New Harvey Mudd president makes it official after protest delays ceremony

Harvey Mudd College Board of Trustees Chair James Bean, left, confers Harriet B. Nembhard as the school’s sixth president last week while her daughter Naomi ties a pendant around her neck. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

By Andrew Alonzo |

A March 1 investiture ceremony to officially recognize Harriet B. Nembhard as Harvey Mudd College’s sixth president was delayed by protesting Claremont Colleges students calling for a cease-fire in Gaza blocking the entrance to Bridges Auditorium.

The disruption caused an interruption of about an hour. After guests were rerouted to a rear entrance, Nembhard, a Claremont McKenna College grad, and members of her family heard remarks from HMC’s Board of Trustees Chair James Bean, some of her former coworkers, HMC academics, student leaders, CMC President Hiram Chodosh, and former longtime Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum director Jil Stark. Nembhard’s daughter Naomi and husband David, an engineering professor at HMC, also spoke.

As Bean conferred the presidency to Nembhard, her daughter Naomi tied a ceremonial pendant around her neck. Nembhard then delivered a closing address. Video of the ceremony is at

“My heart is full. I’m just filled with gratitude and so honored to serve this amazing community,” Nembhard said after the ceremony. “I feel very welcomed, and welcomed home. I have been very warmly embraced by this community and am just thrilled to lead it into its future.”

Former longtime Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum director Jil Stark delivers remarks during the March 1 investiture ceremony for Harvey Mudd College’s sixth president, Harriet B. Nembhard. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

She had this advice to today’s students: “I think the important message that I always have for young people is to have courage, have the strength to take some calculated risks on your own ideas to improve the future.”

A HMC news release touted President Nembhard as a “leader in the field of industrial and operations engineering and a voice on the national level for transforming undergraduate STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematical] education.” She was previously dean of the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering.

The “die-in” demonstration outside Bridges Auditorium began about 9 a.m. It was organized by Pomona Divest Apartheid, a grassroots Palestine liberation collective made up of Claremont Colleges students. The 53 demonstrators covered themselves in cloth and laid on the ground near the historic venue’s massive front doors, blocking entry to those arriving for the 10 a.m. ceremony. As the names of Palestinian children under the age of 2 who have died in Gaza since October 7 were read over a PA system, guests were re-routed to the rear of the auditorium.

Harriet B. Nembhard, Harvey Mudd College’s sixth president. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

It was the latest in a series of actions by Claremont Colleges students focused on the war in Gaza, including a December 8 protest in which demonstrators blocked entrances to Frary Dining Hall, demanding Pomona College divest funds from its endowment they said were benefiting weapons manufacturers and institutions that aid Israel in the war in Gaza, and that it call for a cease-fire in Gaza; a February 9 demonstration outside Alexander Hall where students demanded Pitzer College end its study abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel; a boycott, divest and sanctions movement referendum teach-in on February 15; a February 19 class walkout; demonstrations at the February 27 Claremont City council meeting at which the body voted not to take a position on the war in Gaza; and the most recent, on February 29, when student activists spoke with Pomona College vice president, Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer Jeff Roth about the results of an Associated Students of Pomona College referendum, which polled student opinions about the college’s engagement with companies associated with Israel and whether or not the school should disclose the college’s investments.

Demonstrators from Pomona Divest Apartheid held a “die in” protest outside Pomona College’s Bridges Auditorium on March 1, delaying the ceremony to confer Harvey Mudd College’s new president, Harriet B. Nembhard. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

The referendum, proposed by Divest Claremont Colleges and endorsed by 34 other on-campus student organizations including PDA, included five questions: 1. “Should Pomona College’s Investments Committee on the Board of Trustees disclose the college’s investments in weapons manufacturers?”; 2. “Should the college divest completely from all weapons manufacturers?”; 3. “Should Pomona College cease all academic support, as outlined by United States Campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, for the apartheid system within the state of Israel?”; 4. Should the Investments Committee on the Board of Trustees disclose Pomona College’s investments in all companies aiding the ongoing apartheid system within the state of Israel?”; and, 5. “Should PC divest from all companies aiding the ongoing apartheid system within the state of Israel?”

According to The Student Life, 1,035 students participated in the survey, with 90.8% of respondents voting yes to question one, 85.2% to number two, 78.3% number three, 86.2% to the fourth, and 81.7% to number five. The remaining respondents to each question voted no.


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