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President Smith: Peaceful protest at Swarthmore

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Peaceful protest and free speech have always been central to Swarthmore’s ethos, history, and identity. Today I want to reaffirm our long-standing commitment to the right of our students and all members of our community to protest peacefully. This right is among our proudest traditions and most essential values.

In April and May of 2015, students sat in peaceful protest in the hallway outside the Investment Office for almost five weeks, without incurring any conduct violations whatsoever. In fact, our student conduct policy explicitly and unequivocally supports students’ right to express their views, feelings, and beliefs inside and outside the classroom and to support causes publicly, including by demonstration. The policy clearly states, however, that these freedoms of expression must not “impinge on the rights of other members of the community” or the “essential operations of the College.” Disrupting the work of staff members or of an office violates this policy and intrudes on the rights of individuals.

On February 24, a group of ​three dozen community members who are passionate about climate change and support divestment, ​held a sit-in on the second floor of Parrish Hall in front of the Investment Office, the same hallway as in 2015. It was their right to do so, as it was in 2015. Most of the assembled students remained in the hallway, but some crowded into the Chief Investment Officer’s small office, preventing him from completing all but the most menial of tasks and restricting his movements and rights. The students who occupied the Investment Office were warned multiple times that they were in violation of the student conduct policy and were given the chance to move to the hallway to continue their protest. Several chose to return to the hallway; five others chose to remain in the office despite multiple warnings that they were occupying a staff member’s workspace and preventing him from doing his job.

Refusal to leave a staff member’s office clearly does not adhere to our student conduct policy. That policy needs to be applied equally and consistently, no matter who breaches it. And when there are intentional breaches, it is fair that those doing so face potential consequences which might include a warning or probation.

Here at Swarthmore we have focused considerable attention and resources on changing our energy use on our campus. We are now leading efforts to galvanize the institution of a carbon charge on college and university campuses around the country, and we are encouraging other higher education institutions to support carbon pricing publicly. Faculty in our Environmental Studies program offer courses that educate our students about the causes and consequences of climate change so that they might be empowered to create solutions to this urgent challenge. More than a dozen student organizations are dedicated to sustainability and to making a positive difference on this campus and in the world. While we may disagree with those who support divestment as a strategy, we agree on fundamental principles, including our deep commitment to environment sustainability and our enduring respect for peaceful protest both on this campus and beyond.

Valerie Smith, President

 

Mountain Justice stages sit-in and protest after Board’s divestment decision

in Around Campus/News by

Last Friday morning, members of Mountain Justice staged a sit-in protest in the office of Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz, following the Board of Manager’s decision to continue investment in fossil fuel industries despite a student referendum that urged the Board to divest. Later in the day, the Parrish Hall sit-in transitioned to a rally in Kohlberg Hall to disrupt the Board meeting taking place.

“Our purpose was to ask Mark Amstutz, Greg Brown, Val Smith, and the Board: do you truly stand behind this policy? While we understand that some restraint around using the endowment for social purposes is important, these same standards would have prevented us from divesting from the South African apartheid, a decision that we hope the entire Swarthmore community is glad the Board made,” said members of Mountain Justice in a statement.

According to members of MJ, 80 students plus a few faculty attended the sit-in, and characterized the sit-in as going “smoothly.” However, according to a Daily Gazette article, a “tense confrontation” ensued between Director of Public Safety Mike Hill and another MJ member. MJ members further explained why they chose the sit-in as a method of protest.

“We chose the sit-in because it was a concrete way for us to increase the pressure on the Board to take seriously the referendum and stop rejecting it simply because it would take social considerations into account when making investment decisions,” said the MJ members.

By Friday afternoon, the protest transitioned to a rally at Kohlberg Hall, where a Board of Managers meeting was taking place. During the livestreamed rally on Facebook, protestors sang, chanted, and gave speeches. With students lying on the ground with arms spread wide, the rally concluded with a “die-in,” where students pretended to be dead for approximately 15 minutes. This was meant to be representative of victims of injustice, in this case, climate change. During the die-in, Dean of Students Liz Braun announced that she would be escorting the board members and administration through the Kohlberg kitchen door to not interrupt the protest being held. Members of MJ said that the board’s refusal to engage directly with students was indefensible, in response.

