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Grow up: community and entitlement don’t mix

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Last Friday I woke up at 6:30 a.m. I like to make my breakfast before I catch the train to Philly for my student teaching placement. When I groggily traipsed into the Danawell kitchen where I keep my smoothie ingredients and blender, I walked into what appeared to be the scene of a middle school food fight. Food scraps, napkins, paper plates, and red Solo cups were strewn about the communal space, and sticky liquids had dried in a stream dripping down the counters onto the floor. Disgusted, I stepped gingerly around the floor, careful not to slip on the puddles of god-knows-what moist gunk. I didn’t have to get my blender out of the drawer because it was already out and used by a stranger who didn’t ask permission and didn’t wash it when they were done. This is what I wake up to at least three times a week, and I have encountered similar instances throughout my three-and-a-half-years at Swarthmore.

As enraged as the abuse of common space and utter disregard for fellow students makes me, this is not half as bad as what EVS must tolerate. It’s time that more people begin to call out peers for this intolerable disrespect. I am not the first to raise this issue in our community, and I hope I will not be the last. There are three issues I see with students leaving messes for EVS to clean up.

  1. The disrespect and utter disregard for EVS workers and other students resulting from a lack of empathy (you can argue for laziness, but when it affects others, it’s just selfish).
  2. The entitlement and immaturity these acts communicate. It’s okay to be immature, but it’s not acceptable to act it out.
  3. This is a racialized, classist, and sexist issue.

 

1) The EVS page on the Swarthmore website states, “The Environmental Services staff is dedicated to keeping campus facilities well managed in support of students, faculty, staff, and visitors,” not “dedicated to cleaning up after careless students who make a mess and expect someone else to clean it up.” If you cook something in a communal kitchen or party in a communal space, consider the people who have as much right to the space as you, who will inhabit or use it next, and respect those in our community who do so much and get so little appreciation, such as the marvelous EVS staff.

We live in a community. If you lived alone, you would be welcome to leave your crusty pots in the sink for years, and no one would care. However, we all elected to be a part of this special community and the reality is that most spaces on campus are shared spaces, so we should do our share and clean up. Didn’t anyone listen to Barney when they were younger? What about the Golden Rule? Treat others how you want to be treated? This is the definition of empathy. This is what we teach our children—why I teach.

Libertarians would have us believe that individuals in society are free agents. But belonging to a society means that you relinquish some of your freedom in exchange for the benefits of belonging. People need roads and bridges to get to work and pay taxes to maintain them. We like order and leadership, so we consign our voices to our elected representatives, however corrupt and dysfunctional this system may be. If society as a whole operated the way students at Swarthmore act, it would be detrimental to everyone! Aloof intellectuals may sip wine and diagnose, “This cannot be helped, it is the tragedy of the commons,” but just because it’s a social trend doesn’t mean we have to acquiesce to it. Swarthmore, we can do better.

Learning social responsibility is part of growing up. You can’t do whatever you want with no consequences. This is no longer high school where we live at home and someone takes care of us. This is college and we are responsible for ourselves. Growing up is intimidating, but you cannot act out by disrespecting and harming others.

2) The entitlement communicated by these selfish acts represents a complete lack of regard for others and the privilege not to care about them. The privilege an individual must possess in order to disregard the reality that your actions impact others indicates a profound disconnect from the people doing the labor of cleaning. Would you like to be the person who has to dig soggy pasta out of the drain of the sink in Parrish? In her book “Why Grow Up,” Susan Neiman explains the process of growing up as “reconciling the way you want the world to be with the way the world is.” It would be nice if we didn’t have to clean up after ourselves, but that is childhood. And if you are saying to yourself, “But I was going to wash my plates in the sink, I just had to finish my paper then I was gonna come back!” I would call BS.

3) This is a racialized, classist, sexist issue. Women, most often women of color, and poor people are always cleaning up the messes of more privileged people (but I’m also not saying you have to be privileged to be an asshole). The majority of EVS staff are African American men and women. The EVS workers who clean the dorms and communal spaces are frequently women. I don’t know what an EVS salary looks like at Swarthmore, but when my mother was a house cleaner in L.A., she told me she made shit wages and from talking to the janitorial staff at my high school I know they did too.

