Residence Halls Dedication Speech: President David Oxtoby
This speech was delivered on October 1, 2011, at the dedication of Pomona Hall and Sontag Hall, Pomona's two newest residence halls. Read more and view photos from the dedication program.
What an exciting day for us at Pomona College, as we join together to dedicate these new residence halls!
I’d like to begin with words of thanks and appreciation to some of the many individuals who worked so hard to make this entire project possible.
The outstanding design work by the team from Ehrlich Architects has resulted in a building that is both beautiful and highly functional. Working within the constraints of the building site, they more than met this challenge with a pair of residence halls that, like the Clark campus to the west built eighty years ago, will stand the test of time. Let’s thank the architects, represented today by their principal, Steven Ehrlich, and by Duke Oakley.
The construction of this project was carried out superbly down to the smallest detail by the firm of Hathaway Dinwiddie. Those of you who have already walked through Sontag and Pomona Halls have seen, first hand, the quality of the materials used and the careful execution of the project. Please join me in thanking Hathaway Dinwiddie, represented today by Dick Baptie. We also want to thank Land Images, our landscaping firm, for their work with the gardens and greenscape that complement the buildings.
The Residence Hall Planning Committee is listed in the program. Throughout the process, there were vital contributions from students, faculty, and staff of the College. I will not read all their names, but I would like to single out a few individuals. Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum played a central role in leading the process from the beginning in collaboration with staff from Facilities and Campus Services, led by Assistant Vice President Bob Robinson, working to achieve a result that would meet the goals of the finest residential experience for our students. I’d like to mention the particular contributions of project manager Andrea Ramella and of Bowen Close, Director of the Sustainability Integration Office. Let me ask everyone here from the Residence Hall Planning Committee, faculty, staff, and students, to stand for our appreciation.
While the focus today is on these new buildings, the program inside them is of equal importance to our students. Today I would like in particular to mention the expansion of the program in the Outdoor Education Center that was made possible by a generous endowment gift from Lucila Arango of the class of 1988 and the Aramont Foundation. Thank you, Lucila.
As Paul Efron mentioned, the support of the Board of Trustees has been critical for this project from the very beginning. We are fortunate to have as the Chair of our Facilities and Environment Committee a Trustee and alumnus, Rusty Doms of the class of 1962, who not only cares passionately about strengthening and expanding the residential opportunities for our students, but who also brings extraordinary knowledge and experience about the entire building process. Thank you, Rusty, for your keen eye and for your leadership.
The construction of this pair of residence halls was a collaboration between the College and some generous donors who provided necessary resources to make the project a reality. During the design phase, we turned to Rick and Susan Sontag because of their deep connections with the college and our students over three generations. As you know, Susan is a graduate of the Pomona College class of 1964, while Rick is a Harvey Mudd College alumnus. Their connections to Pomona started with Rick’s uncle, Fred Sontag, a long-term faculty member at the college, and continued through their daughter Cindy Sontag Hudgins of the class of 1995. Rick and Susan responded both eagerly and thoughtfully, and followed the construction process through pictures and web cameras from across the country in Florida. The Sontags’ example inspired another couple with deep connections to Pomona College, who have chosen to remain anonymous, to make the lead naming gift for Pomona Hall. I’d like to thank Rick and Susan, the lead donors for Pomona Hall, and all the other donors who have stepped up to name particular spaces in these residence halls, for the support that made this project possible, including those here today: Peter Sasaki, David and Sharon Pfaff, Kevin and Anne Hickey, and Jared Mathis, all of whom wanted to honor Fred and Carol Sontag.
Pomona College is that quintessentially American institution: a residential liberal arts college. The learning that goes on between faculty and students in the classroom is sustained and extended in dining halls and residences; that is why we celebrate the fact that more than 98% of our students live right here on campus. I recently read a report about Yale College in 1828, a time when they were only one quarter the size that Pomona is right now, which contained the following words:
“The parental character of college government, requires that the students should be so collected together, as to constitute one family; that the intercourse between them and their instructors may be frequent and familiar. This renders it necessary that suitable buildings be provided, for the residence of the students.”
This residential goal was present at Pomona College from our founding in 1887. The very first permanent building of the College, Sumner Hall (now the home of Admissions) included not only classrooms and offices, but also student residential space, all under one roof. In a sense, it might be considered a precursor for modern-day coeducational dormitories. Although the men and the women were of course separated, apparently the partition was thin enough that communication was possible through the wall!
Over the years, residential living has evolved at Pomona College. In earlier days, south campus was set up for traditional women’s residences, with spacious lounges, rooms opening off a central corridor, and carefully controlled access to make sure everyone was back in their rooms by ten at night. North campus was for the men and featured double rooms with exterior doors and easy access—and no curfews! Over more recent years, these two different designs have evolved effectively into our present layout. The south campus is primarily occupied by first- and second-year students, for whom the open doors and community spirit that arises within sponsor groups is particularly well suited. The north campus, selected primarily by juniors and seniors, has been oriented toward more independent living, a transition stage toward post-graduation residential opportunities.
And yet something has been missing from that simple scheme. Students at Pomona, while they welcome privacy and independence, also care deeply about community. So when we began the planning process that led to Sontag and Pomona Halls, we asked students what types of rooms they really wanted. The response was a request for suite-type space: suites in which several individual bedrooms were grouped around a common living space. This is exactly what we have done in these residence halls, with all the space allocated to suites for from three to four to six students. The results of the first housing draw last spring have validated that judgment; these are and will remain among the most popular living spaces on the campus.
And so today we celebrate the opening of Pomona and Sontag Halls, residence halls in which the education of our students will take place twenty four hours a day. From the outdoor education center, where exciting off-campus adventures will be planned, to the roof decks with their magnificent view of the mountains, where students will gather for fun or relaxation, to the lounges on each floor where groups will meet over snacks and meals, to the suites themselves, where late-night conversations on every possible subject will take place – throughout these halls, students will be building community, sharing ideas, and participating in deep and varied ways in the life of Pomona College.
Thank you all again for joining us today.