Dear Pomona College Community,

This has been a year weighed down by grief. Pomona is, by our very mission, strongly rooted in the local communities around us, but global in our orientation. This means that the war in Israel and Gaza has had deep, personal impact for our campus, and we can see sorrow and fear radiating not only here in Claremont but around our world.

In response to the devastation, members of our community have called on the College to act, with some participating in drives for food, medicine, and clothing, others engaging in direct political action, and yet others calling for the College itself to make statements of different kinds.

In particular, referenda and community conversations this semester brought Sagehens together to consider questions surrounding the College’s investments, proposals for divestment and broader issues of social responsibility. Many students and faculty shared that their primary concern in calls for divestment is that the tragic scale of the loss of life in Gaza calls for a moral response of equivalent scale. Indeed, the deaths of Palestinians—the devastation visible at every turn—are hard to bear, and I join you in that grief. One life lost to violence is too many, and we have all seen too much. The voices that I have heard on our campus have stressed that their response to the war in Israel and Gaza is part of a deep concern for human crisis, and that the specificity of their call is meant to express fellow-feeling and inclusion. Others find that hard to hear, wondering why the victims of October 7th seem absent from many conversations.

I can understand why the moral crisis we see unfolding leads many to wish to act to alleviate suffering by way of the College’s investment policies. Others believe we have yet to have sufficient debate on the issues involved. Still others deeply object to any kind of political statement made in this way, or to how political statements by their nature suggest that those who hold differing views are unwelcome at Pomona. There are also concerns about the efficacy of divestment as an overall tactic. (I’d also note questions may arise regarding how applicable it is to Pomona, given that the College does not currently hold direct investments in 10 of the 11 companies listed in the May faculty resolution.)

No matter their views, members of our community continue to speak with concern about each other and for those suffering at the heart of the war.

In line with our commitment to open dialogue on this campus, at the end of the semester, students and faculty concerned with these issues met with members of the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees to continue those conversations more formally.

It was a sharp, frank and wide-ranging conversation, with students and faculty raising many issues and questions, and was an excellent step forward. I anticipate that these discussions will continue at forthcoming meetings of the Board.

It is important for me to emphasize that I do not envision circumstances in which the College chooses to make a statement of repudiation of any country; indeed, we will remain open to the entire globe. We desire wider engagement with the world, and focusing on a particular nation for exclusion, whether that be Israel or another nation, is not a path we intend to pursue as an institution.

But the end of the year does not find us with a resolution, even as this war is ongoing.

Progress on these issues requires meeting at a table to find solutions, and it will require hard work across our entire community, bringing together students, faculty, staff and trustees. The College does not respond to demands, and the difficult work of conversation awaits us next year. I anticipate being able to announce a process for continuing these discussions later this summer.

Sadly, this year a small number of members of our community, joined by others from outside our campus, chose to engage in activism that crossed the line of what is respectful and consistent with our values. Every member of our community has a right to feel physically and psychologically safe, and to benefit from all that Pomona has to offer, regardless of their background, identity, or views. We can and must do better. The right to protest is fundamental to our democracy and dissent is an important part of free inquiry; yet every right carries with it responsibilities. Our policies are meant to preserve individual rights and to uphold the rights of others, and every member of our community must engage responsibly—and take responsibility for their actions—when we exercise those rights. I call on our community to show care for each other, and to demonstrate respect for one another, no matter how strongly we feel about the issues that matter.

Our community is a fragile one, and it depends on face-to-face engagement, honesty, and acknowledgment of one another’s full humanity. We have seen that masked protest on our campus undermines those principles. This will be an active subject of discussion next year, as we reconsider our policies around protest on our campus.

One achievement of the last year is that, even in the tense atmosphere, we were able to host a series of academic events throughout spring semester looking at the history and current context of the war from a number of different scholarly vantage points. These events were well attended and unfolded without interruption, and next year we will enhance that effort. Pomona is here to expand understanding of and in the world, and I am pleased to share that I will make funding available to departments this coming year—up to $75,000 by application to my office—to expand knowledge in our community about the Middle East, peace and conflict, and human rights. Applications from departments will be accepted through September 1.

Pomona is also here to welcome students from all over the world. We expanded that commitment last year by leading a group of U.S. colleges and universities in the Global Student Haven Initiative. This initiative was founded to recognize that even as war brings indiscriminate devastation, Pomona College holds education as an important part of what it means to better the human condition, especially in the worst of times. Higher education works in these moments toward the public good by bringing people together to learn, discover, create and grow. Philanthropy and wise stewardship of our endowment enable us to continue this work, and we look forward to furthering it by supporting students who are refugees from the war we see unfolding, and to helping to rebuild access to higher education for those who have lost it.

Pomona has, since our founding, responded to suffering by seeking healing, offering hope, and embracing education as foundational to a better future for all of human kind: It is for this reason that Sagefolk express our loyalty to this College by bearing in trust all that we have gained within our gates for the betterment of the world beyond them. I hope you all join me in being deeply proud of that work, and committing together to its future.