Pomona mentor groups rebuff administration’s restructuring proposal

5 figures in the colors of the 5C's stand opposite 7 purple stars representing the Claremont Colleges' logo.
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

A recent proposal put forth by Pomona College Associate Dean of Students Brandon Jackson will require peer mentorship groups to choose either institutional support or student-led autonomy by Mar. 18, a decision that has been met with backlash from students.

In a Feb. 24 town hall meeting, students gathered on the first floor of Walker Hall, some joining the conversation via Zoom, to discuss the changes that the dean’s proposal would implement. Nearly 100 students — mentors and mentees alike — convened to express a shared discontent regarding Jackson’s proposed changes. 

While the dean did not attend the town hall, Dean of Students Avis Hinkson did in his place and has reached out to head mentors for a meeting next week. 

Organized by FLI Head Mentors, along with other student mentors who wanted to discuss the implications of Jackson’s proposal, the town hall focused on the structural changes the dean’s plan would implement.

The six mentorship programs that are required to make a decision regarding the proposal include the Indigenous Peer Mentoring Program, FLI Scholars, IDEAS, International Student Mentorship Program, the Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Racial Group Exchange Program, and the South Asian Mentoring Program. 

As they exist today, mentorship groups are allotted a designated space and annual budget to support students while paid head mentors match volunteer mentors with mentees. 

But, several of the head mentors of the mentorship programs worry about what implications may arise if left to choose one structure over the other. 

Under Jackson’s proposal, mentorship programs would be subject to following guidelines set by the dean, a relationship from which they previously had more independence.

Guidelines implemented by the dean would eliminate open enrollment while also limiting mentorship programs to first-year students only. In addition, programs that currently pay head mentors would no longer receive funding for those positions unless they opt to be department-led.

Mentorship programs that choose to align with the dean’s department would be required to maintain mentee-tracking along with an engagement point system and mentee assessments, amid other arrangements.

Some students felt that requiring students to sign onto the department-led approach to ensure school support, serves as an unfair incentive that corners groups into giving up autonomy and encourages administration surveillance that can interfere with the programs’ ability to exist as a safe and community-based space. 

Conversely, those that sign onto the dean’s proposal would continue to reap the benefits of a fully-supported relationship with the college, including guaranteed access to a lounge space and secure financial backing headed by Jackson’s department.

“It’s like we’re being told what they are [structural changes], but the specifics aren’t being flushed out,” said Derrick Nguyen PO ’23, a FLI mentor. “There’s just weird semantic misunderstandings, like what do we mean by programming? What do we mean by autonomy?”

While ISMP head mentor Scarlett Wang PO ’22 said there has been a back-and-forth discourse between the dean and mentorship programs since he was brought on last semester, the town hall came about after he announced his proposal in the days leading up to the town hall. 

Jackson did not respond to TSL’s request for comment by press time.

The conversation regarding the changes to the mentorship programs began five days before the initial town hall meeting, when the head mentors from each program met with Jackson, who informed them of the proposed structural changes.

“I feel like we were kind of jaded,” said Yosi Mayoral PO ’23, a FLI head mentor and town hall organizer. “We were just kind of like, ‘what is going on?’ We were just very confused.”

For Wang, the proposal has several drawbacks and felt “like there is a lot of room to improve the proposal and receive student input” before mentorship programs make a decision. 

The head mentors released a petition where they recommended that Jackson receive extensive training to help him understand the experience of the mentorship programs community. 

​​Among their complaints is the dean’s “inaction regarding the dismantling of MERGE,” using insensitive language, such as “using terms like ‘minoritized groups,’ emphasizing surveillance and tracking within our communities, referring to American students of color as ‘international,’” according to the petition released by the head mentors.

Mentorship groups also took issue with the dean’s “attempt to equalize and flatten [the mentorship programs] into a singular definition [by] actively removing our respective organizational constitutions and refusing to disclose how he will accommodate our intrinsic differences.”

