A recent $250,000 donation to Pitzer College’s Critical Action and Social Advocacy (CASA) program will boost collaborations between Pitzer students and social justice groups in the Inland Empire region.
On Sept. 12, Pitzer’s Office of Communications announced in a press release that CASA received a $250,000 pledge from an anonymous donor, to be divided in annual installments over the next five years.
Through courses and a physical space in downtown Ontario, CASA connects local residents and nonprofits with 5C students and Pitzer faculty, according to the program’s website.
5C students participating in the program take two CASA courses concurrently, along with a 125-hour internship with partnering organizations. These groups range from Huerta Del Valle, a group that works to establish community gardens, to Warehouse Workers Resource Center, an advocacy organization championing better working conditions for those in the warehouse industry.
In previous years, CASA program manager Scarlett Duarte said the program had a “really small budget,” which limited the scope of the program’s achievements. CASA mostly relied on small grants secured by CASA Director Tessa Hicks Peterson, Duarte said.
The new donation creates greater opportunities to expand the program’s reach and impact on the surrounding community.
“We always do what we can with [our budget], but this opened up the space in a whole new way,” Duarte said.
Duarte said that CASA will use the recent donation to provide stipends to their partner organizations and funding for a local organizer to work for the program as a scholar in residence.
CASA will also expand its program “No Justice, No Peace,” which provides healing resources to support social justice organizers and fund more events in their Ontario space, which Duarte said she hopes will become a space that connects both Ontario and Pitzer’s communities.
“We wanted to really become a space where the students, faculty and staff can come and have meetings or whatever they need to get away from campus. Just really making it like a part of Ontario but also a part of Pitzer,” Duarte said.
Reflecting on the new donation and her time at the program, Helen Chirigos PZ ’25, who took the two CASA courses offered at Pitzer in fall 2021, said programs like CASA have a lot of potential but need to be carefully and respectfully executed.
‘When [community engagement is] a requirement as it is in many classes, I think it ends up being this disingenuous relationship,” Chirigos said. “Even with CASA, I felt like mentors were taking energy that they could have put towards just doing their work or teaching people who are going to remain a part of the program. They could have been training people like that instead of someone like me, who was gonna go back to college half a year later.”
Chirigos said that the program could use some of the funds from the anonymous pledge to develop a more reciprocal relationship with its partner organizations.
“I think the money could be used to financially invest in these partnerships that control the change … redistribute that grant money for grassroots [organizations] that know what they need to put it toward,” she said.
For her internship, CASA placed Chirigos with Youth Mentoring Action Network, an organization serving youth of the Inland Empire with “an emphasis on race, ethnicity, class, citizenship, gender and sexuality,” according to the program’s webpage.
To Aditi Madhok PZ ’23, who completed her semester with CASA online due to COVID-19, having more sources of funding for the program is crucial.
Madhok said the program connected her to the Inland Empire and taught her how to promote intercultural understanding and community engagement, which has been useful when applying to fellowships and directly engaging with Claremont’s neighboring communities.
“I thought it was even more critical to have these kinds of partners in a setting in which COVID exacerbated these types of crises, especially for our essential workers,” Madhok said. “Even though I wasn’t around Claremont, I think it also gave me a little bit of a proximity to what exists in the Inland Empire.”
Madhok said it was important for 5C students to get involved in programs like CASA, be it by directly participating in them or by attending some of their events, such as talks.
“The sooner you do these kinds of programs, the more it forces you to reflect and connect some of those frameworks to the realities and lived experiences of communities nearby you,” Madhok said.