By Samuel Pang, Pomona ’12
As the first month of this semester draws to a close, to many, the campus has returned to a state of normalcy; the weather has been pleasant, the jabs at CMC have been plentiful, and ultimate Frisbee continues to imperil pedestrians on Marston Quad. The events of last semester, the tents, the firings, the struggles, have been all but forgotten beneath the braying of first years agonizing about the long trek to Frary, being a sponsor, and the lack of snack on South Campus. Many scoff at the idea of bringing these issues back into focus, insisting instead the past is past and what is done cannot be changed. While it may be easy to forget the past, history is power, and with the experiences of marginalized communities already silenced in the dominant historical narrative, we cannot let the struggle of the 17 fired workers be forgotten. In continuing this struggle, though, there also needs to be space for critical self-reflection in order to build on what has gone well and rethink what could have been more effective; my critique fits squarely into this space. As a supporter of both the extended vigil and Workers for Justice, I believe the extended vigil was a necessary action in solidarity with the workers fighting for their jobs, but the strategies and tactics used could have better supported their struggle.
The group of Concerned Pomona Students participating in the extended vigil called for a continued unobtrusive and silent presence outside of Alexander Hall in order to promote conversation and communication. However, I question their silence and cooperation considering that marginalized communities have been historically silenced and ignored especially around issues of injustice. Communities of color, women, queer peoples, disabled peoples, indigenous peoples have had our histories intentionally silenced and erased; they are not taught in schools or when they are, they are tokenized and exoticized, given special attention for one day or month a year, when white, male, heterosexual, heteronormative histories are taught every day. When we do fight for basic rights that should be fundamental, we are told we are too angry, too emotional, too irrational. We are dismissed for having unreasonable and ridiculous demands. While many people may say that our actions are too aggressive, that we are acting without thinking, cooperating with the administration has never worked. In labor struggles past, workers on campus have had to fight aggressively for better working conditions, better benefits, and better pay. When they followed the rules, filed complaints with human resources, and reported their injuries, they were reprimanded by their managers, having their hours changed, cut, or even being fired. Workers have tried having conversation and dialogue with the administration, but their attempts have fallen short with an administration always unwilling to listen. Without aggression and actions that disrupt the everyday functions of the college, there can be no transformative change. Recall the Alexander takeover of 2000 and mail bombings of the 1970s; without those actions, we would be without the Ethnic Studies departments we take for granted on campus today.
When a student movement, that has separated itself from the workers that they are supporting, has been able to easily achieve concessions from the administration and the Board of Trustees, it is necessary to problematize the intentions behind those compromises. Even though the group of Concerned Pomona Students sees themselves as an independent group of students, the collectivity of their action in assembling the tent city marks them as a group; identity is not only defined by how one sees themselves but also by how others see them. Because of how institutional memory has functioned around Workers for Justice but not the extended vigil, negative connotations are always brought up with the discourse around unionization efforts on campus. We must further ask, what does it mean for a group of students to easily obtain an audience from the Board of Trustees when workers have not? As students, we inherently hold a position of power and privilege because of our access to resources, academia, and knowledge, so we must be mindful of our positionality and work in true solidarity with those who are immediately impacted by the actions taken by the college. While professors and other students have also been affected, they easily have access to deans and the administration; the workers have been left the most vulnerable by the document checks. We must use our privilege and resources as students to fight alongside these workers rather than divorcing ourselves from their struggle.