The Task Force on Public Dialogue (TFPD) was commissioned by the Pomona College Board of Trustees in May 2017 in order to “look for ways for Pomona to be a leader in developing an educational model that speaks to the twenty-first century, and that does not just allow for free expression, but combines support of free speech and democratic ideals with a commitment to ensuring an equitable and inclusive environment for all students within the Pomona College community.”
The Board charge set the composition of the TFPD as follows:
- Four trustees (one of whom shall co-chair the Task Force), to be nominated by the Trusteeship Committee of the Board of Trustees
- Four faculty members (one of whom shall co-chair the Task Force), three of whom shall be appointed by the Faculty Executive Committee, and one of whom shall be the Dean of the College or her designee
- The Dean of Students or her designee
- The Senior Class President
- The Junior Class President
The individuals selected to fill these roles were faculty members Jade Star Lackey, Mercedes Teixido, and Amanda Hollis-Brusky (co-chair); trustees Allyson Harris, Kiki Ramos Gindler, Peter Sasaki, and Jack Long (co-chair); Dean of the College Audrey Bilger; Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life Christopher Waugh; and students Sophia Sun and Alejandro Vargas.
The charge defined the final deliverable from the TFPD as:
Ultimately, the Task Force should recommend to the President and Board of Trustees ways Pomona, as its own unique institution, can model engagement and openness in the public sphere. These recommendations should be broad, and consider opportunities for improvement and innovation in open dialogue across resourcing (faculty, staff, and funding), facilities, technology, programming, policies, and curriculum. While not all of the recommendations must be ready for immediate implementation, they should be as specific as possible – e.g., should policy changes be recommended, the Task Force should specify the principles underlying such changes in addition to the policies to which changes are recommended, but need not draft specific policy language.
The charge also defined the scope of outreach expected:
In doing its work, the Task Force is encouraged to engage with a diverse range of students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and community members to understand a variety of viewpoints regarding the issues at hand.
Connection to Campus Climate
Campus climate is intimately linked to many of the issues surrounding open and constructive dialogue. As part of its work, the TFPD strove to better understand the dynamics of campus climate and its role in discouraging or encouraging productive engagement. The TFPD considered this campus climate work an essential part of the research needed to develop recommendations to improve inclusive, constructive and dynamic interaction.
The rapid diversification of our student body is a remarkable achievement. But to better model the “benefits that flow from a diverse student body” (Bakke, Grutter), students and faculty must be willing to share their ideas and experiences with one another inside and outside of the classroom setting. To quote the late John Payton, former Pomona College Trustee:
If you have a meaningful number of minority students, what then happens is that students will see a range of ideas, a range of viewpoints from and among those students and they will then see things that they may not have expected, similarities and differences, and those in turn will have the result of undermining stereotypes, you know, and this happens for all students. You know, the benefits from this affect every single student that comes through.
Thanks to Lighting the Path and our efforts surrounding diversity, we achieved the first half of that equation: getting a meaningful number of diverse students on campus. The second half is creating and sustaining a campus culture that encourages the exchange of ideas and experiences in a respectful and impactful way.
During the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 semesters, the TFPD engaged the Pomona community in multiple ways:
- The TFPD created a web page on the College website with a copy of the Board charge, a calendar of TFPD events, a list of resources on the topic of free expression in a higher education environment, and a listing of the members of the TFPD.
- The TFPD created a dedicated email address for members of the College community to provide direct feedback to the TFPD.
- The TFPD scheduled six events in November 2017 to allow students to directly express their views to members of the TFPD. Two of the events were hosted by the student members of the TFPD, one by a faculty member of the TFPD in partnership with the leadership of Pomona Student Union, and three by a trustee member of the TFPD. Approximately 80 students attended at least one of these events.
- Faculty members of the TFPD hosted two events (a faculty forum hosted by the Executive Committee and a more informal happy hour) for faculty to provide direct feedback to the TFPD. These events collectively reached around 100 faculty.
- Faculty members of the TFPD also reached out to many colleagues on an informal basis to solicit their thoughts about the broad topic of public dialogue.
- Alumni, staff, and parents of current students received an email invitation to provide feedback directly to the TFPD via a web-based form. The form of the feedback was a series of open-ended questions with text boxes for narrative responses. Approximately 260 individuals responded using this method. Each TFPD member was provided full access to this feedback. In addition, two TFPD members developed a summary of common themes which emerged from this feedback.
- The College held a Trustee-Faculty retreat on March 2-4, 2018, which focused on community dialogue, including the work of the TFPD, as one of the central themes. The retreat provided extensive opportunities for both structured engagement and informal conversations between faculty and trustees. Specific to the TFPD work, the retreat included seven break-out group sessions, each facilitated by a member of the TFPD. Hundreds of suggestions and comments were collected from participants and later summarized by members of the TFPD, with a focus on common themes arising from conversations in the break-out sessions. Approximately 140 members of the faculty and 30 trustees attended the retreat.
