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A History of Contradiction
The history of diversity at Pomona is both admirable and contradictory...
The 1901 Pomona College yearbook, the Metate, reprinted the words of the “Indian Ghost Dance,” one of the school songs. It told of a “dusky Indian maid” and her “warrior’s skill,” explaining that “She felt no want; the white man’s hand/ Not yet had seized the smiling land.”
This was an idealized Eden, not a protest against Anglo imperialism. Native Americans in the flesh were no longer in evidence. More telling was a cartoon in the back of the book lampooning USC. It pictured a stable boy as an African American, drawn with all the exaggerated lines of the “darky” stereotypes of racist minstrel shows.
Despite such open reminders of wider American culture, however, Pomona had, when that publication appeared, recently admitted its first African American student. Winston M.C. Dickson enrolled at Pomona in 1900 and seemed to flourish there. He was president of the Literary Society and the Prohibition League, and a member of a fraternity, the choir, the debating club and the staff of the student newspaper.
Graduating in 1904, he went on to Harvard and Boston law schools, and practiced law in his hometown of Houston, Texas, until his death in 1959.
Pomona’s first Asian student, Fong Foo Sec, entered the Pomona College Prep School in 1897 and stayed through his freshman year of college before transferring to Berkeley. He later had a distinguished career as editor of the Shanghai Commercial.
Such are the contradictions of Pomona’s early years. Founded by the Congregationalists in 1887, Pomona was, as former President E. Wilson Lyon points out in his History of Pomona College, 1887–1969, “by tradition a part of the 19th century commitment of that denomination to the full participation of black Americans in our national life. Congregationalists were leaders in the abolition movement and after the Civil War they were the first to establish colleges for blacks in the Southern states. Pomona had never had any racial barrier to admission...”
Yet a look at the 1901 Metate reveals a panoply of white faces and a parade of names of English origin. Alhough people of color were never barred from Pomona, their appearance in subsequent Metates was relatively infrequent, all the way into the 1960s.
As for gender, the student body was roughly equal in numbers between men and women in 1901, but the faculty was overwhelmingly male. Women were librarians, or taught women’s physical education, or foreign languages. One notable exception was Phebe Estelle Spalding, professor of English, who bore a heavy burden as a role model for professionally aspiring young women.
There are lots of subsequent Metates to choose from; but let’s jump 35 years to 1936—the middle of the Depression and the high point of FDR’s New Deal. What is striking is that only three non-Anglo names are listed in the 1936 Metate: Tsuyako Mikani from nearby Fontana, Hannah Akau from Hawaii and Chung-Jen Lu, hometown undesignated. The president of Pomona at the time was Charles Edmunds, former president of Canton Christian College (later named Lingnan University). At Pomona, he initiated a new program known as “Oriental Studies”—the predecessor of today’s Asian Studies Program.
The faculty of 54 in 1936 contained 12 women, all in physical education and foreign languages except the above-named Spalding and Ina Nelson, instructor in history.
Perhaps these snippets of the past are enough to suggest my point. Although admission to the College was nominally open to all comers, a wider diversity in race, religion, national origin, geographic origin, and—for the faculty—gender, was a product of the post–World War II world. But not right away, even then.
My own class of 1948 had only one African American (her father, a New York physician, had graduated from Pomona in 1919), one student of Japanese origin, one of Chinese descent, and a handful of Jewish students.
The faculty was still dominated by European American, white males, with women in their familiar roles of PE and foreign languages, though Gretchen Pahl (later Jordan) was prominent in the English Department. Well
into the 1950’s she and Dean of Students Jean Walton had to lobby forcefully before finally being welcomed into the informal faculty luncheon group known flippantly as the “Little Men’s Marching and Chowder Society.” A member of the Class of ’47 has reflected that in those days young women students were not encouraged to see their personal talents “moving them toward a vocation. Their professors simply did not talk about it.” There was an implicit assumption that women might be “teachers, nurses, wives and mothers. That was about it.”
Even by the mid-1960s the collection of white student faces had not changed much, but change was in the air.
Pomona had established an exchange program with Fisk University in Nashville, a black institution. There were around 10 foreign students from around the world. I particularly remember the dynamism of Ambrose Ene from Nigeria and Enoch Munemo from Rhodesia. Nevertheless, I found no African American students in the 1966 Metate.
The big changes came at the end of the ’60s and paralleled protests against the Vietnam War. Amid anti-war demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, street theater, classroom invasions and ROTC trashings came demands for recognition of black students, and a Black Studies Program—and almost immediately following, similar demands by Chicano students. As faculties debated these issues, the February 1969 bombing in Carnegie that severely injured the Department of Government secretary, and the simultaneous bombing of the Scripps College president’s office traumatized the campuses. The bombing culprit was never found but was thought to be a Los Angeles agitator infected with the violence of the times. More in spite of this than because of it, by the end of 1969 a Black Student Affairs Center and Chicano (later Chicano/Latino) Student Affairs Center and new curricular programs were established.
Looking back, it seems change in diversity did not occur in gradual, steady steps, but episodically, in crisis. Amid more contention, confusion and protest, the Black and Latino/a admissions recruiters were in 1975, by decision of the Council of Presidents, removed from the student centers and located in the several college admissions offices, where they remain.
In the years that followed came the establishment of the Jewish Campus Center through Hillel, the Women’s Union in Walker Lounge, the Queer Resources Center, and, in 1991, an Asian American Resource Center, with its affiliated groups such as the Korean Student Association.
Curricular changes paralleled the growth of these extra-curricular organizations. In addition to Black Studies, Chicano Studies, Asian Studies and Women’s Studies, we find in the freshman seminar program courses on race and ethnicity, the politics of identity and Japanese-American literature. In the regular curriculum are courses on African American literature, Asian American writers, gay fiction, Chicano art, women and politics, Latina sociology, feminist philosophy and ethnomusicology, to name but a few. In addition, if they wish, students can perform in the Balinese Gamelan Ensemble, or the Hindustani Music Ensemble, not to mention the Gospel Choir.
The class of ’94, which entered in 1990, had 15 African Americans, 27 Hispanics, 56 Asians and Asian Americans (including Vietnamese, Indonesian and Indian students), two with Arabic backgrounds and a Pacific Islander or two. In the ’90s there were about as many Kims and Chens in the student body as Smiths, Jones or Johnsons.
Amid some non-irenic discussion of “political correctness,” when the general education requirements were revised in 1994, the faculty examined a proposal to add a graduation requirement of at least one course that dealt with “The Dynamic of Difference and Power” (DDP) Such courses would look at issues of “race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, and religion” in relation to social and political power. It was not adopted, but the faculty will consider it again in the 2004–05 academic year. A student survey in the spring of 2003 found the student body evenly split on the proposal, with white males typically opposed, and women and persons of color typically favorable.
This is enough to suggest that, even at Pomona, not all diversity issues are in the past.
—Lee C. McDonald ’48 is Professor of Government Emeritus at Pomona College.