Talking about Race at the Claremont Colleges

This past week has been an emotionally exhausting one for the Claremont Colleges community. While Black students and other students of color have been campaigning for institutional support for many months, this week saw culturally appropriative Halloween costumes and an email from a Claremont McKenna College (CMC) dean implying that certain students did not “fit the CMC mold”, among other things. Combined with the racially-charged events at Mizzou, Yale, and other college campuses across the nation, tensions were high in Claremont this week. Students came out in droves to protest at CMC on Wednesday and over 1,000 students showed up to a Black Out Student March on Thursday. Social media was flooded with Claremont students proclaiming their solidarity with Black students at Mizzou and other college campuses. This week was frustrating, inspiring, infuriating, heartwarming, demoralizing, and exhausting.

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At Thursday’s march. (Photo from this article)

Let me first acknowledge that I am writing this blog post from the standpoint of an ally. I am not Black and this movement is first and foremost about the importance of Black lives and voices. Being mixed race (Asian and white), I have a tenuous relationship with the term “person of color,” though I would not call myself a “white ally” either. That aside, I am certainly privileged in the context of recent events. During my time at Pomona, I feel I have received adequate institutional support. My experiences with racism are extremely limited. So for all intents and purposes, I call myself an ally, meaning that while I stand in full support of my marginalized peers, I do not share their lived experiences. I have not been directly touched by these issues and I do not want to center myself in their struggle. However, I do want to bring the conversation about race and activism into this space. Voices is a blog about student life, and this conversation is a part of student life that should not (and, especially recently, cannot) be ignored.

As this blog is primarily geared toward prospective students, let me tell you right now that college is not perfect. Pomona is not paradise. The administration, as well as the student community, can always change for the better. Especially with regard to race, we have a long way to go to ensure that all students feel equally safe, supported, and included in the Pomona (and Claremont Colleges) community. Yesterday, after many Pomona students came together to share their concerns, President Oxtoby signed a list of demands promising to increase mental health resources and diversity in tenure-track faculty (among other things), but there is still work to be done. It is important to talk about race.

Why is it important to talk about race? Because this spring, a #blacklivesmatter mural on Pomona’s Walker Wall was defaced. Because there was a #shushPOC (POC standing for people of color) hashtag circulating on our local YikYak on Veteran’s Day. Because across the 5 Claremont Colleges, black students have a lower graduation rate than any other racial group (at Pomona, we have an 82% six-year completion rate for black students, compared to 96% for all students and 98% for white students). Because some students believe that hiring faculty from marginalized groups means hiring less qualified faculty.

So, prospective students, take this opportunity to educate yourselves. This is an important local and national moment on college campuses. Read and reflect on the race-related issues and movements happening on Pomona’s campus and other college campuses around the country. College brochures and Fiske Guides won’t talk about them, but they’re a big part of college life. Prepare yourself to talk about race, whether you consider yourself a person of color or not. If you consider yourself a person of color, look for organization such as Pomona’s Students of Color Alliance or any of the race-based resource centers/affinity groups (Office of Black Student Affairs, Asian American Resource Center, Chicano Latino Student Affairs, Multi Ethnic and Racial Group Experience, Indigenous Student Alliance, among others) that will help you feel welcomed and safe on campus. If you don’t consider yourself a person of color, read up on how you can be a good ally (good reads here and here). And finally, take care of yourselves. These issues are not light, and they can certainly be draining. Self care is not selfish; it’s important.

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Thursday’s march. (Photo from this article)