Last month, Pomona College, a member of the Claremont Consortium, suspended a transfer student for the fall 2021 semester for failing to comply with COVID-19 regulations by moving into on-campus housing before his appointed date. According to a suspension letter posted by the student on social media, Pomona College wrote that “after a thorough discussion of the circumstances of the incidental and your written statement [the College] found that [the student was] responsible for failing to comply with COVID safety protocols by being on-campus on numerous occasions between August 16 and 17, 2021 even after being told [that the student] could not return to campus early.” Pomona’s decision was highly controversial and met with widespread student opposition on social media.
Having reopened their campuses for the first time since sending students home in March 2020, Pomona and the other members of the Claremont Consortium have implemented numerous safety protocols to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 among the student body. From asymptomatic testing to limits on gatherings, the colleges have taken serious steps to stop the spread of the disease.
These strict regulations came in response to guidelines issued by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health requiring that colleges take serious precautions to mitigate the possibility of spread. Administrators at one member of the Claremont Consortium, Harvey Mudd College, explained in an email that “[t]he Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) has communicated that three connected cases on a college campus means that they will investigate and assist in contact tracing to determine the appropriate course of action to contain a potential outbreak. If there are many cases on our campus, we could be at risk for being forced to physically close.”
In light of these restrictions, Pomona College implemented a strict move-in policy as students began returning to campus, only allowing students to move in during a certain window of time to prevent COVID-19 infections. The transfer student failed to abide by the move-in policy as enforced by the Dean of Students. “Your statement does not make it clear that you understand the ramifications of your actions in this case and the possible consequences for the Pomona community,” Pomona administrators explained to them in their suspension letter. “Therefore, the College has decided to suspend you for the Fall 2021 semester.”
The student’s suspension has taken social media by storm. A student petition demanding the decision be reversed has been gathering steam online. The Pomona College Instagram page is flooded with comments asking the school to reverse its decision. “Please reconsider your draconian response and reinstate [them] this semester.” “DO BETTER.” “Reinstate!” read some of the comments on Pomona’s latest Instagram post.
Previously, Pomona had gone to great lengths to highlight the transfer student’s work and accomplishments. The student, a first-gen low income, was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and a recipient of the Pell Grant. Back in March, Pomona College retweeted an article authored by the student, which the student succinctly retweeted and replied: “Y’all will show a student off when it makes you look good and then dispose of em when it’s convenient. Cut the cap.” In their response to their college, the transfer student attributed housing insecurity as the motivating reason for his early move-in.
Some have described Pomona’s decision to suspend the student as racist. One commenter argued that: “[Pomona states that they] are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion” also @pomonacollege *kicks out Black first gen housing insecure transfer student.” This and other commenters argue that Pomona should take the student’s marginalized background into account during sanctioning to hold to its own standards regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Regardless of the college’s motive, it is yet to be determined whether the College will reverse its controversial decision or not, and time will tell the impact on the College’s reputation this decision will have.
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