On its website, Pomona College makes a promise to students in its diverse community:
“Pomona is committed to providing the same opportunities to all qualified students. The College’s wealth of financial and other resources ensures two things: 1) Any academically qualified student who is admitted and wants to enroll can do so and 2) Once enrolled, students have the resources and support needed to fulfill their highest potential.”
On Wednesday evening, Pomona’s international student community found the second point to be false advertising. Members of the International Student Mentor Program (ISMP) received an email from Sara Mitchell, the Office of Admission’s International Student advisor, “to make you aware of changes in Pomona’s Curricular Practical Training (CPT) policies.”
The email stated, “If you wish to do CPT the only way to do this is if you apply through a PCIP-sponsored internship program.” CPT is a policy enforced by US law which pertains to all international students in the country. If a Pomona international student wants to work or intern off-campus, he or she must get CPT approval from Pomona College. What this proposed policy change means is that international students will not be able to accept high-paying off-campus internships, even if they are offered positions by employers. This includes programs at prestigious companies like Google, Goldman Sachs and the CMC Silicon Valley program. As international student Huiruo Zhang PO ’19 noted, the CMC program was designed to be very inclusive to all kinds of students, but Pomona College is effectively restricting it to domestic students only.
Needless to say, this does not correspond to the promise that “students have the resources and support needed to fulfill their highest potential.” On the contrary, Pomona is attempting to deprive its international students of these resources. As a result, we are at a huge disadvantage compared to our American peers when it comes to internship opportunities and career planning if this policy change is implemented.
After receiving the initial information, there were many unanswered questions. It remained unclear who had made the decision, and what the rationale behind it was. On Wednesday, head mentors Hélène Ries PO ’16, Chihiro Tamefusa PO ’16 and Saad Nadeem PO ‘17 organized a meeting in the SOCA lounge, since ISMP does not have its own meeting space. While the meeting was an attempt to shed some light on these questions, we instead realized how this very weighty policy change was communicated with an impressive lack of transparency–no one took responsibility for this decision. Since there is no college-wide framework supporting international students, the policy lacks a custodian and a place within the administrative structure. To many of us, it seemed as though the administration doesn’t care that this policy change eliminates some of our summer plans and could limit future career opportunities. In addition, it crucially affects students dependent on their summer income to support their stay in the United States.
The policy change was not accompanied by any official statement from Dean of Students Jan Collins-Eaglin or President David Oxtoby, which is typical for changes of this magnitude. However, it is important not to shoot the messenger. Chrystal Orozco of the International Place at the Claremont Colleges wrote in an email to the international community at Pomona that “our office was not made aware of these discussions or the impending decisions.” Mary Raymond from the Career Development Office claims the email must have been an error because a policy change like this is impossible. Confusion still prevails.
Due to this confusion, many international students have expressed sentiments of disappointment and betrayal towards Pomona’s administration. Ralitsa Racheva PO ’17 expressed this concern concern in an email she wrote to Oxtoby that she also shared on Facebook: “this is the first time such a change has been made and no students have been consulted.”
It is perfectly understandable why international students are offended by this lack of consultation and concern. Most of us cover massive distances to get to Pomona, where we are promised just as many opportunities as American students. We are promised that Pomona College will help us overcome bureaucratic and legal hurdles such as obtaining a visa, receiving a Social Security number, and securing the necessary employment permissions. All of this is in return for the invaluable perspectives we provide in the classroom and our diverse contributions to Pomona’s community.
Particularly in the last 24 hours, the reality has been very different. Whilst Pomona attracts us by highlighting the support systems in place, we are treated like bureaucratic and legal problems. Lazaros Chalkias PO ’16 pointed out that Pomona College has experienced an influx of international students over the past years, but the administrative sector has not yet caught up. The class of 2019 is comprised of about 15 percent international students, yet there is no trained legal professional on campus to help us with issues like obtaining CPT. As head ISMP mentor Saad Nadeem PO ’17 has pointed out, the CPT policy change shows how the college administration doesn’t really understand the basic issues international students face. Making an effort to understand these issues would make problematic policy changes like this one avoidable.
Despite these administrative flaws, the demand for respect stands. We expect Pomona College to take responsibility for the implications a significant policy change like this carries. With this announcement, all international students have been left to deal with the consequences on their own, without the necessary legal support or explanation. Purely judging from the lax communication, we are being dismissed as problems the college does not want to deal with. Just like other students, we deserve an official policy statement instead of a simple email, and we have the right to be consulted about decisions that seriously affect our studies and futures.
Laura Haetzel PO ’19 intends to major in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry.