The Claremont Progressive: (still) in the spirit of a welcoming and inclusive campus environment

From The Claremont Progressive: Link to original article

Dearest Board of Trustees:

hello Claremont Progressive readers! my name is frank sánchez, and i am in my third year at Pomona College majoring in Gender and Women’s Studies and minoring in Music. i am one of several students who came together last semester to plan, organize, and participate in the extended vigil outside of Alexander Hall, which was held in response to the letters requesting work documents that were distributed to 84 Pomona employees and the subsequent firing of 17 individuals. i have been asked to write a reflection on the vigil with close to a month-and-a-half’s worth of hindsight. because i feel exhausted after being forced to navigate virtually unnavigable formal channels of communication, i have decided to write in a somewhat informal manner. the following poem/letter/whatever is an attempt to express my views on the experience(s) of last semester and what i hope will continue out of them. i want to emphasize that the opinions expressed in this piece are exactly that, opinions (more specifically, mine), and should not be misconstrued as representative of the thoughts of any other vigil organizers or participants.

something i’ve been working on is honesty, so i have to tell you that i’m still pretty pissed about the shit that got pulled last semester. perhaps unsurprisingly, i’m still upset that several people were fired after serving the Pomona College community for years. i still don’t think the situation was handled well. i still don’t think the college was required to do everything that it did in the way that it did. i still think that decisions were made that failed to adequately take into consideration the very real human consequences of those decisions. and i still think student voices along with the voices of staff and faculty were left out of a conversation that deeply affected many members of the proverbial Pomona College community.

for me, though, it is important to consider this question of community, because more than anything, that is what the extended vigil was and provided for me. this may sound selfish, but i have never felt so much support in every facet of my life than i did while i was living in a tent outside of Alexander Hall. i felt the support of students who were also making sacrifices to participate in an action that they care deeply about. i felt the support of professors whose classes have provided me with the tools to articulate what i was feeling. i felt the support of staff with whom i may have never developed relationships if this vigil hadn’t happened. i felt the support of the administration in some very material ways. and i felt the support of individuals outside of our campus community who chose to stop by the vigil and engage in conversation with me and other students.

that said, i also felt (and still feel) terrible, because i know that what has come out of the vigil (and what will ultimately come out of the vigil) does not, cannot, and will not be able to alleviate or even adequately address the fact that 17 people lost their jobs over something as stupid as pieces of paper. this is not to say that i don’t see ways in which the vigil was important, but it is to say that i wish there were a way that things could have happened differently.

so, Board of Trustees, how do i see the role of the vigil moving forward?

good question!

in the days leading up to the vigil (and even throughout its duration), it was difficult to get in touch with the Trustees and to know that our voices were being heard. i want to consider the students who will come after us, and make it easier for them to prevent such a devastating series of events from ever occurring again. what that means for me is (at the very least) putting a student on the Board, creating formal channels of communication from students to Trustees, and having the Trustees communicate more clearly with students what they are up to. it means continuing this community by providing a resource where contact information and information regarding the appropriate person to contact are compiled and readily available for students and others interested in contacting the trustees (or whomever) with regards to any pressing issue.

what’s more, i want to ensure that nothing like what happened last semester will ever happen again at Pomona College. what that means for me is seeing this community — unlike any other i have experienced — extend across time. the extended vigil outside of Alexander Hall was inspired by a tradition at Pomona College of actions centered in and around Alexander. we were not the first, and will not be the last, group of students to utilize that symbolic space for political purposes. although the space outside of Alexander no longer exists in the same way that it did during the vigil, the connections and relationships made and developed there continue, which reintroduces this idea of a community that can extend across time.

the extended vigil brought together people of many different backgrounds, with many different opinions in a temporarily transformed space, and yet the temporality of this community is not something i see as limited. i see the extended vigil and what comes out of it as a call for open and honest communication and an increased democratization of our campus that puts us in conversation with individuals and groups beyond just our present moment. community is about more than just space, and the community i envision rising out of the vigil is one that includes and welcomes all individuals willing to engage in the struggle to maintain and ensure such a campus environment that is safe and comfortable for all of its members.

i personally do not think this issue is behind us, and i trust, Trustees, that it is still your intention to work with the student body and the rest of our community in the spirit of an inclusive and welcoming campus environment. so i also trust that things like the student-Trustee task-force and whatever may come out of that will not result in any sort of silencing of student voices or any other voices. i hope that i do not come across as unappreciative. i want to thank you for working with us in the ways that you have to this point, and i will admit that i was pleasantly surprised at the degree to which the vigil was successful (even if only in limited terms and ways yet to be seen). however, i hope in the future that our interactions will precede and prevent such unfortunate events and actions. i look forward to working with you and am eager to see what’s to come.

and i’m still pretty pissed.

sincerely yours,

frank sánchez

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