Critical Inquiries

You can always find some of Pomona’s most distinctive courses among the array of Critical Inquiry (ID1) classes offered each year to introduce first-year students to both the rigors and the pleasures of academic life at Pomona. An intellectual rite of passage, ID1 classes require new students to think, talk and write about some interesting, often cross-disciplinary topic. They also give Pomona faculty members an opportunity to create something new based on their own interests and passions. Here are a few of this year’s new offerings.

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Flightless to the Bone

pcm-fall2016text39_page_07_image_0001Jeffrey Allen ’17 (center), a teaching assistant in Professor of Biology Nina Karnovsky’s Avian Ecology class, joins Ellie Harris ’18 (left) and Vanessa Machuca ’18, students in the class, to examine the skeleton of an ostrich, part of the vertebrate specimens collection housed in the Biology Department. “From one look at the breastbone you can tell that this bird can’t fly,” Karnovsky notes. “There is no keel for flight muscles—it is totally smooth—plus the wings are tiny. It dramatically shows adaptations for running—lots of area for attaching leg muscles. I use this in my Vertebrate Biology class as well. I have no idea where it came from or how long we have had it. I just love it.”

A Chirping Start


In late August, the Class of 2020 continued the Pomona tradition of “chirping through the gates” to begin their first semester at the College.

After School Specials at the White House

PCM-summer2016text58-web2_Page_12_Image_0003The 5C a cappella group The After School Specials performed at the White House in April, singing their powerful rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You,” a song about sexual violence written for the documentary The Hunting Ground. Their performance was part of a White House Champions of Change event hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and attended by advocates for various causes from across the country.

The singers’ path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was paved by both activism and talent. As participants in the It’s On Us campaign to address the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, the singers won first place at the national Sing for Survivors competition, in which their video performance was judged by such pop music luminaries as Diane Warren, David Foster and LL Cool J.

The 18-member ensemble received the White House invitation just a few days before the event was scheduled, so the students took a red-eye flight into Washington, D.C., for their whirlwind visit. Amelia DeSnoo ’16 says they knew the song inside and out and were prepared to deliver a solid performance for the vice president, other senior administration officials and their fellow advocates.

“The fact that we sang at the White House means that our voices, advocating for such an important cause, are being heard on a national scale,” DeSnoo says.

Tenor Niko Tutland ’17 says he was struck by “the amount of exposure this is going to bring to the message of the song.”

DeSnoo believes the initial goal in this effort to combat sexual violence is to increase awareness of the problem. “The first step and the larger point of this campaign specifically in the short run is to allow college students to lean into the discomfort of knowing that this is an issue that is pervasive on all college campuses, even colleges like the 5Cs, which we consider to be a very safe space. … We also need to recognize that no one can put themselves into the mindset of a survivor of sexual assault.”

To see the group’s winning video performance, go to

Rooftop Gardeners

PCM-summer2016text58-web2_Page_12_Image_0001At right, Soleil Ball Van Zee ’19, a volunteer mentor for the the Rooftop Garden Mentoring Program, works with local high school students in the container garden atop Pomona’s Sontag Hall. A collaboration between the Pomona College Draper Center and Teen Green, a program organized by the local nonprofit Uncommon Good, the 5-year-old venture aims to increase activism and awareness around environmental justice, sustainability and gardening, as well as build leadership and presentation skills, according to Maya Kaul ’17, one of the program’s student coordinators. “When I see our hard work in the garden succeeding,” Kaul says, “with a lot of our seeds sprouting, it reminds me of the other ways in which our investments in the program have ‘blossomed’ via the growth of community within our mentoring program.”

Healing Labyrinth

PCM-summer2016text58-web2_Page_12_Image_0002As part of April’s Healing Ways Week, students built a stone-lined labyrinth at the Organic Farm to be used in walking meditations. “We wanted to involve our community in making a public art installation that can be used for ongoing contemplaton, practice, and study,” explains Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies Valorie Thomas, one of the orgqanizers of the weeklong event.

Titled “Healing Ways: Decolonizing Our Minds, Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the series of healing-related events also included workshops, lectures, practitioner presentations, art, and performance focused on healing and social justice.“We particularly intended to offer support to students who have been feeling traumatized and stressed by current social events and who are shouldering the work of doing critical thinking and activism,” says Thomas.

In an informal ceremony following the completion of the first stage of labyrinth construction, Thomas (above) stepped to the center of the labyrinth to read a passage from Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” which she describes as “a meditation on labyrinths and the benefits of occasionally losing your way.”

