On last year’s move-in day, I tried to ignore the disgust behind some old white lady’s glare as my dad helped me unload something from the trunk of our car. During orientation week lectures, I often found myself sandwiched between white strangers, each leaning over me to talk to each other.
During my Orientation Adventure trip, I shared my tent with three other students of color — not necessarily because we had mutual interests, but because the majority of the other first-years on the trip were white and didn’t feel it necessary to try to include us in their activities or conversations.
Pomona College’s status as a predominantly white institution has been clear to me since day one. I didn’t even know that this stance could be considered an ‘opinion’ because of how obvious it is.
And yet, the very few times that I’ve brought this subject up with people, I’ve always been met with either slight skepticism or outright denial. It all boiled down to the same meaningless point — that because less than half of Pomona’s student body is white, Pomona is incapable of being a PWI.
That argument really only makes sense if you believe that the people of color that make up the rest of the student body share the same culture, have the same experiences and are subject to the same levels of oppression. None of those things are true.
Statistically, we have more white students attending Pomona College than students of any other race, according to the college’s Common Data Set for 2018-2019. That fact alone should solidify Pomona’s status as a PWI.
PWI status is also predicated on an institution’s history. A good rule of thumb to follow in determining an institution’s status is its other affiliations.
If the school isn’t historically known for having a large population of students from a racially marginalized group (like historically black colleges and universities or tribal colleges and universities), then it’s usually considered a PWI by default.
If the statistics weren’t enough for you, Pomona’s alma mater, or anthem, was originally written for a blackface minstrel show, according to the school. This institution is founded on rhetoric that demeans and excludes people of color from its community.
You don’t even really need evidence of minstrel shows to prove that, though. Pomona makes a habit out of showboating its various identity-based resources, such as the Asian American Resource Center, Chicano Latino Student Affairs and Office of Black Student Affairs. The fact that we have these resources at all proves that Pomona has a history of excluding students of color.
We wouldn’t need to establish these places to begin with if the college had a history of integrating students of color within the community. Meanwhile, white people don’t have an ‘Office of White Student Affairs’ or a ‘White Student Alliance.’ It would be excessive, seeing as they already have the Board of Trustees.
Allowing people of color into your school doesn’t erase the fact that the school was not built with them in mind. Integration efforts don’t rewrite history. People insisting that Pomona isn’t a PWI reflects a much greater problem of people conflating diversity with greater social change.
People will frame the most minimally progressive measures as substantial progress. Diversifying PWIs is an excellent first step to level the playing field and widen the general audience for higher education. But diversity doesn’t actually mean anything without proper efforts toward inclusion.
Allowing people to exist in spaces without giving them the tools they need to flourish reduces them to props. I know I’ve felt that way quite a bit throughout my academic career, like when people at my high school claimed I only got into certain schools because of affirmative action and not because of the work I put in — the implication being that I wasn’t expected to learn, just to help fill a diversity quota.
Broadcasting diversity more than inclusion efforts just gives off the impression that people of color are here to make white people feel better about themselves for being progressive enough to deign to wave at us, sit near us in class or talk to us.
Pomona is a PWI. No matter how many students of color the administration admits, there is no changing the fact that the institution was built on the same white hegemony that excludes them.
Brooke Sparks PO ’22 is from Las Vegas, Nevada. When she’s not complaining about racism in an article, she’s complaining about video games on Twitter.