Mark Neustadt’s research findings hinted at underlying tensions within the student body based on race and income that merit our attention. I believe that we can find more effective ways than a marketing makeover to address the student concerns Neustadt described. Furthermore, implementing Neustadt’s recommendations could jeopardize our cherished collaborative atmosphere.
Neustadt proposed revamping Pomona College’s website and using the admissions process to push back against what he saw as a problematic “ease narrative” of lethargic students. Neustadt justified his proposals in part by explaining that Pomona’s ease narrative isolated low-income and non-European American students.
Neustadt’s findings provide an opportunity for students to come together, express different perceptions of Pomona, and explore sensitive issues like ethnicity and income. We would need to engage students of all backgrounds at Pomona to reaffirm the ease narrative as an accepting and welcoming atmosphere for all students.
A good first step would be for Neustadt to share when and why certain students feel uncomfortable for not fitting into a “laid-back” culture. Is it because affluent European Americans are disengaged from discussions around ethnicity and income? Is it a broader divergence in how different socioeconomic and racial groups view college? I would like to see more specific information about this disconnect and gather student input on Neustadt’s recommendations before we decide if and how they will be implemented.
We could address the disconnect in our student body more efficiently by adding a community service graduation requirement, or requiring participation in classes that explore student conceptions of ethnicity and income, while borrowing the format of Oldenborg’s foreign language conversation courses. These additions would build off of the Feb. 22 op-ed written by Graham Bishop PO ’15, “We Need to Talk About Class,” and directly approach ethnicity and income, rather than downgrade the importance of our collaborative and relaxed student interactions.
Pomona defines and distinguishes itself through what I call “the 5Cs of the ease narrative”: collaboration, critical thinking, community, co-curricular learning, and creativity. Neustadt’s recommendations could diminish the generally positive and open-ended student dynamics that define our school. Before deemphasizing our cooperative and quietly supportive atmosphere, we should carefully examine the real issues at hand and pursue the most direct remedies available.