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Dean Rivera to leave IC, new leadership to be determined

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On the morning of Nov. 13, Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun announced over email that Rivera would be leaving the college at the end of the fall semester to accept a new position.

“It is with very mixed emotions that I write to share the news that Jason Rivera, Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center, has accepted the position of Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Success at Rutgers University, Camden Campus,” Braun said in the email.

The Intercultural Center, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has recently struggled with high turnover of its directors, so much so that the Intercultural Center Director and Dean of the Sophomore Class Jason Rivera, who joined the college on July 1, 2016, was known to tell students about his intention to maintain the position.

“If you ever talked to him, and you talked to him about the turnover rate, he would say, ‘I’m here. I’m gonna stay here,’” Cindy Lopez ’20, IC intern and member of the Pride Month planning committee, said.

Rivera has overseen the planning of the IC’s planned expansion into the Sproul Observatory, created the LGBTQ advisory committee and hired Cooper Kidd, the college’s 2017-2018 LGBTQ fellow. According to Rivera, the change in position will afford him greater agency and ability to affect change on a larger scale.

“This role provides me with an important opportunity to reach a greater number of students and to work at a significantly higher level to support student success across the RU-Camden campus,” Rivera said in an email. “As I have grown in my career, I have become deeply passionate about and committed to supporting students as they pursue their goals and aspirations.  Often times, the barriers that impede student success are structural and systemic.  The work I will be doing at RU-Camden will allow me to identify, address and/or dismantle those barriers and help a greater number of students achieve their fullest potential.”

Lopez, who was appointed an IC intern this semester, formed a close relationship with Rivera last year.

“Last year I wasn’t a huge part of the IC, but after the election, after other stuff that happened last semester and last year in general, I got really close to him because I would just go to his office and play with his dog … and you know, just hang out and chill, so for me he’s kind of a big part of campus,” she said. “It’s just nice having him around.”

Lopez did not know about Rivera’s planned departure until she read Dean Braun’s email. The news shocked her because she expected that he would be the director during all of her time at the college.

“It’s just the fact that he said he was going to stay for a long time and even this semester, I was talking to him and he wanted to do a lot more long-term stuff, like long-lasting, and now he’s leaving so it’s like all those ideas, all that planning–sure, they might still have them, but he won’t be there,” she said. “It’s also really unexpected, like I was so surprised when I saw he was leaving. It’s never something that I would have thought would have happened, like ever, and not during my four years here.”

During the transition period until a new IC director is hired, interim IC assistant director Nyk Robertson will work with the Dean’s Office to lead the IC. Hiring new staff members in higher education often takes multiple months, if not longer. Last year, Robertson, then the LGBTQ fellow, was appointed to fill the position of Mo Lotif, who resigned in April 2017.

Lopez expressed concern about the fact that after Rivera leaves, the IC leadership will have little combined experience dealing with student groups and issues at the college.

“We don’t know who will be the interim director of the IC,” Lopez said. “If it’s a current faculty member, then that’s fine because they know the history of the IC and the culture and stuff like that, but if they bring an outside person, then they’re gonna have to be learning everything and we already have Cooper, who’s new as well and is also just learning stuff, so if we have both new people learning stuff then it’s just gonna be Nyk, and Nyk’s only been here for a year.”

According to Julia Wakeford ’19, member of the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Society (SISA), the lack of administrative continuity at the IC hinders the progress of student groups.

“The hiring process takes as long as these people fill these roles for,” she said. “I feel like it’s almost like the students are here longer than the administrators, which is insane. It’s supposed to be the reverse. It’s just frustrating because we have to re-explain ourselves and who we are and what we’re trying to get done on campus to different administrators, it feels like, each semester or each year we re-explain ourselves over again.”

Though Braun stated in her email that the Dean’s Office will work “to develop a plan to ensure that students are well supported during this transition and that the Intercultural Center continues to thrive,” Lopez feels that the change of hands further complicates circumstances that have made this year an especially busy one for the IC, including what she feels is a tense political climate on campus.

“This was already a transitional year because of the Sproul Observatory being remodeled, so that was already a challenge, and we were gonna have programming surrounding that,” Lopez said. “And in another sense, too, since it’s the 25th anniversary and all of these events have already been planned for this year, and he won’t be around to see them through, which really sucks…[and] other stuff that’s happened on campus has just caused it to be a very tense place, which is not to say that that’s necessarily bad, but it just adds on to this jumble that’s happening.”