African Americans, especially Black women, have historically been pegged as domestic workers and caretakers and have never been respected for this challenging and compassionate labor. It’s time the culture that devalues this invaluable labor stops. I challenge any individual who went to Jungle Party this past weekend to try and do what EVS does every day. I highly recommend reading the opinion piece published in the Huffington Post titled “Do We Care For The Black Women Who Care For Us?”by Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, about women of color who care for us, specifically in the care industry, but many of the same themes apply. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/alicia-garza/do-we-care-for-black-women_b_9272422.html )

In conclusion, get your head out of your ass, and wake up and smell your own garbage. Being an adult isn’t so bad, and no one expects college students to be grown-ups (I am certainly not yet one). The college takes care of us as we figure out what adulthood means, and part of our job is to try to be decent human beings to each other. This is a small community—talk to people who are different from you! Get to know them, and forge connections that may make you uncomfortable initially. One might even argue that human connection across differing social groups would solve some very important problems in our nation, and it’s not the job of the people doing all the labor to start the conversation.

Sharing Stories, Creating Solutions

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

As my study abroad experience is beginning to reach its end, I can’t help but reflect on the scenes I have encountered and the stories I have heard from such a diverse spectrum of people. On one hand, looking back, it seems easy to feel despair about the current state of the world. In Vietnam, I was struck by how people had to wear air masks outside each day because of the contaminants in the air. But I was even more struck by how Westernization has caused people in Vietnam to be ashamed of their skin, wearing long sleeves and jeans in the 100-degree weather in an attempt to make themselves more “white.” In South Africa, I witnessed the very real effects of apartheid, including black communities remaining significantly more impoverished and faced with more crime than white communities; never mind the fact that there shouldn’t have been a separation between black and white communities in the first place, since “apartheid is over.”

Even in Argentina, there are so many injustices linked to global issues that cause an unimaginable amount of human suffering. Argentina also faces a huge disparity in living conditions and access to basic resources between the rich and poor. Similar to immigrants in the United States and South Africa, immigrants in Argentina face struggles of obtaining citizenship or assimilating into the country. Recognizing how these disparities have been issues across the world, I find moments where I can’t help but feel hopeless. How can problems of human suffering and lack of basic human rights even begin to be addressed when the problems seem so universal? How does one remain optimistic about creating change when there is so much politics or negativity against oneself?

Yet, while studying abroad has given me a broader perspective on the scope of world problems, it has also granted me insight into how to be part of the solution. It has demonstrated to me that, while one person can not eliminate an entire global problem, creating local solutions can make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people and begin to inspire other communities around the world to create change. Through the power of story and sharing the successes of one community in addressing a problem, a global movement can begin.

When visiting a community impacted by environmental injustice, I witnessed the power of narrative firsthand. Isla Maciel is a low-income neighborhood in the Greater Province of Buenos Aires. It is located next to the Riachuelo River, one of the most polluted rivers in the world, and houses petroleum companies and a power plant. In Isla Maciel, not only are members of the community exposed to high amounts of environmental toxins, but they are also plagued with inadequate housing and lack of access to jobs. As one member of the community described, people live in this community because “the poor are forced to have the land that no one else wants.”

Nevertheless, the community of Isla Maciel has not succumbed to their hardships. Instead, they continue to implement their own solutions. The Isla Maciel Foundation has  established “the micro-credit program” to tackle inadequate housing, “El Comedor,”  a soup kitchen, and “Casa de Maria,” a “problematic substance consumption” intervention, to ensure access to basic needs.  They have even created a job training program for youth, which includes a computer repair workshop, a screen printing workshop, and a healthy baking program.

During my visit to Isla Maciel, I had the opportunity to talk with the teenager who manages the screen printing workshop. It is impossible to describe how incredibly inspired I was by the light in his eyes as he discussed how the workshop made him excited for the future. Not only did the workshop mean he had an employable skill, but it also meant he had a passion that he could continue to share with other teenagers in the community.

