Thriving as a Student (Leader)

1. A sophomore who lives in a first-year hall throughout the year with 1 or 2 co-sponsors and 15 to 18 first-year students, with the objective of easing the transition to college by creating a safe and welcoming living environment.
2. Just another struggling student trying to make it in the world.

As I approach the close of fall semester of my second year at Pomona, I am in awe of how quickly this semester has passed. I honestly don’t feel like a nearly-second-semester sophomore, especially since the perpetual struggle of figuring out what I want to do in life has not been resolved. The following reflection on various stages of my experience as a sponsor provides a lens through which to view my personal growth and development throughout the first half of my second year.

Stage 1: Pre-Anticipation
Applications to become a sponsor in your sophomore year come out during the second semester of your first year. At the end of the spring semester, everyone undergoes the exciting process of finding out who your co-sponsor(s) is/are and which hall you will be living in. Not much else is revealed until sponsor training.

My co-sponsor and I after the big reveal!
My co-sponsor and I after the big reveal!

Stage 2: Training Woes
Two weeks before the first years arrive on campus, 70+ sponsors, head sponsors, and resident advisors (RAs) undergo training that addresses issues including mental health, safety, and adjustment to college. While the training schedule was rough at times, with sessions lasting several hours, we were able to build community among various members of the Residential Housing Staff (RHS).

Wig 2 on the first day of sponsor training! So young, so naive...
Wig 2 on the first day of sponsor training! So young, so naive…

Stage 3: Decoration Frenzy
Sponsor training by day, hall decorating by night. This is what described many sponsors’ lives the week leading up to Move-In Day. Hall decoration included determining a theme, figuring out how this theme would apply to each sponsee, and how the theme would manifest itself throughout the physical hall. My co-sponsor and I went the extreme DIY (do-it-yourself) route. We decided on an “under-the-sea” theme, and everyone in our hall in is a cute sea creature with swimwear:

Stage 3.5: Anticipation
In the days leading up to Move-In Day, first-year arrival is highly anticipated. From reading through housing forms to mentally preparing ourselves for the new school year, we brace ourselves for the best and the worst.

Stage 4: Move-In Day and First Impressions
On Move-In Day, we finally get to put faces to names. Ecstatic first years and concerned family members hurry in and out of buildings, sponsors and RAs carry boxes and suitcases up and down stairs, rooms gradually fill up. Name games and icebreakers abound in our first overly-eager attempts to establish friendships with so many new people. Orientation Week isn’t only hectic for the first years trying to figure out what this college thing is all about; it’s a pretty overwhelming experience for sponsors as well. (In fact, the first years going on their Orientation Adventure trips pretty much serves as a much-needed break.)

Stage 5: Pomona “Traditions”?
Part of Orientation Week is experiencing traditional first-year events, including painting Walker Wall with your sponsor group and eating in President Oxtoby’s backyard. Later in the year, you also have the opportunity to have dinner with Dean Feldblum, the Dean of Students.

Stage 6: When Reality Hits…
In no time, class registration and the first day of classes roll around. Upperclassmen return, and the semester is now in full swing. Amidst assignments, papers, and midterms, our sponsor group made sure to commemorate birthdays and other special occasions! I have celebrated more birthdays in a concentrated period of time than I would have ever imagined–I’ve also honed my cake-baking and card-making skills!

Stage 7: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
That’s right, finals season… As well as the holidays! Our sponsor group decked the halls and jingled all the way to the end of the fall semester.

On a final reflective note, I wanted to discuss the sponsor experience beyond the glamour portrayed in the above pictures. This semester in particular was especially difficult for many community members at the Claremont Colleges, largely due to heightened tensions between the institution and its students. As an individual who was and continues to be heavily involved in student activism and organizing, being a sponsor also meant making conscious efforts to ensure my sponsees were able to process current events in the healthiest ways possible. This, of course, took a huge toll on my mental health and well-being as I had to support others while I struggled myself.

I wanted to mention this as a statement about student life at Pomona, and at college in general. While there are many moments of happiness, there are oftentimes equally as many–or even more–moments of sorrow, disappointment, and frustration. (This is especially true for student leaders.) Furthermore, it is important to note that these personal experiences often point to larger structural issues that must be addressed to continually work toward an environment in which everyone can not just survive, but truly thrive

And it is for this reason that I am active in so many different spaces on campus–because I want to be the change I want to see; because we are the leaders we’ve been looking for.