Students will still be able to carry out these initiatives and their individual projects in the spring without Rivera, but the consistently high turnover rate of the Director positions at the IC makes the future of the IC uncertain. For example, Rivera and the intern team created “Conversations around CARE” as part of their long-term goal to “promote further discussion, provide resources and education, as well as generate support from other members of our community.”

“It’s going to be hard. But we, the students, don’t want to see it fall apart and I don’t think Nyk or Cooper is going to let that happen, and there’s also a lot of other faculty that are going to make sure that doesn’t happen because this is such a necessary space on campus,” Lopez said. “It’s going to be fine, it’s just going to be hard, and annoying and frustrating, but I think we’re going to be fine, hopefully.”

Into the Archives: a correspondence on divestment

in Into the Archives by

On June 17, 1985, recent alum Perry Chang wrote a handwritten note to then-president of the College David Fraser. The note read:

“Dear President Fraser: I would be interested to receive a response to the letter I handed to you at Commencement. I have enclosed a copy of that letter, which I helped draft. Hope you are having a pleasant summer. Sincerely, Perry Chang.”

The letter enclosed, written by Chang and a few other students who had graduated in 1985, was a call for divestment from companies doing business in South Africa under Apartheid.

“Many of us wear armbands today to remind both College officials and our friends, family, teachers, and fellow students about the deteriorating situation in South Africa and what role the College might play in improving the situation … during the past four years at Swarthmore we have become more and more familiar — through films, course work, symposiums, and even late-night discussions — with the apartheid system of South Africa,” Chang and others wrote.

They then urged President Fraser to take two specific actions. First, to contact the College’s Ad Hoc Committee on Ethics and Investments, created a the year prior, and urge them to support a new provision. This provision reconsidered the College’s policy since 1978, which established that the College would maintain investments in South Africa as long as they followed the “Sullivan Principles,” which the Swarthmore Anti-Apartheid committee considered to be a cover for companies wanting to stay in South Africa. The second thing the students urged was for Fraser to publicly support the proposed Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985 being considered by Congress.

“We believe the time is ripe for action on the apartheid issue,” the last paragraph of the letter reads. “In South Africa, things grow worse every day. Over here, the “Free South Africa” gains steam, in college campuses and in the halls of Congress. Both the situation in South Africa and the movement here cry out for us to act now. As students here for the past four years, we have waited patiently as the College has put this issue through the slow mechanism of its formal committees. We are running out of patience.”

Chang and others ended with a concrete consequence for the college if it did not divest.

And we suspect that, should the Ethics and Investments Committee effort go nowhere over the summer, next year many of us will likely support the establishment of an “alternative endowment” — a pool of alumni contributions which will not be released to the College until it divests — and younger students who remain at Swarthmore will likely lose faith in the College’s established mechanism for change and opt for a different mechanism. The time for you and the College to act is now.”  

On June 28, 1985, President Fraser sent a letter back to Chang. In his letter, he outlined his dismay for the situation.

“Dear Perry: I welcome the chance to make a personal reply to the letter that you and your classmates gave to Gene Lang and me during the Commencement ceremonies. In the letter you raise important issues of what the College’s and our government’s responses should be to the dreadful system of legislated racism that was built up in South Africa forty or fifty years ago, and continues largely in place despite some recent marginal improvements … The College wrestles with a variely of issues including whether it should be a locus of debate or a debator, whether to use its investments as a polítical or moral statement would compromise its fiduciary responsibilities, and how the College might use its investments most efficiently in effecting change in South Africa.”

Fraser also outlined recent discussions in Washington on Apartheid.

“I spent Wednesday in Washington with a group of college and university presidents debating these issues and cross examining Senator Paul Sarbanes and Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker (who have, as I suspect you know, markedly differing views). Crocker argues that the oppression of blacks ín South Africa is lessening, and that our leverage is greater if we are ‘constructively engaged,’ and that forces are already in place that will lead to the dismantling of apartheid in the relatively near future. I find myself unconvinced that our engagement has cause much improvement in the situation of blacks in South Africa, because I do not see that the situation has improved much. I have a harder time judging the validity of his assertion that things will now improve fairly rapidly — I worry that the Botha government is changing things about as quickly as the Afrikaners will permit and that in the present climate only revolution will bring rapid change.”

Despite this, Fraser explained that he was not personally yet convinced that the College would do better to follow total divestment, and that he looked to the committee of guidance. He did accept the second demand, and publicly expressed support for the passage of the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985, however warning that this did not commit the college itself to a particular stand.