But the narrative of resilience did not stop there. As I continued to learn about the community, the Isla Maciel Foundation continued to describe their work by telling me about the lives of community members or children whose lives they had changed. In doing so, they utilized the power of story to illustrate how local solutions can contribute to a global movement. At the end of my visit to Isla Maciel, the coordinator told us that the foundation encourages people to visit their community so that they may “defeat barriers, destigmatize communities, and form relationships with people who wouldn’t otherwise know.” In doing so, they spread knowledge of interventions and serve as a voice for similar communities around the world. And I can guarantee that they succeeded. Upon leaving the community, I told everyone about the strength and solutions of Isla Maciel, and I am still motivated to do so because I find Isla Maciel a story of hope and a testimony that meaningful change is possible.

Through Isla Maciel and my time in Argentina, it has become evident that Argentina is only one place in a global network where social justice movements begin. Around the world, communities are implementing solutions for injustices, sharing those stories through the power of narrative, and therefore creating global movements. It is also an example of why communities need to continue to advocate for their own rights and create new solutions, even if it feels as if the problem is simply too great to be solved.

As Swatties, it can be easy to become disheartened by our fight for social justice, especially as we learn about the scale of a problem or the barriers to creating change. However, it is important to remember that every action toward making a difference counts, no matter how small. By creating change locally, you are not only helping the lives of people in that community, but you are also implementing innovative solutions of change that can be scaled up across the world. Through the power of narrative, a dialogue of solutions is created, allowing innovative programs to be replicated in a larger context.

What do you want in a provost?

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

The student body has a chance to make huge amounts of change this semester and next. No, it’s not necessarily through a new walk out or protest, and Election Day has come and gone. Instead, we can guide essential programming of our academic program here at the college.  

A panel of faculty has come together to begin selection of a new college provost. As leader of faculty and director of curriculum, the provost commands a great deal of power over the academic program and a huge portion of our lives here as undergraduates. We think that most students do not have direct contact with the provost, but the student body should be very conscious of the decisionmaking process. Because the provost has the power to define academic programming for years, we should think on what our academic priorities are and voice support for candidates that will be receptive to those proposals.

Consistent considerations students bring up are a social justice distribution requirement, Credit / No Credit reform, and the expansion of programs that center on marginalized groups to majors. This selection gives students a more timely reason to discuss these issues as a campus more wholeheartedly and redefine our objectives for these potential programs instead of relegating these discussions to random roundtables on Cornell first or in committees.

These discussions could accomplish three goals. First, it will outline a student proposal to present to the college for potential change, the opportunity to connect wide and narrow interests, and give us a unified voice to negotiate with faculty and administrators. Second, it also gives us qualities and motivations we want to see in a provost. Lastly, it could also give the student body points of conversation with the incoming provost about ways to better incorporate student initiative in academia. These considerations and potential benefits are not the only things relevant to the selection of provost, and provosts do much more than just cater to student wants and motivations. However, we engage here as students most everyday, and if academic policy will be shaped for years to come, we should take initiative to have as much space in the room as we can.

As this long term process proceeds, students should reach out to professors they know or learn how to be on the selection committee. Let them know what you would value in a provost and what you want to stay the same or change about the academic program here. How can your time as a student here be made better?

Things here don’t change in a matter of a year, and usually not in a student’s time at the college either. We should take the opportunities we have to make change when the institution, which historically does not barrel through decision making, is in a changing mood.

A hidden value

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

I am currently residing in a hostel in Cape Town, South Africa, living what most people would consider the dream. Over the course of two months, I have lived in Washington D.C., Vietnam, and South Africa. In a week, I will be off to my last stint of my study abroad experience in Argentina. I have had the once in a lifetime opportunity to experience both rural and urban settings across the world. In the process, I have become a member of three different families, all of which are likely to be lifelong friendships. The experiences I have had this semester are more diverse than what some people may have in a lifetime, and I can not even begin to express how grateful I am for this incredible opportunity.

Yet, even as I am living the so-called dream, I find myself in moments like today, where I can’t help but feel a little lost and uneasy. Roaming the bustling markets of Greenmarket Square and walking along the pier at Waterfront this afternoon, everything seemed so distant, as if it wasn’t really happening to me. So many days on the program, I’ve felt the same disoriented feeling. I’ve gone to bed in the comfort of my Auntie’s (host mom’s) home, and been hesitant to close my eyes because reality already seems so far away, would sleep make it disappear altogether?

