Anatomy of a Sponsor Group

My official sponsor group: the lovely residents of Harwood 1 West!
Photo courtesy of Maddi Cowen ’16.
Decision day has come and gone, and now that colleges across the nation have chosen their admitted students, it’s time for the critical second round of decisions to be made by the students themselves.

Last February, when I was added to the class of 2017 Facebook group, none of the admitted students who would become this year’s Pomona freshmen had any decisions to make. We were all accepted Early Decision I or II or admitted through the Questbridge program, so there was never any question for us: we were coming to Pomona. However, in late March and early April a flood of potential classmates were added to the group and new posts began to spring up:

“I am deciding between Stanford, Yale, and Pomona. I am interested in CS and philosophy. What should I do?”

“Even though I know this is not the place to receive an impartial answer, why should I choose Pomona over Yale?”

“Hey everyone, I love Pomona! Unfortunately, I have a thing for UChicago too. Could you guys please tell me why you chose Pomona over other great choices you may have had?”

Of course, it’s that time of year again and posts of a similar vein are coming around again in the Pomona College class of 2018 Facebook group. Most conversations address common themes, among them concerns about academic programs, campus location and financial aid. While it’s incredibly important to consider the academic programs and reputation of a school when making a final decision, (you’re going to college for the education, after all), it’s equally important to consider all aspects of your potential living situation. “School” and “everything else” aren’t such separate spheres anymore; you’ll be seeing the same people in your classes as you do in the dining halls and residence halls. There are over 6,300 of us across all seven campuses (including the two graduate schools), which can feel like a huge number at times and very little at others but, to put it in perspective, is only about 600 students larger than UCLA’s current freshman class alone. It’s still possible to feel “lost” in a class of 397, but I can’t imagine how it would feel to be just one student in a first-year class the size of our entire consortium, or not to recognize over 50% of the people I see in classes and dining halls and residence halls.

This is my home at Pomona College, the Harwood residence hall…
Part of what made Pomona so alluring to me was
the idea of having a sponsor group. Your
sponsor group is what you make it: a core group of friends; a surrogate family; a loose collection of peers with whom you make small talk and share bathrooms; possibly nothing more than a band of strangers who live in close proximity to you. As with most things, everyone’s expectations and experiences are guaranteed to be slightly different. For me, my sponsor group both is and isn’t my “sponsor group.”

Let me explain.

I live in Harwood 1 West, which is exactly what it sounds like it is: the hall on the first floor on the West side of the Harwood residence hall. Besides me, inhabitants include ten other freshmen (my “spiblings”), three sophomore sponsors and one of the two Harwood RAs (a junior and in my opinion the best RA ever), each occupying a single in our hall (the exception being four of my spiblings who live paired in two doubles). This, technically speaking, is my sponsor group.

But it also isn’t. For one thing, I have a fourth unofficial sponsor (the girlfriend of one of my actual sponsors) whom I love to death and whom I forget lives in Oldenborg, not Harwood. For another: on the Pomona website, sponsor groups are described as being “built-in support group[s]—people with whom to talk, to procrastinate, to plan, to let off steam, to share a late-night snack.” My spiblings are my good friends, but these wonderful people in my sponsor group are not, with maybe one exception, my best friends—or my only ones.

…and so is this, the Wig residence hall.
When I think of talking to people, I think of walking from dorm to dorm and having conversations in doorways, in hallways, in lounges. When I think of procrastinating, I think of being in my friend Kristen’s room (specifically, on her impossibly high bed) having seemingly endless conversations and/or watching ridiculous YouTube videos. When I think of planning, I think of my friend Anastasia and our endless list of schemes and half-baked ideas, formed between telling funny stories in the hallways of her dorm. When I think of late-night snacks, I think of the various sponsors or friends I have dragged with me to the Coop Fountain or the Village after dark, of ordering Round Table pizza at 1 a.m. and having to hide it from everyone pretending to study in the Wig lounge. And when I think of blowing off steam, I think of walking across the hall to my closest spibling’s room and ranting while he listens patiently, sometimes rolling his eyes and reminding me when I’m being ridiculous and sometimes offering me milk chocolate.

I’m still not entirely sure when or how it happened, but somehow my “sponsor group” expanded beyond the walls of Harwood 1 West. I spend about as much time in my dorm as I do out of it—perhaps a little more of the latter, even. When I think of Pomona in terms of “home,” I think of coming back to my room after a long and exhausting day, but I also think of my regular walk over to Wig (the residence hall directly West of Harwood, about 30 seconds from my room) to see how everyone else’s day is going. Or of my trek up to friends’ rooms on the second floor of Lyon (the residence hall directly South of Harwood, about a minute from my room).

For me, a sponsor group is indeed a support group. They’re the people you turn to when you need cheering up, when you have exciting news to share, when you feel lonely or like having serious discussions for no reason, when you want to watch a movie with someone and you can’t eat all the popcorn by yourself. But these definitions apply to all the people I love most, and these people aren’t limited to living in Harwood 1 West.

Several of my good friends pausing attempts at homework  in order to pose for me in the Wig 1 hallway.
My sponsor group is Wig 1 Main, where we gather in the head sponsor’s room to play
Super Smash Bros or sit out in the hallway doing homework (or trying to) or go to dinner at Collins and take embarrassing Snapchats of each other mid-bite. It’s also Lyon 2 East and Lyon 2 Central, where homework and conversation sessions are facilitated by the open construction of the hall and random sing-along sessions occur spontaneously in Kristen’s or her sponsor’s room. It’s also Wig 2 North and Wig 2 Back, where I am included in low-key sponsor group dinners, trips into the village for froyo or boba and late-night games of Uno and ultimate frisbee. It’s also Wig 1 Back, whose crossword puzzle Thursday nights and study sessions in the lounge I’ve frequented (and come away from with amazing new music courtesy of Bianca’s Spotify playlists).

And, of course, it is Harwood 1 West, where brownies are made for most people’s birthdays and fountainings are planned days in advance to accommodate everyone’s insane schedules; the quote board is updated religiously and fondly re-read out loud in small groups late on weeknights; messages of affection/encouragement/congratulations are mysteriously left on the whiteboards outside our doors at regular intervals; and singing in the shower is condoned and even encouraged (I once heard a spibling join me in singing “Part of Your World” through the wall).

The point being that your sponsor group honestly is what you make it. My official sponsor group is an incredible collection of people whom I’m honored to know and be friends with—but what I consider my “sponsor group” isn’t limited to these people at all. To me, at least, a sponsor group is similar to a family: there’s the family you’re born with (or, you know, matched with based on a housing form) and the family you choose, and the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

So, when considering all aspects of what your potential living situation at Pomona would be? Know that you will definitely find a “sponsor group” that you love, that you fit into perfectly, that works for you. Whether it’s the group you’re placed in initially or a group you build friend by friend—or a combination of the two—it exists. And the definition you create for it is entirely your own.

Sights for sore eyes at the end of a long day.
(Here’s the campus map, if you want or need to reference it at any point in the post. Also, my spibling Emily, who is also a Voices blogger, has written an excellent two-part account of her experience in our sponsor group here and here.)