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Cultural Identity Celebrated On Swarthmore’s Campus

in Campus Journal by

Culture and Identity Appreciation Week at Swarthmore came early this year. The festivities began Oct. 24 with a kickoff in the Science Center Commons, and continued with panels on intersectionality, screenings of “Deej” and “Spirited Away”, food events like Kohlcella, Sharples Trial By Fire, African Kitchen, and the i20 Fall Feast, and parties like the Deshi Bollywood party and the carnival held by Students of Caribbean Ancestry. The week recently came to its conclusion on Nov. 5, with a panel on toxic masculinity held in Kohlberg’s Scheuer Room.

 

“A lot more of the events this year were done in collaboration with each other. I’ve always wanted to have a lot more collaborations between groups on campus, especially affinity groups,” noted Josie Hung ‘19, the head of the CIA week committee this year. A major goal for CIA Week was to “create a space for people to celebrate who they are [by] mapping after heritage and history months, but doing it as a Swat-specific thing for all the affinity groups.”

 

Hung is not the only member of the committee pleased with how CIA Week turned out.

 

“I think CIA Week was a great success this year. I really enjoyed the variety of events ranging in style and form from discussions like the Faith at the Intersections discussion to SOCA’s Carnival. I most hope that CIA Week encourages us all to put a higher importance on the kind of programming we put on and continue to hold community conversations and celebrations of our many cultures and identities,” said Brandon “Frames” Ekweonu ‘20 in an e-mail.

Of course, members of the committee had their own personal favorites. For Hung, it was Kohlchella. For Ekweonu, it was the toxic masculinity panel, which focused specifically on masculinity in the Black community.

 

“It was really fulfilling to listen to perspectives on the multi-dimensionality of Black masculinity,” said Ekweonu

 

CIA Week had a profound impact on many Swarthmore students, especially on students of color.

 

“To me, [CIA Week] means a week in which people’s identities are brought to the forefront in less covert or private ways. I feel like because of all the work this college gives us, we’re often only given time and space to celebrate and acknowledge our full selves during private, student-run meetings: through affinity groups, other events that happen periodically, or within our friend circles. I like that CIA Week is intentional in letting all students of this campus know that our humanity and our identities as students cannot be detached from our cultures, genders, sexualities, and so on,” said Alexis Riddick ‘20

 

“Any time of the year where we as a campus can focus on culture and identity is a good time of year!” added Mads Shoraka ‘20

 

In future years, Hung and many others hope that CIA Week will become a Swarthmore tradition, and that the school will continue to facilitate the celebration of the cultures that compose it.

 

CIA leaders (from left): Alexis Riddick ’20, Josie Hung ’19, Jessica Hernandez ’20, Catorina Anderson ’20

Eboo Patel visit creates dialogue around religious diversity

in News by

On Nov. 1, Eboo Patel, who founded the Interfaith Youth Core and served on Obama’s inaugural Faith Council, arrived at Swarthmore. During the roughly 24 hours he stayed, he led four workshops, participated in a world religions class, attended a dinner with President Valerie Smith and other faculty members, and delivered a keynote speech, “Building a Healthy Religiously Diverse Democracy: America’s Promise in a Time of Crisis.” The events focused on the benefits of understanding and acknowledging religious diversity, even in secular spaces.

In his keynote speech, Patel said that hatred of immigrants and other people with different beliefs creates a barrier against their contributions that inhibits societal progression. He then spoke on the history of religious prejudice in America, beginning with the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s and the movement that pushed against it.

“What is Judeo-Christian?” Patel asked. “It is a genius civic invention. It is a new narrative for America that allows us to imagine Jews and Catholics as equal participants in American civilization. I want to say this again — a group of civic activists, as a way of responding to anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish prejudice in the 1920s, invent a new narrative for America that becomes so deeply woven into American DNA that we believe it was present from the beginning. That’s genius.”

Patel, a Muslim, applied this idea of a national narrative to the modern issue of Islamophobia and fear of Muslim immigrants.

“What new civic initiatives do we need now in this moment of Islamophobia?” he said.
“There’s a new chapter that needs to be written.”