EnviroLab Asia


Madi Vorva ’17 (right) on the Baram River in Malaysia

Madi Vorva ’17 has been an environmental activist since the sixth grade, when she and a fellow Girl Scout started a national campaign to pressure the organization to commit to using deforestation-free palm oil in their cookies. However, until this spring, when she joined a clinic trip to Malaysia and Singapore with the 5C initiative EnviroLab Asia, she had never actually visited the region she was working to save.

“This was the first time I’ve been on the ground with these issues, so it was a really meaningful moment for me, and I really appreciated the chance to finally connect my advocacy with my school,” says Vorva.

EnviroLab Asia, begun last fall with a Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (LIASE) grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, allows participants from The Claremont Colleges to study big environmental issues like water quality, forest health, social justice and deforestation of rainforests to produce palm oil.

“One of the reasons EnviroLab Asia is important is that it has helped us understand the global nature of local environmental issues,” says Professor of Environmental Analysis Char Miller. “It’s a way for us to understand our complicity in these issues and the ramifications.”

Among the 5C students and faculty who accompanied Vorva on the trip were Ki’amber Thompson ’18 and professors Marc Los Huertos (environmental analysis), Zayn Kassam (religious studies), Stephen Marks (economics), Wallace Meyer (biology) and James Taylor (theatre).

Bryan Stevenson on Change

PCM-summer2016text58-web2_Page_11_Image_0001“For change, you have to get proximate. You have to change the narratives that are behind the problems that you’re trying to address—there’s a narrative behind the issues that we are dealing with. You have to be hopeful—that’s my third piece of advice. You cannot change things if you are hopeless about what you can do. That’s absolutely vital. And you have to be willing to do uncomfortable things. I don’t think anything changes when you only do what’s comfortable and convenient.”

—Acclaimed lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, spoke at Bridges Auditorium and conducted a master class at Pomona as part of the three-day Pomona College Criminal Justice Symposium held on campus in March.

The Accolades of Spring

As usual, springtime at Pomona brought news of a flurry of highly competitive student and graduate awards, including:


16 Fulbright Awards

7 Research Fellowships

  • Benjamin Cohen ’16 (Ukraine)
  • Madeleine Colvin ’16 (China)
  • Amelia DeSnoo ’16 (China)
  • Nathalie Folkerts ’16 (United Kingdom)
  • Alexandra Goss ’16 (declined in favor of Watson Fellowship)
  • Elisabeth Hanson ’16 (France)
  • Marek Zorawski ’16 (Poland)

9 English Teaching Assistantships

  • Angeli Bi ’16 (Colombia)
  • Jamila Espinosa ’16 (Portugal)
  • Mia Hahn ’16 (Taiwan)
  • Janet Herrera ’16 (Peru)
  • Nana-Korantema Koranteng ’16 (Bahrain)
  • Thuy Tien Le ’16 (South Korea)
  • Edmund Pacleb ’16 (Indonesia)
  • Isaac Levy-Rubinett ’16 (Colombia)
  • Duong (Cody) Thach ’16 (Vietnam)

2 Watson Fellowships

  • Harrison Goodall ’16 (Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, India)
  • Alexandra Goss ’16 (Argentina, Bolivia, Morocco, United Kingdom)

2 Downing Scholarships

  • Fiker Tadesse Bekele ’16
  • Conner Samuel Kummerlow ’16

3 Goldwater Scholarships

  • Tanner Byer ’17
  • Ziv Epstein ’17
  • Nathan Sandford ’17

2 Boren Scholarships

  • Dallon Asnes ’18 (India)
  • Eli Tanenbaum ’18 (Jordan)

President Oxtoby Plans to Step Down in 2017

President David Oxtoby portraitPresident David Oxtoby has announced plans to step down as president of Pomona College at the end of June 2017, bringing to a close what will then be a 14-year tenure. He informed the Board of Trustees of his plans at their February meeting to give the institution ample time to conduct a search for his successor.

“I am very proud of Pomona College and grateful for the years spent here, and for the successful conclusion of Campaign Pomona: Daring Minds,” he said in an email to the college community. “While I am considering opportunities I might pursue, my highest priority will remain leading this amazing institution in the months ahead. I am confident that the leadership and expertise of our faculty, the experience of our staff, the determination and talent of our students, and the time we have to partner together on shared goals will make this a smooth transition and allow us to remain focused on the critical work at hand. We also have so much to enjoy and learn each day on our campus and in our classrooms. I appreciate the support I received from Board members and I am committed to continuing to advance the College’s key priorities and the successful operations of the institution.”

Board Chair Sam Glick ’04 said the College will make plans to celebrate President Oxtoby’s many contributions to the College at an appropriate time. Meanwhile, he said, the Board will begin the task of choosing the 10th president of Pomona College. “Selecting a new leader is the highest duty a governing body has—a duty that my colleagues on the Board and I intend to carry out with humility and careful deliberation.” Glick said.


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