Students Silently Protest at Pitzer President Strom Thacker’s Inauguration

Photos and words by Ben Lauren PZ ’25, Sadie Wyatt PZ ’25, and Maya Olson PZ ’25

October 20th marked the Inauguration of Strom Thacker, Pitzer College’s seventh President. Festivities across campus led up to and followed the event, including food trucks, the official opening of the fountain, and a dunk tank with Thacker inside. The defining moment of the weekend, however, may have been an event Pitzer’s administration did not plan.

During the ceremony, a number of 5C students marched from Smith Campus Center at Pomona College to Commencement Plaza at Pitzer to join their peers already in attendance to call for Pitzer’s divestment from Israel’s genocide of Palestinians and to protest Thacker’s October 13th statement.

This was Thacker’s second response sent to students, with the first sent on October 9th displaying greater neutrality, not referring to any specific act of violence, nor mentioning Hamas outright.

“I write to express my deepest concerns and condolences for the many hundreds of lives of Israelis, Palestinians, and others lost and thousands injured over the past few days in Israel and Gaza,”  Thacker wrote on October 9th. 

On October 13th, after a student argued this email and his overall response was inadequate during an interview with Fox News, Thacker quickly issued his second statement, condemning Hamas’s October 7th attack in Israel, referring to them as “heinous terrorist attacks,” however not denouncing any of Israel’s actions.

The ceremony began at 3 p.m. with introductions by several notable figures in the Pitzer and Claremont communities, including Allen Omoto, Dean of Faculty, Donald Gould, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Scripps College President Amy Marcus-Newhall. Omoto remarked on President Thacker’s accomplishments, the significance of the moment, and how “the world needs colleges like Pitzer.” Highlighted as well was his time at Pomona as an undergraduate and his ongoing commitment to the 5Cs. 

At 3:16 p.m., as the Chair of the Pitzer Board of Trustees began to speak, the demonstration began. Students in the crowd silently rose from their seats, mostly dressed in all-black. The intentionally silent protest also encouraged students to wear masks to protect their identities. 

From the back of the tent, students from the march filed in, still silently, holding Palestine flags and signs with messages reading “Stand With Gaza,” “Pitzer Must Divest from Apartheid Israel,” “Stop Funding Genocide,” and “Freedom 4 Gaza.”

Guests of the President glanced at signs, and from the stage, Thacker glanced around, appearing to read each sign. The students sat down for city council member Jennifer Stark’s PZ ’98 speech and rose again once the next administrator took the podium, continuing to stand in protest during all other speeches made by administrators. 

Marcus-Newhall discussed the importance of “community dialogue” and President Thacker recognized that students’ political actions represented what is best about the Pitzer student body. 

Most speakers ignored the protestors, who stood for over 45 minutes on an unseasonably hot day. However, students received a direct acknowledgement from Pitzer Student Senate President Sanya Dhama PZ ’24. Later, Thacker began his speech with a gesture to the crowd holding signs and Palestinian flags.

“It has been an enormously trying time in the world,” President Thacker said at the beginning of his speech.

“We see by our guests today, thank you for bringing your messages to us,” Thacker said. “We appreciate you sharing your concerns and your messages with the whole Pitzer community and I appreciate it personally, so thank you for doing that.”

As the event ended, demonstrators stood silently, holding up their signs as the trustees and professors filed down the orange carpet. A few professors declared supportive statements to the protestors as they walked out, and encouraged them to keep going, just as students have planned to do.

CORRECTION MADE NOVEMBER 28, 2023:An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Strom Thacker did not directly acknowledge the protestors in attendance at his inauguration. However, in his speech, he thanks his guests for bringing their messages to him. The Outback apologizes for inaccurate reporting.

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