Joyce Tompkins, director of religious and spiritual life at the college, planned Patel’s visit with pastor of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church Joyce Shin and religion professor Mark Wallace, all of whom are members of the Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County.  They aimed to bring together leaders of different faith groups and to strengthen relationships between the Interfaith Center and the Borough.

“When I first heard Eboo Patel speak on the need for interfaith cooperation in our society, I was struck by two things: first, his ability to speak across many different audiences, by which I mean audiences that consist of different religious backgrounds, different generations, different points of view, and different assumptions; and second, Eboo’s consistently constructive approach to making interfaith cooperation a social norm,” Shin said.

When Shin first pitched the idea over a year ago, Tompkins was doubtful that Patel, a prominent figure in interfaith leadership, would want to come to Swarthmore. However, Tompkins feels that Patel saw an opportunity for expanding interfaith collaboration to secular campuses.

“Swarthmore’s well known in higher-ed circles; it’s also a pretty secular school,” she said. “[Patel] and his colleagues at Interfaith Youth Core are particularly interested in broadening the interfaith conversation so that it’s not just faith groups talking to each other, but talking across the faith-secular divide, which seems to really be dividing our country.”

According to Shin, Patel touched on the significance of religious tolerance and sensitivity to religious issues, even for those who do not practice religion themselves.

“My hope is that Eboo’s constructive approach will draw out and make room for other constructive approaches in building cooperation among different religious communities as well as show the significance of interreligious cooperation in the civic sphere,” she said.

During the student workshop before his talk, Patel gave student leaders case studies of religion-related conflicts that have occurred in secular places such as schools and workplaces and asked them to discuss possible approaches. One situation involved an Orthodox Jewish man who refused to sit at his assigned seat on an airplane because it was next to a woman; one was the difference in power if it were a Muslim woman refusing to sit next to a man.

“We had some pretty interesting conversation,” Tompkins said. “Some people said, ‘Kick him off the plane,’ some people said, ‘Try to persuade someone to change seats.’ It was interesting.”

Another case study was a group of Muslim women who requested an hour of time at the public pool reserved for women only; another involved Hindu students that protested the dining hall serving beef in the only eating facility on campus as being offensive to them.

“What he said, what actually turned out to be true, was we never actually resolved the question of what should we do,” Tompkins said. “What was important was that we were practicing having this kind of conversation with some sensitivity to the issues that are raised by these different groups.”

Abha Lal ’18, an intern for the Interfaith Center, attended the workshop Patel gave for student leaders. According to Lal, religious literacy and interfaith dialogue can give us insight into everyday interactions.

“I think at Swat and a lot of college campuses religion is treated as a purely private matter, but the fact is that it is really important to how many people understand themselves and conduct public life,” she said. “I think Patel’s workshop encouraged us to see this not as a problem to be dealt with, but a fact of living in heterogenous societies that needs to be engaged with in meaningful ways.”

Though Lal feels that Patel’s message about interfaith discourse has crucial implications, she stated that she and other Swarthmore students would disagree with Patel’s claims about American excellence.

“My main qualm was that as important as his approach is, it seems to base itself a little bit uncritically on American exceptionalism, something that is hard to be fully on board with for people here for good reason,” Lal said.

Patel also led a workshop on sensitivity to religious differences for Swarthmore faculty, a workshop for students at Strath Haven high school and a workshop for leaders of local congregations.

Cielo de Dios ’21 attended Patel’s keynote speech with her classmates from “Religion and the Meaning of Life,” taught by professor Ellen Ross. The class is currently reading Patel’s book “Acts of Faith,” a memoir about the struggles of being a Muslim in America. She feels that her experience at the college has been in accord with Patel’s ideal for democratic discourse.

“A lot of what he said applies in my religions class specifically because in my religions class, we’re not all from one faith,” she said. “Most of us are Christians, but there’s a Jew and then there’s a Buddhist who was an atheist. We come from a lot of different backgrounds, and even before the talk, we were all open to talking about our experiences and our faith, which is what I think Patel is advocating for.”

Patel mentioned a “circle of dialogue” multiple times, which is the range of people with whom someone is willing to converse about differing beliefs. While Ryan Arazi ’21 agreed with Patel’s concept of a religiously diverse democracy, he found the notion of a “circle of dialogue” idealistic.