Our goal is always to respect the rights of community members to engage in protest as long as it does not disrupt the business of the College. President Smith and Board Member David Singleton ’68 separately spoke with the students at the sit-in and both had pleasant exchanges,” said Braun in a statement after Friday’s events. She later reiterated the Board’s response to the referendum that had been emailed to the campus a day earlier.

Members of MJ concluded by reiterating their stance on divestment and citing other institutions that had divested from fossil fuels.

“Mountain Justice plans to continue to stand up for the values we want our College to uphold — commitment to leadership for the common good, social responsibility, and dedication to science. The Board’s refusal to engage with the referendum simply because it uses the endowment for social purposes goes against what we stand for as an institution,” they said. “Large universities like Yale, Stanford take social concerns into account when they invest and have all partially divested. Their refusal to consider the student referendum is unconscionable. It is a disrespect to the millions threatened by Trump’s disastrous climate policies and to the students who have overwhelmingly demanded the Board take a stand for our future.”

Legacy of namesakes more complicated than they appear

in Around Campus/News by

In recent years, students at several colleges and universities across the country have petitioned for the renaming of campus buildings bearing names of racist individuals. Swarthmore itself has never been the subject of such controversies, although larger universities such as Princeton and Yale have.

In early February, Yale University responded to student protests to remove the name of a residence hall honoring John C. Calhoun, the former U.S. vice president who was an avid supporter of slavery. According to BBC, the residential college will be renamed in honor of Grace Hopper, an alumna of the university who is well known for her work in computer science during World War II.

Princeton University was also the subject of recent controversy as it refused to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from campus iconography in spite of Wilson’s known support of racial segregation, according to The Daily Princetonian.

Christopher Densmore, curator of the Swarthmore Friends Historical Society, summarized the nature of Swarthmore’s own campus building names in light of the controversies at universities like Princeton and Yale.

“We just don’t have anybody like that,” Densmore said.

Densmore explained that many of Swarthmore’s buildings are named after founders of the college or philanthropists and donors, several of whom were Quakers and anti-slavery activists. For instance, Samuel Willets was a member of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of New York and was involved in the anti-slavery movement. He was also the speaker at both the college’s opening ceremony and the first graduation, according to the college’s website. Members of the Clothier family were Hicksite Quakers who supported the college for a long time. Joseph Wharton, also a Hicksite Quaker, served on the board of managers for over thirty-five years and dedicated a sum of his earnings as a businessman to establishing the college. Beardsley was a professor of engineering who helped gather financial supports to establish Swarthmore. Edward Parrish was the first president of the college after its founding.

Vice President of Advancement Karl Clauss stated that there is no specific process for naming buildings.

Although many of the campus’s buildings are named for philanthropists who have contributed large donations to the college, Swarthmore rejected a substantial endowment from Anna T. Jeanes in 1907 because, according to authors Patricia C. O’Donnell and Susanna K. Morikawa of the Swarthmore Borough, it came with the requirement that the college suspend intercollegiate sports.

“The college decided it didn’t want to be dictated by outside money,” said Densmore.

Swarthmore’s campus names have never been the source of major controversy themselves, but a small number belong to individuals with controversial pasts.

Alice Paul, who has a residence hall named in her honor, is a Swarthmore alum and has been championed as a leader in the women’s rights movement of the early 1900s. However, Paul’s views on race have been controversial both at the time of the historic 1913 women’s suffrage parade and in recent years. An article in the Richmond, Virginia newspaper The Times-Dispatch, published Mar. 2, 1913, just one day before the march, documents Paul’s opposition to the participation of black women in the demonstration.

According to the article: “Miss Paul informed some negro suffragists who wish to march that while the National [American Woman Suffrage] Association recognizes equal rights for colored women … the people of the South might take unkindly to their presence in the parade.”

Paul believed the “negro question” threatened her vision for a women’s suffrage movement.

“As far as I can see we must have a white procession, or a negro procession, or no procession at all. [The best solution is to] say nothing whatever about the question, to keep it out of the newspapers, to try to make this a purely Suffrage demonstration entirely uncomplicated by any other problems such as racial ones,” wrote Paul, whose words are documented in the 2014 book Alice Paul: Claiming Power by authors J.D. Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry.

Paul’s views were not unique in the women’s suffrage movement. Suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony also shared the opinion that pro-black activism would undermine the road to the women’s vote. Anthony famously said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”

Mary Lyon, after whom the Mary Lyon residence hall is named, is believed to have held similarly unfavorable views. Lyon was a pioneer in women’s education and established the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, which was the first women’s college and is now known as Mount Holyoke College.

