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The Claremont Colleges’ resource centers
offer African American, Asian American
and Latino students a sense of their ethnic
heritage and a circle of support...
Tammy Park had other plans. She wanted to attend a bigger school and one farther away from her hometown of Los Angeles. But her dad was a Pomona alumnus and it was the top school where she was accepted, so she went—grudgingly.
|From left: Tammy Park ’04; Daren Mooko, Director of the Asian American Resource Center; and Rishi Jindal ’04
Though the young Korean American woman remained sullen and isolated herself as a freshman, there was a group of students who resolutely reached out to her throughout the year—those who worked at Pomona’s Asian American Resource Center, as well as Asian American student mentors, who are affiliated with the center.
Their encouragement and support ultimately paid off. By the end of the year Park had decided to be a mentor herself. During the summer training period, the then-18-year-old learned about her ethnic heritage and received crash courses in racism, sexism and socioeconomic issues.
For Park, it was an awakening.
Before the mentor training, she says, “I had no interest in Asian American issues or activism, or political issues, for that matter. That was the first time I started thinking about those things and becoming passionate about them.”
“Everything turned around for me,” adds Park, who went on to work at the resource center and become president of Pomona’s Korean American Student Association, and now, in her senior year, has become one of three head mentors.
Park’s experience mirrors those of many students whose lives have been enriched by Pomona’s three resource centers for minority students—the Asian American facility, the Office of Black Student Affairs and the Chicano/Latino Student Affairs Center.
The centers, which serve all five Claremont colleges, help students forge friendships with others of the same ethnic background—
particularly comforting for freshmen adjusting to college life—as well as helping them grow increasingly aware of their heritage, say students and administrators.
Stephanie De Santiago, a Pomona junior, says that during her first two years of college her spirits were buoyed by peers who worked or spent time at the center for Chicano and Latino students.
“I found some really great friends there who were an awesome support system for me, and are, even to this day,” she says.
There are many other reasons why the three centers are so vital. They offer a number of academic resources, including workshops, tutors and information on scholarships; students can meet individually with directors of the centers to discuss academic or other problems, and can do the same with student mentors or sponsors; and the centers offer special programs ranging from retreats and community fairs to arts-related projects and speaker series.
Hughes Suffren, dean of students at the Office of Black Student Affairs, says his center celebrates African American culture, but he also stresses that “we’re an academic center first.”
To that end, Suffren holds workshops on an array of academic tools, including time management, taking notes and properly dissecting a textbook.
The center, which is 34 years old, also has a computer lab and holds study circles with visiting faculty members. In addition, it periodically hosts “fireside chats,” in which visiting scholars speak to small groups.
One such talk was held Oct. 23, when the prominent writer and cultural critic bell hooks spoke to a crowd of about 30. Long after the talk had ended, three young African American women still lingered, immersed in conversation. Relaxing on the center’s two couches—a painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging on the opposite wall—the three students talked about racial identity and stereotypes.
“The resource centers are safe places to bring up certain issues that minority students aren’t allowed or able to bring up in social settings or in classrooms,” Natalia Francisco Averett, a Pomona senior, says later, standing outside the center with the other two women—both Scripps freshmen.
The Chicano and Latino center, which opened in 1969, is an inviting space, with a handful of computers, a TV, two Diego Rivera prints and plenty of reading material—magazines such as Latino Leaders, Hispanic Business and Latina Style.
During the first few weeks of the school year, the center’s Dean of Students Maria Aguiar Torres and Associate Dean of Students Robert Viteri hold—between the two of them—one-on-one meetings with all Chicano and Latino freshmen from the five Claremont colleges. Suffren and assistant dean Hasan Johnson do the same with the first-year African American students.
The idea is to get to know the students and their interests and to provide help with any questions they may have about academic schedules, strategies or other matters.
The Chicano and Latino center also provides on-site tutors in a variety of subjects.
Because of the low high school graduation rate in the United States for Chicano and Latino students, Torres notes, she, Viteri and administrative assistant Ernestine Mendoza—who have worked a combined 67 years at the center—feel an obligation to see that the students who get to the five Claremont colleges graduate.
The statistics show they’re having a great deal of success, Torres adds proudly.
The Asian American center, which opened in 1991, has a slew of innovative programs, including an Arts Initiative that gives students the chance to express themselves through music, art and other media, and special events that bring a diverse group of speakers and performers to the campus. One particularly popular program took place in November 2001, when an Asian American spoken-word group called I Was Born With Two Tongues performed in front of several hundred students.
The group touched on various aspects of the Asian American experience, including people who have immigrant parents and those who’ve been the targets of racist acts.
Says the center’s director Daren Mooko: “Some of the Asian American students walked out of there saying, ‘How did they know my life?’”
In counseling students, Mooko says the most common dilemma he finds is students feeling conflicted over choosing a major. Many Asian American students who have immigrant parents are torn between choosing their own path of study and feeling they should do what their parents want—namely, plan a career that will offer financial security.
It’s a challenge trying to help students navigate this tricky terrain, concedes Mooko.
The Asian American Mentor Program is affiliated with the resource center but operates as an independent, student-run program. It places one male mentor and one female mentor for each group of 10 freshmen. The Office of Black Student Affairs also has student mentors—called Ujima mentors. Likewise, the Chicano and Latino center has student sponsors that it places with each small group of freshmen. The idea behind the mentors and sponsors is to give minority students access to peers who have already been through a year of school and can offer advice and encouragement.
“What students like about it is that it’s someone who understands them culturally and personally, who looks like them and who understands their issues,” says Torres.
All three centers take students on retreats early in the school year. There are poetry readings, workshops, personal sharing sessions, team-building exercises and other activities on the trips.
Suffren and Johnson discuss academic as well as social strategies with students.
“Don’t separate yourself from groups,” Suffren says is one thing he tells them. “If you just hang out with black groups, then you shortchange yourself. That’s a negative coping strategy.
“On the other hand, don’t do the opposite, which is to assimilate. We tell them to affirm who you are.”
—Paul Sterman ’84