- The College commissioned the Gallup Organization to conduct a web-based survey of students and faculty. This survey required a significant effort by members of the TFPD and Pomona College staff, including extensive planning during the Fall 2017 semester regarding survey design, and wide-reaching publicity efforts during the Spring 2018 semester to encourage student and faculty participation. The survey contained one set of questions that Gallup had previously asked in two national surveys of college students, thus allowing a comparison of the results from the Pomona survey with a national sample of college students. With the assistance of the College’s Institutional Research staff, the TFPD also developed a set of custom survey questions tailored to the Pomona community. While many of the survey questions were focused directly on free expression and open dialogue, a substantial number of campus climate questions were also included in order to better understand this important issue given its close relationship with open dialogue. Overall, the student survey was comprised of 41 content questions and 11 demographic questions. The faculty survey included 31 content questions and nine demographic questions. The survey was fielded from January 17 to February 8, 2018; 592 students (~36% of the total student population) and 146 permanent faculty (~66% of the faculty population) completed the survey.
Findings from Outreach
Pomona’s classrooms, studios, laboratories, residential campus, sports teams, and recreational facilities are all integral and interwoven components of College life. There are no borders between conversations that take place in physical spaces and those that occur online. All can be equally formative and influential in the Pomona College experience. For our community to function optimally, all members should be able to express their ideas and opinions freely and feel safe, valued, respected, and heard. The educational goals and mission of the College can only be achieved with genuine community interaction, open exchange of ideas, and respect for the rights of others. Pomona students and faculty also regularly interact with the broader Claremont College community, residents of the City of Claremont and surrounding towns, and even a wider community when travelling for field trips and other College-sponsored travel. Data from the recent Gallup survey; community engagement events; and other outreach to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents indicate that many community members feel Pomona needs to improve in these areas.
We believe that providing tools and training for faculty and students at strategic points and sites can help create and sustain a culture and a campus environment where our community feels better equipped and less hesitant to engage in productive discussions across difference. We also recommend investing resources into further study of campus climate, developing social media and information literacy, and paying attention to the processes surrounding invited speakers and events on campus.
 As quoted in Lighting the Path to 2025: A Vision for Diversity, p. 6.
 From 2017-2018 Pomona College Student Handbook.
Summary of Recommendations
The following section provides a detailed description of the recommendations of the TFPD along with some suggestions for implementation. It is important to note that the TFPD interpreted its primary charge as making broad or conceptual recommendations while leaving the details of implementation to the faculty, staff, and administration. Thus, it is recognized that in the course of future efforts on the part of the College to achieve an atmosphere of healthy and robust public dialogue, these recommendations may not be realized exactly as suggested or that they may be rejected entirely.
The TFPD recommendations can be grouped into four broad categories:
- Campus Climate
- Social Media
- Culture of Inquiry
The TFPD believes that a critical component of improving open and constructive dialogue on campus is education for students, staff, and faculty. Engaging productively in difficult dialogue is a skill that does not come naturally to many people. As an educational institution, Pomona’s efforts to develop these skills in both students and faculty is entirely consistent with the mission of the College. While an ambitious goal, the TFPD would like to see every Pomona student benefit from training and education in participating in difficult dialogues with others.
The TFPD recommends a multi-faceted, bottom-up approach to strengthening and reorienting the campus culture of dialogue and expression both inside and outside of the classroom. These strategies fall into three broad categories: Curricular, Student Life, and Faculty-Focused.
Curricular possibilities include connections to the current Critical Inquiry Seminar (ID1) and the possibility of creating an elective half-credit course for the first year that would emphasize the tools of intergroup dialogue (IGD) or sustained dialogue. The TFPD hesitates to layer additional curricular requirements onto students and faculty already struggling to fulfill the curricular overlays passed a few years ago. Thus, we would recommend that this course be adopted as an optional elective at first until such time when it might be assessed and revisited as a possible first-year requirement.
Student life recommendations include asking Student Affairs and Academic Affairs leadership, in conjunction with the Orientation Steering Committee to consider the possibility of adding a dialogue training and tools component into the orientation programming. This might take the form of an abbreviated Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) or Sustained Dialogue workshop that could supplement the current diversity programming provided during orientation. The Task Force also recommends that the Student Affairs and Residence Life teams consider the possibility of replacing current RA programming requirements with something along the lines of Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) or Sustained Dialogue training. Sponsors might also opt in to this training, but because Sponsors are not paid, we do not recommend that they be required to undergo this training.
Faculty-focused recommendations include modifications to the new faculty orientation process, an Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue which provides funding for comprehensive training and stipends for faculty in Intergroup Dialogue or Sustained Dialogue training with outside experts, access to expert “coaching” for all faculty, and Intergroup Dialogue or Sustained Dialogue training for faculty teaching ID1.