According to Mount Holyoke’s website: “Mary Lyon proved that women were as intellectually capable as men, and that an institution for women offering a college curriculum could survive financially.”

According to associate professor of history Mary Renda at Mount Holyoke College, Lyon was possibly opposed to the abolitionist movement, and also believed in the assimilation of all people into Anglo-Saxon cultural standards.

“[Among Lyon’s comments were] words to encourage full assimilation to Anglo-Saxon New England norms, spoken to a student body that included two Cherokee sisters who attended Mount Holyoke in the 1840s; [and] words of remonstrance heard by the young abolitionist Lucy Stone, then a Seminary student, who placed unauthorized anti-slavery literature in the reading room,” wrote Renda in a 2012 piece in the Alumnae Quarterly of Mount Holyoke College.

In her piece, Renda also claimed that Lyon expressed heavily anti-Catholic sentiments.

“[Lyon held] derogatory views of Irish immigrant servant girls whom the Seminary was able to exclude from its ‘household,’” wrote Renda.

Author Amanda Porterfield of the book Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries explained that Lyon’s lack of exposure to ethnic diversity limited her perceptions of other religious denominations, and that this may have undermined her revolutionary vision.

“[Lyon] probably did not think much about how her intolerance for non-Protestant religions conflicted with her ability to help the women of other cultures. She had little firsthand experience of ethnic diversity herself, and she did not anticipate any of the ways in which the ethnocentrism of her religious vision would undermine its credibility,” Porterfield wrote.

Eugene M. Lang, who graduated from Swarthmore in 1938, has been honored for his philanthropy through the establishment of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and the Lang Performing Arts Center. In 2012, he donated the largest gift that Swarthmore has received to date, an amount totaling 50 million dollars.

Lang rose to fame when he promised a group of Harlem students that he would cover their college expenses if they graduated high school. President Bill Clinton recounted this story when he awarded Lang the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1996.

“Hardly anyone has ever done more personally to give people who didn’t have it, opportunity, than Eugene Lang … His I Have a Dream Foundation has opened the doors of college for thousands of young people who seize the opportunity he offered. He has helped to make the most of their God-given abilities,” Clinton said.

Even so, Lang’s business practices have come under scrutiny. A 1990 article in the Washington Post affirmed that Lang’s company, Refac Technology Development Corporation, was accused of practicing legal extortion, making millions of dollars through suing manufacturers for alleged patent infringement.

Bernard E. Appel, the president of the Tandy Corporation Radio Shack chain at the time and a target of at least one Refac lawsuit (there were more than a thousand), shared his belief that Lang’s company was guilty of “patent blackmail.”

”They are trying to live off industry by using fear and intimidation. It’s a disgrace of the legal system,” said Appel to the Post.

Vice President of Advancement Karl Clauss believes that Lang’s lifetime of achievements and role as a visionary who sought to make college education accessible make him a representative individual of the Quaker values and emphasis on philanthropy on which the college is built.

“Eugene Lang’s example serves as a testament to the Quaker adage of ‘letting your life speak’ and has inspired countless others to engage in meaningful philanthropy,” Clauss said.

The use of Papazian Hall has been questionable in the past. Before it was used as an academic building, Papazian was a research site occupied by the Bartol Foundation between 1927 and 1977. According to The Swarthmorean, days after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was revealed that the foundation had been involved in atomic research.

After the Bartol Foundation turned over Papazian to the college to be used as an academic building, there was concern that there might be nuclear residue on the former research site. According to a 2013 article in The Phoenix, the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program investigated the site for possible remnants of uranium in December of 1987, and determined that the site was clear.

Overall, the controversies in the histories of Swarthmore’s buildings do not significantly undermine the college’s liberal arts purpose. The individuals who make up Swarthmore’s campus names are not without flaws, but as a whole they represent the college’s vision of innovation, philanthropy, and social justice.

Editorial: Standing Together

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Scrolling through various news sources, one can’t help but sit in terror at the thought of the news on the screen. Trump has created an unprecedented executive order that threatens every value for which America stands, including freedom and the right for everyone to follow their pursuit of happiness. His executive order, posing a travel ban that prevents refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 120 days, is the direct opposite of what it means to be a collective community of Americans.

