The fifth biannual People of Color (POC) Formal will be hosted April 30 at the Avalon Bardot, according to POC Formal committee members Kass Wolde (first year), Seghen Yohannes (first year) and Carina Grande (first year). The POC Formal committee expects 350–400 students to attend, about the same attendance as estimated for past events. Admission will be free, but bus shuttles to the venue will cost $5.
POC Formal began February 2017 with the intention of providing a safe environment for Occidental’s students of color, who often felt excluded from Greek organizations, to have fun and celebrate the end of the semester in a space dedicated to POC. The current POC Formal committee consists of Yohannes, Wolde, Grande, Linda Hussein (first year), Katrina Weti (sophomore), Britney Aboagye (first year), Haregeweyne Kebede (first year) and Aarushi Arora (first year). As young students, the current committee decided to take on organizing the event because of the important and unique role it plays within the community, according to Wolde, Yohannes and Grande.
“I see POC Formal as a place where people of color can come together and just have a good time,” Grande said. “A lot of people can feel like they don’t have that space at regular formals, so they finally have a time together [to] dance and just be in a space where they feel really comfortable.”
Many of the members of the current POC Formal committee attended POC Formal last semester and were concerned by rumors that it would not take place this semester because former committee members had all either graduated or stepped down.
“We genuinely did not hear that the formal wasn’t happening until about two weeks ago,” Wolde said. “I don’t think word was officially being put out that it wasn’t being planned, but once we heard, we just decided to throw it together.”
The current POC Formal committee gathered information and advice about how to organize the event from past committee members, according to Wolde. Although the process began a few weeks before the proposed date of the event, the POC Formal committee was able to quickly find a venue and secure funding. This would not have been possible without the interest and financial support they have received from the community, according to the committee.
“This time around, the majority of our funding has come from DEB [Diversity and Equity Board] and Senate,” Wolde said. “We also have different academic departments that we reached out to. Since we started very late in the game, we reached out to as many people and as many departments as we could. Literally everybody.”
In addition to DEB and Senate, the event will also be supported by the Black Student Alliance (BSA), the Dean of Students office and the International Programs Office (IPO), according to Wolde and Yohannes. While funding has been more challenging to acquire than in previous years, the committee acknowledged this was largely due to their own lack of planning earlier in the semester.
Linda Schraeder, Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) finance manager, directly manages ASOC budgets and oversees the funding of student organizations. All funding of student events must be filed through a club or organization, according to Schraeder. This created additional issues for the POC Formal committee as they needed to rely on recognized active clubs to secure funding. The POC Formal has been funded through multiple different clubs throughout its history, including Latinx Student Union and BSA, according to Schraeder.
Rhonda Brown, chief diversity officer, chose not to fund previous POC Formals, claiming the event was exclusionary. Brown declined to comment on POC Formal 2019.
Since its conception, POC Formal has been characterized by some as being an exclusive event. However, this is not the intention of the event, according to members of the committee. Yohannes added that she believes this criticism is somewhat unique to POC Formal.
“I just think it’s interesting that there are other events like this, but nobody really claims them to be exclusive or anything, no matter what clubs or organizations are putting them on,” Wolde said. “When it’s POC that are the ones putting this on and creating a space for other POC to enjoy, that’s when it becomes labeled as exclusive. That’s something that I find pretty irking and it’s a narrative that a lot of people have approached us with.”
“We just want people to attend,” Yohannes said. “We went last semester and it was just such an amazing space to be in. We know that exams are coming and it’s in the last week of school, so we think that this could be the last hoorah people can just enjoy before going into exams. It’s a time to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate everyone’s culture and their backgrounds.”
The event is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. and end at 2 a.m., according to Wolde and Yohannes. The POC Formal Committee plans to be tabling on the quad to provide information to any students who wish to attend.