Pomona College: Police State?

“After ‘Victory Friday’ in Tunisia and ‘Liberation Friday’ in Egypt, [Libyan strongman Muammar] Gaddafi has decided to abolish all Fridays.” So declared the U.A.E.-based columnist Sultan al-Qassemi two weeks ago. It was an absurd statement, but it also illustrates why many of Gaddafi’s subjects are currently marching in the streets to protest his four-decade rule. Notwithstanding his eccentric and arbitrary decrees, Gaddafi is one of the many Arab dictators whose response to a problem is to enact illogical reforms, crack down on protestors, or simply ignore legitimate grievances—essentially, to do anything but honestly examine their own actions.

It should trouble everyone, then, that some Pomona administrators appear to be adopting the tactics of Arab dictators in their dealings with students. Stonewalling, outright denial, and general disengagement from controversial issues are increasingly commonplace. Pressing questions from organizations go unaddressed. Yes, it should be obvious to anyone that as Pomona students, we now live in an autocracy as repressive as anything the Arab world has ever known.

My first experience with Pomona’s autocratic system came in the spring of 2009, when participants in the annual Beverage Scavvy event were charged with drinking game violations en masse at the end of spring semester. I was one of the many students who were ordered to pay their fines within a week, whose J-Board appeals were systematically denied, and to whom evidence for the erroneous charges was never provided. (This is actually a legitimate grievance that I’m still pretty upset about). My rights dissolved faster than an Egyptian parliament, and I’m still scarred by the memories of my interrogation with the wicked chief of intelligence, Sarah Visser. Certain school policies have been liberalized since then—most relevantly, the policy on drinking games, largely thanks to the efforts of revolutionary ASPC President Stephanie Almeida, the Mohamed ElBaradei figure on campus—but Pomona’s approach to enforcing them remains the same, and it would make Hosni Mubarak proud: crack down on the violators, intimidate critics into silence, and move on with business as usual.

Throughout the years, the persecution has continued. Take the “de-sponsoring debacle,” described in Ryan Wheeler’s recent op-ed. Surely the dreaded mukhabarat (Arabic for “secret police”), otherwise known as the Office of Campus Life, had no justification for their search of private space and groundless dismissal of a beloved sponsor. Yes, the search was technically legal under the widely reviled Emergency Law known popularly as the “Gotcha” program, and there were no doubts that the individual in question was involved with a subversive underground group: the Muslim Brew-therhood. But RHS’s violation of his personal space made a mockery of our constitutional document, the Student Code. With such rash actions being taken every day, the legitimacy of our eccentric rulers has to be called into question.

And our rulers are indeed eccentric. Following in the footsteps of Mr. Gaddafi, who briefly banned soccer in Libya, Dean of Students and self-styled “Colonel for Life” Miriam Feldblum has also cracked down on unsanctioned sporting activities. Ostensibly, Gaddafi banned soccer because it offended his socialist ideals: he reasoned, completely logically: “Why should 22 players chase one ball? Everyone should have their own ball.” (More likely, the ban was enacted because gatherings of passionate fans were ideal breeding grounds for protests against his regime. Evidently, Gaddafi’s socialist ideals have changed since then. The ban was lifted, his son now plays professional soccer, and the “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” is part-owner of Juventus, an Italian Serie A team). Colonel Feldblum also has no qualms about forcing her ideals upon the populace—she routinely dispatches her security forces to break up recreational baseball games, perhaps fearing they will generate fun, which she refers to in private as “unrest.” Many upstanding citizens have seen their reputations besmirched by these raids.

To maintain their authority, Pomona’s despots rely on a nefarious collection of security forces, the most fearsome of which is Campus Safety. Equipped with new uniforms, gear, and vehicles courtesy of (presumably) American money, these elite soldiers are among the world’s best Special Forces operatives. Schooled in suburban warfare and high-speed golf cart maneuvers, these shock troops are in peak physical condition and can be called upon at any moment to “repress an uprising,” a common euphemism among deans for “shutting down a party.”

Looking at the situation, it may seem as though the odds are stacked against the forces of freedom. But if the Arab world has taught us anything, it is how collective action has the power to overthrow entrenched rulers. If you want to take a stand against the police state that Pomona College has become, I encourage you to boycott Frary’s continental breakfast from 9 to 11 a.m. on Sunday. I will count every student who doesn’t show up to continental breakfast among my supporters in Pomona’s Jasmine Revolution.

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