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When it’s darkest, a time to shine

by John Pixley

 

Good for David Oxtoby. It is not unusual to see the Claremont Colleges and their students, staff and presidents mentioned in the Los Angeles Times. I all but expect to see Jack Pitney, a Claremont McKenna College political science professor and former Republican strategist, to be quoted when there are significant political happenings. He’s just one example. 

But I wasn’t expecting to see Pomona College’s president when I read this article. 

The story, appearing late last month, was about the leaders of California’s three systems of public higher education—the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges—asking President-elect Donald Trump to allow students who are in the country illegally to continue their educations without fear of deportation. 

These students, who were brought here by their parents at very young ages, have been protected from deportation by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Known as Dreamers, they now have an uncertain future, with Trump vowing to crack down on illegal immigration and perhaps carry out large or larger-scale deportations. 

The letter from the state’s public higher education leaders probably isn’t surprising. But I was surprised when I went on to read that the entreaty came after another letter signed by more than 300 college presidents pushing for DACA to be continued and expanded as a “moral imperative and national necessity.” These were schools like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, USC and Occidental, as well as Pitzer and Scripps here in Claremont. This letter was initiated by Pomona College President David Oxtoby. 

In explaining this bold, bright move, Mr. Oxtoby said, “DACA—not just for Pomona but for the whole country—has encouraged high school students to take their studies more seriously and get into college. Before DACA, they didn’t see the reason to go on, because they didn’t see a future.”

He has personally assured students that Pomona College will fill any financial gaps should Trump end the program and their access to work permits. The college also brought in an immigration lawyer to speak to students seeking legal advice.  

Additionally, students without legal status have been advised not to study abroad next semester “because we just don’t know what will happen when they try to return,” Mr. Oxtoby said.

Mr. Oxtoby’s concern and leadership—initiating a call and inspiring others to make the same call—on this issue is indeed bold and bright. Pomona College may not have as much to lose as the publicly-funded universities and colleges, but this is definitely going against what appears to be the new grain and standing out, as President-elect Trump has spoken about withholding funds from institutions and entities that provide protection and assistance to those without documentation. At the very least, it is a light shining during this time when there is considerable uncertainty and turbulence, if not downright anguish and fear. 

What Pomona College and President Oxtoby are doing is a light in this holiday season, when the power of light in the dark, in the darkest and coldest time of year, is celebrated. It is a light that shines even brighter after this year full of controversy, outrage and upset.

There are other of these lights shining forth in Claremont and elsewhere. They are lights that show the way from fear and angst to connection and love. 

CHAP is another of these lights illuminating a path forward here. The Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program has been doing remarkable work in the last few years, providing not only assistance but also actual shelter to those who are homeless in Claremont. 

This is all done by volunteers, primarily from Pilgrim Place and the Quaker meeting, with assistance from college students and people from other churches in town. These folks are very hands-on, providing meals, pairing up with homeless individuals to help them sign up and get services and, most remarkably, having the homeless stay overnight in the Quaker meetinghouse. They have also purchased a house where homeless people can stay. 

Such action—not just talk but real action—is a bright light in a county with something like 44,000 homeless people. It has been a bold example as Los Angeles and the county has struggled to take humane action, instead of penalizing strategies, to deal with this increasingly chronic problem. In last month’s election, a new tax was approved in Los Angeles for providing housing for the homeless, and the county is considering a similar move to provide housing and services for the homeless, many of whom deal with physical, mental and substance abuse problems. 

Furthermore, this action in Claremont is in sharp contrast to what happened 10 years ago, when the county’s proposal to open a homeless service center in this area—one of five in an effort to not have all the homeless end up on Skid Row in LA—was quietly shelved after a public outcry over the idea. It is truly a light shining bright, showing how to reach out in community with love and compassion where there was fear and shame.  

This same bright, bold light was seen a couple weeks ago when community leaders and residents gathered at the Islamic center. They were all there in solidarity, showing support and alliance, after the mosque had received a threatening letter citing President-elect as the “new sheriff in town.” Right in the face of ugly, dark fear and loathing, this was love and the spirit of community powerfully shining forth.

 A man in San Francisco, quoted recently in the Los Angeles Times, who, like almost everyone in the city, was upset about the result of the presidential election had the right idea: “When you are so angry, and you feel like doing something negative, the best cure is to do something positive.”

He was applying adhesive tape to the multicolored sticky notes on which people had written messages after the election (“Discrimination is sin,” “Pray,” “Don’t lose hope”) and left on a subway wall. The guy wanted to make sure the messages wouldn’t fall off or get blown away.   

When there is darkness and cold, when there is uncertainty and fear and hate and danger, we need to see the lights shining here and make sure our bright colors and hopes stay up. We need to see the lights where they can’t be, like the lights twinkling so high in the swaying treetops above a house a couple streets away. I have no idea how they got there—it must have taken an awful lot of work, not to mention ingenuity—but there they are. 

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