Pomona students stage sit-in to protest ‘financial insecurity and inaccessibility’

A female college student stands holding a sign that reads "Stop firing students" during a sit-in at Pomona College.
Pomona College’s students protested the school’s instructions for students on work-study to “stop working immediately” by staging a sit-in in Alexander Hall April 15. (Kellen Browning • The Student Life)

About 60 Pomona College students gathered in Alexander Hall Monday to protest “financial insecurity and inaccessibility to basic needs,” according to a statement by the protest organizers to the community.

During their sit-in, which lasted nearly four hours, students demanded Pomona “reinstate all students’ jobs immediately” and permit students “to register for classes regardless of any financial holds on their student accounts,” among other topics.

The sit-in came partially in response to Pomona’s abrupt notification to 58 students on the work-study program over spring break to stop working because they had exceeded their work study allowances.

The email informed the students that they “must stop working immediately.”

Students held signs that said “Stop Firing Students,” and sat on the floor or at the table across from President G. Gabrielle Starr, Dean of Students Avis Hinkson, Treasurer Karen Sisson and Director of Financial Aid Robin Thompson.

“Financial security has a direct impact on the mental­-emotional­-physical health, wellness, academic performance, professional development and holistic success of students,” the organizers wrote in the list of student demands. “A student’s quality of life impacts their sense of belonging, persistence, graduation and overall Pomona experience.”

Students discussed the demands in detail with the four administrators.

Starr and Hinkson agreed to host a student employment forum with various representatives from the financial aid and human resources offices. A date for the forum is forthcoming.

In response to a demand for on-campus jobs to be posted on Handshake prior to the 2019-20 school year, Starr and Hinkson said all available campus jobs will be posted by August 1.

Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr, a middle-aged woman with curly grey hair, clear glasses, and an indigo shirt sits at a conference table during a sit-in.
Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr expressed concerns about the wellbeing of students who hold multiple college jobs. (Kellen Browning • The Student Life)

Administrators said they were interested in creating more “chunky jobs” on campus, or jobs that will allow students to work more hours so that they do not need to seek a second or third job as well.

However, they also emphasized the importance of wellness and having spare time outside of academics and on-campus work.

“We want you to be healthy,” Starr said.

At the sit-in, Thompson said she “sent a apology letter to students giving some context and saying that [the students] may continue to work and put in a request” to have their work study allowances increased.

Pomona spokesperson Mark Kendall said via email that he thought it was a “productive discussion” and that administrators are working to respond to concerns raised.

“Work-study and other financial issues are important, and we can work together as a community in this area,” he said. “It was helpful for college staff members to hear students’ concerns and also to be able to provide information.”

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At a meeting on mental health at Pomona March 27, Starr said that in their strategic planning, Pomona was thinking “in a broader way of how we can provide more resources to students.”

The sit-in coincided with Pomona’s Admitted Students Day, and some students brought their prospective students to join the protest.

Zakiya Jones PO ’20, one of the protest organizers, was unable to comment before press time.

Julia Frankel contributed reporting.

This article was last updated April 19 at 1:15 a.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that the apology email came from Sisson, rather than Thompson. TSL regrets this error.
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