Head mentors felt violated when asked to grant “access to our respective [mentorship programs’] private folders, documents, and data,” including “usernames and passwords to our Google Drives and other social media accounts.” 

In a document outlining their experiences, head mentors from the six groups called for several changes to the dean’s proposal. 

First, they called for guaranteed compensation for student leaders, access to lounge spaces for all mentorship programs, while scrapping the incentive-based tracking system and 3 mentees per mentor limit.

Wang added that the proposed changes aren’t a new development.

“[Jackson] has been trying to spoon feed us these proposed changes ever since last semester, but every time we tried to push back or try to propose something else he would listen and then dismiss it, and then never bring it up again or take it into consideration,” she said.

After experiencing a series of push back and little progress made with the dean’s suggestions last semester, Wang said she felt like Jackson was offering an ultimatum. 

Leading up to the proposal, Wang said, Jackson told mentorship groups that there would be a new proposal this semester but that they would only have input for just five percent of its content. 

To sum it up, Wang said the proposal felt “like kind of choosing between institutional support and program autonomy.”

As a sophomore who is experiencing her first year on campus, Brisa Salazar PO ’24 told TSL via message that she was confused by the dean’s intentions with the proposal. 

“I don’t understand why Dean Jackson wants to take that safe space from us, if the FLI mentor group decides to stay student-led,” Salazar said. 

“I don’t understand why Dean Jackson wants to take that safe space from us, if the FLI mentor group decides to stay student-led,”— Brisa Salazar PO ’24

With limited access to the FLI lounge this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, Salazar said “it’s been hard to find space on campus where I feel safe and seen.”

In asking mentorship groups to risk losing their physical spaces, Salazar said a sense of community for many affinity groups is at risk, adding “it’s so disheartening and frustrating to see Dean Jackson actively trying to eliminate any sense of community for FLI and/or POC identifying students.”

“He is making us choose between community and autonomy – and it’s simply not okay,” Salazar said. 

Mentors during the town hall said that Jackson had made little to no effort to communicate with the groups or build a relationship with them. 

Many students also expressed that Dean Jackson’s lack of student input was a reflection of larger power dynamics between administration and students. 

This dynamic has been exacerbated by many of Jackson’s actions thus far, according to the mentor groups. Jackson had made comments that did not resonate with mentor groups. 

In the meeting, representatives from IDEAS mentioned that Jackson has equated undocumented students reporting their immigration status to LGBTQ students “coming out” and pushed undocumented students to publicize their stories despite students feeling unsafe doing so. The group also alleged that he referred to mentor groups as “tribal” and made “citizenship” one of the core values in his model.  

For Mayoral, the town hall has brought the mentorship programs together in ways they haven’t connected before. 

“I’m thankful that in a way, we’re kind of like coming together as mentorship programs, at least the six of us, because now we’re recognizing that there are more issues that need to be addressed regardless of this proposal existing or not,” Mayoral said. 

SAMP head mentor Binita Pandya SC ’22 said that SAMP has largely been motivated to collaborate with the other mentorship programs in responding to Jackson’s proposal, adding via message that “we don’t want to compromise our integrity or the community that SAMP strives to provide.”

While Pandya added that SAMP is yet to decide how they will respond to the dean’s proposal, at the forefront of their decision will be “staying true to our history and purpose as we navigate these colleges and these decisions.”

Timothy Liu PO ’22, who represents North Campus at ASPC, told TSL via email that “the Town Hall last week was important for mentorship groups to bring the community together, share their perspectives and grievances, and come together on a united front,” adding that ASPC aims to  “serve the interests of the student body, and will do whatever we can to inform students and advocate on their behalf.”

Salazar maintained that the core to how mentorship groups operate today would essentially be altered if the dean’s proposal is implemented. 

 “I love that FLI is student-led. I love that I feel safe and understood around other FLI students. I love that I can always count on the FLI community to be there, and love that I will never not feel welcome,” Salazar said. “Making FLI department-led means losing all those things I love. It means losing the community others and myself have fought so hard to create on Pomona’s overwhelmingly white and wealthy campus.”

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