Update on Addressing Antisemitism, Islamophobia and Shared Ancestry Discrimination

Dear Pomona College Community, 

The last week or two have brought moments of respite from the ongoing war, with hostage-prisoner exchanges and a temporary ceasefire in the horrific conflict. I continue to hope for peace and healing. The world needs it desperately.

Given the trauma unfolding in the world beyond our gates—trauma that affects many in our own community—I ask that we, as Sagehens, be united in upholding human dignity and compassion while rejecting all forms of hate. This is a crucial moment to put into practice our values of listening, respect and open inquiry.

Our obligations as a community require that we provide fora for voices across all forms of protected speech—including those voices that are pro-Palestinian and those voices that are pro-Israeli, indeed a range of voices and dissenting views are and should be welcome at Pomona. I have noted in thoughtful conversations with our students that their individual and collective identities fall on many different lines, as do their consciences and their commitments. At the same time, this right to free expression must be compatible with the College’s requirement to provide all students an environment that does not limit their access and opportunity to the full academic, social and cultural benefits and experiences of a Pomona education.

The urgency many feel at this moment is fueling intense and often contentious debate on college and university campuses, and this has at times led to allegations of harassment and discrimination at institutions nationwide. In response, the U.S. Department of Education is expanding its work on campus climate to confront both antisemitism and Islamophobia. At this critical point, Pomona is doing so as well. We are committed to addressing shared ancestry discrimination in a sustained and comprehensive manner. 

To begin, as always, we are enforcing our existing policies designed to protect all members of our community and support our educational mission. We have reviewed or are reviewing every complaint we have received, and any violations found will be addressed with discipline under our code of conduct. We will enforce our policies to support all students in pursuing their education.

As an additional step, the College is adding shared ancestry as a category in our harassment policies to clarify the protections available for students, faculty and staff. In addition, in our updated nondiscrimination policies, the College calls attention to antisemitism and Islamophobia as forms of intersectional discrimination based on religion, shared ancestry and or/national origin. 

As noted in the policies, prohibited harassment includes epithets, slurs, derogatory comments or jokes, intimidation, negative stereotyping, threats, assault or any physical conduct which is aimed at an individual or group because of their legally protected characteristic(s), and interferes with a student’s normal academics or extracurricular movement. 

In the area of speech, the issues are complex, as free speech is critical to our educational mission; the First Amendment protects most speech that is commonly categorized as hate speech. There are a few important exceptions, however, including those specifically relevant to higher education; these include forms of harassment that may be significant enough to violate college policies. 

Fully cataloguing the kind of hateful rhetoric that can make campus unwelcoming—but may be protected speech—is neither desirable nor possible. In many cases, speech that is deeply offensive may not meet actionable harassment standards. Given the vital importance of the distinctions between protected and unprotected speech, we have also updated our speech policies to ensure clarity and understanding.

However, hateful speech profoundly harms our community and I repudiate it unreservedly; I call on us all to rise above hate. In the realm of antisemitism, examples of such speech may include making dehumanizing or demonizing allegations about Jews or holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel—for example, perpetuating the idea that if a Jewish person supports Israel, they are supporting the killing of infants and children. Similarly, discrimination against individuals based on their real or perceived Arab ethnic or Muslim religious heritage may include referring to them as terrorists or being collectively responsible for the violent actions of any organizations. The College wants to make clear that while, depending on circumstances, such speech may not constitute a conduct violation, it is something we will not ignore. 

In the realm of ideas, inquiry and community life on our campus, we will vigorously contest antisemitic, Islamophobic, and other hateful speech and actions. We will continue to educate our community on the destructive history behind these and other forms of shared ancestry discrimination. We also are committed to providing support to students affected by hateful rhetoric, and we offer the following resources:

Students in need of support are encouraged to seek assistance from their class dean, Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services (909-621-8202), TimelyCare/7C Health or a Claremont Colleges chaplain (909-621-8685). These resources are available to all students to talk through their feelings, suggest options for care, or identify next steps in addressing their needs.

Our goal is for every student to flourish in an atmosphere of safety and open dialogue. As a reminder, if any student is facing harassment, intimidation or discrimination due to their ethnoreligious background or identity, we urge them to contact Dean Josh Eisenberg (josh.eisenberg@pomona.edu) or Dean Brandon Jackson (brandon.jackson@pomona.edu) under our established pathway for complaints. 

As we uphold open inquiry, free speech and the right to protest, we also reiterate that all members of our community must uphold our conduct standards. I recognize the pain and difficulty of this moment, and I ask every member of our community to help foster an atmosphere of compassion, open inquiry and mutual respect.