Claremont Port Side: Alexander Vigil Protests Pomona’s Document Check

From Claremont Port Side: Link to original article

While students at Claremont McKenna and Pitzer largely focused on Condoleezza Rice’s visit to CMC, Pomona students awoke Wednesday concerned with an issue that hits much closer to home. Protesting Pomona College’s demand that workers reverify their documentation, students boycotted Pomona College’s dining halls yesterday and today. While Workers for Justice picketed outside Frary and Frank, a separate group of students (literally) set up camp on the lawn surrounding Alexander Hall.

Identifying themselves as Concerned Students of Pomona College, the students’ extended vigil is intended to generate conversation about Pomona College’s handling of documentation issues. In a statement released to the Pomona community, they articulated their intention to remain in a peaceful, non-obtrusive manner until their demands have been met. Summarizing those demands, Hsuanwei Fan PO ’12 said: “We need more answers and responsibility and accountability.”

The students have addressed most logistical concerns, setting up a food tent, hooking up extension cords, and getting the sprinklers turned off, all with the authorization of Dean Feldblum. Several Concerned Students met with Feldblum Wednesday afternoon. Frank Sanchez PO ’13, who was at the meeting, said: “She’s doing her job as dean of students and looking out for us in material ways.” Sanchez also said that Feldblum indicated that the students could remain indefinitely, presuming they remain in accordance with the Claremont Colleges’ protest policy.

“This is our way of saying to President Oxtoby and the Board of Trustees: ‘We want to talk to you.’ ” – Frank Sanchez PO ‘13

The Concerned Students distinguish their action – which seeks to “represent student interests,” said Sanchez – and the actions undertaken by Workers for Justice, which are primarily focused on workers’ issues from workers’ perspectives. John Bonacorsi PO ’12 elaborated: “This [the issue of documentation] is definitely a worker issue, but it’s also a student, faculty, and community issue.” The Concerned Students nevertheless emphasized that they do not seek to detract from or criticize the efforts made by Workers for Justice.

Pomona students unaffiliated with either group were not so diplomatic in comparing the two. One Pomona senior, who preferred not to be identified, said, “The vigil at Alexander seems to really want to generate dialogue and conversation. The boycott is just a spectacle.” He continued, “I’m boycotting anyway, but just because I don’t want to be harassed.”

Students and workers affiliated with Workers for Justice attended the Concerned Students’ meeting outside Alexander Hall on Wednesday night. A large portion of the meeting was devoted to discussing the relationship the Concerned Students should or should not have with Workers for Justice. “Everyone here doesn’t want to see anyone fired,” said one student. Yet even by the end of the three-hour meeting, it was still unclear whether this overarching, common goal would lead to a more defined relationship between the two groups.

Thus far, the Alexander Vigil has largely been defined by what it is not. In a statement released to the Pomona College community, the Concerned Students explained: “we are not affiliated—nor do we wish to be confused—with Workers for Justice, UNITE HERE, any other union or labor organization, or any Occupy movement.” Student discourse on campus also seems to focused on distinguishing the Concerned Students from both Occupy Claremont and Workers for Justice.

Many Concerned Students reject even identifying as a cohesive group or organization, pointing to their diversity of views. One thing the students do share is a desire to prevent the termination of the twenty or so workers still plagued by documentation issues. To achieve this common goal, the students intend to continue to act in a peaceful, unobtrusive manner. As one Pomona sophomore put it: “This is not a group. This is an action.”

With the December 1, 5:00 p.m. deadline set by the College fast approaching, the efficacy of this action remains to be seen.

UPDATE: The deadline has passed with no change from the administration. Pomona College, President Oxtoby, and the Board of Trustees have terminated the contracts of roughly 20 employees for discrepancies in their documentation.

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