On Friday, September 2nd, 2011, I sat down for an interview with two Deans at our college. I’d just returned from a run at the gym and was looking forward to the Open House at our student center that night. Before the interview, I’d mentioned that I’d been emailed about meeting with them to my mentor, Hughes Suffren, and inquired as to whether he knew what it would be about. His facial expression told me that he did, but he refused to comment and instead said that he “wanted me to go into it cold.” I trusted him, just as I had since freshman year, and went to the meeting in good spirits. I left in a state of shock, tears of anger streaming down my face, without words to express how confused I was.
One month later, I received email confirmation that Dean Suffren no longer worked for the Claremont Colleges, and although the official correspondence was expected, I was still unable to breathe the rest of the day. Caught between emotional numbness and feelings of abandonment, I hid in my room and stared at the ceiling for hours. For some students, his departure was an opportunity to gossip and talk about the lack of transparency at the Claremont Colleges, as well as the implicit racism in the decision-making process concerning his investigation. For other students, he was just another Staff member that’d no longer be working here; they were eager to see new faces added to OBSA and weren’t overly concerned about the suddenness or lack of closure with Dean Suffren. Regardless of particular reactions, the world didn’t stop spinning, classes remained in-session, and I still needed to plan for my Sunday night Sponsor meeting, while also finish the weekly readings for Professor Hurley’s class.
Most importantly, I still had a community to help support and peers that continued to seek guidance from me with high expectations. His absence made me reconsider my ability to be there for others while personally struggling. I felt unable to reach out and helpless in the situation; with him gone, who could I turn to for advice? Months later, there was one important lesson that I gained from this experience. I am part of a larger community, and the power of love and cooperation within this group is strong enough to support any one of its members if given the opportunity.
Rather than suffering in silence, I started to talk with friends, faculty, and other students about the toll that his absence has taken on me personally. I was given advice that I didn’t expect, hugs that made me feel safer, and assistance that I hadn’t realized was available. College is always referenced as “the best four years of your life”, but it is also often a very difficult period of transition and growth. A particular class must frustrate you to no end, or you may feel increasingly distant from friends or family back home. Your personal beliefs may be challenged, and things may happen that you’re unable to plan for and unsure about how to respond to. My relationships with other students have helped me realize that I don’t have to have all the answers, but that making sure they know that I care and will actively help them find their answers is oftentimes more than enough. My friends have helped me see that I don’t have to be strong in every situation, and that (within reason), it’s okay for me to have a personally emotional response, while still being a collected and calm student leader.
Thus, in addition to giving thanks for my family and health and the break from school (ha) this Thanksgiving, I also sent out many words of appreciation to my friends and fellow student leaders. They’ve truly helped shape my experience at Pomona, through the good and bad.