In 1986, the Anti-Apartheid Act passed in congress and the College board of managers reached a decision to proceed toward full divestment. Full divestment was reached in 1990. Apartheid legislation in South Africa was outlawed in 1991.

The process, though, was a long and halting one; Chang and President Fraser’s exchange is a mere slice. Next issue, I’ll outline the actual process of the College’s progress toward apartheid divestment.

In many ways, this process can be seen as analogous to the current movement for divestment from fossil fuels: in April of 1985, before the Committee came to a decision, the College held a referendum in which 79% of the students who voted called for total divestment to replace the Sullivan principles. Mountain Justice held a similar referendum last year. Then and now, divestment is no easy process — hoops must be jumped through; drawbacks must be considered. Even so, morality in investment has been a question the College has been struggling with for decades and will, I predict, for years to come.

 

*Chang and Fraser’s letters are courtesy of the Friend’s Historical Library

Events management restructuring reflects college-wide change

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On Oct. 30, President Valerie Smith sent out an email announcing that the special assistant to the President, Susan Eagar, will have a new role as director of events and programs, effective Nov. 20. This role will be to oversee event planning broadly, and it is part of structural changes to the department of events management.

President Smith’s email outlined the responsibilities of Eagar’s new position.

“In her new role, Susan will be responsible for all event operations and year-round logistical coordination of Swarthmore College events including major campus events, prominent speakers, and presidential events, as needed.”

In her current role as special assistant, Eagar provides high-level administrative support to the President and manages the daily operations of the President’s office. The email also outlined that Eagar would collaborate with external clients, oversee booking, and act as the main contact for all scheduling as well as the main point of contact between the event staff, host of the event, and support for events. She will also “implement, execute, and manage” the reservations systems and “provide ongoing training and resources for those scheduling events.” All of these tasks will be done through Swat Central, which is a “new, centralized” online event reservation system.

According to Eagar, Swat Central will replace the current online campus calendar and EMS, the current space reservations system. This new system will put space reservations, setup needs, and events publicity into one place; it will be implemented in spring 2018. Swat Central, like Eagar’s new role, indicates structural changes in the department of events management.

“It will serve as a one-stop hub for our campus community to learn about and reserve space for College events, classes, and meetings,” Eagar said via email.

The department of events management operates under the executive director of auxiliary services Anthony Coschignano. Coschignano mentioned via email that Swat Central will “provide more efficient and effective services.”

The Events Management Department was previously known as “Space and Summer Programs,” but since the department underwent restructuring, the name has been changed. The Events Management Department falls under the umbrella of Auxiliary Services. Other departments under Auxiliary Services include Dining and Catering Services, OneCard, The Swarthmore Campus and Community Store, Office Services, Post Office, and the Inn at Swarthmore.

Regarding the function of her department, Eagar said, “The Events Management Department is responsible for providing quality service to all our customers seeking the use of campus facilities.”

The structure of the Events Management Department includes an events coordinator and setup crew leader. The department plans to hire student workers as well to help with daily planning, particularly relating to summer programs. Coschignano said that this hiring process and structuring will occur over this academic year.

Coschignano noted that the department’s previous structure was similar, the changes are significant.

“The objective is to create an events office that will be best be able to support campus events in a more holistic, efficient, and creative way,” he said in an email.

This objective is reflected in President Smith’s college-wide email, which mentioned that this particular instance of restructuring relates to the 2016 visioning exercise.

On the Swarthmore College website, the 2016 visioning exercise is said to be “an effort … to help [the college] think more holistically about both the nature of students’ lives beyond the classroom and the types of spaces, services, technologies, activities, and campus culture that might support those experiences, both now and into the future.”

The 2016 visioning exercise is a complement to the Strategic Directions plan from December 2011, during the presidency of Rebecca Chop. Strategic Directions is a 40-page outline of a “strategic plan” to explain core values of the college, evaluate the current environment of the college, outline recommendations for change, lay out commitments to support the work, and provide implementations and future steps for the plan. Other elements of the plan included a campus facilities master plan as well as a diversity and inclusion plan.

A result of Strategic Directions was the development of a Master Plan for the college, which includes plans for the college’s growth, including the expansion of the number of buildings and students. The Master Plan can be found on the Swarthmore College website.

Eager’s new position as director of events and programs is indicative of the college’s efforts to grow and restructure which have been outlined in the 2016 visioning exercise and the Master Plan.

