My phone lit up, and I read the text message that popped up: “Who’s holding down the fort?”
“Yeah, I’m holding it down,” one of my friends replied.
This fort is not your typical one. It’s not designed for protection. No. This is the TV room in Harwood lounge. Instead of protecting my friends and I, this fort protects us from the sweltering heat wave that swept California last week. When we found out that the tiny room had air conditioning, we claimed it as our “fort” because we have been sleeping in this room for one week. Everyone wants the room, so someone has to “hold down” the fort.
Pomona College’s response to the heat wave presents a deeper issue than students creating forts in living rooms, though. Students are paying for rooms they can’t even sleep in because of the suffocating heat at night.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time 5C students have experienced this. A brutal heat wave hit Claremont around the same time in 2014. Across the 5Cs, responses were similar: the colleges established water stations, placed cots and mattresses in air-conditioned lounges and provided suggestions to students. Ricardo Townes, the Dean of Campus Life at Pomona then, stated that they would install ceiling fans in halls and have optional air conditioning for those who need it.
In an uncanny manner, Pomona this year responded the same way they did in the past. On Aug. 31, Dean Josh Eisenberg sent an email saying that Pomona placed ten mattresses in Harwood, Smiley and Wig and 20 mattresses in Walker Lounge. Misters and several water stations were installed across the campus. There were also cooling systems in some lounges.
Townes, in the previous TSL article, asked a poignant question that foreshadowed a looming future, “The way we talked about this is, ‘Is this like a new normal? Should we anticipate this each fall?’”
This might be the new normal, seeing as the trajectory of our planet is heading towards an unlivable one. Climate scientists are attributing frequent heat waves and higher intensities to human-induced climate change. To answer Townes’ question in 2022, this truly might be the new normal if we do not make collective efforts to see a more sustainable, cooler future.
If this is our new normal, the Claremont Colleges must be proactive and intentional with the heat wave — particularly the installation of air conditioning systems and other measures.
Students in all dorms are all paying the same room and board money. It is only by luck — or medical accommodation — that a student has air conditioning. As much as the colleges take pride in inclusivity, this is not inclusive. We aren’t even sleeping in the rooms we paid for but in a public space. There weren’t even enough cots for students, as there were hundreds of students without AC who were affected by the heat wave.
The installation of air conditioners, not ceiling fans, across all the residence halls would benefit the students. Or, at least allow students to have their AC unit in their rooms without needing medical accommodations.
While writing this piece, Assistant Vice President Robert Robinson sent an email on Sept. 9, explaining why there could not be ACs in older residence halls.
“Pomona has had to weigh the fact that heat waves typically come at the edges of the academic year and balance that with the cost of large-scale renovations,” he wrote.
The problem with citing the cost of large-scale renovations as a hurdle is that Pomona College’s endowment value as of the summer of 2021 was 3 billion dollars. This year, the cost of tuition with room and board — not accounting for personal or medical fees — is $78,176. Given how much students pay, and that Pomona just rebuilt its gym for over 50 million dollars, surely Pomona can afford at least to install AC in our rooms.
Assistant Vice President Robert Robinson’s next point as to why older residence halls cannot have AC units installed is that they do not have the electrical capacity to handle it, which can lead to consequences like electrical fires. I want to call attention to the fact that Lyon was built in 1990 and, according to the Pomona College website, “partially renovated in 1998 and 2004.”
Moreover, many residence halls were built roughly at the same time — or even before — most of the renovated academic and administration buildings that have AC. Renovating older residence halls is not an issue of lack of electrical capacity or time constraints: Pomona College just did not prioritize it.
Health-related health issues impede the student’s ability to concentrate and perform well in classes. The students expressed discomfort about sleeping in a public area where COVID-19 restrictions weren’t guaranteed. Even when applying for medical accommodation to put AC in their dorms, the process was incredibly inaccessible and lengthy.
If Pomona College prides itself in quality education, this also means caring for students’ wellness and listening to suggestions. You can dismiss student concerns, but you cannot dismiss the inevitable: the planet is dying, and we are experiencing the brunt of it in this heatwave. And there’s more to come.
Zeean Firmeza PO ’26 is from Miami, Florida. She enjoys drinking boba, playing video games and reading.