While we recognize other political ideologies on campus, we at the Phoenix want to make it clear that we will not tolerate this threat to personal freedom. Because it affects many students who are a part of our Swarthmore community, we believe that regardless of political ideology, we can all stand together in rejecting this travel ban; we believe that we can all support those in our community impacted by the ban.

We refuse to forget that America itself was founded and maintained by immigrants. We would not be the United States without contributions of various cultures and we would not be the U.S. without a diversity of cultures to share in the benefits of our advances. Immigrants, and particularly in this context, Muslim immigrants, have contributed far more good than harm to our country. We also reject Trump’s justifications for his actions. The people affected by the travel ban are children, families, and individuals trying to pursue their dreams. They are not evil people and they are not a threat to the United States; they are only trying to live their lives.  

We, at the Phoenix, must further emphasize that Muslim immigrants and refugees belong in this country. To students on campus from international countries or who are affected by the ban, please know that you belong in the United States because you are a person with inalienable human rights and your own set of personal qualities that make you unique. Despite the horrible rhetoric throughout the country, you belong in the United States because you are an individual with your own goals to pursue. Perhaps most importantly, despite the hate speech throughout the country, you belong in the United States because we all want you in the United States. You are part of our family in the Swarthmore community.

While we recognize that political ideologies may differ, we can all agree that every member of our Swarthmore community belongs at Swat and that we must support each member of our community during these turbulent times. This threat to members of our community is exactly why we all need to stand together in fighting against the travel ban, regardless of political beliefs or ideologies.

At the same time, we must recognize that solidarity can only go so far and declaring our support does not eliminate the pain and very real fear from the horrific events around the country. While we always support those in our Swarthmore family who are hurting during these trying times, stating our support does not fix the problems at hand. Nevertheless, we do want to encourage those who can take action to do so, regardless of political party, and we want to provide resources throughout this process for anyone and everyone who is ready to fight against the oppression. There are many small ways to begin taking action and to show support for those hurting. You can call your senators and local politicians, asking them to fight against the travel ban and emphasizing that you will never vote for a politician who supports the ban. If you are registered to vote in Pennsylvania, you can call Senator Vincent Hughes at (215) 879-7777 or Senator Lawrence Farnese at (717) 787-5662. Groups are also organizing pop-up phone banks throughout campus to continue fighting against the ban. Contact political groups on campus to see how you can get involved. Swarthmore is hosting events to provide a voice against the executive orders including a Panel Discussion on Trump’s Executive Orders led by the Intercultural Center at 6:30p.m. on Thursday, February 2nd.

Finally, we encourage you to share your energy and frustration with the outside community by organizing and attending protests and marches. This week alone there will be a March Against Discrimination, Canvassing to Stand with Muslims, and a March for Humanity. Check the Reserved Student Digest and Facebook events to stay informed about how you can speak out against this threat to our community.

We, at the Phoenix, take pride in our community, including our diverse cultures, and we will continue to provide support and encourage action against any actions that threaten any individual in our community. As part of our effort as a news organization to stand by our community, we have decided to begin publishing a new feature series, “Life under Trump.” We are interested in hearing from members of our community who have been affected by Trump’s recent executive orders and, if they feel compelled to do so, to send in testimony of their experiences to editor@swarthmorephoenix.com. We hope to collect stories of community members who have been, or have family members who have been, directly affected by the actions of the Trump administration and publish a collection of this testimony each week. Our goal is to humanize the dangerous implications of the executive orders, to give a platform to those who are increasingly denied a voice, and to prevent the creation of an othered or erased victimhood in light of the current political climate.

Students demonstrate in solidarity with Mizzou

in Around Campus/Around Higher Education/Breaking News/News by
A'Dorian Murray-Thomas '16 speaks to demonstrators.
A’Dorian Murray-Thomas ’16 speaks to demonstrators. Photo by Bobby Zipp

Last Thursday, from 11:00 a.m to 1:15 p.m, students gathered on the first floor of Parrish Hall, lining the hallway from north to south, to stand in solidarity with students of color at the University of Missouri, who have been the subjects of violent threats in recent days. The demonstration, which was organized by the Swarthmore African American Student Society, was in direct response to a call to action issued by the Missouri student group, Concerned Student 1950, asking that black students and their allies come together nationwide to hold on-campus demonstrations, and acknowledging the systemic racism that exists within American colleges and universities.