Internal carbon charge seeks external change

in Around Campus/News by

This year, the college instituted an internal carbon charge in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and eventually become emission neutral. The carbon charge is imposed on the college by itself, and which is intrinsically difficult to implement. The idea of carbon pricing is a policy idea commonly for mitigating carbon emissions on a national scale, but Swarthmore and other institutions have implemented a version of carbon prices on themselves.

The college is also a leader in the push for a nation-wide tax on carbon, President Valerie Smith signed the Letter on Carbon Action, which was a letter sent by colleges and universities to the Trump administration encouraging him to honor the Paris Climate Agreement, make sure policies are based on the scientific and technical facts, and invest in a low-carbon economy. The college also endorses a nationwide carbon tax and has advertised their advocacy heavily on the college’s official social media. The carbon charge, as well as the advocacy for the national carbon pricing, is an attempt by the college to help combat climate change and is the primary way that Swarthmore is trying to mitigate climate change.

Swarthmore’s carbon charge was modeled after Yale and Princeton’s internal carbon charges, and a goal of the charge is to serve as a model and help advance the case both for internal charges at other institutions as well as for nationwide carbon pricing. Swarthmore’s internal carbon works by raising money for a carbon fund which will be used for sustainability projects.

The charge consists of three parts: a fee levied on department budgets, a shadow price on energy for future projects, and the carbon fund. The fee charge placed on department budget funds the carbon fund. The fee is a flat tax on departments, and the shadow price is an added fee on energy that makes the cost of energy higher to the college than it would be without the self-impose shadow price.

Climate Action Senior Fellow Nathan Graf believes that the carbon charge has been successful in its first year of operation.

I think the Carbon Charge program has been fantastically successful, in particular as a platform for education and engagement on carbon pricing solutions. The baseline levy for the Carbon Charge is currently 1.25 percent of department and office budgets, exclusive of salaries and benefits, which totals about $300,000. For next year’s charge, several departments stepped up and voluntarily contributed an additional $40,000 to the Carbon Charge. I think that level of generosity reflects positively on the program and speaks to the support it has in the campus community,” he said.

Graf also explained what the money raised by the Carbon Charge will be used for.

“The Ecosphere Executive Committee granted final approval for a Green Revolving Fund a few weeks ago. The GRF will use the revenues for the carbon charge on projects that will reduce our emissions and save the college money in the long run. We’re working with Facilities to use much of the first year’s revenue to fund LED lighting upgrades on campus,” he said.

The charge was developed by members of the Swarthmore community including faculty, alumni, and members of the administration. Professor of Economics Stephen Golub highlighted the importance of private institutions like the college instituting changes in light of the lack of climate.

“The carbon charge was the result of the concern about sustainability and climate change and so on, highlighted by the divestment movement, again with discussions we had within the department, we thought the college should do something … It was an attempt to see if we could come up with something we could do concretely about climate change at this college and link up with the national movement to price carbon, that national and international movement, which to economists is the most promising thing you can do,” he said.

Golub also explained the charge in economic terms.

“The idea is that greenhouse gasses and climate change are …  a negative externality [a bad effect on people not involved in a particular purchase], and you can’t leave that to the private market. You have to either regulate it, or put a price on it. There are a number of advantages to pricing over regulation, and we need to do this. This needs to be done on a national and global scale, voluntary efforts aren’t enough. In the absence of the federal government doing anything, individual institutions can step up to the plate,” he said.

The structure of the Carbon Charge is a flat tax on departments, meaning that the charge is not reflective of their actual carbon usage, which would not create an incentive for members of the department to change their carbon usage.

[Carbon within departments] is very difficult to price. How would [the] economics department reduce its carbon footprint? Well, we could turn the lights off, we could shut off our computers, we could make sure our windows are closed, and so on, but there’s no way at present to measure or price that because the economics department is part of Kohlberg hall, and even in Kohlberg, even if we were to do this together with the other departments, there is no way to monitor that very easily in Kohlberg at present. It’s very, very difficult. For Yale, it is a bit easier because they have different schools, and they can monitor that for different institution within Yale,” he said.

Golub also praised the work that has been done by the college and stressed that the carbon charge was part of a larger movement.

“This is the first year, and my take on it [is that] I think amazing progress was made in one year considering the difficulty of this. Again, it’s kind of a crazy thing for places to tax themselves, the government should be taxing us. It’s awkward to implement, considering the difficulties of this, [but] we’ve done a great job […] Any one person or institution can only do so much, but there are two reasons that it matters a whole lot. First of all, everyone should do their part. We’re doing our part, but maybe more important is the signal that it sends out there to the world: that we care; we are a prestigious place, even if small; and that what we can do makes a difference, and if others see that we’re doing this, [then] we’re part of a movement,” he said.