At first, I was at a loss for how I could possibly have so many moments of unhappiness despite having such a transformative and unique experience. I felt ashamed of myself because, while I can’t stop acknowledging how incredibly lucky and privileged I am to be abroad, I question whether I am fully appreciating the experience if I still think about the United States, Swarthmore, and home. If I still have moments of missing my life back home, am I truly living in the present to embrace where I am right now?

While these questions still continue to haunt me on days like today, when I feel especially disconnected, traveling to so many places and engaging in conversation with different people has actually taught me how fitting these feelings are.

Some of the deepest conversations I’ve had throughout this program have been with community members in rural villages and with my host families in urban areas about the importance of community. Throughout the areas I have visited, despite differing political or ethical beliefs, and regardless of country or setting, there has been one common thread between everyone, and it has been the love and devotion people feel for their families and communities.

In my neighborhood in Salt River Cape Town, the doorbell to Auntie’s house would constantly ring, and it would always be a different family member, picking up a snack, asking Auntie to watch their kids for 10 minutes, or just checking in to say hello. Auntie’s family all lived on the same street and when I asked her jokingly if she ever got tired of her family, she seemed surprised and responded “of course not!” She had always grown up near her family, they attend prayer meetings together, and life would be dull and purposeless without them.

 

While I was staying in a small fishing village in Arniston, South Africa, the importance of family and community resonated with me more than ever. Listening to a panel of youth who grew up in the village, someone asked the students if they would ever want to move out of Arniston. I was struck when one of the panelists, a 22 year old, responded, “No, of course not. I will never feel connected to any place like I do my mother’s home.” At the end of the week, I thanked the fishing activist who had organized our trip to the village. I’ll never forget the way she placed her hand on mine and shook her head. “No, thank you,” she answered, “thank you for listening to our story. I could never leave my family and home for as long as you all. Thank you for making the sacrifice to hear our story.”

These moments are only a snapshot of the times I have witnessed how deeply people value their families and communities, something that we in the United States often take for granted.

Sure, in the United States, our value of independence allows us to explore new places or to leave home for an elite, immersive education like Swarthmore. We see it normal to leave our friends, family, and home community to build broader social networks and gain a larger perspective of the world. Yet, especially as I am exercising my independence through traveling across the world but am still experiencing emptiness at times, I think it’s important to consider what we lose by choosing independence in favor of collectivist or community values.

Of course, I’m not arguing that we should never leave our family and communities, but I do think it’s important to nourish the relationships we do have and to take the time to talk to family and friends. At Swarthmore, it’s easy to get caught up in studying or campus life, but it’s also okay and therapeutic to remain connected to our community back home. Finally, valuing relationships also applies to on campus. Especially during midterms or finals, we can easily forget about our Swat family, eating a wrap from Essie’s in the library to study instead of savoring a meal with a friend who we haven’t seen for two weeks. But, while studying and homework are constant stressors that can always be done, family and friends last a lifetime and are essential to wellbeing.

Continuing my study abroad experience, I am ecstatic to explore South Africa for one more week and to embrace life in Argentina. But, I will also continue to savor conversations with my family and friends back home, and am looking forward to enjoying the simple moments when I return. Independence offers so much freedom, but community fosters belongingness and support, which are irreplaceable and essential for wellbeing.

Letter to the Editor: Worried About How You Look?

in Letter to the Editor/Open Letter/Opinions by

I wish that my son could tell his own story, but he can’t, so I will try for him, perhaps to give courage to others who are in the grip of the illness that cut his life short at the age of 24.

“It’s odd,” I mentioned to my then-18-year-old’s therapist. “Nathaniel shaves with the lights out in the bathroom and the door propped open to let in a little light from the hallway.” The therapist’s eyes widened with sudden understanding and alarm.

“It’s BDD — Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” she blurted out.

The moment plays in slow motion in my head, locked in my memory. BDD? Never heard of it. I had no idea what she was talking about, but it did not sound good.

