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StandWithUs Letter to Pomona President Concerning Student Senate BDS Resolution

April 23, 2021


VIA EMAIL: (president@pomona.edu)


Dr. G. Gabrielle Starr

President, Pomona College

Office of the President

333 N. College Way

Claremont, California 91711


Dear President Starr,


We write to you on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit Israel education organization. We are deeply concerned with the recent student resolution, “Banning the Use of ASPC Funding to Support the Occupation of Palestine,” (“resolution”) which passed under suspect circumstances by the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Senate on April 22, 2021.


First and foremost, thank you for your prompt response to the disgraceful circumstances surrounding this resolution, which excluded any possible opposition by the mainstream Jewish community. We commend you for showing moral clarity by sharing your own concern with the resolution’s goal of requiring all ASPC-supported student clubs to comply with anti-Israel divestment or lose funding. We agree that this is alarming. We believe that this resolution may violate the ASPC Senate’s bylaws as well as viewpoint discrimination policies rooted within Pomona’s Statement of Non-Discrimination and constitutional First Amendment principles.


Therefore, we ask that you assert your authority to use whatever means are at your disposal to invalidate this resolution; if this is not possible, at the very least, we ask that you invalidate the resolution’s final clause that eliminates funding to any clubs that do not divest from “companies that contribute to the settlement and occupation of Palestinian occupied territories by the UN-designated companies or the Israeli state.” This clause may violate constitutional principles by removing funding from student groups for noncompliance with a particular viewpoint (see below).


Likely Violations of the ASPC Senate Bylaws


The text of the resolution is deeply unsettling for making numerous misinformed and bigoted assertions against Israel and pillars of Jewish identity. However, we focus here on a procedural problem: the fact that the wording of the resolution was not properly submitted to the entire student body as required prior to its vote. This is a potential violation of ASPC Senate bylaws likely undertaken with the express purpose of hiding the resolution from Jewish, Israeli and Zionist students, who undoubtedly would have opposed its passing. The resolution itself states that it was supported by Claremont Colleges Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Claremont Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), two national campus organizations with a well-documented history of espousing hate and divisiveness on campuses. This suggests a deliberate and discriminatory plan by the ASPC Senate to exclude and marginalize Pomona’s Jewish and Israeli student community.


Specifically, Article IX, Section 2 of the ASPC Senate bylaws provides for an open comment period for Senate resolutions:


Resolutions shall be publicized to the entire Pomona College student body for an open comment period at least one week in advance of the Senate’s vote on that Resolution. The default method of distribution is to send the Resolution via Student Information listserv, but a unanimous vote of the Senate may choose to send the resolution via another method. Regardless of the method chosen, a short summary of the Resolution shall be included. The Resolution publicized shall be the latest working draft, but does not need to be the Resolution’s final version. The open comment period shall include an easily accessible method for students to provide feedback, such as a link in an email to a Google Form. The Senate shall deliberate over, and may amend the resolution based on, comments received in the open comment period.


Contrary to this article, in this case the title and text of the resolution appeared on the April 22, 2021 ASPC Senate Agenda as a designated voting item and also appeared on the April 15, 2021 ASPC Senate meeting minutes. To our knowledge, the text of the resolution, or any summery thereof, was not sent to the entire Pomona College student body via the Student Information listserv; similarly, the April 15 ASPC Senate meeting minutes do not indicate that the Senate took a unanimous vote to send the resolution through a different method. Therefore, it appears that the ASPC Senate failed to follow its stated protocol.


In order to verify whether this is true, we ask that you conduct an investigation and inquire: 1) whether the ASPC Senate sent the text of the resolution, or any summery thereof, to the entire student body via the listserv as required in the bylaws; 2) in absence of sending the text via the listserv, did the ASPC Senate attain the unanimous consent required to send the text through an alternative method; 3) whether the consent, if requested, was unanimous as required; or 4) whether the ASPC Senate merely ignored this required stipulation of unanimous consent and violated its protocol, thereby necessitating the invalidation of the resolution.


Possible Violation of Pomona’s Statement of Non-Discrimination and Viewpoint Discrimination


Pomona’s Statement of Non-Discrimination, governing all students and found in the 2020-2021 Pomona College Student Handbook, states that Pomona complies with all applicable state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination in education. Relevant constitutional First Amendment principles prohibit decision-making groups from discriminating against those who disagree with a particular viewpoint. Doing so singles out a particular opinion on a given subject matter for disparate—or preferential—treatment not given to other viewpoints and is therefore discriminatory.

By resolving to withhold funding from student groups whose viewpoints on this political issue differ from the ASPC Senate, the final provision of the resolution may very well be in violation of Pomona’s non-discrimination policy as well as constitutional viewpoint discrimination laws. If so, it must be immediately invalidated.


In conclusion, if the ASPC Senate violated any of the above stated policies—as we believe likely occurred—the resolution must immediately be invalidated on procedural grounds and an investigation into the ASPC Senate immediately conducted. We suggest that if evidence indicates that those responsible for these procedural and constitutional violations did so with a malicious intent to silence a sizeable segment of Pomona’s campus population and in order to enact policy that harms and discriminates against Jewish, Zionist and Israeli students at Pomona, those individuals should face investigation and repercussions, including removal from student senate. In addition, we request that the ASPC Senate apologize to the Jewish community for actions that may have discriminated against mainstream Jewish and Israeli students, potentially stifled First Amendment viewpoint neutrality rights, and created a toxic environment on campus.


Thank you for your prompt and continued attention to this important matter. We look forward to your response by May 7, 2021.


Sincerely,


Roz Rothstein

CEO & Co Founder

StandWithUs


Yael Lerman

Director

StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department


Carly F. Gammill

Director

StandWithUs Center for Combatting Antisemitism


StandWithUs

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StandWithUs (SWU) is an international and non-partisan Israel education organization that inspires and educates people of all ages and backgrounds, challenges misinformation and fights antisemitism.

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