Does Swat Protect Rapists?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Content Warning: sexual assault

Yes. Given that it is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I believe it is appropriate to shed light on the ways that Swarthmore College has and continues to protect sexual predators at the expense, especially of survivors on campus, but also of all students who call Swarthmore home and expect the administration to enforce its stated guidelines on proactively protecting its community from sexual violence. This article is primarily intended for Swatties who have not interacted with the Title IX reporting process and are not aware of the specifics of the problem on campus.

Many students are familiar with complaints made during the spring of 2013, most notably the fact that Tom Elverson, Swarthmore’s alcohol education and intervention specialist as well as Greek liaison, was known to intervene in favor of Delta Upsilon members during Title IX investigations.

As an alum of the fraternity himself, his biases towards protecting the organization’s members resulted in his removal by the college on June 28, 2013, but not until an expansive national campaign was launched by survivors to plead their case. During his tenure at Swarthmore, DU members were actively protected from the consequences of their violent actions by a member of Swarthmore’s administration, creating a hostile environment that permeated the reporting process.

The federal Title IX investigation regarding these events (which was supposed to be completed within 180 days) is still ongoing.

Swarthmore has since made facial changes to its policies and staff involved in responding to complaints of sexual violence, but the skew towards protecting the interests of rapists over survivors remains to this day.

To avoid allegations of hearsay, I will first illustrate issues I personally faced after being raped by an intimate partner and reporting the incident to the nascent Title IX Office, before moving on to more recent examples without personal identifying information. The following paragraphs will include graphic depictions of sexual assault and victim blaming language.

The bias against survivors in my case began as a trickle and ended in an overwhelming deluge that exacerbated my PTSD and still impacts my day-to-day life. All complainants during the hearing process have access to the college’s “victims’ advocate,” a policy which was initally encouraging. However, I received no proactive help or advice in arguing my case, and my assigned advocate was frequently unable to answer my questions because she was unfamiliar with the college’s new procedures. Many other survivors have expressed feeling similarly isolated and forced into a position of self-advocacy in an adversarial system, while already dealing with trauma and a rigorous Swarthmore course load.
While the process of the investigation was exhausting, isolating, and all-consuming, those issues pale in comparison to what I faced during and after the hearing. Because my assailant was also my boyfriend at the time of the assault, I was met with insulting and degrading questions from the external adjudicator, such as “You are so articulate, why could you not verbally say ‘no’ to your boyfriend?” This was in response to my explanation that at the time I realized that I could not stop the assault I began to panic and could not verbalize my distress. Instead, I remained limp as the assault continued, visibly crying and shaking my head. This was considered insufficient to constitute a “withdrawal of consent,” although I argued that I was crying as hard as I could after my body chose to “freeze” rather than fight or flee— something that the adjudicator should have known is common among victims of rape.

The issue of withdrawal of consent would not have even emerged in the hearing had the adjudicator not invented the concept of “initial consent,” which I apparently indicated by getting into bed with my boyfriend to sleep. The fact that the college handbook explicitly states that affirmative consent must be attained for each individual sexual act did not seem to be of concern the adjudicator or the dean that handled my appeal. The adjudicator also did not take into account the undisputed fact in the hearing that between whatever initial consent may have existed and the assault, my assailant hit me and I was obviously distressed.

When I appealed on the grounds that the adjudicator had failed entirely to implement the definitions and requirements in the handbook, I was told that a “difference in interpretation of the handbook” was not grounds for appeal and that I had exhausted my options for seeking justice from the college. My rapist graduated in 2015 with a Swarthmore diploma and no mark on his transcript indicating he was involved in a disciplinary hearing at all.

Moving on to cases besides my own, Swarthmore even protects rapists that are found guilty during the hearing process. An individual found responsible for rape of an ex-partner remained on campus during his suspension. He was invited back to stay on campus by a fraternity brother and attended parties in utter disregard for the terms of his frankly lenient punishment. The administration was not planning on levying any further sanction until a veritable swarm of women confronted Dean Nathan Miller in his office. Furthermore, the accomplice was asked by his fraternity to appear on a panel exposing “toxic masculinity,” rendering the entire event dangerous for survivors and a disingenuous attempt to rehabilitate the organization’s image. Both men have been invited back for their five-year reunion, forcing the survivor in question to skip the event.

