Making a Change For the Better

By Ben Reicher ‘22

When I started college, there was a lot I didn’t know, and I’m sure there still is. But I knew that there were a lot of problems in the world, and I knew I couldn’t just stand by and watch them happen. I knew the planet was on fire, and that I had to do what I could, no matter how small, to help extinguish the flames.

If you’re an incoming or prospective Pomona student, you might find yourself feeling the same way: you might feel passionately about a certain societal issue and want an opportunity to take action; you might have been involved in activism in high school (as I was), but be unsure how to continue your work in college. In my case, I had long been deeply concerned about climate change and other environmental issues; and in high school I completed a workshop with Sierra Club that aimed to mobilize students to advocate for climate justice.

But, as much as I knew about the massive scale of the climate crisis, I couldn’t have known that I would find such an amazing community of dedicated and caring individualswith whom I could do work that (I hope) can make some difference. That community was Sunrise Claremont Colleges. While your own interests might be different, I hope my experiences can illustrate that, if you look in the right places, you can always find opportunities to take part in activism at the 5Cs. What my experience clearly shows, I think, is that the Claremont Colleges are an extremely vibrant and dynamic community of people who are not afraid to fight for their beliefs or engage with the hard questions, and who are always looking to recruit and welcome more people.

Sunrise Claremont Colleges is a hub (local chapter) of the nationwide Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement that advocates a just and adequate government response to the climate crisis. Our hub is relatively new, having started organizing the spring of my freshman year. I was among the first members, having found them through social media.

Sunrise group at PomonaRight from the start, when I came to the hub’s first meeting, I was impressed by how open everyone was to each person’s ideas, and how much the hub truly sought to cultivate diversity of opinion in its members. To encourage members to play to their specific strengths, and to help ensure that as many people as possible have a role in the organization, our members work in teams within the hub, like Action, Communications, or Recruitment (who hold regular table events at all 5Cs). I was chosen to lead Policy, the team focused on researching and recommending various policies that our hub could support, as well as on outreach to local political candidates.

While each team would meet on a roughly weekly basis and plan its own initiatives independently, our hub would make sure to have a general meeting once or twice every month, to check in with the teams and to welcome new members. I have never ceased being amazed by how quickly our hub has grown in the past year: while we had about a dozen members in September, we have grown to an email list of over 400 and about 100 members on teams. Last fall, we mobilized about 100 students throughout the Claremont Colleges to attend the Youth Climate Strike in Downtown Los Angeles; in December, we held our own rally on campus, where several students and faculty spoke about their experiences with climate and environmental injustice.

Sunrise members protestingAhead of a crucial election year, I led Policy in reaching out to several candidates running in local races in the 2020 cycle; we organized a hub-wide vote that ultimately led to Sunrise Claremont Colleges declaring its first four political endorsements. We invited all four endorsed candidates (one of whom was Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor at Scripps College) to meet with our members, and organized phone banks in support of them; ultimately two of the four advanced to the general election in the California primary.

Although we now meet electronically due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Policy has continued our work on behalf of our endorsed candidates (especially through phone banking), and we can’t wait to start again once we return to campus.

Leading Policy was a daunting task, but the rest of Sunrise Claremont Colleges’ leadership was always there for me when I needed help. Our hub’s leaders, all of whom I consider my good friends, always encouraged me to follow my own vision for my team; and I truly couldn’t have done it without their support.

If you are unsure how to find a student organization you want to take part in, there are multiple avenues to explore. Social media is a good place to start, as well as large events like the annual Turf Dinner. If you see someone tabling outside a dining hall, it doesn’t hurt to stop and ask them who they represent. But a particularly good way to make connections, that many students might not know about, is through smaller events hosted by professors or clubs, like speaker events or presentations. Even if they don’t lead to an important connection, they still tend to be fascinating by themselves (in my first year, I set a goal of attending at least two per month). As a journalist myself, I was especially thrilled to hear talks by Nathaniel Rich, known for his reporting on climate change; and Michael Barbaro, host of the New York Times podcast The Daily.

But, regardless of how you find them, you can be sure that there are people at Pomona, and the rest of the 5Cs, who share your interests, and who would love to have you join them. That’s just the kind of community we are.

As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (I used that quote endlessly on college application essays.) I don’t know if my work with Sunrise Claremont Colleges will change the world, although I truly feel the potential of countless students worldwide, taking action in small groups like mine, to make a change for the better. But I know that the group of thoughtful and committed individuals I found at Pomona changed my small corner of the world; and someday, your own might do the same.