Two weeks ago, 16 students who had applied to live at Pomona College’s residence hall Oldenborg received an email informing us that our applications could not be considered. Due to an abundance of applications for the six languages that are taught at Pomona, singles for students hoping to pursue other languages will not be made available in the 2018-2019 academic year.
In the past year, Oldenborg’s Hindi-Urdu table has become one of my favorite parts of being at Pomona. Once a week, South Asian students from all over the 5Cs come to eat and speak at what we call our “cross-bhasha” (cross-language) table. There are so many of us that we have to put together four tables for everyone to fit.
Having not really found my groove within on-campus Asian-American or South Asian mentoring programs, I found myself growing comfortable among the crowd that I spent my Thursday lunches with, the first “desi” group I’ve ever been part of since I moved away from India almost a decade ago.
It’s also been rewarding for me to be able to practice my mother tongue outside of my family, and the opportunity to pursue this in Oldenborg felt significant. This year’s Hindi-Urdu hall is small, housing only four people, but it’s still an important space in which the language can be represented on Pomona’s campus. The fact that it will no longer exist next year is a major disappointment.
The reasoning provided in the email about Oldenborg’s decision to cut Hindi-Urdu this year, along with Arabic, Korean, and Portuguese, was that they “have received so many applications in the traditional six languages and need to accommodate those languages first.” The use of the word “traditional” in this email only serves to emphasize why the “non-traditional” languages should be accomodated.
Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish are all part of a tradition at Pomona, as they have academic departments with faculty, funding, and a variety of classes. They are part of a network of language departments at the 5Cs.
These languages have daily tables at Oldenborg. They also have the language resident program, which provides an avenue for mentorship and many cultural events. These are all wonderful resources which I’m glad the college provides, but none of them are available for Hindi-Urdu. It is not represented even through conversation classes, where the differences between Hindi and Urdu would be easier to navigate. This is precisely why it should be prioritized when it comes to Oldenborg’s residence hall.
For those who look to Oldenborg to provide a feeling of a community away from home, the de-prioritization of Hindi-Urdu is especially difficult.
“As an international student from New Delhi, the only space I have to talk in my native tongue is in my hallway,” said Tulika Mohan PO ’20, who lives in Oldenborg this year. “If these rooms are given to languages [that] are already supported at Pomona, we are left with no space where we can be truly comfortable voicing our thoughts and sharing our culture.”
Oldenborg presents itself as a center for international learning, but limiting its residence hall to six languages is a deviation from its responsibility as a cultural hub. Over time, it has come to be more than just a facility to support Pomona’s language curriculum.
“The students who come to the Hindi-Urdu table do not have a grade tied to their attendance. They are there for the pure love of the language and community,” said Shaila Andrabi, the Hindi-Urdu language table mentor who has been involved in this community for the past 30 years.
For example, students who are native speakers of the languages taught at Pomona, but who have never taken classes in that language or otherwise are still able to apply to live in the designated language hall.
However, creating space for non-Pomona languages at Oldenborg only when there isn’t high demand for Pomona languages makes the former seem less valued on a campus where they are already underrepresented. Looking ahead to Oldenborg’s future, with plans for redesigning in the works, the center should take a more active role in encouraging the practice of a various languages — and not just when it’s convenient.
Aalia Thomas PO ’21 is a Los Angeles local, originally from New Delhi. She loves dog-spotting, “Work” by Rihanna, and the swinging benches between Lyon and Mudd.