“I think what was different about this was that this was in response to a direct need and a direct ask from the people who were most affected by this at Mizzou,” said A’Dorian Murray Thomas ’16 co-president of SASS. “I think when the idea was brought up to mobilize around this, there was a lot of widespread buy-in because we knew we weren’t doing this for us, we were doing this for the movement, and we were doing this in response to what people specifically called for.”

The call to action, which was written by Ravyn Brooks ’17, a junior at Missouri State University, asked the leaders of black student organizations around the country to coordinate “organized” and “focused” demonstrations to take place on November 12th. While these demonstrations could take any form, and could include institution-specific demands, Brooks and members of Concerned Student 1950 explained that the key focus should be to show solidarity amongst the black collegiate community in support of students of color at Mizzou.

“We’re doing our part,” said Al Brooks ’16, former co-president of SASS. “We’re answering the call.”

As students dressed in all black linked arms in Parrish’s central hallway, SASS co-president Tyrone Clay ’18 spoke to the crowd, describing the recent events that have taken place on Mizzou’s campus, particularly violent threats made against students of color over Yik Yak and other forms of social media in light of the resignation of President Tim Wolfe on Tuesday. Clay emphasized the culture of fear that has silenced the black community on Mizzou’s campus, especially in recent days, and explained that SASS’s demonstration was to acknowledge that while these students’ voices may have been suppressed by their university’s administration, they are still being recognized on other campuses.

“The focus was really on bringing support and awareness to what’s going on there,” said SASS vice president, Taylor Clark ’16. “It was about being present and to demonstrate that we hear you. Not everyone’s hearing you right now, so we hear you.”

As a symbol of their solidarity, many students of color wore tape over their mouths to draw attention to the ways in which black students’ demands for an administrative response to hate speech and other racial aggressions on Mizzou’s campus have been ignored by President Wolfe. But while this demonstration of “power in silence” was organized largely as a direct response to recent events at Mizzou, it was also an opportunity for students of color to express the ways in which they often feel silenced at the college.

“The extreme experiences of the students at Mizzou also in some way reflect the everyday experiences that black students have on this campus,” said Louis Laine ’16, former outreach coordinator for SASS. “For me specifically, having the tape across people’s mouths reflects people being silenced, people being in the classroom and not feeling like you can even raise your hand to ask for help or you can’t go to office hours and do the everyday things that other people feel that they have a right to, but to us it feels like a burden…We have to acknowledge the ways in which students everyday are still struggling.”

Clark agreed.

“Swarthmore is not exempt even though I feel like we like to think that it is,” she explained. “We like to think that we’re this liberal bubble that’s just so far from the barbaric nature of the south, but we don’t talk about these daily microaggressions…I think we have to pressure Swarthmore to look in the mirror a bit and say although it’s not as extreme, it’s still a pertinent issue, a daily struggle.”

According to Clark, one of the more successful elements of the demonstration was the selection of images shedding light on some of the incidents of vandalism at the college within the past few years, reminding students that racial tensions remain prevalent on campus. While one poster described the racial epithet found spraypainted on a log in the Crum last summer, another recounted repeated instances of urination on the Intercultural Center during the spring of 2013. As demonstrators stood in silence, passersby stopped to read this signage and consider its content.

“We wanted, first, to make people feel uncomfortable, and second, to have our actions speak louder than words,” Clark explained. “I think having these visuals, having people read, and having people see people is way more powerful than yelling into a mic or using those type of fear tactics. I think it’s way more powerful…to walk down a corridor with people looking at you, and you’re reading all these things, and it’s just more of a feeling.”

Both Clark and Murray-Thomas explained that these tactics of demonstration were by no means new to Swarthmore. The protests during the Spring of 2013 in which demonstrators linked arms outside of Sharples to call for an administrative response to racial discrimination and hate speech on campus, as well as the activism of black students involved in Black Liberation 1969, served as the inspirations for the demonstration.

“In response to…abuses of the administration in the 1960s, black students did sit-ins, and they protested, and they took what seemed like drastic steps to defend their humanity and to defend that black lives matter,” Murray-Thomas said. “Sometimes it takes social indecency to get things done. That’s why I see a lot of parallels between what’s happened here and what’s happening here.”

