Over the last few weeks, the Swarthmore community has been inundated with student activism. Students are voicing their concerns and taking actions to make clear that they are dissatisfied with administrative policies around campus.
One of the most recent student movements has been Organizing for Survivors and their call for Title IX policy reform. But, this is not the only movement for which students have been petitioning administration for change. Students for Justice in Palestine are calling for Dining Services to ban the sale of Sabra hummus products. Swarthmore Sunrise, previously Mountain Justice, is launching a referendum to the board against the 1991 ban on taking social considerations into account when investing funds.
These demands from students are not new. In fact, they mirror all too well the concerns of students who have graduated. Most notably, these same concerns were voiced during the Spring 2013 semester, also known as the Spring of our Discontent. We at The Phoenix believe the reoccurrence of these issues reflects that Swarthmore has a culture in which activism is encouraged, but not sufficiently heard. Students are continually compelled to express concerns that they do not feel have been addressed.
Most of the issues that have been raised by students this semester are direct issues that were raised during the Spring of Discontent. For example, in spring 2013, a group of sexual assault survivors and allies called for an end to greek life and the abolishment of campus space for greek life. A referendum on greek life at Swarthmore was held. While five out of six questions on the referendum did not pass, the organizing of survivors did demonstrate that students felt current policies addressing sexual assault needed to be improved and that survivors needed more support. Five years later, sexual assault survivors still do not feel supported and are calling for similar policy changes.
We also believe that the activism from previous students should not die in vain. Rather, we must educate ourselves on the causes students fought for in the past and expand on the movements they worked to build. Looking back on this activism and the results of it are necessary to contextualize events happening on campus now, five years later. The same deficiencies appear repeatedly, the problems are long-standing. Students not directly involved in activism should seek to understand where the current movements come from; students who are involved can use the broader historical narrative as a tool for accountability. This is true for IX, and for other causes. The Students for Justice in Palestine’s current campaign to boycott Sabra hummus is not their first — their 2012 campaign was successful but the hummus was eventually brought back.
Institutional memory is both a useful tool for campus activists and is also necessary for preserving campus culture and history. Understanding our past as a college community preserves the legacy of those who fought for the institutional changes we now take for granted, and helps to hold those in power to the promises they make to the student body. Publications are a source of this institutional memory, and we at The Phoenix recognize our role in sharing the current perspectives of the Swarthmore community while also preserving the history of these student movements. In order for longstanding change to come,, students need to situate ourselves with this history, and administration needs to due both it and the current climate due diligence.