This past Monday around noon, the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association, along with other students, gathered in Parrish Parlors for a moment of silence to acknowledge the plight of Indigenous peoples and protest the federally recognized holiday of Columbus Day.
The demonstration overlapped with a previously scheduled event at the time, a performance of the “Lunch Hour Concert Series” hosted by the college’s music department. Because of this overlap, tensions rose between demonstrators and administration. In particular, while Karen Avila ’20 was speaking as part of the event, a professor from the music department started raising her voice with the other students in attendance. A few minutes into the speech, Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center Jason Rivera stepped in to admonish SISA for using the space in Parrish Parlors without reserving it prior.
The students participating in the lunch hour concert were not involved in the conflict, and chose not to comment on the event.
Dean Rivera also chose not to specifically comment about the events that transpired at the moment of silence, though he stressed his commitment to Indigenous students in an email.
“It is clear to me that our Indigenous students are committed to building a campus community that acknowledges the pain and experiences of Indigenous peoples and in creating greater representation of Indigenous peoples and of their experiences. As the Director of the Intercultural Center, I stand committed to supporting their efforts and advocating for their needs,” he said. “As a person who has experienced marginalization and excision from academic spaces, I know how painful it can be to have your entire existence invalidated. Thus, I support and appreciate the recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day as part of the overall celebration of Latinx Heritage Month.”
Rivera later stated that he apologized to SISA about how the event unfolded, and reiterated his commitment to Indigenous students at the college.
Representatives of SISA also gave their perspective on the events surrounding the moment of silence in a statement to the Phoenix.
“When administration was presented with a situation where they had to choose between giving limited platform to a weekly routine of pervasive white culture or a one-time, 15-minute long opportunity of recognition to Indigenous and Latinx students, administrators chose the side of whiteness, and continued the erasure and silencing of Indigenous peoples,” said the group. “We feel less and less comfortable at this school every time these things happen. We felt particularly hurt that such senseless and hurtful remarks came from the person who is supposed to be our advocate. We felt unsurprised that he was put in this position by other white administrators. But we are resilient.”
SISA later released a post on Facebook the next day with a list of demands for administration to better serve the needs of Indigenous students on campus. The demands included a commitment to recruit and admit more Indigenous students, hire an Indigenous IC staff member, create an Indigenous studies special major, remove the US flag from Parrish, actively encourage classes on Indigenous students in all departments, and fund flights to and from home.
The full post that further elaborates on each demand can be found on SISA’s Facebook page.