Slowly, Cautiously, the Reopening Begins
More than a year after Pomona—like so many colleges across the country—was forced to evacuate and close its campus in the face of the growing pandemic, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
After a devastating fall and winter surge, COVID-19 case counts dropped dramatically in Los Angeles County through late February and early March, even as the pace of vaccination accelerated, generating a spirit of optimism in the College community.
County officials agreed in the early spring to first steps toward a limited re-opening of some campus facilities. It began, naturally enough, with outdoor spaces. For students living off campus in reach of Claremont, Pomona made plans to open outdoor facilities for recreational sports activities and physical conditioning. Haldeman Pool, the Pauley Tennis Complex and Strehle Track were set to open for current students, faculty and staff under a reservation system, President G. Gabrielle Starr announced in late February.
Colleges in Los Angeles County were not permitted to bring students back to campus during the spring, and so remote learning continued to be the only show in town. But looking forward, Starr said, Pomona is planning enthusiastically for the full return of students in the fall, with in-person instruction and on-campus living. “The campus is ready,” she said. “We are ready.”
With the county taking a highly restrictive approach to in-person higher education amid much of the pandemic, Pomona has taken the lead in advocating for college students with county officials to work for a responsible return to campus. “The young people who will build our future need to be given greater priority,” said Starr.
By early March, the county was sending positive signals for the return of students to campus for summer programs, and vaccination for higher education workers had begun. Student Health Services received its first small allotment of vaccines in this period, and Pomona faculty and staff were encouraged to seek their shots through the massive county vaccination effort as soon as possible.
As the College reached a turning point in one of the most sweeping crises in its history, Starr noted the need to stop and mourn for those who lost their lives in the pandemic. “For some of us, the shock of loss is something we are just beginning to feel, and even for those who have been grieving for months now, the pain is still too fresh. In many ways, we are just beginning to absorb what has happened.”
She noted how “so many of our students saw their lives turned upside down. They— and our entire extended Sagehen community—responded with perseverance, ingenuity and grace in the face of the direst world crisis of most of our lifetimes.”
Starr also said she looked forward to the time—not so far away now—when the entire Sagehen family could be back together on campus.
“We are moving full steam ahead for the return of in-person education and on-campus living in the fall,” said Starr, noting that safety protocols would need to be carefully followed. “We will push forward with our mission of providing the most compelling and complete liberal arts education in the world.”