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The Path Forward (2/1/21)

Dear Pomona College Community:

With students now back in class and a range of activities launching for the semester, I’m writing to share more details about our framework for moving forward as a community in the months ahead.

Last month, I reported to you that Los Angeles County, in response to a devastating surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, had placed on hold plans to allow some students to return to college campuses in spring as part of a planned waiver/pilot program – a program we had sought in the urgent work to resume in-person education. While the situation is now starting to improve in our county, case counts remain very high, and the county has let us know it is unlikely a pilot program could be in place by March.

With that knowledge, we paused for a week to consult with members of our community and consider every realistic possibility for the return of some students this spring. There simply was no longer a path on the county’s current timeframe, and we will remain in the remote environment for spring.

Fall is Coming

With vaccines now a reality, and Pomona prepped and ready, I am happy to say the resumption of campus life is now in sight as we look to the fall, and with it, a full return to our beautiful Claremont.

Once again, we will take the lead, find new partners and accelerate the campaign of advocacy both for our students and those across the county.

We need the county’s powerful governing body – the Board of Supervisors – to provide a clear and responsible path for college students to return to their campuses. The young people who will build our future must be heard, and their interests must be an important part of the conversation.

Nearly a year has passed since Pomona and other colleges in the county led the way, acting swiftly to evacuate our campuses in the face of an emerging pandemic, prioritizing the health of our community. Since then, we have learned much about COVID-19 and the means to contain it, we and others have invested heavily in preparing our campuses and putting in place testing and contact tracing. We are ready, and we have repeatedly reached out to county leaders to find a responsible, phased approach to re-opening campuses. We want to be part of the solution: L.A. higher education can and should help lead the way again.

However, I note that neighboring counties have been able to re-open college campuses, as have most other governmental entities in the U.S. I believe it can be done here as well, but so far, attention in our county has been focused elsewhere. Indoor malls, to take one example, are open, with continuing adjustments to occupancy levels, while colleges like Pomona are not even permitted to hold classes outside with social distancing and other precautions. There is no scientific rationale for this variation and, though well-intentioned, it indicates a troubling lack of priority for young people. 

In saying this, I recognize the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, and I am grateful for the ongoing work of county officials in this emergency. We have all had to adapt in the face of new information and circumstances in this crisis, and this is the moment for a new path.

Looking Ahead

Let’s step forward boldly, with knowledge and care.

In the weeks ahead, we will ask for your help in making our voices heard as we continue to build a coalition to push for the balanced approach that upholds our young people and the future of our region. I will work tirelessly to advocate for the most vulnerable students who face the greatest hurdles in this temporary online environment.

We also will continue to support ongoing public health efforts. Vaccination will be an important part of getting our students back to campus. The campaign in our region is accelerating and The Claremont College’s Student Health Services has been approved to dispense COVID-19 vaccines. In the weeks ahead, we will be holding a series of town hall Zoom meetings for students, families, faculty and staff on the issues involved in vaccination, which brings great promise for progress in fighting the pandemic. (Again, we urge everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they become eligible and not to wait for SHS to receive a supply.) 

I’m confident in our community and I’m confident we will prevail in time. Now is the moment to press for change and for our county leaders to create a path to bring students back to campus.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at president@pomona.edu as we press ahead together.

With best wishes,
Gabi