The mentors emphasized a need for these demands to be met in a timely manner.
“We want to see movement before the freshmen this year graduate,” said ISMP head mentor Chihiro Tamefusa PO ‘16.