Lest anyone believe that these are issues of the past, this semester an individual who was found responsible for his second count of rape was only sentenced to two years of suspension. This means that he will be allowed to return to campus after his victims have graduated, and will continue to pose an active threat to all other students who will not be aware of his violent history.

Swarthmore also protects rapists by silencing survivors. An ongoing lawsuit alleges several cases of Public Safety officers discouraging reporting, in one instance by telling a victim to go to bed and think about things differently in the morning. Survivors are told not to talk about the “experience” in order to “deescalate the situation,” framing safety from retaliation as the survivor’s responsibility rather than the school’s. Recordings of any part of the process are forbidden, and the college frequently outright lies about encounters with survivors, gaslighting them and making them doubt their own sanity. The college has also scaled back awareness events that would reflect poorly on itself, including promising to hold a Take Back the Night rally and then rescinding the offer. Additionally, they shut down anonymous means of protest— many survivors’ last resort —by canceling the Clothesline Project and removing posters and chalkings critiquing the administration. Their excuse for this behavior is that the information is triggering to some survivors, and that is true; however, the administration has repeatedly refused many suggestions of compromise, such as moving the CLP to a less central location and removing the traditional color coding of shirts. Any time a new incident occurs, the college seems to react as if it is the first such infraction on campus, further isolating survivors and providing an excuse for the inconsistent enforcement of the handbook.

I have demonstrated that Swarthmore protects rapists throughout every step of the investigation process: creating an environment hostile to reporting, failing to follow stated procedures during the hearing, refusing to adequately punish even students they know to be a danger to campus, and silencing survivors. One can only speculate as to why the system works in this way, but many Swarthmore survivors have remarked that while they lacked the resources or capacity to threaten legal action following their mistreatment, respondents have a much higher rate of expensive legal retaliation against the school. I believe that Swarthmore protects rapists in order to protect its financial interests and its national reputation.

The administration isolates survivors from each other, making each individual feel as if they are alone in their struggle against these repeated injustices. They make survivors feel powerless to change their situation in much the same way that rapists attack their victim’s agency. The importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month to me, therefore, is to publicly disclose the wrongdoings of the college such that it begins to balance the harms Swarthmore might incur when rapists threaten expensive lawsuits. Common decency and the law are both on our side. The entire student body must continue to hold the administration accountable and to demand better for the sake of all current and future Swarthmore students.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Letters and opinion pieces represent the views of their writers and not those of the Phoenix staff or Editorial Board. The Phoenix reserves the right to edit all pieces submitted for print publication for length and clarity. The Phoenix does not edit op-ed or letter submissions for content or factual accuracy.*

Editorial: SGO and admin don’t encourage student voices

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Last week on April 2nd, the Student Government Organization held an open meeting with Dean Braun and other members of the staff to update students on the visioning process and to listen to students’ opinions and concerns. Although students did have a chance to voice their concerns and the administration and staff were present as these concerns were articulated, we at the Phoenix feel that the student concerns were far from addressed.  Instead, the SGO meeting space was ineffective for helping students feel validated or for creating any actual change on campus.

We at the Phoenix believe that the current structure of SGO meetings, even those with administration present, is not conducive to an actual space where students are truly heard and treated as agents of change on campus. Instead, much of the topics that are brought up do not allow for a diversity of thought and when students do express actual concerns, these concerns are lost in the administrative process. There is a real problem with the structure in that the SGO process does not seem conducive to a collaborative community since the process seems disconnected from the actual process of enacting changing and student voices disappear instead of actually being seen as real issues that need to be addressed on campus.

It’s important to note that many staff members care for the student body and that they truly want to do what’s best for their students. A facilities member at the SGO meeting discussed how they attempted to redesign one of the lounges in PPR with a minimal budget, and how they played a role in redesigning Essie’s to meet student needs. Dean Braun discussed how Mephisto’s was designed with the needs of the students in mind and how the administration was happy when students were proud to use the space. We at the Phoenix appreciate all the effort the school puts into making Swarthmore a comfortable community.

