Protesters establish new encampment at Pomona College; commencement set for Sunday

Protesters established a new encampment at Pomona College on Monday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Andrew Alonzo |

More than a month after 20 Claremont Colleges students were arrested outside Alexander Hall, on Monday protesters from Pomona Divest from Apartheid, a Palestine liberation collective made up of Claremont Colleges students, restored their encampment at Pomona College.

The activists say the encampment on and around Marston Quadrangle’s commencement stage is meant to reinforce their demands that Pomona College disclose and divest from entities connected to Israel’s war in Gaza. Students began erecting white fences around the space that includes 12 tents and tarps about 5:30 a.m. Monday.

It’s unclear how the college plans to handle the encampment, which is located on Pomona’s commencement plaza, where its graduation ceremony is scheduled to take place this Sunday, May 12. Neither Pomona College leadership nor campus safety responded to the Courier’s requests for comment.

Reached via email Monday, Pomona’s Senior Director of Communications Patricia Vest shared the following: “Our students, faculty, staff and alumni hold a range of viewpoints. Throughout the year, college leaders have offered to meet with student protesters and will continue to do so. We will promote safety for all members of our community and pursue our educational mission, considering the full range of viewpoints.”

Protesters established a new encampment at Pomona College early Monday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Pomona College junior and PDA spokesperson Anwar Mohamed explained the rationale behind the placement and timing of the encampment.

“Students are now doing an encampment on this stage in order to call for the university to finally listen to students and faculty members and call for a divestment and literally an end to the kind of genocide that we’re seeing right now [in Gaza] and seeing on live stream on our phones. That’s kind of the main purpose of the exact location of this encampment,” Mohamed said on Monday. “We’re like six days away from graduation, and it’s a call upon administration to finally listen to demands and finally divest from the weapons manufacturers and companies aiding the apartheid regime in Israel.”

Avis Hinkson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Pomona College, emailed the college community Monday urging all to “avoid the encampment area” and “maintain an atmosphere that supports our community of students, faculty and staff, particularly as finals week continues.” The message also said that campus buildings shifted to swipe access as a precaution, meaning only those with ties to Pomona College can access its facilities.

The Pomona encampment is PDA’s second in a matter of weeks. The protesters occupied space on the south end of Smith Campus Center from March 28 to April 5, where they constructed a mock apartheid wall. Pomona College moved to remove the wall and encampment on April 5, sparking a student sit-in at Pomona College President Gina Gabrielle Starr’s office in Alexander Hall that ended with 19 students arrested for trespassing and another for obstructing a law enforcement officer, all misdemeanors.

Mohamed said the activist group did not notify the college of plans to erect the new encampment. “We’ve known that the repression of the administration will only result in relentless harm and relentless targeting of students,” he said, adding Pomona had not yet reached out to the group to discuss negotiation.

Mohamed also said the encampment comes on the heels of a May 2 vote by Pomona College faculty to pass a divestment resolution. “They’re calling upon administration to divest from the 11 companies from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement,” he said. Out of the 140 faculty who participated, 64% agreed in favor of divestment, 28% against, and 9% abstained, a news release from PDA read.

“Faculty, through this resolution, ask the College to begin with removing direct investments in the eleven firms widely identified by Palestinian civic organizations: Barclays, CAF, Caterpillar Inc., Chevron, Elbit Systems Ltd., HD Hyundai, HIKVision, Intel, JCB, TKF Security, Volvo,” read the PDA release. “Faculty are also demanding a written and in-person report from the trustees’ investment committee regarding the status of this request no later than the first faculty meeting following the trustees’ October meeting.”

The new encampment at Pomona College, which was erected by protesters Monday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

The action at Pomona College comes a day after Pitzer College protesters took down their encampment, which was created April 26 by student groups Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace at the Claremont Colleges.

“We will be lifting the camp from Pitzer’s Commencement Plaza,” read an early Monday statement from Pitzer encampment activists. “This is a strategic shift. We are responding to the unique circumstances here at Pitzer to ensure continued momentum for our demands and to build a strong foundation for the coming academic year so that we can continue to organize and intensify the pressure on our complicit administrators.

“We are not claiming victory — admin’s commitment to disclosing the percentage of Pitzer’s endowment in weapons manufacturing is not nearly enough. We are not announcing defeat – we are stronger than ever with all of you alongside us, and we remain committed to our demands and to a free Palestine. We are incredibly grateful to all of you for your support and presence, and we promise to continue creating physical and political space where we can come together and create a better world.”

The Pitzer activist groups had said last week that after mixed results from May 3 negotiations with Pitzer administration, the encampment would remain in place through the school’s May 11 commencement ceremony. Student organizers did not respond to the Courier’s request for comment on the shift.

“Students are protesting because we can’t stand by and watch the genocide of our peoples and the genocide of the most marginalized within our life,” Mohamed said. “It’s disgraceful and disgusting for this school specifically to follow suit with that ‘scholasticide,’ which is the … mass destruction of administrative institutions and academic institutions, [and] to stand by and not use any of its $2.8 billion dollar endowment to address that cause or realize its complacency.”

In addition to divestment and disclosure, a pinned post on Pomona Divest from Apartheid’s Instagram page lists its demands, asking Pomona College to: “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.”

Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr and Pomona’s Board of Trustees Chair Samuel Glick hosted a April 18 town hall meeting in response to students’ calls for disclosure and divestment from entities connected to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Protesters from PDA were set to hold a divestment rally at the new Pomona College encampment on Monday evening.


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