Demonstrations disrupt Claremont Colleges alumni festivities

Pomona College alumni and activists with Pomona Divest from Apartheid showed up before Pomona College’s annual parade of classes to form a blockade at the corner of Sixth Street and College Avenue on Saturday, April 27. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

By Andrew Alonzo |

Protesters calling for schools to divest from companies they say aid Israel’s offensive in Gaza halted April 27 alumni weekend events on the campuses of Harvey Mudd, Pitzer and Pomona Colleges.

Harvey Mudd

The first demonstration took place shortly after 10 a.m. during Harvey Mudd College’s state of the college address. About 36 students and alumni from Mudders Against Murder, a grassroots organization made of HMC students, gained access to Galileo Hall and disrupted HMC President Harriet Nembhard’s speech before alumni.

“Throughout the disruption, HMC students and alumni announced to alumni Mudders Against Murder’s demands for HMC to cut ties with weapons manufacturers and defense companies,” a joint Instagram post from student news media outlet Claremont Undercurrents and MAM read. “Students displayed red-painted hands as speakers called out HMC administration’s silence towards Mudders Against Murder’s demands despite three delegations in the past month.”

One of the post’s slides read that the demonstration led Nembhard to reschedule the event at a later time.

Pomona College alumni and activists, including Noel Rodriguez, at right, addressed the crowd during a divestment demonstration at Pomona College’s annual alumni parade on April 27. Courier photos/Andrew Alonzo

Pomona College

At about 3:15 p.m. before Pomona College’s annual parade of classes was set to begin, about 50 university alumni and activists with Pomona Divest from Apartheid, a Palestine liberation collective made up of Claremont Colleges students, formed a blockade and constructed an art piece known as the apartheid wall at the corner of Sixth Street and College Avenue. The protesters chants included “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.”

Some alumni who were not taking part in the protest were visibly upset, including 1989 Pomona alum Kenneth Kaplan.

“I was hoping if the protesters were students, they would be willing to discuss their positions and hear my opinion,” Kaplan wrote in an email. “I purposely did not chant back or interrupt the person on the microphone but hoped for a meaningful side exchange. Instead … I was surrounded by completely masked and unidentifiable people who instructed everyone to not respond to my questions. I was asking questions and not making my own statements only to be ignored and intimidated. In the end, it seemed more like a combination of ‘bandwagoning,’ mob rule and cult like thinking.”

Kaplan wrote that interactions on Saturday led him to conclude the protesters were made of two groups, one “who are the useful idiots who do not know the history or details of a complex situation,” the other a “truly antisemitic group who runs the discussion. It was greatly disappointing and disheartening.”

Despite the blockade, the parade began after 3:30 p.m. The demonstrators then moved to the intersection to block its progression. Organizers then instructed alumni to turn east on Sixth Street, and again demonstrators blocked the parade.

After a brief negotiation between PDA and parade organizers, older alumni left the area. Once it became clear the protest would not let up, the remaining paradegoers exited the area via Seventh Street.

Activists from Pomona Divest from Apartheid block a golf cart with a Pomona College alumnus from turning east onto Sixth Street during Pomona’s annual alumni parade on April 27. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Afterward, alumni activists began addressing the remaining crowd. David Berkinsky, Pomona College class of 2019 and currently a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and part of the MIT Jews for Ceasefiremovement, was one of the speakers.

“Our message today is that there’s going to be no business as usual while Pomona funds genocide, occupation [and] apartheid of the Palestinian people,” Berkinsky told the Courier. “We will continue to disrupt their events and make it as inconvenient as possible to continue funding these unethical companies and governments.”

A 4 p.m. panel discussion on the history of activism at Pomona College was subsequently canceled.

Pitzer College

The third protest began about 3:45 p.m. as the Taste of Pitzer alumni music and food festival was underway. About 20 demonstrators, chanting and holding signs asking for investment disclosure and divestment, occupied a stage set up next to Brant Clock Tower where live music acts were set to perform.

Visible from the protest area was a pro-Palestinian encampment located on the Pitzer College Mounds. One of the cardboard signs hung in the area read “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.”

The encampment, similar to those that have popped up on college campuses across the country, was constructed early on April 26 to bring attention to the war in Gaza and student-led efforts, according to protesters. It was created by Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace at the Claremont Colleges, according to an online post by Claremont Undercurrents.

Rallies for divestment and the construction of pro-Palestinian encampments have swelled at universities across the United States following police action against a student encampment at New York’s Columbia University on April 18 which led to numerous student arrests. In California alone, encampments have been erected at UCLA, UC Berkeley, Pitzer, and USC, with the latter recently canceling its main stage commencement ceremony as a result of unrest on its Los Angeles campus.

On Tuesday, UCLA administrators declared the encampment “unlawful,” and a violent clash between pro-Palestinian campers and counterdemonstrators took place overnight. LAPD and other agencies were called to quell the violence. Police have since been criticized for delays in responding as the violence unfolded.

The LAPD moved onto UCLA early Thursday to remove the encampment after demonstrators did not vacate the area by the 1 a.m. deadline police had set. Some 209 arrests were made in the process as campers attempted to block police from clearing the area, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A pro-Palestinian encampment located on the Pitzer College Mounds, pictured April 27. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

“It started with Pomona, it started with Columbia,” Berkinsky said. “They sparked a massive wildfire that has shown America’s true colors. When we are funding unethical companies and governments that are actively committing a genocide, we have to resist, we have to push back. The stronger that they try to stop us, the more encampments that are going to come up, the stronger the movement is going to be.”

Saturday’s demonstrations followed an April 26 evening rally where some 200 activists disrupted a dinner at Marston Quadrangle and alumni speakers urged their peers to withhold donations to the school. After, activists reconvened at Pomona College’s Mabel Shaw Bridges Hall of Music to read a joint statement from the 20 students who were arrested during a demonstration at Alexander Hall on April 5. That protest was sparked after Pomona College took down a majority of the mock apartheid wall.

“We wanted to send a strong message that no event is sacred while a genocide is happening,” Berkinsky added.

This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. May 2.


Submit a Comment

Share This