“I agreed with the very broad circle of opinions and allowing that circle to exist, and I’m someone who’s advocated for that a lot,” he said. “But in hearing someone else say it, I can understand why that can be too optimistic, especially in a society that’s as polarized as ours and especially with a topic like religion, which goes to your core beliefs, like who you are as a person.”

 

According to Arazi, Swarthmore students tend to be like-minded and therefore not particularly open to interfaith dialogue.

“This is exactly the type of place where that optimism might fail because you have people of very like-minded beliefs and it’s easy to forget about … the outside world and forget that it’s important to listen to everyone,” Arazi said. “I don’t think that it’s a reflection of the people here or the open-mindedness of the people, but that it’s just a natural product of putting like-minded people in the same place.”

According to Patel, religious diversity is a central tenet of social change.

“What else is it?” he said. “What else is social change but dealing with people with whom you disagree and engaging in a conversation in which sometimes, you will change your mind and sometimes they will change their minds?”

De Dios agreed with Patel’s emphasis on willingness to engage others with opposing opinions in conversation, but she felt that Swarthmore students generally identify more with the type of social change represented in the Desmond Tutu quote “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” which a Swarthmore student brought up during the 30-minute question-and-answer session after the keynote speech.

“I do think, though, that the first step is in dialogue,” she said. “Not that they have to be mutually exclusive, but the dialogue comes first, more than anything, than the action. I don’t think that people would agree with me that you can be tolerant and not act. I do think that the most important acts of tolerance and respect end up anyway leading to protests and action-based causes.”

Tompkins was very satisfied with the attendance at the workshops and at the keynote speech. She felt that this event is representative of recent changes that she has worked to enact as director of religious and spiritual life at the college regarding dialogue around religious differences.

“I absolutely resonate with what he had to say, because I’ve been here 14 years [and] we’ve made huge, huge progress as far as recognizing religious and spiritual identity as important parts of diversity and inclusion,” she said. “When I first came it was … really, nobody talked about religion; it was very marginalized, there was very little support. I see [the event] just as a continuation of the momentum we’ve been working on, but I feel like it gave us kind of a big push.”

For Tompkins, Shin and the Interfaith Council, the  success of the event bodes well for similar collaborations between the college and the Swarthmore community in the future.

“I am excited to work with the Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County, Partners in Ministry, different groups at Swarthmore College, and members of the community in developing ways to cooperate inter-religiously,” Shin said. “By seeing who showed up, we have a better idea of who is interested in this work and with whom we can build more sustainable relationships.”

President Valerie Smith, who introduced Patel’s speech, delivered similar sentiments about religious diversity.

“During these tumultuous times when democratic values are being challenged, by engaging with difference, particularly religious difference, we acknowledge our shared humanity,” Smith said.

How did Swat get here? An abridged history of activism at Swat

in Campus Journal by

 

In the context of recent activism and student action regarding Swarthmore’s divestment from fossil fuels, I thought I’d take a look at past and ongoing activism both campus and related to the institution. Here’s a (brief) history of some historical progresses and moments of activism at Swat:

1869 – Nov. 10, the College opens with a tree-planting ceremony to honor the College founders Lucretia and James Mott, who were well known for their activism in the women’s rights and anti-slavery movements. At the ceremony, President Edward Parrish said “A peculiarity of this organization, as contrasted with most others for like purposes is the association of women equally with men in its origin and management.”

1905 – Swarthmore football player Robert “Tiny” Maxwell is photographed in a bloodied and battered state after a game against University of Pennsylvania. President Theodore Roosevelt saw this image of Maxwell, and declared that the sport had to be reformed or he would ban it. The legalization of the forward pass and the doubling of the yardage required for a first down were elements of the sport that came out of the reforms this spurred.

1907 – The Jeanes Bequest. Wealthy Quaker Anna T. Jeanes offered to bequeath her land to Swarthmore one on condition: the college permanently give up intercollegiate sports. The college refused.

1917 – Jesse Holmes, a philosophy professor helped found the American Friends Service Committee, providing conscientious objectors an opportunity to perform community service rather than fight.

