Pomona Black Student Union pushes for full-time room dedicated to Black students

A group of people stand in front of a fountain.
Pomona College’s Black Student Union asks the administration provide a space available to Black students full time. (Courtesy: Pomona BSU)

In an “interim plan” put forth last month, Pomona College granted the Black Student Union’s request for Black students to have their own designated room on campus with the caveat that the room would only be theirs after 7 p.m and on weekends. In response, the BSU is calling for that room to be available “full time.”

“As Black students at a predominantly white institution we must navigate our Blackness at all times, and for that reason, our group directly opposes this decision and will be working to amend it,” the BSU said in a Sept. 28 statement.

In an email to TSL, Avis Hinkson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said the college made this decision “to adhere with appropriate occupancy requirements” from public health officials. 

Once the requirements “stabilize,” Hinkson said the college “will do a space study and commit [Smith Campus Center room] 212 or another appropriate space to the student groups.”  

The initial June 26 proposal sent to Hinkson called for a “full time dedicated safe space for Black students” in SCC room 212 upon a return to campus. 

The BSU said it currently shares this room with at least three other student organizations and that Black students need a dedicated space on campus to support their social, emotional and academic success. 

Hinkson said the college needs to temporarily keep SCC 212 in rotation for meetings throughout the day to “accommodate other work functions once students, faculty and staff return to campus.”

The SCC currently houses the FLI Nest and the Asian American Resources Center, which are rooms with 24/7 swipe access for first generation, low-income students and Asian American students, respectively. 

“The creation of a Black Space offers Black Students who feel silenced, face microaggressions and feel ignored a space to exist, discuss, and most importantly flourish unapologetically in their identity,” the BSU wrote in its proposal.

Citing the lack of a racial justice initiative at Pomona, the shutdown of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Diversity and an administration that “celebrates diversity, but falls short of inclusivity and action,” the BSU said in its statement that it “will not accept” any delay from the administration of a Black students’ space.

Hinkson said the college recognizes “the importance of this space discussion as well as the broader conversation about support for Black students, especially in the current political climate.” She added that two of the four core tenets in the college’s Strategic Vision are Flourishing and Inclusion and Equity and Access.

The BSU said Pomona has a responsibility to uphold its “Light the Path to 2025: A Vision for Diversity Initiative” by providing a space for Black students to grow and thrive. 

“As a group that has been patient the last two years while working to build relationships with administration and presenting our initiatives, we believe now is the time to take strategic action,” the BSU wrote in its Sept. 28 statement. 

BSU members met with Hinkson to discuss the college’s decision Monday and described the meeting as “inconclusive” in an email to TSL.

According to the BSU, Hinkson said in the meeting that the decision to make the room available only after 7 p.m. and on the weekends was not final and that the administration would continue working with the BSU until an agreement is reached. The group is scheduled to meet with Hinkson again in a little more than a week.

“We see a space on Pomona’s campus as a compliment to the space and offerings of the [Office of Black Student Affairs.] We will continue our discussions in order to navigate our way forward,” Hinkson said.

In addition to advocating for a dedicated space, the BSU is pressuring the administration to implement structural change in the form of bolstered mental health resources specific to Black students’ needs and active recruitment of Black faculty members.

Citing a lack of sufficient mental health resources, the BSU requested in its June 26 proposal that the college invite “Black social workers/therapists well versed in racial conflict, trauma, and justice … to listen to and work with Black students who have to deal with those issues on campus.” 

The BSU called on Pomona to actively recruit Black faculty, specifically arguing that “the need for Black faculty extends past [the Africana Studies Department].” Without a diverse faculty, the proposal said “Black students will never feel comfortable and fully involved in the community.” 

In its Sept. 28 statement, the BSU included an additional demand that the college engage in “clear and open communication” with the student union whenever it considers matters that affect Black students. 

While claiming in its June proposal that Pomona’s response to issues of racial violence has been “lackluster, scarce and disappointing,” the BSU plans to continue working with the administration to amend these issues. 

“We are hoping that both Dean Avis and Pomona College hold true to the commitments they made in their Lighting the Path to 2025 Diversity Plan by making the Black Safe Space Initiative a reality on Pomona’s campus upon our return,” the BSU said in its email.

This article was updated Oct. 10 at 3:10 p.m.

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