Swarthmore as a nation-state

Swarthmore is an educational institution that encourages enlightenment and critical thinking. Yet, at the same time, it is mired in structural racism, patriarchy, and capitalist hegemony. We seek to make our home here and expect to find love but are perpetually rejected. The institution cannot love us because it is blind to our value as anything more than instruments of production. Our humanity and the love we seek, we must discover in ourselves and in each other.

As our institution operates currently, we view maximum production as the goal because through a capitalist, hegemonic lens we view ourselves as instruments of production—as disembodied minds. We are however, complete beings with hearts and souls and needs that at times may conflict with the goals of the capitalist nation-state. If a student has a problem set due by midnight but is struggling with physical or emotional health issues and needs some recovery time, what are the risks of taking such a measure of self-care? The state teaches us that if workers slow down or collapse on the assembly line they risk being fired or replaced with fresh hands that can continue to manufacture capital with celerity. Swarthmore overemphasizes cultivating our brains because it is the organ that produces capital for the institution. Once we begin to treat our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits as connected and indivisible however, we can see ourselves as whole and begin to love ourselves again.

Swarthmore has constructed its space in a capitalist, industrial way. The physical spaces available for the community to bond are primarily academic. Social spaces are either rooted in some element of the industrial production such as eating, sleeping, studying, or they are centers for refuge and/or rebellion against hegemonic domination, such as the IC, BCC, or the WRC. The recent Daily Gazette article “Regulating Fun” details the institution’s new party policies and more stringent regulations on social events and spaces. These policies place even more restrictions on the freedoms of the “workers.” Our breaks are timed, our fun is regulated, our freedom is managed for us by the boss.

Read or watch Mario Savio’s speech at Sproul Hall in 1964 during the Berkley Free Speech Movement. Ask yourself what has changed. Savio asks us to consider that if the educational institution is a capitalist operation, then the faculty are the employees and the students are the raw material to be commodified and translated into capital for the institution. He courageously asserts, “We’re human beings!” Savio continues to galvanize the crowd, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! … And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus—and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it—that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

However, institutional rhetoric reinforces that the State of Swarthmore provides well for its workers. It provides us with food, financial aid, housing, etc. This gives the state power over its citizens and can be used to control us and keep us complacent. It maintains fear that prevents us from challenging the system. The capitalist industrial production model our institution and many colleges and universities operate under inherently undermines the humanity of their members, commodifies human life and potential, and attempts to mold our identities to augment their neoliberal capitalist goals.

Does the college actually give us a lot, however? We are lulled into submission by the institution’s rhetoric of generosity. We are made to believe that our spot here has been gifted to us and we jeopardize this gift if we rebel. Each member of this community has earned their spot and we are what makes this institution operate, so we ought to be the ones in charge. There is no college without us like there is no nation without its people.

Viewing our right to place at this institution as a ‘gift’ preserves the capitalist hegemony that commodifies our rights and therefore our humanity. As American rapper YZ said, “I almost thanked you for teaching me something about survival back there, but then I remembered that the ocean never handed me the gift of swimming. I gave it to myself.” We are the nation and once we recognize our humanity, we begin to recognize that we deserve better. When we believe that we deserve better, we fight for it, and we will find the power to do so in each other, in our collective strengths.

We are at a crossroads. This is an opportunity to ask ourselves important questions that will guide the future of our institution. What is the purpose of our education? What do we want for our community? Who has the right to answer these questions and who has the authority to implement the answers? We have an opportunity to reconstruct our community as an environment rooted in our humanity, one in which we can thrive as individuals and as a group. Efforts to re-establish ourselves in the roots of our diverse humanities may include measures such as an Ethnic Studies Department, some form of a global citizen or diversity requirement, divestment from fossil fuels, the prison-industrial complex, Israeli apartheid, and other detrimental entities contrary to the social justice values of our institution, the values of those who make the Swarthmore nation what it is—The PEOPLE.

1 Comment

  1. Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! But actually, pretty sure Halpern would even admit you have taken this too far.

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