1930 – The college organized and funded former area mill workers to clear paths, open trails, cut dead trees, and haul out trash from the woods. According to the Arboretum’s first director, after conducting this work from 1930-1932, they “literally transformed the dilapidated areas into a pleasant woodland park with attractive paths”

1933 – Sororities Abolished due to Jewish students being excluded from Chi Omega and Kappa Alpha Theta. The ban was repealed in 2012.

1943 – Student Body integrated, although some black students were already  black students already attending the College as members of the U.S. Navy’s V-12 unit stationed on campus.

1967 – Superweek. President Courtney Smith initiated the publication of “Critique of a College,” which was a review of the college. During the week in December, classes were canceled and instead students and faculty held meetings and discussion panels about the school and its policies. For the week, there was a daily student newspaper titled “The Egg,” which detailed topics covered. These topics included the creation of an engineering department, installing pass/fail courses, counting social/field work for course credit, the Quaker tradition, the College’s relationship with students, and the role of women in academics and education.

1969 – The black protest movement, led by the Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society (SASS) sat in the Admissions Office to demand increased black enrollment after there was dwindling numbers of black students and lack of administrative support for black students. The sit-in was eight days long, and the next year saw a large increase in the number of black students at the college.

1970 – students pushed for the Black Cultural Center and it was founded.

1971 – FBI files stolen from an office in Media reveal that Swarthmore’s Afro-American Student Society were under surveillance, and disclosed information on students and faculty

1974 – Inspired by the establishment of the Black Cultural Center and second wave feminism, members of Swarthmore Women’s Liberation pushed for their own center, which was established in Bond hall in 1974 and named after Alice Paul in 1975. (It no longer has that same purpose.)

1982 – Divestment from South Africa process begins when Student Council adopts a resolution calling the College to divest from all companies doing members in South Africa, and later members of the college’s Anti-Apartheid Committee interrupted a Board of Managers meeting by holding a demonstration outside their meeting room. Sit-ins and activism continued, and in 1986 the Board of Managers reached consensus to proceed toward total divestment, which was completed in 1990.

1983 – Swarthmore President David Fraser “mobilizes the College’s opposition” and testifies before Congress to oppose an amendment to withhold federal financial aid from students who failed to register for a military draft

1988 – First Sager Symposium. Richard Sager ‘73 created the Sager Fund to fund events exploring LGBTQ issues

1996 – Environmental Racism Conference – students organize a conference on environmental racism in Chester that leads to the formation of the Campus Coalition Concerning Chester

2002 – Shareholder Activism – Swarthmore became the first college or university to initiate a resolution against Lockhead Martin for discrimination against LGBTQ employes. Soon after, the company announced plans to add sexual orientation to their discrimination policy.

2003 – Swarthmore joins Amicus Brief along with other colleges to support affirmative action in college admissions. President at the time Alfred H. Bloom said “we believe that diversity is essential to our educational mission.”

2011 – Mountain Justice first meets with the board to discuss divestment from fossil fuels.

2014 Swarthmore gains an NGO observer status at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and sends a delegation of students, faculty, and staff.

2016 – In December, President Valerie Smith affirms Swarthmore as a sanctuary campus.

2017 – Mountain Justice spearheads a referendum, subsequent sit-ins, and a joint forum with president Valerie Smith, SGO, and members of the board to push forward the policy of divestment from fossil fuels, despite the college’s official policy since 1991 of not divesting for social purposes.

Arrangement request at Olde Club prompts strong reactions

in Arts by

At the beginning of his band’s set, Tiyé Pulley ’19 made an announcement to the crowd, asking members to arrange themselves in a particular manner. His band, GOODGOODNOTBAD, was performing in Olde Club last Friday as a part of a student band event entitled “Swarthmore Campus Limits,” a play on the name of an existing music festival, Austin City Limits. Over the next few days, Pulley faced both backlash and a wave of support in response to his announcement, likely because the particular arrangement requested was based on identity.

Pulley’s request to the audience was for students holding marginalized identities to move to the front of the venue and students who were not members of marginalized communities to move to the back.

“Tiyé said, ‘There are people outside waiting to get in. If you identify as a woman, a person of color, queer, or gender nonbinary, please come to the front. If you are a cis het straight male, please move to the back,’” said Harsha Sen ’19, who is also a member of GGNB, and was performing with Pulley.

