After being ordered to vacate campus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pomona College students struggled with the heart-wrenching realization of having to complete the rest of the semester online without their friends. Goodbyes were said to second-semester seniors alongside chaotic phone calls with parents. But those without ideal homes or family situations face far more uncertainty and anxiety than the rest of the Claremont Colleges. With the daily expansion of travel restrictions, some international students are forced to weigh the risks of returning home while others have no choice but to stay. Throughout this looming crisis, Pomona College has lacked effective leadership, communication, and human decency. More and more students are learning that their petitions to remain on campus are being denied. In response to this problem, students crafted a list of demands for the #HomelessAtPomona, those planning or hoping to stay on campus.
Though having often been a dissenting voice moderating the volatile passions of the Pomona College student body, the Claremont Independent Editorial Board stands in solidarity with the student demands. The petition begins by expressing the trauma of the homeless students, who needed to begin moving “in cold, rainy weather, mere hours after the email was sent to officially mandate [student] evacuation.” Students were especially distraught after receiving an email from Pomona College president G. Gabrielle Starr that appears to “[dismiss] most concerns about the plans affecting student houselessness.”
The list’s first demand is that Pomona approves all petitions for students to remain on campus who choose to. The Editorial Board agrees that students are in the best position to decide where they are safest; the vast majority will put their health and needs first. The College should not deny housing to students who wish to remain on campus. The demands allege that Pomona is threatening students whose petitions were denied with “eviction, fines of up to $100 per diem, and firing from their on-campus jobs by Wednesday, March 18th at 5 p.m. PST.” This deeply disturbs the Editorial Board.
Noticing the denial of petitions of students facing hardships at home, Pomona’s tight-knit community stepped in to offer refuge for the needy. However, in an email to parents, Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr urged families “not to carry out these types of ad-hoc arrangements,” referring to parents offering guest rooms for impacted students. Pomona is, however, offering generous financial support for many to get home, and has started an online fundraising campaign to help with the considerable costs of doing so. It seems ridiculous that, even though Pomona argues that it cannot provide housing to students, the College also discourages these heartwarming acts of kindness.
The Editorial Board is also frustrated by Pomona’s continued inaction and contradictions. On March 14, after the petition was created, President Starr released another email seemingly dismissing some students’ needs to remain on campus. The condescending email justified the decision to limit on-campus residents because of the “the need to protect [the] wider community and the importance of carrying out social distancing measures.” Despite appealing to the importance of social distancing, Pomona’s Frary dining hall remains open, crowded, and self-serve—though there are now mandatory hand-washing stations near the entrances.
The latest email continues, saying that “[w]ith the unfortunate realities of this emergency situation, we will not be able to accommodate every student who requests to stay on campus while also doing our part to limit the spread of the virus.” The Editorial Board believes that, with an endowment of almost $1.5 million per student, Pomona has the resources to safely host students in dire circumstances while also taking measures to reduce the chances of student infection. There is a reason why many alumni affectionately refer to Pomona as their alma mater, meaning “nourishing mother.” Students should expect their well-endowed institutions to provide reasonable assistance in extreme circumstances. While plenty of colleges across the nation are completely mistreating their students in a far worse manner, the nation’s number one liberal arts college should strive for a higher standard.
For an example of a more effective housing and campus operations policy, Pomona needs to look no further than UC Berkeley. Despite having a far smaller per-student endowment, Berkeley will not be closing its campus.Though it, like many other institutions, will be conducting classes online, Berkeley’s commitment to ensuring its students have a place to stay stands in stark contrast to Pomona’s harsh policy of eviction.
But Pomona’s administration doesn’t have to look so far afield to find a more effective, caring, and humane response. Though Claremont McKenna College, a fellow member of the Claremont Colleges Consortium, is also forcing its students to leave campus, CMC students have until March 23 to do so—five days more than the time allotted to Pomona students. The extra five days may not seem like much, but compared to Pomona’s hardline policy and the short turnaround time between receipt of the eviction notice and residence hall closure, CMC’s policy seems positively tame.
Ultimately, this crisis could have been an opportunity for Pomona’s administration to show just why the college is considered a leader among peer institutions. Instead, the president and the rest of the administration have given in to the mass hysteria running rampant through the country. What’s worse is how they are doing so completely without regard for students’ wellbeing. A truly caring institution would seriously consider the requests of its students and grant exemptions accordingly. Pomona’s refusal to do so is transparently motivated by concerns of liability, not for their students’ health. It’s ludicrous to believe that forcing students to travel during a pandemic could possibly be promoting their safety. Pomona has failed in its duty to be an exemplar of the thoughtful, measured, and above all, compassionate, ideal of the liberal arts.
The Editorial Board invites you to view and sign the list of student demands by clicking here.
William Gu & Alec Sweet, Editors-in-Chief
Liam MacDonald & Abbas Ali, Incoming Editors-in-Chief
Ahlbie Squire, News Editor
Jordan Esrig, Incoming Managing Editor
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