Tying together past and present, one of the most powerful moments of the demonstration occurred when Brooks listed the myriad reforms that had been demanded by black student activists in 1969, but more than forty years later still have yet to be realized at the college. Brooks spoke of the need for the admission of more black students so as to fairly represent the demographic composition of the U.S., the admission of more low income students, and the provision of the necessary services and support systems to empower these students to graduate. He also added other demands that SASS has developed more recently such as a mandatory diversity training program for students, faculty, and staff, as well as the establishment of a Black Studies Department and diversity course requirement.

“There are still students who graduate from this school who do not affirm that black lives matter and who are going to go out and say offensive things and represent this school in a way that is just unbecoming of a Swarthmore graduate or really anybody,” Brooks explained. “When we allow people to be siloed off in their own communities and say ‘All that activism is not for me. I’m going to stick to my guns and my identity and do what it takes to maintain the status quo that benefits me and my own lifestyle,’ it can be very offensive and problematic for black students.”

Despite the work to be done, Brooks and the other members of SASS commended the administration and many members of the Deans’ Office for showing their support by attending the demonstration.

“All of this is not to cut Swat short for all that it does do or all that it can do,” Brooks said. “Today the Bias Response Policy came out…which is something that we are very grateful that the Deans have put in place…because that’s something we’ve been working on for four years. But there is more that it could do.”

Liz Braun, Dean of Students at the college, was one of the administrators who attended this morning’s demonstration, agreed that there was more work to be done. She explained that she appreciated the ways in which students tied together the critical issues that the college has faced both past and present and hoped to see more conversations around these issues in the future.

“I was deeply moved and inspired by the leadership from the students from SASS today in asking us all to stand with them in solidarity with the students at University of Missouri,” Braun explained. “I support and deeply respect their desire to both show solidarity and continue to raise the visibility of our own history and ongoing struggles as a College.

Looking to the future, all of the demonstration’s organizers agreed that they hoped this type of awareness-raising activism could continue to inspire discourse on these topics.

“Now we have this thought of what’s next, but I don’t want to us to just do this but not change anything because we’re all seniors except for Tyrone,” Murray-Thomas said. “We were talking about this last night that we don’t want to come back to Swarthmore 10 to 15 years from now and it’s just the same. It’s a great place but there is just so much left to be done and we just feel pressured and motivated by this call to action and this conversation that we started, and our hope is that it ends with some sort of fruitful changes.”

Updated on November 18

Students voice need for further discussion of Black Lives Matter

in Campus Journal by

Last year, first-year orientation began only three weeks after Mike Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, just as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum and began to command attention from mainstream media outlets. Over this past summer, the Black Lives Matter network continued to grow and evolve, recently beginning to engage with the electoral politics by showing up at campaign events for Democratic presidential candidates and continually demanding that racial justice be at the top of the mainstream political agenda. Amid all of this action, Swarthmore students again return to campus and settle back in for another year in the proverbial “bubble.”

Since the protests in Ferguson began, police murder and racial injustice have filled the headlines with growing frequency. For some students, including Kara Bledsoe ’16, the campus community’s reaction to those headlines was disappointing. Bledsoe said, “I always thought of Swarthmore as a place where those types of discussions happen and where people were open to having them, but the majority of the responses that I came across were like ‘That’s not really relevant to my life’ or ‘I don’t really wanna talk about that.’”

Kemi Oladipo ’18, the Social Coordinator for the Swarthmore African American Student Society, saw a similar trend, particularly among non-black students. “I don’t think I was talking about what was happening with Black Lives Matter with people outside the Black community,” she said.

Joelle Bueno ’18 also noticed a lack of campus-wide conversation. Arriving at Swarthmore last year as a first year, Bueno didn’t immediately see the political activism she had expected based on the college’s reputation. She noticed that while many students are doing activist work, much of it is off-campus. Bueno joined Race to Action last fall because of its potential to fill that void for on-campus action and discussion.

“Race to Action seemed to be one of the only groups having these big events, campus-wide events, that were trying to make a statement and also include everyone on campus,” she said. Bueno said this was what motivated her to attend their meetings.

A student group that started last fall, Race to Action says on its Facebook page that it seeks to “provide creative pathways to effectively bring intercultural issues to light and to motivate people to act.” The group’s programming began last September with a well-attended march and vigil, which

Arjun Raghuraman ’15, one of the group’s leaders, said was supposed to be a one-off event, until the response of the campus inspired the event organizers to do more. The group met and held a few more events, including a Halloween photo campaign against racial appropriation.

