Pomona admin fails to implement allegedly promised “Bridge” program for first-generation, low-income students

A smiling female in a blue sweater and blue jacket in front of trees.
Pomona College’s President G. Gabrielle Starr allegedly promised incoming FLI students an orientation program but said she couldn’t follow through due to staffing concerns and inconsistent budgeting. (Courtesy of Pomona College)

First-generation, low-income (FLI) Pomona College first-years arrived on campus this fall without a summer orientation “bridge” program, despite Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr’s commitment last year to implement such a program in the near future.

The situation angered FLI students on campus, who felt Pomona wasn’t delivering adequate resources to support them.

“There have been multiple times that the administration says, specifically to FLI students, that they’re here for us,” Te’auna Patterson PO ’18 said. “But when push comes to shove, they don’t follow through for us.”

Bridge programs aim to ease FLI students’ transitions to college by inviting them to campus ahead of the academic school year to introduce campus resources and build community, according to Patterson. 

She worked alongside students and faculty in several 2018 committees to research and plan the bridge program based off similar models from other competitive colleges, such as Yale University, Stanford University, Princeton University, Washington University in St. Louis, Tufts University and Amherst College.

Patterson said Starr gave student and faculty committees a go-ahead in spring 2018 to complete plans for the program. Daniel Garcia PO ’21 also said Starr committed resources to it then.

Starr said she was “very supportive of the idea” at the time, and told students she would do her best and thought it was “a good idea,” but stopped short of giving a go-ahead.

“There have been multiple times that the administration says, specifically to FLI students, that they’re here for us … But when push comes to shove, they don’t follow through for us.” – ” Te’auna Patterson PO ’18 “

The summer bridge program never occurred because it wasn’t ready, Starr said, citing understaffing and an inconsistent budget. Starr also mentioned she wasn’t yet ready to decide a best course of action for supporting FLI students on Pomona’s campus.

“My commitment to … Pomona is to do what’s right for the college,” Starr said. “I’m not yet ready to say that will be the most beneficial way to benefit our students.”

Starr said a definitive plan to further support FLI students “should be in place by the end of the spring” of 2020, but may not include a bridge program. Starr said she has been in recent discussions with associate dean Ric Townes and Travis Brown, the director of Pomona’s Quantitative Skills Center and Academic Cohorts.

Brown said an outline exists for the program, and a pilot program in the summer of 2020 would be “very possible to do,” he said.

But, Brown said his work was “put on hold” when the committees were disbanded in 2018, and Starr said no tangible steps have been taken yet for the bridge program specifically since then. 

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“If everyone was onboard, and we were able to secure the funding, we could run it,” Brown said.

Still, Pomona’s lack of progress on the bridge program since last fall was concerning to some students and alumni, especially after several student-led rallies last semester called for increased mental health support.

Karla Ortiz PO ’20, a FLI co-president, said similar programs were crucial to her friends’ transitions to life at other colleges, and was “taken aback” to return to campus last fall to learn it hadn’t happened.

“My commitment to … Pomona is to do what’s right for the college … I’m not yet ready to say that will be the most beneficial way to benefit our students.” – Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr

“Not following through with the summer bridge program indicates to me that Pomona doesn’t want to put the resources into actually supporting the diverse student body it prides itself on having,” Devon Baker PO ’22, a member of the FLI community, said.

Garcia agreed, calling it “an equity issue that the college refuses to address.”

“[The issue is] fresh every admissions cycle,” he said. “We’re losing students of great talent because of it.”

Starr said Pomona’s cohort programs, academic mentorship communities, serve a similar purpose to a potential bridge program. 

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But Brown said he doesn’t see the relationship between cohorts and a bridge program “as an either/or; I see it as a both/and, ideally.”

Starr said the implementation of complicated programs like a bridge is often a slow process, and will ultimately be “the job of the deans to figure out in conjunction with the staff.”

“I know it might feel like ‘we did this work and nobody listened,’ but listening also implies processing. Sometimes listening is quiet,” she said.

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