Listening to Moderates in Pursuit of the Fountain of Truth

Where was I the night of Oct. 12 at approximately 11:58 p.m.?

Okay, I’ll confess, yes, that was my friends and me at the Coop that night. We decided to celebrate the return of the water in classic Pomona style: by fountaining ourselves.

You might be wondering to yourself right now, “wait… Is this the same Chloe that was quoted in the news article about the fountains (see pages 1 and 3) saying that turning the fountains back on was 'problematic?' What’s up with this chick – isn’t she being hypocritical?”

Yes, I am. Because yes, while I think the fountains being back on is extremely problematic as an environmentally-friendly student, I also love the fountains being on as a human being, and like most things in life, it’s difficult to say one identity or value is more important than the other.

The fountains were turned back on as a reward for going above and beyond our water conservation efforts. Since the end of last semester, the school has conserved a whooping 12 percent more than our “goal” of Governor Brown’s legally-required 33-percent reduction, thanks to turf removal, decreased lawn maintenance, and student conservation efforts. But while I applaud the college immensely for all the work we’ve done to reduce our water usage, why stop here?

Why are our conservation efforts deemed complete by reaching a legally mandated threshold? Why are we only as green as the law requires us? If we’re as 'green' and 'sustainable' of an institution as the college boasts, shouldn’t we be doing as much as we can to preserve water, including leaving the fountains off, no matter how much water they actually use?

Regardless of how much water they end up using in the end, the biggest concern about the fountains isn’t even about the actual water usage—it is about the symbolic message it sends to turn them back on. The return of the fountains was not accompanied with any community announcement explaining why they were back on or even a reminder that we are still indeed in a drought, leaving students to conclude that since the fountains are on, it must also be acceptable to take 30-minute showers. That Monday, I saw countless Snapchat stories celebrating the “end of the drought,” even though this year still marks one of the driest years yet for Claremont.

The school could do much better both in our sustainability efforts and in the transparency of decisions to the greater community, both exemplified by the unexpected return of running fountains. It forces us to ask what we as an institution value more: the earth we live on that is rapidly declining because of various human-induced stresses, or having soothing white noise as we study outside the Coop Fountain? And if this decision is supposedly going to be a huge boost for student mental health, why were virtually no students involved in the decision-making process?

Yet as I express my disappointment in the College as a claimed “leader in sustainability,” as a sponsor and just as a human being, I couldn’t help but love the fountains being on again. Being able to fountain sponsees in proper Pomona tradition is such a relief, and running fountains does make our campus look a little more like paradise. I don’t think that students are necessarily against fountains as an institution, and I’m guilty as charged for hopping right into a fountain the day they got turned back on to celebrate.

About now is probably where you’re thinking, “hold up.” I just spent the last however-many paragraphs talking about how bad it was that the fountains were on, and now I’m completely contradicting that? What? As someone who claims to care about the environment, isn’t it highly disingenuous for me to even think that it’s okay for the fountains to be on? And very hypocritical for my actions to reflect anything other than disapproval for the fountains? If I really do care, why would I jump into a fountain to celebrate the water’s return?

This internal conflict has battled inside me for 11 days, and I’ve felt an immense pressure to pick a side and have to defend it to its extreme. Even fountaining sponsees feels like a betrayal to all that I claim to care about. What is it about our campus culture that makes it feel so important to choose a side and stick with it? Why does it not feel okay to feel strongly for both sides?

This pro- or anti-fountains dilemma isn’t the first time I’ve felt torn between two extremes in Claremont. Whether it’s been Bernie Sanders versus Hillary Clinton or even Frank’s Taco Tuesday versus Collins', “I like both” is an unacceptable answer in Claremont. It’s not just an issue of politics and hyperpartisanship – it’s a broader hyper-everything-ization that forces students to hold an opinion on everything to be relevant in conversations.

Not being on one side or the other doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion; it just means that my opinion isn’t as extreme. When did our definition of a “valid opinion” become one that is strongly one side or the other? Why do I have to be either pro-fountain or anti-fountain? Why isn’t it okay for me to be both?

Even in writing this opinions piece, I struggled in figuring out what exactly I wanted to say. I knew I felt strongly about the fountains, but the more I thought about it, the more confused I felt about which side I was really on, which I immediately thought would make a terrible opinions piece. We’re taught in our English classes that persuasive pieces should never be “wishy-washy” – choose a position and stick to it; concessions are only okay if it helps your case. To write an opinions piece where I didn’t have an opinion? Why waste my time?

What this hyper-ization of opinions fails to recognize is that those who see both sides often have an irreplacable role in controversial discussions. All too often, dialogues between two extremes gets defensive, understandably so considering the amount of passion each side feels. Talking to someone who agrees with you, on the other hand, places you less on the defense, and since moderates are able to play both sides, they can act as a facilitator of discussion between the two extremes without letting it getting too personal. Because of this unique ability, they're often best able to facilitate the creation of a Hannah Montana-esque solution that brings together the best of both worlds, giving them an important role in disagreements. After all, the facilitators of the recent presidential debates, for example, aren't called moderators for no reason.

Moderation is often written off as apathy, most likely because those in the middle can’t give an answer to the yes or no question. My being both for and against the fountains being on doesn’t answer your question of whether I think the fountains should be on, and would likely make for a frustrating answer. But writing off those in the middle as apathetic or not having anything valuable to say is a dangerous practice that we shouldn’t let become habit.

So yeah, I’m in love with the fountains being back on again, but am constantly questioning what message it sends about Pomona’s sustainability. I don’t know how I feel about Bernie versus Hillary, and I usually can’t even decide between chocolate or mint chip ice cream at Collins, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions.

Chloe An is a sophomore at Pomona College from St. Louis, Missouri. As you might be able to tell, she's very bad at decisions, but intends to be a economics and environmental analysis – chemistry double major. She is a fan of good baseball, good food, and good friends (bonus when she gets all three together), and in her free time, she loves to run, bake, and attempt to teach herself how to play the ukulele. 

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