What Is a Sponsor Group, Anyway?

My Friday evenings aren’t normally spent in the particle-free, air-conditioned ambience of Hahn. But last week, in pursuit of a quest I have undertaken along with 88 other Pomona College first-years, I spent two hours perched on a chair, listening to my fellow sponsor applicants regale us with multifaceted, all-inclusive analyses of first-year roommate drama. This ostensibly clear-cut issue quickly morphed into a behemoth of a response. While advocating a safe, productive line of communication between the two roommates, potential sponsors also offered quick-fix solutions ranging from headphones to prevent music from waking up roommates, to a sleep mask in order to remedy differences in study habits, to the benefits of studying in Lincoln-Edmunds on a late night.

All the while, a single question raced through my mind: “Are these really the criteria we’re being chosen for?”

What is a sponsor, anyway? The Dean of Students Office intentionally lets us live with the ambiguity of the question.

According to the college website, the Sponsor Program’s main goal is “to assist in the transition to college by creating a safe, welcoming and sustainable living environment for all first-years as well as increasing interactions with older students.”

The Office of Campus Life (OCL) relishes the adaptability of the system, its capacity to differ based on each individual sponsor pair and group. At a mandatory informational meeting, the head sponsors stressed that “there is no one type of sponsor.”

But if OCL can’t offer us a clear definition of a sponsor, who can? Does the group posses some shared, ineffable characteristic, an X factor of sorts only apparent to the selection committee? What aspects of me would the committee specify as sponsor-worthy?

I understand the need for not conclusively defining sponsors. Every incoming first-year will not fit a single, cookie-cutter mold. But beyond serving as resources, handling crises of the personality and alcohol persuasions, and achieving that elusive role as “facilitator of a safe, welcoming, and engaging first-year experience,” the essence of the sponsors’ role merits only a single mention in the list of expectations distributed to sponsor applicants: Be available and accessible to the Sponsor Group on a daily basis and spend adequate time in one’s own residence hall community to get to know and develop relationships with residents.

This statement seems simple, but it begs intriguing questions: What constitutes adequate time? Who is holding the stopwatch and keeping track of the hours sponsors devote simply to leaving their doors open to talk with their sponsees? And is that what they are supposed to do anyway? 

These incidences of social irreconcilability do not mandate an immediate reshaping of the program, but they do shed light on one of the program’s often ignored drawbacks: It represents an attempt at social architecture. In a sense, some unknown entity has chosen a certain number of our friends before we even arrive on campus. How comfortable are we with the idea that our social lives are in some ways predetermined before we even set foot inside of Frank?

Not everyone arrives at Pomona prepared to buy into the Sponsor Group system, and that should not force them to march around campus with a red S for “Sponsor Group seceder” stitched to their chest.

It’s a question with no concrete answer. When I arrived at Pomona, I recognized the limitations of the system and actively sought to expand beyond them. It wasn’t until I needed someone to fall back on that I realized the program’s actual benefits.

Sponsors exist, ideally, to form relationships that matter, relationships that surpass a simple mentor position and develop into legitimate friendships. But even if they don’t become the lifelong friends the admissions brochures purport them to be, the program has not failed. Sponsors can still act as resources. They can identify sponsees whose needs they are unable to fulfill and connect them with like-minded individuals on campus.

To truly foster relationships, the sponsor groups need to be smaller. Twenty-person halls just can’t function with the intimacy the program demands; even my hall of 12 can feel large at times. If we are actually committed to ensuring a positive first-year experience, we have to ensure that sponsors are accessible, and that demands a much smaller group than what we have now.

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