Some white men in attendance responded to this request by leaving the venue.

“These people, instead of simply moving back a few feet, left the space altogether, laughing, jeering, looking completely unfazed, at least to me,” said Blake Oetting ’18, who was in the audience at the time, and is a member of the band which followed GGNB.

Pulley’s announcement was appreciated by many members of the audience who chose to remain. Students who were able to move up to the front of the venue as a result of Pulley’s request expressed gratitude, and had a sense that it improved the show by invoking a sense of shared community.

“GOODGOODNOTBAD’s set was incredible, and as someone invited to the front of the crowd, I can say there was a palpable sense of togetherness in Olde Club that night,” said Oetting.

“Like I said on stage, I hadn’t thought of saying it myself, but I am glad someone did. It just made the show that much better. While I don’t remember it myself, a member of the crowd later told me people cheered, and I could see people in the front ease up and really enjoy the show, celebrating their right to exist and demand space more visibly after that statement,” said Sen.

Oetting emphasized the context of Pulley’s statement, especially the historical relationship between the space Pulley was performing in and the groups he privileged.

“What has to be understood about Olde Club is that it is and has been a space dominated by straight, white, cis men, so Tiyé’s demands last Friday were not random in any way, but instead, I presume, a response to the very specific state of affairs that have served as that space’s status quo for as long as I can remember. So, in regards to that precedent, and the election last Tuesday, which placed already marginalized communities in a state of justified panic, Tiyé was taking on the significant task of creating a community of women, people of color, and queer students in a space where [such a community] has been continually disallowed,” said Oetting.

It is possible that Pulley’s statements were made in reaction to the arrangement of the crowd prior to taking the stage.

“Before he said that, a large group of baseball players had entered Olde Club during Caboose’s set, and were taking up a large amount of space. As testimonials sent to the deans will demonstrate, people were pushed around and made to feel uncomfortable,” said Sen.

Sen did mention, however, that the set was a positive experience for some of the white men who remained.

“The night was a cathartic one, and was made that much better by Tiyé saying what was really on a lot of our minds. I could see white men at the back really engage with us, too, and realized that, by articulating this sentiment the way he did, Tiyé sent a powerful message, and got people thinking hard about privilege,” said Sen.

There were also many students who were not supportive of Pulley’s request. In addition to the students who left, there were some white students who stayed and moved to the back. It’s possible that some of the students who stayed throughout the show may have done so in spite of Pulley’s announcement. This cannot be confirmed as every student who was opposed to Pulley’s actions who was reached by the Phoenix declined to comment.

Evidently, however, one student who was disturbed by the incident in Olde Club was sufficiently upset to register a complaint with the Dean’s Office as, on Sunday, it was revealed via Pulley’s Facebook that he had spoken to two deans regarding complaints about his actions. Due to the lack of testimony from students offended by Pulley’s comments, it cannot be assumed that the student who complained was a member of the Men’s Baseball team or even a cisgender, heterosexual, white man.

In response to his discussion with deans, Pulley began collecting testimony from those in attendance who supported his request. Many of the other acts who performed at Olde Club that night were active in soliciting testimony via Facebook, including Oetting and Henry Feinstein ’19, a member of Caboose. Caboose also issued a statement on its Facebook page in support of Pulley’s actions.

The deans Pulley spoke to, Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center Jason Rivera and Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development T. Shá Duncan Smith, both declined to comment on their discussions with Pulley, citing privacy concerns. However, Rivera did provide a statement offering insight into the general process of the Dean’s Office.

The Dean’s Office is frequently approached by students and other community members about a wide range of concerns.  Our approach to those concerns depends on the specifics of the situation and can include everything from referrals to support services that offer students an opportunity to reflect on the situation, to conversations to gather additional information and make sure we’ve heard all perspectives, to a full investigation if it is determined that there has been a violation of the student code of conduct,” said Rivera.

In Pulley’s case, evidently it was determined that a full investigation was not required as he announced the next day on Facebook that there would be no administrative action in response to his request at Olde Club.

It is possible that the conversations that occurred between the deans and Pulley simply represent the execution of an established process for responding to a complaint registered with the Dean’s Office. However, this does not negate the fact that several students who spoke out in support of Pulley were upset with the comprehensive response to Pulley’s incident in comparison to the response to instances of discrimination they had experienced.

