Pomona College encampment expands; questions linger about Sunday commencement

A day after its construction, the pro-Palestinian encampment at Pomona College has grown larger, with demonstrators not only adding more tents, but also a second layer of fencing to the Marston Quadrangle commencement area. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

By Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

With Pomona College’s graduation just days away, the pro-Palestinian encampment at Marston Quadrangle shows no signs of going anywhere, and is in fact growing.

Pomona Divest from Apartheid demonstrators added more tents and erected a second layer of fencing on Tuesday ahead of the May 12 ceremony, which is scheduled to take place on the site of the encampment. Fencing was draped with coverings, cardboard signs calling for divestment and solidarity with Gaza, and photos of police arresting students inside Alexander Hall on April 5.

At press time it remained unclear how the college plans to deal with the encampment. Pomona’s Senior Director of Communications Patricia Vest wrote in an email Thursday that Pomona College is still committed to holding commencement at the site. Any updates will be posted at pomona.edu/commencement. Neither Pomona College administration nor campus safety responded to the Courier’s requests for comment.

“Our plan is response-based,” said 19-year-old Kwame Nkrumah, a Pomona College sophomore and PDA spokesperson. “Depending on what they do, we’ll respond accordingly.”

Nkrumah said fielding conversations with those on the “opposing side” is not PDA’s principal aim. “Our demands are demands directed towards the college,” Nkrumah said. “This is a academic protest. This is a protest against genocide that the college is investing in. Dialogue with oppositional people who are not within the realm or the scope of our demand coercion policy, they’re not people that we’re engaging in conversation with.”

Asked about criticism from some about the possibility of protestors upending graduation, Nkrumah said, “Students, folks in general, who feel that way are more than welcome to come up to the encampment and enjoy the welcoming atmosphere that we have provided. I would like to reiterate that it’s not about these students’ approval for what we’re doing, it’s about getting our demands met.”

A day after its construction, the pro-Palestinian encampment at Pomona College has grown larger, with demonstrators not only adding more tents, but also a second layer of fencing to the Marston Quadrangle commencement area. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Also on Tuesday, PDA posted on Instagram a message inviting graduating students of the Claremont Colleges to RSVP for an “alternagrad” ceremony at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 12, at a TBD location. On the registration page, registrants were asked to “reject the school-sanctioned propaganda scheme that is Pomona’s graduation,” and to “stand in joint struggle with your peers in Gaza, who cannot graduate because all universities have been decimated by the zionist regime,” and “build anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, abolitionist politic in community.”

The Courier was denied entrance to the encampment on Tuesday afternoon. Organizers said it was not only closed for the day, but also that strict COVID-19 protocols had to be followed which including masking and testing. Nkrumah said those entering between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. must be “verified” by organizers, adding that “outside media” were not allowed into the encampment.

But on Monday, journalists with Claremont Undercurrents, a student-run news organization and club at the Claremont Colleges, were inside the encampment during its open hours and briefly following its closure. “They’re allied journalists. They’re student media,” Nkrumah said. Asked if only media who align themselves with PDA’s demands are allowed inside the encampment, Nkrumah said “yes.”

Samson Zhang, editor-in-chief of Claremont Undercurrents, said the organization does not take sides on issues.

“Our mission is to document this,” Zhang said. “We don’t put as much effort into figuring out how necessarily at all times what admin is saying, how the police is responding, because we know the other publications are working on that. The president can always get her word out in a way that’s on the record and that everyone knows.”

Zhang also stated that Claremont Undercurrents journalists were asked to leave the camp following Monday evening’s rally.

Pomona Divest from Apartheid’s demands include asking Pomona College to disclose and divest from companies helping Israel shell Gaza; “adhere to the [United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel] academic boycott”; “publicly call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza”; “publicly condemn Israel’s apartheid, occupation, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and dehumanization of Palestinians”; and “institute anti-discrimination policies explicitly for Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, [Southwest Asia and North Africa], Black, Brown, and Indigenous students.”

Demonstrators tie the Pan-African flag — also known as the Black Liberation flag — at left, and the flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, blue at right, to a beam at the Marston Quadrangle commencement area on Tuesday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Late Tuesday, Nkrumah said the vibe around the encampment was positive.

“A lot of community members have shone out especially since yesterday when we had a rally showing support for our demands and for our encampment,” said Nkrumah. “The spirits have been high. We did a community art build today, lots of prayers have happened, just a joyful atmosphere all around.”

As Tuesday wound down, an alarm blared throughout the camp to signal it’s closure. Nkrumah said demonstrators ate a community meal of Palestinian offerings and salad, and demonstrators held an evening teach in related to “resistance in Islam.”


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