As soon as we got home, I ordered Katharine Phillips’ seminal book about BDD, “The Broken Mirror,” and read it in one sitting. When I finished, I knew this was the disorder Nathaniel had been suffering from since age 11 when he first became anxious, and that we were in for a rough ride. It had already been hard, and it got harder — much harder.

Our six-foot four, handsome, intelligent, and incredibly funny son was wrestling with an inner demon that I could not fathom and could hardly bear living with. If it was torture for us, his family, it was unmitigated hell for him. He hated his appearance and was convinced that his skin was defective — “hideous, disgusting” were the words he used. Yet he had a beautiful complexion, and by anyone’s standard, he was handsome. A shaving nick or a minor blemish would keep him indoors for days, or he would cover them up with tiny pieces of bandage so that he could bear to go out. The focus was mostly his skin, but when he was younger, the worries had shifted: he thought the roll of flesh on his tummy was too pronounced (“But you are a growing boy!” I would say), the shadows under his eyes were too dark (“But everyone has them!”), his hair had to be just so (“Do you need all that gel?”). He compared himself with his younger sister, wanted to be her weight and keep up with her level of activity to satisfy an inner command. He was victimized by narratives in his head that dictated he cover up blemishes, exercise compulsively, or compete with his beloved sister. There is no logic to BDD, so no logical argument or reassurance helped.

Nathaniel was the kind of kid growing up that other kids wanted to hang out with. Inventive, smart, full of ideas for games and imaginary play. He never lacked friends. His teachers loved him because he did his school work to perfection and participated fully in class. A natural athlete, he was an avid soccer player and later cross country runner. And sense of humor? He could mimic anyone and would leave us in stitches. Once he invented an on-the-spot musical that he sang on a family car trip to our endless amusement. He could even turn criticism into comedy. While out driving once, he said calmly, “Mom, it’s a source of great comfort to me to know that if you ever have an accident and lose an arm, you won’t have to change your driving habits.” I burst out laughing, but the message got through; I have been driving with two hands on the wheel ever since.

When he first became ill in fifth grade, it was as if a bomb had dropped from the sky and blown our delightful son into an alternate reality. He ran one, two, then three times a day, virtually stopped eating, and lost so much weight that he had to be hospitalized. SSRI medication helped, and from then on, he began seeing therapists regularly. The diagnoses ranged from anorexia to OCD to school anxiety to social anxiety to generalized anxiety disorder, but he didn’t get the correct BDD diagnosis until seven years later.

BDD, an OCD spectrum disorder, is more prevalent than many realize.  Two to four percent of the population suffer from it, with the highest proportion among college age students, yet many mental health providers do not know of the disorder or how to treat it. Convinced that they are ugly, sufferers often get stuck in the mirror or avoid mirrors completely, compare themselves to others, skip social situations due to concerns about how they look, and spend hours trying to “fix” or cover up flaws that others see as insignificant or non-existent. The focus is most often the face (nose, skin, hair), but sufferers can be paralyzed with concern about any part of the body. Not remotely like vanity, this crushing preoccupation with appearance can disrupt schooling, make employment difficult, and strain relationships. The suicide rate is the highest of any brain disorder — higher than for those with severe depression or schizophrenia.

Having a name for a brain disorder, sadly, doesn’t disarm the demon any more than knowing that you have diabetes improves your insulin levels. But it did lead us to skilled practitioners. Drs. Katharine Phillips, Michael Jenike, Tamar Chansky ’84, and Marty Franklin all had their times with Nathaniel, trying to help his mind find the space and energy to combat BDD’s onslaught. He tried various SSRI medications and many combinations of medications, which sometimes provided relief. Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention strategies — the gold standard of treatment — were only slightly helpful.

As he grew older and his symptoms intensified, he had to leave high school and earn his diploma from home. Some days he couldn’t leave the house, although he managed to work part time and found joy in coaching middle school cross country and teaching in an after-school program. By his mid-twenties, he was still living at home and could see no promise in his future. He watched his sister and friends go off to college, find partners, launch their careers. “BDD is my only companion,” he told me once. “It dictates my entire day, from the second I get up, until I go to sleep — the only time I get any relief. I would not wish this on my worst enemy.” He ended his life in 2011.

