Pomona grants swipe access to SOCA, halts plans to divide lounge amid student organizing

A lounge with a blue and green couch, table, posters and lamp.
Pomona’s SOCA lounge will not be divided by a wall, but will become generally accessible to students of color through swipe access. (Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

After hundreds of students of color organized a series of meetings and met with Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr during her office hours earlier this semester, administration confirmed they will not build a wall through the Students of Color Alliance (SOCA) Lounge for at least the rest of this academic year.

 As of Thursday, students of color can now request swipe access to the lounge.  

“Previously, there was no standardized process for granting swipe access to the lounge,” SOCA wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday announcing the update. “Moving forward, there will be a Google form that students of color can fill out to request swipe access to the space.” 

Helen Hailu PO ’23, one of two SOCA Interns who maintain the lounge and organize events, said the form will be posted this week on SOCA’s Instagram and in the lounge, which is in the basement of Clark V. The form will also be sent to different groups that use the space, including Pomona’s Latinx Alliance (LXA) and Black Student Union (BSU). Once students input their name and student ID, they will receive swipe access within two weeks. 

Dean of Students Avis Hinkson told TSL via email that swipe access to the SOCA Lounge was discontinued during the COVID-19 shutdown and remained restricted once students returned to campus due to COVID-related occupancy rules limiting the size of gatherings. 

“Swipe access to the SOCA Lounge was not discontinued due to any of the recent space discussions,” Hinkson said. 

Hinkson referenced Pomona affinity groups’ efforts to prevent a plan to divide the SOCA Lounge to add space for the Black Student Union (BSU) after BSU’s temporary meeting space in the Smith Campus Center was partially converted into office space last October. In response, over 50 students walked into Starr’s office hours on Nov. 9 chanting “Stop the wall,” where they were met by Starr’s announcement that the wall would no longer be built. 

In Starr’s Nov. 17 weekly update to the Pomona College community, Starr officially announced that plans to build a wall would officially cease for this academic year.

“I appreciate that so many students came to share their views and experiences,” Starr said. “Whenever any of us feel hurt in our community, it is a collective concern and we need to stop and hear the issue out. I’m sorry for that, and I extend my love and respect to you all.”

SOCA interns were already in conversation with Associate Dean of Students Brandon Jackson about reinstating swipe access before the plan to divide the SOCA Lounge was proposed. 

Now, Hailu said allowing individual students to have swipe access will show Pomona administration how many students actually use the lounge, potentially preventing an incident like this from happening again. 

Hailu said Pomona’s administration proposed a wall through the lounge partially because they didn’t have a record showing how many students used the space, which made it seem like it was used less than other student spaces on campus. 

“I’ve attended [meetings in the SOCA Lounge] where there’s over 30 students that attend, and you can’t have that on record because only one or two [student leaders] are swiping into the space,” Hailu said. “The logic of dividing the space came from, like, ‘It’s not being utilized as much as other spaces on campus.'”

 

Hailu said she hopes reinstating swipe access will allow more students, especially underclassmen, to use the SOCA Lounge as a place to hang out and build community with other students of color.

“The original intent of the space is as a lounge, first and foremost,” she said. “It’s meant to be for students of color to be able to come in and study, have movie nights, have a community, anything like that.” 

Although SOCA Lounge will not be divided this academic year, its future remains uncertain. Pomona is in the process of searching for a consulting firm to conduct a “space study to determine how we can best meet the diverse needs of student groups on the Pomona campus,” according to Hinkson. 

As part of the original campaign to prevent the wall, SOCA, BSU and LXA wrote a solidarity statement which includes a need for the space study to be completed by March 3, 2023. They also ask that information from the space study be made public and widely accessible. 

Hailu says the space study, which is slated to be completed before next summer, is crucial for preserving institutional memory in the fight for spaces for students of color on campus. 

“A lot of us in these leadership positions are seniors and are about to graduate,” Hailu said. “And we want to make sure that there is institutional memory that’s preserved so that the other students continue to keep doing [this] work.” 

To the coalition of leaders for LXA, BSU and SOCA that organized students to protest the building of the wall, the fight is far from over. In a statement the coalition shared with TSL, leaders thanked students for their support while protesting the wall.

“The conversation and fight to have our voices heard are far from over, especially when it comes to the matter of safe space for students of color on campus and overall transparency from the administration,” leaders said in the statement. “We knew that in the short amount of time we had before the end of this semester, the urgent matter of concern was to stop the wall that was going to be built over winter break.”

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