With Pomona spring closure, 5Cs face fully virtual academic year

A beige building with windows is surrounded by trees
With spring 2021 closure, Pomona will have remained closed to students for 18 months come fall. (Yasmin Elqutami • The Student Life)

Pomona College is the latest of the undergraduate Claremont Colleges to announce a full campus closure for the spring 2021 semester, President G. Gabrielle Starr announced in an email to students Monday.

This announcement marks an all-but-certain virtual 2020-2021 academic year for all five of the undergraduate Claremont Colleges. Students at the 5Cs have attended classes virtually ever since they were cleared from campus in March 2020.

The Los Angeles Department of Public Health has restricted institutions of higher education from reopening since March. A county waiver program — which would have allowed 10 county colleges to reopen with a fraction of their student bodies — provided some hope to college officials this winter. It has since been put on indefinite hold

Starr slammed the LADPH regulations keeping the campus shuttered, noting that neighboring counties and “most other governmental entities in the US” have allowed college campuses to reopen. 

Starr pointed out that indoor malls in LA County are cleared for operation, while colleges are not allowed to “hold classes outside with social distancing and other precautions.”

“There is no scientific rationale for this variation and, though well-intentioned, it indicates a troubling lack of priority for young people,” she said.

Pomona is the last 5C to acknowledge LA County’s restrictions in a decision for the spring semester. Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College and Scripps College announced in January that they would keep their campuses entirely closed for the spring semester. 

Claremont McKenna College was evasive — in an email to students, college President Hiram Chodosh declined to say that the campus would remain shuttered. Instead, he placed the onus on LACDPH officials, saying they “do not foresee any way we can return students to campus in March.”

When TSL reached out to a CMC spokesperson for clarification, the spokesperson declined to answer, instead telling TSL to refer to the college’s original email. 

Starr acknowledged that COVID-19 vaccinations will be an “important part of getting our students back to campus” and announced that the Claremont Colleges’ Student Health Services has been approved as a COVID-19 vaccine distributor. 

Starr called on the LA County Board of Supervisors to provide “a clear and responsible path for college students to return to their campuses” in the fall, at which point students will have been barred from campus for 18 months.

“I will work tirelessly to advocate for the most vulnerable students who face the greatest hurdles in this temporary online environment,” Starr said. 

International students have raised concerns about the impact of attending classes in the middle of the night due to time zone issues. Students have also launched mutual aid funds for those in difficult housing situations amid the closure of campuses.

“I’m confident in our community and I’m confident we will prevail in time,” Starr said. “Now is the moment to press for change and for our county leaders to create a path to bring students back to campus.”

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