Very few people understand brain disorders, and even some people who knew Nathaniel didn’t fully grasp that his condition was not caused by faulty reasoning or an inability to face life’s challenges. Because BDD is under-recognized and under-diagnosed, my family and I have devoted much of our time to raise awareness and funds for research. Recent fMRI studies at UCLA have discovered that the brains of those with BDD process facial images on the left side of the visual cortex instead of the right, like the rest of the population. The brains of those with anorexia show the same anomaly, suggesting that sufferers focus on tiny details of appearance and not the whole picture. More research will determine if this finding is causal or correlative, but it points to anatomical factors involved in BDD and suggests that visual re-training in treatment might help. Genetics and social/environmental triggers also play a role, but the pathway of the disorder is not yet fully understood.

Brain-circuit-based therapies such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, currently in wide use for depression, and Deep Brain Stimulation using implanted electrodes to stimulate areas of the brain — similar to the treatment used for Parkinson’s disease — may hold promise for those with severe BDD, but more research is needed.

If you think you may have BDD, or know someone who might be struggling with appearance concerns that interfere with daily functioning, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist at the college health center. The International OCD Foundation website has a large section devoted to BDD where you can learn more about the disorder. If you want to read more about Nathaniel, the website Walkingwithnathaniel.org details our family’s journey more fully.

Nathaniel knew that after he died, we would wonder what we could have done differently. “Please don’t,” he wrote in the letter he left us. “We were all doing the best we could and there is no regret in that.” No regret, but no silence, and no stigma either. Please spread the word about BDD, and get help for yourself or others who might need it. No one should have to struggle with this devastating illness alone. I know that is what Nathaniel would say.

Judy Nicholson Asselin ’75

Washington DC’s long history of disenfranchisement needs to end

in Columns/Opinions by

Washington, D.C. should be a state. Period.

Taxation without representation has a long history in America dating back to our nation’s inception. After all, it was King George III’s refusal to grant the colonists representatives in Britain’s Parliament that sparked iconic events such as the Boston Tea Party and our Revolutionary War.

Although citizens of the nation’s capital are not subject to such monarchical rule, certain aspects of our story, which I should preface with the confession that I grew up in the district, reveal inextricable parallelism with the aforementioned bit of history.

Washington’s lack of Congressional representation stems directly from the fact that we are not a state. In the House, we possess but a single non-voting delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has fought tirelessly for the civil rights of marginalized people throughout her career. She currently serves on two Congressional committees, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and uses her position to promote enfranchisement for the district.

A direct consequence of this lack of representation also manifests itself in the Presidential elections. Our votes count less than voters in states because congressmen and congresswomen serve as delegates. Seeing as we have only one, our general election vote counts for disproportionately less than that of someone residing in a state.

Many see the district as a constituent of elites and government employees who do not need a vote because they influence policy on a daily basis. This is a complete misconception. Contrary to popular belief, the district possesses a large portion of regular American citizens who do everyday American jobs. The only difference between an elementary school teacher in Washington and one living just minutes away in Maryland or Virginia is that the latter two have a voice in selecting the composition of our Congress.

Another common misconception regarding backlash to the district’s attempts at statehood includes the idea that Washingtonians have more influence over the executive and legislative branches of government because they are geographically closer to the people calling the shots. In reality, most federal officials spend the majority of their time on their own constituents or national and international affairs. The district’s issues usually get overlooked, proving that proximity to power does not augment actual influence.

Others still argue that granting the district statehood would be illogical due to the tradition of the 50 states. “What would we do with our flag?” skeptics speculate. During the westward expansion of our nation, the flag’s formation was constantly in flux and only stopped changing on July 4, 1960 to include Hawaii’s star. A flag with 51 stars would look just as good as one with 50.

Logically, Congressional republicans do not want another blue state and thus will continue to refuse to pass a statehood bill for the district. In the last Presidential election, 90.9 percent of voters in the district went for Clinton. Were the district a red region, would Congressional Democrats make the same call? According to the Constitution, political belief is not indicated as a protected class. Regardless, the enfranchisement of American citizens should not be a partisan issue. The argument for the district’s statehood is one overflowing with positive statements: its citizens pay full federal taxes, they pay higher per capita taxes than Americans in any of the 50 states, yet they are American citizens who do not possess Congressional representation.

