Marianne Williamson joins call with Claremont DISCOVR to support blended learning options

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Marianne Williamson attended Pomona College for two years before dropping out in 1972. (Talia Bernstein • Student Life)

On Saturday, former presidential candidate and former Pomona College student Marianne Williamson participated in a Zoom call with Claremont DISCOVR – a 5C advocacy group for students with disabilities – in support of flexible hybrid learning options for vulnerable students.

Excerpts from the Zoom call were posted on Claremont DISCOVR’s PageInstagram Monday, showing Williamson in conversation with a member of DISCOVR Johnny Ellsworth PO ’24.

Williamson told participants that institutions that are truly invested in the education of their students should make learning accessible to all students.

“You know, it’s sad to me that we have to fight here for people to just have some human compassion for each other,” Williamson said. “You request a Zoom call.”

“You know, it’s sad to me that we have to fight here for people to just have human compassion for each other.”

Marianne Williamson

Ellsworth was excited about the potential impact Williamson’s endorsement of DISCOVR could have on administrative policies around hybrid options.

Marianne Williamson’s intervention is a big step forward,” Ellsworth told TSL. “I hope his comments will give us more legitimacy with graduates, parents and the administration. This is the main objective.

Williamson, who attended Pomona for two years before leaving in 1972 without graduating, visited the college back in 2019 on his election campaign.

The call with Williamson is just one of the many ways DISCOVR has advocated for hybrid options for students since the resumption of face-to-face classes at the end of January.

On Jan. 28, Ellsworth and 11 other immunocompromised students contacted Pomona College Dean of Students Avis Hinkson to request a hybrid learning option. Their request was refuse by the college.

In an email, Hinkson and Robert Gaines, the college’s dean, said that “contract research revealed no evidence of the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom” and that blended learning is “characterized by the poorest and most disproportionate learning outcomes for students” .

DISCOVR then circulated a petition titled “Claremont Colleges: Our Education Matters; let students with disabilities learn remotely! which has received more than 1,100 signatures since February 1.

Since then, DISCOVR has held weekly Zoom advocacy meetings for students called “Hybrid Access Now!” They also organized their activism through a soft channel open to the college community.

The group’s Instagram also posted anonymous quotes from 5C students talking about their struggles with in-person classes. A form broadcast by DISCOVR allows students to share their experiences with ableism on campus and their support for blended learning.

Our administration should not impose the responsibility of self-education on its disabled and immunocompromised students, it should support and help them through the traumatic experience of living in a pandemic while trying to obtain an undergraduate degree “said the sad group in a February 18 Publish. “A hybrid class option is the first step in this support process.”

Some 5C student governments have also joined the campaign, making statements to offer support to students.

On February 6, the ASCMC sent an email to students at Claremont McKenna College offering them support when contacting their professors to request accessibility accommodations. The decision to stream classes live is currently at the faculty’s discretion.

The PHAC Senate also released a statement Feb. 18 in solidarity with immunocompromised students, calling for reasonable alternatives to in-person instruction when students are in isolation.

In their email to students, PHAC officials said they would work with immunocompromised students and their respective professors, class by class, to find alternatives to in-person instruction.

“We urge faculty to show some empathy and flexibility given the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic. It takes a little to make learning more accessible to everyone,” the statement read. “Empathy also goes both ways, which makes collaborating to find solutions within faculty bandwidth so critical.”

Scripps Student Associates sent an email to the Scripps College student body on February 19 to explain the college’s current policy. Scripps currently requires students to provide documentation demonstrating that they need learning accommodations. As at Pomona and CMC, the details of these accommodations are up to the faculty.

In their email, SAS said it is currently working with faculty and is in communication with the Acting Dean of Students at Scripps to ensure more flexibility in the classroom.

Until there is a true hybrid learning policy from the administration, Ellsworth and other DISCOVR students plan to continue their advocacy.

“I don’t think we should have to think about the state of our bodies when we walk through the doors of the classroom,” Ellsworth said. “We all deserve to feel safe.”

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