However, we at the Phoenix also feel the need to stress that the current system of hearing student voices through the SGO meetings is not effective. The administration at the meeting is too prepared to defend themselves than to actually listen to the advice and desires of the students. When one student brought up the strong desire for an outdoor study space, they were quickly shrugged off with a comment about how studying outdoors may not be the best option for wellness or how studying outdoors is not a part of the current project to make Danawell a more desirable space. First, if the administration were to listen to students main concerns on campus, they would know that Danawell is hardly the biggest priority for change on Swarthmore’s campus. Students would much rather have their concerns addressed for a student union, a renovated McCabe Library, or a bigger dining hall and smaller coffee bar lines before fixing one of the newest spaces on campus. Second, if the administration and SGO listened to student concerns, they would be willing to shift their priorities and initiatives to honor the voices of students rather than firmly abiding to their own preordained vision.

The SGO environment also fails to provide a space for active change. If students do bring up concerns and the administration at the meeting responds, they respond by directing students to other administrations in an endless circle of people to contact. At the meeting, at student brought up concerns about creating more party spaces that are not strictly wet or dry, and admin responded simply by stating that this was a good conversation, but more appropriate to address in front of Josh Ellow, the alcohol and other drugs coordinator. While we at the Phoenix support the inclusion of multiple staff members confronting an issue and recognize that jobs are delegated throughout campus, it is almost impossible for any real change to occur through SGO if students are always being directed elsewhere instead of hearing real solutions to their concerns.

Evaluating the safety of our staff in a snowstorm

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

The snow piles up on the ground outside, finally beginning to slow, yet its remnants promise to keep the conditions for the day dangerous and uncertain. Branches and fallen trees block pathways in the borough, and some residential areas darken as a result of damaged power lines.

Meanwhile, on campus, students roam the college and desperately hope their classes will be cancelled. Some students walk up the path of Parrish Beach, trudging the path that the essential employees from the grounds crew worked to clear. As these Swatties entered Parrish, however, they may have been surprised to notice that, despite many essential staff members reporting to work, the administrative office hall was practically a ghost town. Many administrative members deemed the snowy conditions too severe to come to work, despite the fact that required staff, including many EVS workers, dining staff, and grounds workers, were required to report to work in spite of the storm.

We at the Phoenix find this unfair as it places an unequal burden on essential staff relative to the administration. While we recognize that many people could not make it to work due to the conditions and while we respect the need to practice safety precautions, it is absolutely unfair that many higher administrators did not have to report to work while many staff members were not given the same options to practice such precautions. These staff members were not allowed to follow these precautions despite the fact that they are not paid as high a salary as the deans, and many do not have as reliable winter transportation considering some depend on public transportation. We believe that it sends the wrong message to staff members in our community that that their safety is not as important as the safety of other employees. This is especially a problem in that it demonstrates a hierarchy of importance in the college that respects the decisions and safety of higher administration without equally respecting this integrity of other staff members.

Of course, we at the Phoenix recognize that some staff truly are essential to the maintenance of the college, and that it would have been nearly impossible to maintain the college without these employees. For example, some members of grounds crew were absolutely essential in ensuring that paths remained clear and, thanks tremendously to them, students were still able to roam the paths of campus and make it to their scheduled classes without trudging through inches of snow. Dining staff in Sharples, Essie’s, Kohlberg, and Science Center were needed so that students could still eat properly in spite of the storm. And to be fair, we at the Phoenix recognize that the college did not necessarily make all EVS staff report to work, but left it up to “relevant departments” to decide if all staff members were absolutely necessary.

However, we at the Phoenix believe this becomes an issue when all of these essential staff members are expected to report to work, yet many members of the administration and higher staff do not need to follow the same expectations. While some of the administration may work from home, it still does not change the fact that they are not standing in solidarity with the essential staff who have no choice but to report to work. Clearly, changes in college policy need to be made to ensure that these staff members are still respected and treated fairly amongst other members of the college community. As a result, we at the Phoenix call for Swarthmore to either increase their expectations of the administration and higher staff to report to work or that the required staff members who do report to work receive extra compensation and respect for their time.

 

Who Has the Power? My Journey into Swat Bureaucracy

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Ever since the Board of Managers chose not to divest from fossil fuels, I’ve started envisioning the people “at the top” of the Swarthmore administration, who chose to ignore the strong student support of divestment. In my more dramatic moments, I imagined rows of white men in suits, all puppets of the fossil fuel industry, deliberately frustrating wide-eyed idealist students at every turn through heinous bureaucratic tricks. Basically, a combination of the Koch brothers and very unhelpful DMV employees.

That vision was very unfair of me; only half of the Board of Managers is composed of white men (take into account white women, though, and the Board is looking less diverse). Many are involved in philanthropy and nonprofit work.

