On Monday, March 27, Pomona College students received an email from President G. Gabrielle Starr addressing two recent incidents of vandalism at Pomona and outlining Pomona’s plan to address antisemitism on campus.
These incidents come on the heels of a rise in antisemitism in the Claremont community this past January, when flyers with antisemitic messages were distributed around Pomona’s campus and surrounding neighborhoods.
According to Starr, two incidents prompted her email. In late February, a map in the Oldenborg Center Residence Hall had been found defaced by someone who scratched out the name of the state of Israel. The incident comes after a student who had hung an Israeli flag found it cut in half.
Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life Josh Eisenberg initially called for an end to the vandalism in an email to Oldenborg residents on March 1.
“[Students] have gone back and forth adding Israel to the map, or coloring over it, or adding Palestine,” Eisenberg said. “We all are aware of the longstanding conflict in that region of the world. Vandalizing a map is not the form of expression we espouse in our campus community.”
Pomona’s Dean of Students Avis Hinkson confirmed with TSL that student feedback will be taken into account in deciding what to replace the map with.
“Although we have not yet determined a process for doing so, we hope to get a clear picture of the Oldenborg community’s thoughts regarding next steps before a final decision is made,” Hinkson said via email.
President Starr echoed Eisenberg’s frustration and condemned rising antisemitic vandalism on campus in her email on March 27.
“Criticism of all nations is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and debate over global issues is welcome on our campus. Destructive acts are not,” Starr said.
Starr also laid out Pomona’s plan for addressing antisemitism on campus in three categories: education, community and dialogue.
According to Hinkson, in alignment with the education section of Starr’s plan, Oona Eisenstadt, Fred Krinsky professor of Jewish studies and professor of religious studies, will offer a voluntary teach-in to the community within the upcoming two and a half weeks in which she hopes to “clarify some things about the nature and history of antisemitism.”
“Jews can feel distress or anger or fear when they experience antisemitism or when they hear about it,” Eisenstadt said. “If other students reach out to them and sympathize with them, check-in and ask if they’re okay, that will really go a long way towards creating a better climate on campus.”
Starr highlighted continuing the practice of restorative justice circles as an example of necessary community effort to quell antisemitism on campus. Dean Hinkson elaborated on last month’s restorative justice circle event held at Oldenborg and hoped it may provide guidance on more community events to support students moving forward.
“Five students, two administrators and two facilitators attended the restorative justice circle hosted on the evening of Monday, March 6, in Oldenborg Hall,” Hinkson told TSL via email. “Together, the attendees brainstormed how to address and repair the harms/hurts experienced by the events in Oldenborg.”
Starr also outlined a plan to increase dialogue through a collaboration with the Sustained Dialogue Institute (SDI) and provide a platform for those interested in a conversation about how antisemitism impacts individuals and communities.
The SDI promotes “an intentional, patented, and replicable peace process used to improve challenging relationships and come to action in intergroup conflicts,” according to their website. The Pomona administration has planned to incorporate the SDI’s methods for more effective conversations about anti-hate dialogue and restorative justice in future first-year orientations.
On March 30, ASCMC also released a statement condemning the recent acts of antisemitism, stating that it “stands by the Jewish community and condemns all acts of racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination against members of the student body.” In response, ASCMC created a Special Committee on Antisemitism and the Jewish Community and will pursue creating a 5C Interfaith Working Group.
Jewish Chaplain and Rabbi Hannah Elkin expressed hope for Pomona’s plan to address antisemitism on campus.
“I think this is a dynamic, multi-faceted approach that will hopefully do a lot of good for the Jewish community at Claremont,” said Elkin. “President Starr has been an amazing partner to and supporter of the Jewish community.”
Elkin emphasized the importance of supporting Jewish peers and educating oneself on antisemitism and its impact on the Jewish community.
“Combating antisemitism means not only calling out and addressing what seems obvious to you but also being willing to listen when Jews explain what they find to be harmful,” Elkin said.