An unnamed student group is attacking Pomona College for its “admission policy that allows for discrimination” against former convicts, claiming that the “facts” surrounding a person’s incarceration “don’t always tell the full story” and “might not account for structures that either privilege or police certain individuals.”
In a series of college-approved posters affixed earlier today across the campus of the elite liberal arts college, the group urges students to consider how “the voices of incarcerated leaders, scholars, artists, and engaged members” are “barred, silenced, and suppressed by Pomona’s admission policy.”
The group also encourages students to question free speech protections, which are regarded as an affirmation of whiteness.
Referencing a statement from former Pomona College president David Oxtoby, which defended free speech in the aftermath of the April 2017 protest of conservative, pro-police scholar Heather Mac Donald, the group asks: “Why does Pomona College legitimate the speech of those whose words continues [sic] to construct and uphold the white supremacy it claims to condemn, when Pomona has the ability to amplify the speech of incarcerated individuals whose voices are systematically silenced?”
Quoting James Cone, a black scholar, the students continue that “what is wrong with America is … its belief that persons can affirm whiteness and humanity at the same time.”
A second poster cites an email from an unnamed campus administrator detailing the college’s policy on admitting incarcerated students.
“Our policy is to take all the information in the application into account,” the cited email states. “As with any piece of information in the application the entire Admissions Committee would evaluate the circumstances surrounding [an applicant’s criminal] offense, as well as the applicant’s response to the questions in the application, and we would make a judgment using all the facts presented, in addition to assessing the applicant’s potential for success at Pomona.”
According to the student group, this email illustrates that the college can engage in unjust discrimination.
“Injustice often hides in plain sight, in ‘common sense’ statements about circumstances, and facts,” the group writes, captioning the school’s email. “Language has a way of making injustice seem ‘normal,’ and thus acceptable, to those who are privileged enough to have it stay out of their way. The ‘facts’ don’t always tell the full story. The ‘circumstances’ might not account for structures that either privilege or police certain individuals.”
“Pomona College claims that a criminal record ‘does not disqualify’ a person from admittance. At the same time, they write that they will ‘make a judgment using all the facts presented.’ What this really says: Pomona can discriminate against an admission applicant for having a criminal record,” the caption concludes.
Another poster suggests that Pomona’s policy on admitting former convicts demonstrates the college’s lack of commitment to diversity, and asks: “Why does Pomona subject formerly incarcerated people to further extrajudicial discrimination?”
The posters contain a link (PDF version here) to an online statement, in which the student group explains that its aim is to “raise significant awareness” of the college’s “admissions policy that allows for discrimination against individuals who have been incarcerated.”
“We aim to destabilize Pomona College’s representation of itself by drawing attention to who is not addressed in statements put forth to produce and promote Pomona’s image,” the students write. “We have chosen the format of posters placed strategically across campus because we want to denaturalize the physical space of campus to provoke people who are a part of this institution to consider, if they have not already, what experiences and perspectives may not be as represented.”
The students hope that “those who read the posters will be led to question the structural underpinnings of their own path to Pomona.”
Current and former Pomona students had mixed reactions to the campus postings.
“Our criminal justice system is inequitable, and no college should discriminate against applicants based on having a record alone,” said Kate Dolgenos (PO ‘17), in a message to the Independent. “However, given the severity of some criminal charges, the college should be able to factor in criminal records when they evaluate applicants.”
Pomona senior Jerry Yan (‘18) expressed similar sentiments.
“I agree with the group’s premise that hearing from formerly incarcerated persons can be valuable and can go a long way in furthering Pomona’s self-professed mission of creating a diverse campus environment that exposes students to a range of different perspectives,” Yan told the Independent.
“That said, the context matters a great deal; I imagine that many would be uncomfortable attending college with someone who has an extensive history of sexual assault, for example. But if the admissions office believes that a deserving applicant who has a prior criminal record has taken the appropriate steps to move on or that the nature of the applicant’s prior conduct does not merit serious concern, then by all means the applicant should be admitted. I would look forward to meeting such a person, and hearing what they have to share,” he continued.
Pomona College’s Office of Admissions has yet to respond to the Independent’s request for comment.
William Gu contributed reporting.