4/28 Action Advocating for Transparency & Accountability Regarding Goffman’s Hire
Friday, April 28, 2017, a collective of Sociology students at Pomona College led a sit-in at Alexander Hall demanding greater transparency and accountability surrounding the hire of Alice Goffman (for more context, read: bit.ly/WeStillReject).
Student organizers had originally planned an action at the conclusion of Sociology senior thesis presentations on the same day. After a regrettable decision by Sociology faculty to cancel senior thesis presentations―certain members of the Sociology faculty claimed to feel ‘unsafe’ and ‘threatened’ by student of color organizing―organizers were forced to go directly to the Dean of the College’s office to force an open forum between the unresponsive administration, Sociology faculty and the student organizers.
Timeline of Events
Sociology student organizers were made aware that administrators and staff were being instructed to lock their doors and leave the building due to rumors of a student protest. In Alexander Hall, student organizers were met by Deans Bilger, Weekes, and Lozano, who prevented students from entering the Dean of the College’s office and instead directed students to an unused conference room. The Deans framed this encounter as an invitation to have dialogue and discussion, disregarding the fact that they had been incredibly dismissive to student organizers for the past week and a half.
Sociology student organizers, accompanied by approximately 50 student allies, entered the Smith Boardroom in Alexander Hall. The organizers and allies entered as nonviolent protestors and proceeded to occupy Alexander Hall after demanding that Dean Bilger request the presence of Sociology faculty, who had been previously dismissive and unresponsive to the organizers’ request for a meeting. Dean Bilger proceeded to attempt to get in touch with Sociology faculty. Her first few attempts were unsuccessful, and Dean Bilger stated multiple times that as the Dean of the College, she did not have the authority to demand faculty presence. Organizers declined Deans Bilger, Weekes, and Lozano’s offers to answer general questions about hiring and tenure processes, refusing to speak with them until all faculty and administration involved in the hire of Goffman were present.
After multiple avenues of contact were attempted and two hours passed, one faculty member showed up to the boardroom. Student organizers refused to speak with the faculty member about the new demands until all culpable faculty were present. It is important to note this faculty had been on leave for the past semester, and therefore had limited involvement in departmental concerns during the Spring. The brief comments the faculty member made revealed a significant lack of communication amongst the Sociology faculty: though the faculty member mentioned sharing a draft of the departmental response letter, the final version of the letter was not approved by the entirety of the Sociology faculty. Some faculty members had no role in drafting and sending the response letter.
Two other faculty members, one of whom is the current chair of the Sociology Department, refused to make a physical appearance. The faculty members again claimed to feel unsafe due to student of color organizing, as well as threatened by the initial letter to the Department. The two faculty members cited safety concerns as justifications for their refusal to address student needs. However, this disregarded their failures to acknowledge students’ personal, emotional, and mental concerns in the past. Furthermore, given that all of the organizers are students of color, these claims of fear have racialized undertones. These claims are also unfounded: students never once made threats against the safety of the faculty, and all aspects of the action were nonviolent.
After continued lack of responsiveness from faculty, student organizers initiated a boycott of Pomona Sociology courses. Students across the campuses proceeded to unregister from Pomona Sociology courses. The boycott was never intended to have a long-term effect; rather, it was used as an effective negotiating tactic and was meant to demonstrate widely-held concerns among students about courses taught by incoming Professor Alice Goffman. One course in particular, Sociology 102: Qualitative Research Methods, was a central focus of the student organizing. Qualitative Research Methods is a course where students from the Claremont Colleges conduct a semester-long research project based on personal interests and passions in communities surrounding the Colleges. The project is meant to serve as an introduction to various qualitative research methods, including ethnography, and paradigms. Student organizers highlighted the potential harm that would be inflicted upon surrounding communities should Goffman teach her anti-black, problematic research methods through Sociology 102. Thus, student organizers emphasized the importance of resisting Goffman as the instructor of Sociology 102 and the anti-Blackness perpetuated by the Department through her hire.
After multiple avenues of contact were used once again, a second Sociology faculty member agreed to come to Alexander and speak with organizers. Although two faculty members were now present, organizers still refused to speak with them until the two remaining faculty, arguably the two who were the most involved in Goffman’s hiring decision, were present.
With the physical presence of two Sociology faculty as well as multiple Deans and other members of administration, students offered to speak to evasive faculty via conference call. Dean Bilger proposed this to the absent faculty, and both parties agreed. A conference call then commenced between student organizers, members of the Sociology faculty, and Deans Bilger, Lozano, and Weekes. New demands, which students formulated after learning that Goffman had signed a legally binding contract, were presented. Negotiations and an in-depth discussion of the demands continued for the next five and a half hours. During the negotiations, several Sociology faculty members continually disrespected the organizers and minimized student grievances. Students were forced to testify to and relive their past experiences of trauma in Sociology classes in order to assert the importance of their demands and validate the need for change within the department. The final hour of negotiations did not include the two faculty members who were not physically present. The organizers were informed that the absent faculty members ceded the decision regarding the final agreement on demands to faculty members in the room.
After nearly five and half hours of negotiations, student organizers, faculty, and administration reached a mutual agreement and student organizers and allies dispersed from the boardroom.
We would like to express our deep appreciation for the over 75 allies who supported our advocacy in person, and the countless others who demonstrated their solidarity in all other forms. We honestly could not have done it without you.
In love and solidarity,
Sociology Student Organizers
A finalized list of action steps and a timeline will be publicized during the week of Monday, May 1, 2017 following a final meeting between Sociology students, Sociology faculty, and administration.