Pomona College president addresses campus protest, arrests

Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr. Photo/courtesy of Pomona College

On Saturday, Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr sent this email to the school’s community:

Pomona College has a long tradition of activism, and we uphold the right to protest in line with the demonstration policy shared across The Claremont Colleges.

Over the past six months, we have seen increased activism on our campus as students from across the 5Cs, possibly joined by unaffiliated persons, have focused their activities and their demands for divestment and academic boycotts on Pomona College.

Yet, throughout this time, we’ve maintained an environment of learning, discovery and accomplishment. Our students have mentored under-resourced elementary school children; our faculty have led students in research endeavors, publishing findings and sharing creative works with the world; and we admitted an absolutely stellar Class of 2028.

In recent days, however, the protest activities of a small group of students from across the 5Cs have intensified on the Pomona campus. These activities escalated to the point of requiring support from the Claremont Police Department – a decision I weighed deeply and seriously. I’d like to provide our extended community with context about student actions as well as our administrative decisions.

As a college, we are obligated to provide an environment where members of our community can pursue their education and work without harassment and disrespect. Recent actions by demonstrators have interfered with that responsibility. Over the past week, masked demonstrators repeatedly followed admission tour groups around campus, harassing visitors and using amplifying devices to drown out all surrounding speech. This is a violation of our student conduct code, which also requires all individuals on campus to identify themselves upon request by campus administrators or Campus Safety. This is imperative for the safety of our community, especially when these individuals are masked.

After those incidents, I notified the Pomona College community that continued violations would result in internal judicial proceedings, in line with our established policies and procedures, and that individuals who refuse to provide identification or to stop disrupting events or tours will be asked to leave campus immediately.

Over the last week, masked individuals had also occupied a portion of the Smith Campus Center (SCC) lawn. This occupation was against our policies, but as we have expressed in the past, we work with students who are exercising their right to protest unless that protest impedes on the rights of others.

Early [Friday, April 5] morning, participants in the occupation of the SCC lawn voluntarily removed the tents in which they had been sleeping. In preparation for events scheduled on Sunday, and in line with our policy, campus staff began to remove the signs and other material that remained. A group of individuals took issue with this, though they refused to identify themselves to Campus Safety and Student Affairs staff. The individuals proceeded to verbally harass staff, even using a sickening, anti-black racial slur in addressing an administrator. Campus officials informed the individuals present that they could move their own material or it would be stored for pickup. Administrators and Campus Safety left the protest, in an attempt to allow participants to cool down and de-escalate the situation.

Soon thereafter, demonstrators entered our administrative building, Alexander Hall, which was closed to visitors that day. The demonstrators provided false information to Campus Security to gain access to the locked building. Over the course of three hours, masked, unidentified individuals occupying my office and Alexander were repeatedly asked to identify themselves and were offered the opportunity to leave without conduct actions. However, a small group would not respond to anything I said to them, nor did they respond to other staff or Campus Safety personnel.  The majority appeared to not be Pomona College students and, by their conduct, were deemed to pose a threat to the safety of our campus.

I authorized a call to the Claremont Police Department. When CPD arrived, the majority left without further incident. However, others refused to do so. Those who remained were given repeated opportunities to depart after the arrival of CPD. Twenty individuals were arrested, seven of whom were Pomona students.

It is not acceptable for the safety of our community to have individuals on our campus who conceal their identities and refuse to identify themselves when asked.

We uphold the right to free speech and to protest within the lines of our long-established Claremont Colleges demonstration policy. We will not permit the presence of masked, unidentified individuals on our campus refusing to show identification when asked. Nor will we stand for harassment of visitors or racial slurs shouted at college employees – all of which have taken place this week.

Anyone involved in these violations found to be a Pomona student is subject to immediate suspension and required to leave our campus. Administrators have already been in communication with affected Pomona students regarding the consequences of these actions, and we have provided support for housing and board expenses to students with financial need. Any individual from off campus or other Claremont institutions will be barred from our campus. Pomona students, as always, are subject to J Board procedures, and we will of course follow all our rules. We will work with the other colleges should they have students involved.

I do not take these steps lightly. As a college, we must be able to carry out our educational mission in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning. We have provided ample opportunities and invitations to engage the students involved in these actions in dialogue. Those invitations, to date, have not been accepted. Board Chair Sam Glick ’04 and I will provide yet another forum for discussion later this month, and I hope our community can come together respectfully to share our points of view.

The disruptive, disturbing actions of demonstrators this week, and particularly [April 5], were unproductive and deeply disappointing. However, I remain optimistic that our community will be able to engage in productive, respectful dialogue around these issues in a manner that aligns with our policies and our educational mission.


G. Gabrielle Starr
President, Pomona College


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