For the uninformed in the 5C student body, Pomona first-years took a survey at the end of the fall semester to see how they felt about campus life at Pomona. For the average student, this survey probably seems unimportant, but for sponsors like ourselves, it’s a bigger deal. To a large extent, our job performance is rated based on the survey responses. Given the recent events surrounding Andrew Hong’s de-sponsoring, sponsors are already under significant pressure by the administration with regard to substance use. The campus life survey has only inflated the administration’s concerns about the effectiveness of sponsors and Pomona’s substance culture.
Andrew was Loren’s co-sponsor on Blaisdell one side. On Jan. 25, shortly after the de-sponsoring occurred, Andrew, Loren, and the Blaisdell one back sponsors, Becky and Ryan Wheeler, met with their zone supervisor, who voiced concerns based on the survey results. The zone supervisor refused to provide specific answers to questions grounded in the results of the survey. When we asked to see these results, we received an unnecessarily hostile response that implied 1) we didn’t know what a survey was, 2) we didn’t understand the nature of confidentiality, and 3) we were not doing our jobs as sponsors. However, as the conversation continued, it quickly became evident that the survey results were not broken down by hallway. Thus, these concerns, which the zone supervisor implied were specific to our hallway, actually did not necessarily apply to us at all. Despite this, our performance as sponsors was being harshly judged because of these results. For example, on multiple occasions, the zone supervisor mentioned that some first-years felt silenced or uncomfortable expressing concerns about substance use with their sponsors or their spiblings. It was implied that sponsors were responsible for this lack of a safe space.
Last week, after asking for a month to see the survey summary, we finally received the results. From our first meeting with the zone supervisor, we had doubts that the results of the survey were being fairly presented. Finally, we have concrete proof that our doubts were not unfounded.
So, how do the first-years actually feel? In January, as previously mentioned, sponsors were told that first years were uncomfortable with the substance culture at Pomona, and that certain events on our hallways gave the Office of Campus Life (OCL) “proof” that our hallways specifically were the problem. As initially suspected, these conclusions did not reflect the majority opinion of survey participants. Less than 20 percent of first-year respondents answered that they felt even moderately uncomfortable or neutral about Pomona’s substance culture. 20 percent. That means that more than 80 percent of respondents are comfortable with the substance culture at Pomona. Similarly, the aforementioned concern that “some students felt silenced or uncomfortable voicing their opinions in their sponsor groups” was not related to the substance culture on campus, but rather to the prevalence—or lack thereof—of safe spaces on campus for discussions about social justice, race, sexual orientation, etc.
Let’s get real. If Obama had an 80 percent approval rating, this country would be happy and united. When sponsors get an 80 percent approval rating, we are criticized and treated poorly, steadily building up animosity between sponsors and OCL.
We are not trying to imply in any way that the opinion of the 20 percent of first years who are uncomfortable with Pomona’s substance policy does not or should not matter to the college. We are also not saying that the sponsor program and our treatment of substances as a college can’t and shouldn’t be improved. But based on the survey results, first years’ most desired improvement seems to be for OCL to be more transparent about substance policy with students. Students need and want to know what they can do and what they can’t do, and what they can expect from the administration if they violate Pomona’s substance policy.
These are not unreasonable needs, so why is OCL blaming sponsors for them instead of stepping up to the challenge? Sponsors are only trying to help first years adjust to life at Pomona. It’s a convenient escape for administrators to criticize sponsors for not doing a better job, when according to the survey results, most of the problems stem from sponsor group placement issues. Placement problems aren’t OCL’s fault: they’re mainly caused by students not extensively and accurately filling out their housing forms or the simple fact that people change in college. Still, if the sponsor program and Pomona’s substance culture are to improve, OCL needs to stop hedging the truth and start treating sponsors like teammates, not opponents.