Protests roil Pomona College: administration says it’s open to dialogue
Claremont Colleges students staged a sit-in protest on December 8 demanding Pomona College divest funds from its endowment they say are benefiting weapons manufacturers and institutions that aid Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza. The students also demanded Pomona College officials call for a cease-fire in the conflict.
“We have every reason to believe that they are materially, fiscally invested in the ongoing apartheid in Palestine and genocide now in Gaza,” said Jessica, a 22-year-old 5C student and member of the Pomona Divest Apartheid who did not provide her last name. “We have just seen time and time again that their actions do not align with their words. And so as students here … we feel morally compelled to be here and to stand in solidarity with the international call from Palestinians to do whatever we can do within the institutional spheres that we’re a part of to stop funding the ongoing genocide.”
Pomona Divest Apartheid, the 5C Palestine Liberation Collective behind the protest as well as three other recent demonstrations over the last three weeks, also made demands at the event, which included more than 100 protestors, including that Pomona College adhere to the campaign promises of the United States Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; publicly condemn Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the genocide of Palestinian peoples there; and to institute anti-discrimination policies that specifically protect Palestinian, Muslim, Arabic, Southwest Asian, North African, Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students.
“If Pomona were to divest, if Pomona were to release a statement demanding a cease-fire, it would absolutely have sway over, at minimum, other institutions of higher education across the country and the world,” said Marla, a 5C student and member of PDA’s de-escalation team, who was present at the demonstration and also chose not to provide her last name. “And really further, would contribute to this momentum of saying ‘Enough is enough, this is unacceptable.’”
Pomona College President “Gabi Starr is trying to convince people in as many words that it’s not Pomona’s place, that there’s no sway the school has, that it’s just a little endowment, but that’s just not the case,” Marla added.
The latest data available suggests Pomona College’s endowment is somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 billion.
The Courier reached out repeatedly to Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr this week, but she declined to be interviewed, citing her work schedule.
“I addressed this issue in a message a few weeks back,” Starr wrote in an email, adding a link to her November 8 statement, “Pluralism, Dissent and Discrimination,” which is viewable at pomona.edu/administration by clicking “Office of the President,” then “Statements.”
Starr wrote in a December 9 statement that the door is open for discussion with demonstrators.
“I and other administrators have repeatedly offered to meet when protestors have come to Alexander Hall, but these offers have been refused,” she wrote. “I remain open to dialogue with students.”
The December 8 protest outside Pomona College’s Frary Dining Hall began with Pomona Divest Apartheiddemonstrators placing about 2,665 Palestinian flags into the ground of Walker Beach, which they said represented each Palestinian child killed in the conflict between October 7 and October 26. Two students released red dye into the Edward P. and Mary G. Bosbyshell Fountain at the protest, and protestors blocked the north and south entrances of the Frary Dining Hall. PDA activists also led chants, including, “Israel bombs, Pomona pays, how many kids did you kill today?”
“That is alluding to the fact that as Israel is dropping bombs on Gaza relentlessly on schools and hospitals and places of worship, we know that Pomona is sending money to them,” Jessica said. “We know that Pomona is invested in weapons manufacturing companies that are making those bombs,” Asked for proof of this assertion, she said, “I think it would be great if you could ask the school.
“They have refused many times to disclose their investments,” Jessica added. “Students have been asking for that for a very long time. We know that if Pomona wasn’t invested in deeply unsavory companies and did not have deeply unsavory investments including in the genocide of Gaza that they would disclose their investments and end this because they could easily do that. They have not met that demand for years now.”
Starr’s December 9 statement also addressed the December 8 protest outside Frary. It read in part:
“While demonstrators were obstructing access to the dining hall, a student who tried to move past the demonstrators was blocked and grabbed in an incident documented on video. Physical contact of this nature is never acceptable and will be investigated under our judicial procedures as well. It is also unacceptable under our demonstration policies that access to the building was blocked, which in this case forced hundreds of students to find somewhere else to eat and led to hundreds of pounds of food going to waste.
“We live in tumultuous times, and the Board of Trustees and I support the right of all members of our community to protest in ways that are consistent with college policies. However, when such protest disrupts the normal operations of the College, or worse still, puts others in danger, we will take action to ensure that Pomona is a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors.
“We will be coordinating with other Claremont Colleges as we conduct a full investigation of Friday’s incidents. Beyond individuals, any campus organizations found to be involved may be subject to disciplinary action, in accordance with our judicial processes.”
Pomona College Executive Chef Travis Ellis sent an email about 90 minutes after the December 8 demonstration began that indicated the annual Harry Potter-themed dinner, which was to take place at Frary, had been canceled due to the protest.
Organizers then read hundreds of names of Palestinian children they say were killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict between October 7 and 26, continuing the count that began during a December 5 demonstration on the Pomona College campus, when about 2,000 names were spoken. The protest also included an audio presentation of testimonies from Palestinians on the ground in Gaza.
The demonstration concluded with students signing pledge cards meant to amplify PDA’s demands. Organizers also distributed flyers depicting Pomona College Board of Trustees members’ faces, names, and some salaries.
“Ultimately, we hope and believe that we have the political power here to pressure all of the 5Cs to divest and to meet our demands,” Jessica said. “Right now … we are focusing on Pomona because they have the biggest endowment and are therefore funding Palestinian genocide the most right now. And we also believe that once we are effective in our organizing drive at Pomona, the other schools will be much easier … to do the same, and we feel confident that that will happen.”
The student protestors wore masks, both to protect their identity and for health purposes, they said. The majority who the Courier spoke with refused to identify themselves, citing fear of retaliation from Pomona College or “doxxing,” which is the unauthorized digital dissemination of a person’s personal information by actors with malicious intent.
“Masks are a concern in any case where they prevent recognition of someone violating campus codes of conduct,” Starr wrote in the email to the Courier.
According to a safety rules sheet given to demonstrators, students were asked not to engage with “antagonists,” including campus security, Claremont police, professors, or anyone filming, including media representatives.
On December 9, a day after the Courier published its story about the protest on its website, it received a flurry of more than 30 emails and several voicemail messages. The messages, presumably from 5C students, and also from a handful of people claiming to be parents of students, arrived over a roughly one hour period. Each asked the Courier to remove photographs taken at the protest from its website, including one of a man who spoke at the protest.
The form letters were all slight variations of this one: “I beg you to remove the front page picture of your recent issue on campus protests and to not include pictures of this individual in future articles,” read the form letter read. “It features a very vulnerable person of color at the 5Cs and is a first-generation, low-income individual. Therefore, they are subject to immense backlash or violence on campus. As you may have witnessed, campus security has gone to great lengths to film students and their faces at protests. There is exceptional, real harm this picture causes. Thank you for covering the protest. In the future, please blur faces in highly incriminating photos or videos (especially of visibly SWANA, Muslim, and Black individuals).”