“I will say that I and others have reported incidents of actually discriminatory behavior from certain factions of this campus in the past to delayed or no response at all,” said Oetting.

The lasting impact of this event is yet unclear. James Wallace-Lee ’17, who organized the student band showcase, expressed relief that there was no action taken against Pulley, and encouraged further discussion about diversity in the college music scene, pointing towards Loud and Underground, a new student group formed specifically to promote diversity and inclusion in the college music scene, as a space to continue the conversation.

“I don’t really have much to say other than I’m happy that the administration recognized this was a non-issue,” said Wallace-Lee.

Oetting described his hopes that the incident would result in a campus conversation about distribution of student spaces on campus and identity.

“I hope that this incident sparks conversations about the importance of recognizing the amount of space individuals occupy. It is not unreasonable — in fact, it is vital — for women, people of color, and queer students to claim or reclaim both physical space in places like Olde Club and space in academic discussions and more social contexts,” said Oetting.

The campus conversation surrounding such topics in the future is likely to involve, in some role, both Rivera and Duncan Smith. It is unlikely that either individual is responsible for most of the past delays or inaction in response to instances of discrimination, as both deans joined the Swarthmore community this past summer. This means that their rapid response in this situation, while troubling to some, may be a new precedent for student concerns regarding discrimination within the community. Rivera and Duncan Smith have the opportunity help cultivate a new cultural approach to diversity at Swarthmore, and they seem very open to student feedback.

“It is clear, we are all looking for ways to create spaces for a more inclusive and diverse community.  Moving forward, the Dean of Students Division wants to partner with all students to work to build our inclusive community and to identify ways that we can navigate this difficult time together. We look forward to connecting or collaborating with all students.  We hope students will continue to let us know how we can serve as a resource,” said Rivera.

Given the mistrust students expressed towards past administrative responses to cases of discrimination, and the fact that no one who was opposed to Pulley’s piece consented to be quoted in this piece, there are clearly rifts within the college community. However, the efforts of the new deans and new student efforts centered around inclusion offer a path forward.

Safe spaces unsafe for ideas

in Columns/Opinions by

This column has always served as a sort of safe space for me. I have ranted freely on my unflinching support of Hillary Clinton and bashed Bernie supporters to the fullest extent with no recompense or incurrence. I have never had to fear immense backlash for my opinions or the ways in which I have articulated them, nor have I had to buttress my arguments with the most sound counterpoints or evidence base, for my ideas are penned in ink, only to be challenged by students who have taken it upon themselves to respond by a Letter to the Editor or confronting me in person. By and large, I have escaped the magnifying lens that would traditionally be applied to my statements and arguments if they were to be raised in a classroom environment, or the world outside. While I greatly appreciate the opportunity to express my opinions on a weekly basis in as thoughtful of a manner as I am capable of, I recognize that I am engaging in limited and very one-sided discourse. As such, before I begin to write my opinions each week, I read articles from both sides of the aisle or both sides of a debate in an effort to ensure that I accurately and comprehensively represent an issue. Even still, I am wary of just how easy technology has made it for us to only hear from others who share the same viewpoints and stances as we do. While I appreciate the safe space that this column provides, I don’t want to walk into a classroom here at Swarthmore and get that same sense. My opinions are strengthened and my beliefs and understandings often altered significantly and for the better by the rich discourse that I am able to engage in when I enter a classroom where any and all individuals are empowered to contribute. When you read my column, you expect to hear only my voice. When we enter into a classroom, we expect and deserve to receive an education informed by the most diverse and enriching viewpoints, with a fully inclusive dialogue that represents all stakeholders and all positions, irrespective of the degree to which these ideas may unsettle us.

