Only three Division lll cross country teams have won three consecutive national championships. This year, Pomona-Pitzer could be the fourth.
Accomplishing something only few have done would be extraordinary. But according to three upperclassmen on the men’s team, this year, the Sagehens are competing for a cause that they feel is bigger than a national title.
Since the beginning of the semester, hundreds of 5C students have united in support of Pomona College dining hall staff’s campaign for higher wages. Calling for higher wages to meet the high cost of living in Los Angeles County, workers are asking Pomona’s administration for an $8.80 pay increase over one year, bringing them to a $28 hourly wage. Pomona countered the request with a $5.40 increase over four years, insisting that the current ask is not a “realistic demand” for the college.
Sagehens, Athenas and Stags have devised different ways to voice support for the workers in the midst of negotiations, which so far have been at a standstill.
Bennett Booth Genthe PO ’24 said that as he watched the movement gain momentum, he became curious as to how he and his cross country teammates could use their platform as nationally recognized athletes to advocate for the workers. To start, he asked his teammates to attend an Oct. 5 informational meeting held by the Claremont Student Workers Alliance.
“I’m friends with a leader of CSWA, so I’ve come to learn about all the important stuff they are doing in regards to supporting and fighting for the workers,” Genthe said. “What I noticed was that there were no student athletes at these events. Since we receive a lot of attention from our school online, we knew that we could use this platform to show the school that we are going to support the workers and be vocal.”
Almost the whole team showed up to the meeting that night, according to Genthe. Afterward, Derek Fearon PO ’24 said ideas of how to get involved began to circulate — that’s when Fearon sprang into action.
“We got some white T-shirts and wrote simple slogans in support of the workers,” Fearon said. “Me and the other guys hoped that if other Pomona-Pitzer students saw the shirts, they would want to get involved. Someone had to start the conversation, and we knew that with the publicity we got, it had to be us.”
Just three days after they went to that strike teach-in, the team hosted the P-P invitational. Knowing that many classmates would attend the meet and that photographers would post pictures of the team on school websites, the team planned to use the home race as a chance to protest.
Colin Kirkpatrick PO ’24 finished in third. Before standing on the podium, Kirkpatrick changed into a white T-shirt with the words “Support POM dining hall staff” written across his chest. He said his frustration with his school’s stubbornness compelled him to wear it.
“When you drive onto campus, you see three words inscribed on the front gate: eager, thoughtful and reverent,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is what this institution wants us to be as people once we graduate. In our classes we are being taught compassion, social progress and ethics. Why don’t we see that in our administration?”
The cause has broken rival boundaries. In their commitment to raising awareness, the Sagehens’ biggest rival, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, has become P-P’s biggest ally. After winning the P-P Invitational, Natlie Bitetti CM ’24 agreed to wear one of the shirts Fearon PO ’24 made.
“It was a really cool 5C moment when Natalie decided to wear the shirt,” Kirkpatrick said. “We can’t thank the CMS team enough for their support. It goes to show how many people are now becoming aware of what’s going on.”
The movement has continued to grow since the P-P Invitational. In an Oct. 20 vote, Pomona dining hall staff voted 84-7 in favor of authorizing a strike, which the union has set for Friday and Saturday.
The strike overlaps with the SCIAC championship and parents weekend at Pomona-Pitzer, and the team hopes to use the increase in attention this weekend to spread their message.
“There is palpable tension between us and our athletic director, but with the SCIAC championship and parents’ weekend at our home court, we can continue to voice our frustration with the results of the recent negotiations,” Genthe said. “Wearing the pin on race day makes me feel like I’m running for a cause that’s bigger than a personal best or a team victory.”