Pluralism, Dissent and Discrimination

Dear Pomona College Community, 

The devastating conflict between Israel and Hamas continues to reverberate on U.S. college campuses and affect the lives of students thousands of miles away from the war zone.

The deaths of Israelis and Palestinians bring a human toll that grieves me to the heart. For all Sagehens whose families and friends are facing violence daily, please accept my heartfelt hope for peace and comfort. To our community more broadly, I ask that you join me in seeking not just a more peaceful world, but to find the best in ourselves and in each other in the midst of this crisis.

I want to share with you some thoughts as well as key information about our approach in coming days.

Pluralism requires dissent, but cannot tolerate discrimination.

Historically, times of conflict in the Middle East have been linked to a rise in both antisemitism and anti-Arab and Islamophobic acts. This has proven true once again. Hate is hate, and I have no reservations in expressing my contempt for it.

The institutional context to address discrimination is complex, however, and it involves particular legal obligations. Our processes can be found here.

Escalating reports of concerning events at American higher education institutions led the Biden Administration this week to reach out to colleges nationwide reiterating the need to protect from discrimination those students “perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab or Palestinian, or any other shared ancestry.” While implementing its National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, the Biden administration is crafting a similar anti-Islamophobia strategy to address this threat as well. 

Meanwhile, a bipartisan U.S. Senate resolution, recently passed unanimously to address campus antisemitism, states: “acts of hate, discrimination, and violence based on religion or ethnicity have no place at institutions that exist to further education and understanding between diverse student bodies.”

Pomona and The Claremont Colleges are not immune to the deep challenges of this moment in our world, or the problems on college campuses nationwide.

Since the horrific October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and throughout the ongoing conflict, we’ve received a range of letters, messages, petitions and complaints from people and organizations representing widely divergent perspectives, many of which have requested statements of varying kinds.

I reiterate: as an institution, Pomona College does not have a foreign policy regarding any nation or region of the world. Our community includes members of varying perspectives, and with deep and abiding commitments to many peoples and causes. However, as a community, we also have a shared educational mission.

This means that we also have a shared goal: for every student to flourish in an atmosphere of safety and open dialogue. Reports of behavior that violates the student code, our demonstration policy, or our policies prohibiting pervasive harassment and discrimination on the basis of protected status, will be investigated and addressed through our established judicial processes. Bullying, obstructing people’s movement, interfering with another student’s right to protected expression and shoving or violence of any kind are prohibited behaviors to be addressed through our judicial procedures. 

Student activism is a vital part of our tradition, and we uphold the right of protest in line with our demonstration policy. However, wearing masks that prevent recognition of individuals poses a challenge to the ability to maintain campus codes of conduct. Students and other participants in demonstrations may be asked to temporarily remove masks so that they can be recognized if potential conduct or demonstration policy violations appear to be taking place. We recognize some members of our community will need to wear masks in certain cases under COVID exposure public health guidance.

As an institution, it’s important to reaffirm that we uphold free speech, academic freedom and open inquiry. Criticism of any nation is protected speech under the U.S. Constitution, and debate over global issues is an essential aspect of our academic program. In the weeks since the October 7 attacks, we’ve received complaints regarding slogans, chants and statements that were assessed, under our established process, to fall within the realm of protected speech.  

The interaction of protected speech as an overarching community value and the campus climate for individuals is complex. As we defend the right to protected speech, we also will provide support to individual students experiencing a challenging climate as a member of a religious, cultural and/or ideological minority on campus.

In the days and weeks ahead, we ask that every member of our community pursue thoughtful dialogue, commit to mutual respect and hear opposing views even amid the strains of this time.