I still remember the day in mid-March when we were sitting down to discuss what Study Abroad required of us and what we should expect from being away. One of the statements that will forever remain in my thoughts is the following:
“Don’t expect Pomona College abroad–if you want Pomona College, then stay here.”
This was stated by Rhoda, the director of the Study Abroad Office, indicating that Pomona College is unique and not found elsewhere. Being at Pomona College when she said that, I was a little confused. I didn’t know why someone wouldn’t want a change from their normal setting and attend an institution abroad. Being abroad for almost two months has taught me why.
What Rhoda argued that day is that Pomona College IS essentially unique. We don’t see it because we’re always here, reaping the fruits and luxuries of living in one of the most accepting and socially educated campuses. What does this social education entail?
For the most part, we credit the success of Pomona College’s rankings in the academic setting; however, it is rare when we think about the social education that we receive from just being a student here as well. Being politically correct, although frustrating and sometimes hypocritical, teaches you to be mindful about the language that you use everyday and to make sure that we create a language of inclusion when speaking to others. Sitting in talks by the Women’s Union, the Queer Resource Center, the Pomona Student Union, etc., have not only been enriching but allow you to delve deeper into issues that our classroom books cannot define (except if you’re taking courses in sociology, anthropology, or any field that understands the power dynamics and social hierarchy of the system that we live in today).
Having those deep conversations — sometimes very-heated ones — with your spiblings about race, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc., spark controversy but also, help you ensure that these factors are taken into account when dealing with the institutional knowledge that is gained everyday. The discussions never end, the arguments become even craftier, and then, there comes a time when students start to ask themselves about the need to talk about these issues. Are we actually creating a dialogue of inclusion, or are we perpetuating the system by trying to find the qualities that make us more different rather than similar?
Sitting in a classroom abroad where students gloss over the differences of experiences that People of Color, low-income, undocumented, differently-abled, queer, and anyone who is not of the “societal norm” face makes me worried about the other institutions of higher education and the way they can afford to gloss over these issues. The number of racist, classist, and discriminatory comments have piled up like crazy and it is disempowering sometimes to think that some of these students will someday run and control the system. I am not saying that everyone in this program is not socially aware; what I am saying is that being socially aware can be draining in a space where such issues can be silenced.
Pomona College brings issues to talk about because we cannot afford to live with definitions and solutions that are not multidimensional and not complex. I do not argue here that other colleges do not have the same social education that Pomona offers; what I am saying is we must take advantage of having a platform where our perspectives can be voiced. Whether one decides to hear these perspectives, that is another issue that we, as advocates of our own lives, must learn to create in order to bring more people to the discussion table.
This is not to say that I have been having a horrible study abroad experience. Actually, I have been experiencing one of the best and most unforgettable phases of my life. I encourage everyone to study abroad, if you’re able to do so of course (because not everyone can afford to spend a semester abroad, and not everyone can simply go because of citizenship requirements).
I encourage you to get out of the Claremont bubble, even if it’s for a day, so that you can recognize the privileges you have solely because you live in a beautiful, empowering, and inclusive environment. I think it is important that we hear different perspectives than those spoken at Pomona College. The truth of the matter is that Pomona College is not the real world. However, I know that we’ve been sheltered for a reason — that reason being the need for us to become self-empowered about our own identities. Having such an encouraging student body not only allows us to be comfortable with our own skin, but also empowers us so that we can empower others outside of the Pomona College community.
So go out there, Sagehens, and fly unto the unknown. The Pomona College experience cannot be found elsewhere, so appreciate every critical remark you here at this institution and make sure that you fly with an open-mind. Be critical of your space, your voice, your use of language, your privilege and your disadvantages. Nothing is more beautiful than an empowered voice within ourselves and the comfort of being in our own skin.