The best traditions are built to adapt. As it was written in 1787, the Constitution was formed during a time when only white, landowning men were able to vote. Over time, the Constitution has adapted to incorporate more of its citizens, evidenced by the amendments; the electorate has expanded and must continue to do so.

The cyclical nature of historical mistakes is a deadly path this country has followed regarding a lot of different issues, and the fundamental fear of change has kept and continues to keep many from voting.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, permitting nine predominantly Southern states to determine their own election laws. In her dissent to the Supreme Court decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claimed the law to be essential in preventing barriers to voting such as racial gerrymandering and the requirement of at-large voting in areas with higher populations of Black people. Some argue that the effects of this Supreme Court decision were seen in the last election.

America was founded on “a city on a hill” promise of government by the people and for the people. However, for the nearly 700,000 American citizens residing inside the district’s nearly 70 square mile radius, that is not the case.

Organizations such as DCVote have been fighting tirelessly for years with no tangible progress to date. Due to the current composition of Congress, it doesn’t look like much will happen any time soon. Maybe we should start dumping tea into the Potomac River. At the very least, it will send a message.

To learn more about DC statehood, visit dcvote.org

The McCabe experience

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Often referred to as “The Cage,” McCabe library inspires a wide range of feelings among the student body, many of which are far from positive. As someone who spends a large portion of my time in McCabe, I can easily see why my fellow students harbor varying degrees of animosity towards this library. As an initial critique, the walls are lined with narrow windows, reminiscent of a medieval prison. Furthermore, sometimes, when I am here late at night, friendly McCabe mice will scuttle past me, and although these small rodents are a cute reminder that there is life beyond my essays, it would be ideal for them not to be in an academic building. The seats of the carrels lining McCabe’s exterior walls are stiff and uncomfortable enough to keep even the most exhausted Swatties awake during a late-night study session. Combine all of this with bleak and colorless walls, everything serves to set a glum mood that fails to lend comfort or inspiration. Whenever I am studying on the ground floor for extended periods of time and the inevitable need to journey up to the second-floor restroom to empty my bladder arises, I am struck by how purely ridiculous it is that the designers felt no need to include a restroom on the main floor.

But all these issues aside, the defining characteristic of McCabe, the one that truly cements the name “McCage,” is the chronically dim lighting. While I was at one of the campus visioning sessions last semester, one of my friends declared, “As soon as I step into McCabe, I instantly feel depressed.” Sitting, as I am now, in a gloomy study room on the third floor, my computer screen is almost brighter than the two meager lights flickering on the ceiling. These poor lighting conditions, combined with the other structural problems of McCabe, make it difficult for the space to promote effective studying and improve the emotional, mental, or social wellbeing of students.

I often ask myself why I return to this library, night after night, to sit in these uncomfortable chairs, surrounded by narrow windows, drab walls, and dim lights. Considering the plethora of problems I have just listed, my presence here seems almost a contradiction. Yet I think that for all its flaws, McCabe has been a defining part of my Swarthmore experience, and is a space that I have grown to love, and that I believe has potential to better serve the student experience. I love the sense of community in McCabe, which I think is most clearly manifested in the collective migration that happens at 10 P.M. for snacks and coffee. Meandering over to the snack line at 10 P.M., being either delighted by the presence of Oreos or disappointed by the presence of those oatmeal-cookie-things that pop up to the collective dismay of assembled McCabe-goers, has become an integral part of my Swarthmore experience. These snacks and coffee, in and of themselves, really aren’t anything extraordinary, but the invigorating social atmosphere created by the nightly 10 P.M. study break tradition is what makes it so important. Despite its flaws, and despite the problems I, and many other Swatties, have with McCabe, it is an important part of communal structure at Swarthmore both socially and academically.