But if the board isn’t all that bad, why did they avoid directly engaging with students? When student protesters moved to Kohlberg, where the Board of Managers planned to meet in the Scheueur Room, Dean Liz Braun heroically escorted the Board members into the room through the kitchen door, supposedly to avoid disturbing the protest. Call me a cynic, but I doubt they cared about disrupting the protest that much. Rather, I have a feeling they wanted to avoid the protesters (who were not, by any definition, a bloodthirsty bunch).

Searching through the managers’ biographies did not suggest any scandalous conflicts of interest that would explain the Board’s unwillingness to converse. A number of managers have worked for firms that the average noble, socially conscious Swattie would probably condemn — such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan —- and the members of the Investment Committee all work in finance, a number of them in private equity firms, but that is to be expected. I did find a potentially troubling connection through a non-Swarthmore publication; Chris Niemczewski ‘74, the Investment Committee’s chair, “is responsible for investing the endowment and finding external consultants and managers to invest and manage it;” he is also the president of the investment advisory firm Marshfield Associates, which Swarthmore paid almost $200,000 in investment management fees. One of Marshfield Associates’ major investments is in Deere and Devon Energy, a gas and petroleum producer. The Phoenix has previously noticed and discussed this possible conflict of interest. (http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/10/23/investment-committee-conflict-of-interest/).

It is worth noting that, before I started this research, I had no idea how powerful the Board of Managers truly is. I naively assumed that, since President Smith and the various deans were the ones from whom we got emails from and with whom we communicated, they were the people in charge. But it’s the Board that hires — and fires — the college’s presidents, that approves the Swarthmore budget, and that approves changes in salaries (http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2015/09/03/top-salaries-at-college-similar-to-those-at-peer-institutions/). Even in the Swat Bubble, money has power. President Smith inspires respect, even affection, in students. I was at the Mountain Justice sit-in, and appreciated that she took the effort to come and check on the students. I was less appreciative of the fact that she somewhat woodenly repeated the same line about the Board having made its decision. We’d like to think that Val calls the shots; but, ultimately, she seems to have little formal power with the managers.

Again, it’s unfair to generalize. The Board does have some diverse backgrounds, and I imagine there was some debate about divestment. Board Member David Singleton even came by the sit-in to engage with students, and admitted that divestment had proved effective in other colleges. Yet the managers as a whole proved unwilling to extend that debate to include students.

“We talk a lot about dialogue and critical thinking, and the Board wasn’t willing to engage with questions that are difficult,” points out Stephen O’Hanlon ‘17, a Mountain Justice coordinator. “[It’s] unacceptable that they aren’t engaging with something that was accepted by such a wide margin.”

In all the time I spent looking through the webpages for various Board committees, I did not feel as if the Board or the President’s Office was trying to hide shameful secrets or throw anyone off the track. From what I understand, Swarthmore is managed like an ordinary, not particularly corrupt private company. But maybe that’s the problem. We’re not just any private company, with shareholders and investors. Swarthmore’s very purpose is to “make its students more valuable human beings and more useful members of society…with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.” (Incidentally, I wasn’t aware one could become a more valuable human being).

In the world of private companies, presumably Swat students would be the equivalent of shareholders. But we won’t just be content with getting an end of they year report (or multiple emails from various offices, or a Self-Study Action Report that mentions the need for administrative transparency). We won’t just read the very bland short bios of the managers, and try to navigate the Board’s 11 committees through unhelpful webpages. Some Committees’ roles are not even explained — such as the Compensation Committee. Google has revealed that Compensation Committees decide salaries. Nothing specifies whose salaries, but I assume that this is the Committee of whom staff members would like to stay on the good side.

The Board proudly proclaims its commitment to Quaker values. Chief among these should be a willingness to fully include students in the decision-making process – to act by consensus, rather than avoid us. O’Hanlon worries that “there’s no formal way for students or faculty to influence the Board of Managers.”

The ultimately fruitless referendum seems to support O’Hanlon’s concerns. But Swat students have brains, passion, and a real commitment to changing things. In a few decades, some of us will be the next Board of Managers. Are we willing to speak out now, ask the Board for more transparency, more engagement with students, if not more inclusion in their decisions? Or will we also be sneaking in through the kitchen door 30 years from now?

 

(This article by a non-Swattie discusses the College’s endowment and investments, in addition to the one conflict of interest I may have found. It is definitely worth reading, at least to gain one outside perspective. http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/20150720_Richly_Endowed.html)

 

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