Content warning: sexual violence
A series of two different flyers posted in various public and private spaces on campus has sparked conversations about activism and Title IX policies at the college.
The flyers were discovered across campus midday Monday by various members of the college community in locations including Mertz residence hall, Parrish hall, and Sharples dining hall. They were printed in black and white on computer paper and included one of two messages in large, bold lettering: “SWAT PROTECTS RAPISTS” or “HAPPY SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH.” The posters were posted in places containing other student-created flyers, such as the bulletin boards of Parrish, but in other spaces such as Mertz, they were taped prominently to mirrors of a gender-neutral bathroom.
Some of the posters were promptly removed upon discovery, as was the case in Willets residence hall. In Sharples dining hall, “HAPPY SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH” flyers were left unchanged, but the flyers containing the message “SWAT PROTECTS RAPISTS” were removed by the end of the day on Monday. It is unclear why one flyer was removed from Sharples but the other was left hanging.
When asked about the effects of the flyers on the campus community, Dean of Students Liz Braun noted that the college has worked incredibly hard over the last several years to respond and prevent sexual violence, but recognized that the college was not a perfect institution in these endeavors.
“… There is still much more to be done, and I am committed to working with the Title IX office and our community to continuously build on and evolve our efforts,” Braun said.
She highlighted the team of faculty and staff who work collaboratively with the Title IX office on the support of survivors and the prevention of and response to sexual assault, the original establishment of the Title IX office, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and trainings for students, faculty, and staff as ways that the college is involved in preventing sexual violence around campus. She also noted that nearly 30 students participate in the Title IX Office’s student teams each year.
“We are committed to doing more — wisely and effectively — to create a safe and healthy community,” Braun continued.
Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen expressed concern over the appearance of the flyers.
“[I] want to make sure folks [know] my door is open if they ever want to talk,” Williamsen said.
President Valerie Smith sent out an email to the student body on April 5 stating that April was designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month on campus and around the country. In the email, Smith highlighted the “Sex & Power: Dinner & Discussion” and “Voices of Healing: A Community Gathering” events and detailed several other resources for students, but did not directly address the presence of the flyers on campus.
Anna Weber ’19, a member of NuWave and a member of the Peer Support Group lead by Violence Prevention Educator/Advocate Nina Harris, made it clear that neither NuWave nor members of the Peer Support Group were involved in the production or distribution of the flyers. Speaking as an individual and not as a representative of either of the groups, Weber felt that the flyers were a way for students to feel connected.
“The flyers tell you that you’re not alone, and the main thing that I would be worried about is showing the people that felt the need to put these flyers up that they also have support systems available to them,” Weber said.
Other students felt that the college adequately supported their needs, to the best of its ability, in these situations.
Title IX Fellow Rebecca Bernstein said the posters made her feel sad and aware that there is work left to be done at the college with regards to sexual violence.
“The flyers show that at least some students at Swarthmore are not feeling heard or like they have any other outlet for their pain,” she noted.
Bernstein explained that the Title IX office is a relatively new office, having been established sometime before the end of 2014, and felt proud of the way the office has broadened its reach and felt grateful for the students who she had been connected to in her two years at the college.
“This issue is far too complex and far too embedded in our culture to change overnight. What I hope for is that all of our students, no matter what their needs are or how much pain they are in, find meaningful resources, support, and healing during the rest of their time at Swarthmore and beyond,” Bernstein continued.
While some of the flyers have been removed, many still remain posted at various campus locations. It is unclear how long they will stay posted.