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Stray Thoughts: “I Do Belong Here”

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO this summer, I was nervously anticipating my big move to Pomona College. Even though I traveled less than three miles from my home in the city of Pomona to my dorm on Bonita Avenue, I had no idea what to expect. I was the first in my family to go to college, and my proud immigrant parents, who encouraged me along the way, could not guide me further. I was on my own, or so I thought.

My four years at Pomona were bumpy, at times rough. As an introverted, socially awkward, “first-gen” and low-income brown girl, I felt out of place and had a hard time adjusting. But my Pomona experience smoothed out, thanks to the amazing people I met—the faculty mentors, staff and friends who kindly, and at times more forcefully, asked me to stop leaving campus and stick around for the weekends.

The message they kept repeating was that I belonged here—but it took me a while to believe it.

Today, a lot has changed. I now work for the College as an associate director in the Office of Communications (I am on campus more now than when I was a student); I’m a proud member of the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity (PACD); and I’m a very proud alumna. (If you read this magazine regularly, you know there’s a lot to be proud of in recent years.)

So this past year, when I was able to join my colleagues, the faculty and students in the hiring process for a new president, I did it with a sense of pride and commitment to the College.

When three candidates were brought to campus, there was one woman, our new president, G. Gabrielle Starr, who elicited such a strong and immediate reaction in the staff forum that one colleague—a young woman of color—stood up during the Q&A portion and said, “I love you.” Gentle laughter followed that comment, but I knew what she meant, and judging from the excited chatter in the room, others were feeling it too.

Later that day, PACD had the opportunity to meet with Starr and we heard about NYU’s Prison Education Project, which she helped launch. It was obvious in her trembling voice and the tears that filled her eyes how much the project, and the lives it touched, meant to her. In that short hour we had with her, I saw in her a champion and role model for our students and a leader for our campus.

It was no surprise then when Board Chair Sam Glick ’04 sent us an email in December announcing Pomona’s 10th president as G. Gabrielle Starr, that a palpable sense of excitement—perhaps even jubilation—was felt across campus. At least, that is how I felt.

This summer, as a new class of Sagehens (of which more than 50 percent are domestic students of color) nervously anticipates the big move to campus in late August, they not only enter a much more diverse campus than the one I knew in 2002, but they also enter at an exciting moment in Pomona’s history: our first woman and first African American president will lead the College.

Although the journey will have its bumps and twists, I know the amazing people who teach here, work here and study here will continue to help the College progress, grow and thrive under Starr’s new leadership. More importantly (and a bit selfishly), I believe having Starr lead my alma mater will give other young women of color that confidence to say loudly and boldly, “I do belong here.”

 

Carla Guerrero ’06 is a guest columnist for this issue.