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The Wolfpacket

The student news site of Claremont High School

The Wolfpacket

The student news site of Claremont High School

The Wolfpacket

Pomona College students arrested in protests for divestment

On April 5, 2024, 20 students were led from Pomona College in handcuffs by police in riot gear after protesting the administration’s removal of a mock pro-Palestine “apartheid wall”.

The mock apartheid wall had been constructed in front of Smith Campus Center as a “final show of force for Palestine Liberation Week ” by PDfA on March 28. The student organization named Pomona Divest from Apartheid (PDfA) has been leading calls for Pomona College to “divest from apartheid” since the start of the Israel-Gaza conflict on October 7th, 2023. PDfA alleges the college has invested in weapons manufacturers supplying Israel’s ongoing invasion of the Gaza Strip, though Pomona College does not publicly disclose the nature of its investment portfolio. Divesting would mean the College would exit any investment positions held in these companies. In addition to divestment, the organization’s demands of the college include: an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions, a demand for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, a condemnation of “Israel’s apartheid occupation”, and the institution of anti-discrimination policies for minority students. 

The apartheid wall consisted of eight panels displaying images and messages promoting divestment and Palestinian liberation. PDfA’s Instagram stated the reasoning for its construction, to “disrupt the visuals of Pomona’s beautiful campus through [the] mock apartheid wall and make their complicity so glaringly obvious they can’t look away.” Students commenced a sleep-in on the lawn of the center to keep guard over the wall, drawing similarities to students’ protests for Pomona’s divestment from the apartheid state of South Africa in the 1980s and emphasizing the college’s strong history of student activism. 

At approximately 1:15 PM on April 5th, Pomona College administrators and campus safety officers started to remove the wall panels. The College stated this was in preparation for the annual 4/7 Day Event, in which the College celebrates its longtime connection to the number 47.  By 2 PM, five of the eight panels had been removed. Students assembled around the other three panels to prevent their removal for the next two hours. Around 4 PM, students entered Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr’s office in Alexander Hall to commence a sit-in protest. 

At approximately 5:40 PM, about 24 officers from the Claremont Police Department– as well as the Azusa, Covina, and Pomona departments– arrived in full riot gear outside Alexander Hall, where they were met by chants from protesting students, including “Gabi Starr, you can’t hide, genocide is televised.” 

Over the course of three hours, masked, unidentified individuals occupying my office and Alexander were repeatedly asked to identify themselves and also to leave,”  Starr stated in an email to Pomona College faculty at 8:32 PM that evening, describing the events of the afternoon. “They would not respond to anything I said to them […] I authorized a call to CPD [Claremont Police Department]. When CPD arrived, the majority left without further incident. However, others refused to do so. Those who remained were given repeated opportunities to depart after the arrival of CPD. 20 individuals were arrested.”

20 students were arrested and detained with zip ties, 19 on charges of trespassing in Alexander Hall and one on charges of obstructing an officer. Of the arrested students, eight were from Scripps College, seven from Pomona College, and five from Pitzer College. As the arrested protestors were led to the police cars, students outside Alexander Hall cheered on the protestors and booed the officers. 

All arrested students were released the next day to various academic consequences; While the non-Pomona students were banned from the Pomona campus, the seven Pomona students were issued interim suspensions by President Starr. 

“I was appalled that [President Starr] felt so ‘threatened’ by the students that she was compelled to militarize campus,” a current Pomona sophomore who wished to remain anonymous said. “It was frankly terrifying, considering [police] had the weapons and signal from our own president to manhandle students.”

The Pomona faculty, Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC), and multiple campus organizations released statements condemning the arrests. PDfA stated the arrests “made students feel unsafe in their community.”

Since the arrests, protests have escalated further, notably during the college’s Admitted Students’ Day on April 15th. Protestors blocked access to parking lots, used megaphones to refer to President Starr as “Genocide Gina”, and passed brochures to prospective Pomona students referring to the college as “an apartheid institution”. One CHS senior committed to Pomona College witnessed the protests during Admitted Students Day. 

“It was initially encouraging to see protests, to see students fighting for such a just cause,” the senior, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “However, it was discouraging to see that the protests weren’t conducted in an effective way. It seemed to become a personal attack against the administration and especially President Starr, taking away from the original message of the protests.” 

The college’s student body widely supports divestment, according to a referendum held by ASPC in February 2024. Of the 1,035 students who voted, 85.2% voted that Pomona College “should completely divest from all weapons manufacturers”, and 81.7% voted that the college “should divest from all companies aiding the ongoing apartheid system within the state of Israel”. While ASPC has demonstrated support for the protests, students’ opinions vary on the effectiveness of protestors’ methods. 

“While it is important to inform prospective students about the nature of our school politics, I think using a microphone directed at a tour group is counterproductive,” the Pomona sophomore said. “ People probably do not want to listen if they feel that they are being talked at rather than being talked to. I support the protests, I just wonder if there are ways to promote more constructive dialogue between both parties.”

As Pomona College protestors continue to demonstrate, they join a growing nationwide trend of protests for Palestinian liberation across prominent college campuses, from UCLA to Columbia. According to PDfA, “[…] we are a TINY CORNER in the global fight for a liberated Palestine”.

 

UPDATE 5/2/2024

On Thursday, May 2nd, the Pomona College faculty voted in favor of divestment. The resolution to “divest from corporations complicit with war crimes and other human rights violations committed by the Israeli government in Israel/Palestine“ was passed with 64% voting in favor, 28% voting against, and 9% abstaining from voting.



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Rhea Sethi
Rhea Sethi, Reporter
Rhea Sethi is a reporter on the Wolfpacket staff in her senior year at CHS. She joined the Wolfpacket last year due to her lifelong passion for reading and writing. This year, her goals are to take initiative and to stay on top of college applications. Sethi is also managing various AP and IB classes, leading Bollywood Club and French Club, tutoring, and participating in a youth community leadership organization. In her free time, Sethi can be found in a sweater listening to Taylor Swift, learning French, reading, or trying something new. Some of her highlights this year have been going to the Eras Tour and finally convincing her brother to read Harry Potter (he loved it). In the future, Sethi hopes to explore her academic interests in college and discover what the world has to offer her. For questions, comments, and clarifications, she can be reached at [email protected] .
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