Considering the importance of McCabe, and considering that many Swatties spend a large percentage of their time on campus in libraries, the importance of these spaces cannot be overstated. While those who do not enjoy McCabe have alternative libraries they can turn to, including Underhill and Cornell, the fact remains that McCabe is the largest library on campus. While my experiences with this library cannot be said to represent the entirety of the student body, I think it is an important space that shapes social and academic culture on campus. As such, the importance of addressing the innumerable structural issues of the library must be addressed, and I hope that, in the future, efforts, such as the recent visioning process, can be harnessed to make McCabe a space that enhances the student experience. After all, it wouldn’t take that much—just give us some light!

The dangers of insularity

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

President Trump ran on a platform of nationalism, protectionism, and isolationism from both economic and social standpoints; his anti-immigration stances and his proposed pro-tariff policies are salient examples of Mr. Trump’s embodiment of the populist ideals that seem to have taken hold of the U.S. voting constituency. As citizens, it is of great difficulty to look outwards amidst a tumultuous political climate, where unexpected and unforeseen legislation and initiatives are gaining momentum with each day, prompting even the most well-versed and politically literate individuals to find themselves outpaced by rapid developments in their own nation. This propensity to become detached from the ongoing affairs of the world around us is heightened by the tone being set by one’s own national government, devaluing the significance of international relations and interactions between different states, causing individuals to feel that there is a diminished importance of being aware of what is occurring in foreign lands. The disengagement with the international system on both an individual, institutional, and governmental level is worrisome, as we become less attuned to trends that are affecting nations indiscriminately. Populism had begun to create ripples throughout the world in the years leading up to the past U.S. election; this is just one example of how sweeping movements can be traced and predicted, perhaps even staved off and prevented altogether, if we only open our eyes.

Now, populism is not intrinsically bad. Definitionally, populism describes a movement in which individuals collectively band together against a government or institution made of elites. This sounds rather familiar to the spark that can ignite meaningful and successful revolutions, if we contextualize a chain of events as such within the American Revolution, for one. However, what is concerning about populism is the effects it can bring with it, notably a diminishing of domestic institutions that traditionally check the power of executive branches of power and government, particularly those which promote democratic ideals and prevent a consolidation of power within an all-powerful leader. As we have seen in many European nations throughout history, the rise of populism has been accompanied by a weakening of individual liberties, rights, and freedoms. We are now seeing a growing influence of right-wing movements and parties in nations that have long been heralded as beacons of liberal democracy: Britain, Germany, France, and most recently the Netherlands. This development has a few important implications for us as conscious and engaged citizens. We first ought to concern ourselves with the wellbeing of individuals throughout the world, irrespective of the nature of their regime or the state of populism in their respective nations; however, if we are able to recognize what many experts now consider to be an evident trend of populism, we ought to educate ourselves and understand how to reform our political systems or our international order to ensure that the deleterious impacts of populism can be prevented from striking. In addition, we need to ensure that as a constituency, we are pressuring our government to remain engaged in the international system and abreast of the dynamic relationships between and within states that will inevitably impact the future of our world. Not only is this necessary to prevent conflict and promote peace, but such cooperation and collaboration between nations is also the only way in which ongoing and potential global crises, such as global warming and nuclear armament, can be combatted most effectively.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s inauguration and initial actions in office, we have seen marches, walkouts, and protests on issues ranging from immigration to women’s rights. It has been both heartening and inspiring to take part in these movements and to witness my friends, peers, former teachers, relatives, and mentors engage in an impactful way to make a statement. I want to urge each of us, however, to engage with issues that may seem like they are striking less close to home, and remain observant and aware of what is occurring in nations near and far. It is harder to notice a detachment from the arena of international politics when so much is going wrong at home, but the threat of a disruption to the fabric of our international order can have potentially devastating consequences, the ramifications of which may be near impossible to alleviate upon being actualized. What is happening here with respect to a surge of populism is also happening in other countries; our institutions have so far served our democracy steadfastly, maintaining checks and balances and preventing an overreach of executive power when conflicting with constitutional values. This may not be the case for other democracies and nations in which institutions and governing bodies may fall prey to populism’s diminutive effects, à la Hungary.  Now is not the time to turn a blind eye to international affairs, nor is it the time to isolate ourselves from other nations and their affairs. We have a responsibility to hold our government accountable, not just on issues of domestic significance, but on the matters that impact the world around us.

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