However, as the group sought to expand their scope and unite over a range of causes, Louis Lainé ’15, another group leader, said that the attempt to meet everyone’s differing interests led to confusion. The group does not have plans to continue meeting this year.

Bueno said that the group’s difficulty in carrying the energy forward into more productive actions speaks more to a common problem among Swarthmore student clubs, rather than to a lack of need or of good intentions.

While it may have been difficult to conduct productive conversations around Black Lives Matter that included all of Swarthmore’s community, students individually turned to friends and informal gatherings in order to process grief, anger, and frustration about the news.

For Bledsoe, it was important to have spaces to process the news as well as racial microaggressions that occur on campus. “I really sought out the company of other Black people on campus, and that was something that was new for me and something that was really wonderful,” she commented.

Allison Alcéna ’17, a former member of the SASS executive board, said that coming together with friends was especially helpful, and that being able to talk about anger and hurt without the expectation of being constructive made these small talks different from SASS meetings or class discussions. But Alcéna also found value in more formal spaces to engage with news about Black Lives Matter, she said. Particularly in her Introduction to Black Studies class last fall, Alcéna found that relevant coursework gave her the tools to historicize news about police brutality, and the knowledge to back up her opinions on the matter.

Bledsoe similarly appreciated that a Swarthmore education gives students the language needed to discuss the root of the problems addressed by Black Lives Matter, and was happy to engage in such discussions with the Black community on campus.

Charlie Aprile ’18 has a similar appreciation for the discussions among Black students and for their campus activism at Swarthmore and elsewhere, though he hopes that on-campus conversation will broaden in scope. “We tend to focus on the individual level of our oppression rather than talking about the general connection of issues that are raised by Black Lives Matter to the exploitation of Black people and non-whites in general, in an economic sense,” he said.

Though many students have clear ideas about what they would like to see happening on campus, finding the most effective ways to initiate such discussion and action is less clear. Some do not believe it is the responsibility of faculty or administration to facilitate campus-wide discussions or activism around Black Lives Matter. Alcéna noted that historically, on college campuses, students are the ones to effect institutional change. “Institutions should cater to students’ needs … students need to be explicit with what their demands are and what they want to see the college do,” she said.

While Oladipo agreed that student-led initiatives would be more successful, because of students’ abilities to draw people in through connected social circles, she feels that the administration is also obligated to be involved, given that the violence that Black people experience in this country is a risk for Swarthmore students as well.

The students interviewed for this piece shared a concern that whatever conversations happen on campus about Black Lives Matter, students who are not already involved or interested in the issues can easily avoid talking or thinking about it. Raghuraman said that as a member of multiple campus groups, including Phi Psi, he is especially aware of this phenomenon. “There are certain places you can expect to have these conversations [and] some places where you will never hear it,” he said.

Maria Castaneda ’18, one of the student leaders for the Tri-College Summer Multicultural Institute this year, suggested a problem with thinking of Swarthmore as a bubble. “That makes it easier for us to act like our campus is a utopia where we don’t encounter racism, when we know that’s not the case,” she said. While some students were adamant about not wanting to force others to care about any particular cause, there was a general desire for more widespread conversation and solidarity.

Bueno, who is an Intercultural Center intern this year, believes that the Intercultural Center holds a lot of potential for fostering a sense of community that will be both nurturing and productive. She said the administrators she has spoken to, especially Assistant Director of the IC Mo Lotif, are aware of this need and committed to meeting it. Bueno said the IC hopes to build community this year. “I think that’s having fun events, that’s celebrating our cultures, but I think that’s also addressing needs and filling holes and giving spaces for people to talk or have their voices heard,” she said.

Dean Dion Lewis, Director of the Black Cultural Center and interim Director of the IC, would like to continue discussions about Black Lives Matter, and other issues that pertain to populations of Swarthmore students.  “It is my desire to continue these dialogues in an environment that is respectful, yields learning outcomes, and reminds us of what it means to be human,” he said. He hopes that students with suggestions for IC or BCC programming will approach him as the new year begins.

Bledsoe suggested a simple step to be taken by non-black students, urging people to attend events and parties hosted by SASS, the BCC, or other Black student groups. Non-black attendance at these events in the past has been low, she believes, because of discomfort and nervousness on the part of non-black students. As a “good faith gesture” on the part of non-black students, Bledsoe hopes to see higher and more diverse attendance at these types of events.

 

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