The TFPD recognizes that implementing such substantial changes across many different facets of campus life will be a difficult process likely requiring years of careful collaboration, planning, and thoughtful work. Different (and in some cases additional) resources may be required; thus, fundraising should be part of the implementation process. However, because we believe education is essential to truly making a significant impact on the quantity and quality of open and constructive dialogue on campus, the TFPD strongly recommends that the College embrace this challenge.
Campus climate drives many of the concerns we have about conversation. Who we are, where we are, and how dialogue happens all combine to create the context for discussion. It is difficult (if not impossible) to separate context from dialogue. Thus, any effort to address dialogue on campus must also consider campus climate. Data provide supportive evidence for the conclusion that the College’s community harbors significant concerns about campus climate. Some of these concerns are directly related to dialogue and free expression, but other issues extend beyond the scope of the charge to the TFPD. Thus, we recommend the College establish a new task force (or call upon an existing committee) with the specific charge to further investigate the campus climate issues beyond the scope of the TFPD charge. We also recommend that a broader examination of the relationship between campus climate and our community discourse be conducted. See the “Next Steps” section of this report for ideas about how such a recommendation might be implemented.
Social media has become a new public square for the College. While social media offers faculty, students, and staff a powerful medium for discourse and the dissemination of information, online communities also can create profound anxiety and significantly interfere with the College’s academic mission. Faculty and student respondents to the recent Gallup survey, as well as participants in TFPD’s community engagement events and other outreach efforts, expressed recurring concerns about the misuse of social media. The TFPD categorized these concerns into three main groupings that resonated across the College community: the need to educate students to think more critically and mindfully about their use of social media (“technological literacy”), the need to support all members of the community in handling the more problematic aspects of social media, and the need for alternative communities outside of social media.
The TFPD recommends educating students about technological literacy by helping them think more critically about the sources for “facts” they encounter via social media as well as the digital footprints they create. The goal of such education should be to help students understand the importance of carefully and mindfully managing their online behavior.
One problematic aspect of social media involves the “viral” and long-lasting nature of information disseminated via this technology, sometimes with toxic effect. The TFPD recommends supporting members of our community in handling this challenge by creating a doxing-response team as a support for faculty, staff, and students. The doxing-response team would assist campus community members who experience the unauthorized dissemination of personal information on the internet. This effort could include proactively developing a response framework, which would be ready to implement when incidents occur. In addition to adding support frameworks to manage the negative impacts of social media, the TFPD has determined that not all members of the College community know about the existing policies and procedures in place regarding this topic. For example, although the College has adopted rules regarding students’ engagement with social media during classroom time (e.g., filming, recording, and posting comments made by others in class), the TFPD recommends that the College ensure all members of the community are fully informed about these rules.
The TFPD recognizes the need for creating community outside of social media and recommends exploring engagement spaces as alternatives to technology-based communities. The creation of such engagement spaces might include “days off” or “digital detox week” initiatives, alternative spaces created by faculty to help students create community. These events could build upon existing support networks (other than social media support networks) to help students address anxiety and mental health issues, which can result from the misuse of social media.
Culture of Inquiry
As an important part of the educational process, Pomona College invites to campus speakers who represent a wide range of ideas and expertise on many topics. Pomona has long been committed to the principle of free expression and the exploration of ideas in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect. While the College has a firm commitment to free expression, the President of the College also has a responsibility to maintain the safety and security of members of the College community, to protect College assets, and to efficiently utilize College facilities. The presumption of the College is that properly invited speakers are not disinvited by administrative authority. We affirm there are policies already in place that govern demonstration, academic freedom, and invited speakers.
We also recommend developing a centralized system to provide a more uniform process for reserving space for speakers and disseminating information regarding upcoming speaker events. Timely announcement and organization of speaker visits enhances the engagement of the College community. Such engagement should stir creative thinking and fruitful discussion and serve to enhance the community’s ability to reach across disciplines to share our own thoughts and ideas.
The TFPD realizes that its recommendations are broad and impact many aspects of campus life. Thus, implementing the recommendations will require a sustained effort over several years. It is important that there be a process of accountability for implementation. The TFPD recommends the following actions in order to ensure the full potential of this work is realized.
The College will be embarking on a comprehensive strategic planning process for the 2018-2019 academic year. The TFPD recommends community dialogue be embedded in the efforts of the strategic planning committee.
The WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) has approved the College for an expedited accreditation review process described as a self-directed “Thematic Pathway for Reaffirmation” (TPR) review. As part of this process, the College is required to suggest a list of “themes” it intends to undertake during the next review cycle. The TFPD recommends that community dialogue be embedded in the themes presented to WSCUC.
It is likely that implementation of the recommendations in this report will require additional financial resources. The TFPD recommends that the Advancement Department be tasked with developing a fundraising plan related to implementing the recommendations of this report.
We recommend that Pomona continue to assess campus climate and community. While the Gallup findings have identified areas of concern within our community, we recommend the College take steps to identify and understand the drivers of these conditions.