A college campus as a whole ought to be a safe space in the truest interpretation of the phrase, as it serves not only as a forum for learning and intellectual growth, but also a home for its students. Each night, every student ought to be able to return to their dorm room and feel comfortable and protected. If we consider safe spaces to be havens in which students face no threat of feeling marginalized for their identity, I am in full support of these spaces existing and expanding as their own entities on campus. Every student should feel safe inside and outside of class at all times, irrespective of their identity. However, a classroom itself has never been and ought never to be an unsafe space for ideas or a space where students are safe from their ideas and ideologies being challenged. A classroom is where ideas should be introduced, challenged, developed, improved. If a certain notion, concept, theory, or thought process is objectively wrong or immoral, the proper way to respond is not by killing the idea before it has been conceived or expressed. Students ought not to be able to immunize themselves from the opinions of others, for the real world beyond Swarthmore’s perimeter does not operate in such a manner. Instead, free and open conversation and discourse ought to be encouraged.

Providing a voice to minority groups does not inherently require entirely depriving majority groups of their opportunities to be heard. Instead, we ought to provide forums for conversation that enable any individual from any background and any perspective to speak freely, provided the intent is never to offend or insult, but rather to learn from others and contribute constructively. The best way to uproot longstanding notions and ideals that are offensive or reprehensible is by understanding where these views come from in order to effectively dismantle them. If there are certain groups and voices who have been historically silenced or oppressed (and there are of course groups who continue to face such treatment), we must ensure that they have the opportunity to speak and engage; at Swarthmore, we are fortunate enough to be able to promote this inclusive dialogue without having to do so at the expense of disenfranchising other voices. The truly participatory and inclusive dialogue we are striving for requires the participation and representation of individuals from every background, majority, minority, privileged, disadvantaged, and underrepresented alike. Instead of silencing historically privileged voices in order to lower the bar to one uniform standard, we ought to provide opportunities for underrepresented voices to contribute and speak freely, leveling the field for all, while raising the bar altogether.

This is not to say that all speech and dialogue ought to be or is protected. Hate speech, for example, has no place in any civil discourse inside or outside of a classroom. There should be no tolerance for hate or otherwise unnecessarily inflammatory or offensive speech. At the same time, that the idea itself is disagreeable or unpalatable to a majority of the voices in a space is not enough to disqualify the expression of the idea altogether. While speaking out against the actions of a potential commencement speaker in protest is justified, this is different from protesting the speaker’s right to address students; we deprive one another and ourselves of valuable learning opportunities when we end the dialogue before it has even begun.

What we see in this election cycle through the rise of a xenophobic candidate arguing for a return to the darkest parts of American history is the clearest manifestation of what happens when unpleasant sentiments are allowed fester within the minds of individuals who feel disenfranchised and voiceless. By preventing these voices from being heard in conversations and discussions, we breed further hate as these views remain unchallenged, only to be reinforced by selective media consumption. Refusing to acknowledge bigotry is the least effective method of combatting it, as these ideas will not die out on their own. Only upon hearing these notions and carefully understanding where they come from can we effectively challenge and defeat them; this is the way to a safer world, where each and every space can truly be safe for all.

각양각색 (各樣各色): Of Many Shapes and Colors

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I chose Swarthmore College because they boasted about diversity. Diverse identities, races, sexual orientations, commitments—this was, as it probably is for many others, the reason I came to Swarthmore. The underlying expectation was that I would see parts of myself in the classes I take here, that I would not have to take a separate class on Asian Studies to see myself represented. The idea that I could learn subjects I genuinely cared about without having to compromise my racial identity was captivating.

A quick disclaimer because race is always a sensitive issue. I can only speak of my experiences. Remember during orientation we’re told to use “I” pronouns? I’m doing this here. But after two years and 16 courses, I still ask: Where am I?

I am an Educational Studies minor, so I am not so delusional as to believe that I have taken all the education courses offered at Swarthmore. Yet with the exception of Introduction to Education, I have deliberately chosen to take courses that claim to involve diversity in the curriculum. But after each course I am left wondering—where am I?

In classes and seminars, we learn that as future teachers our curriculums must be diverse, that our curriculums must be reflective of the students we teach, that we must somehow affirm aspects of their identities, and must affirm they exist. But do we have that in our classes now? Are we affirmed in our classes? Do we see the teachings of giants Pedro Noguera and Lisa Delpit practiced right here at Swarthmore college?

My answer is no, I don’t. I don’t see myself in classrooms, I don’t see this “Asian American” identity, “Asian American” myths being challenged or even present when we dispel myths of the supposed “culture” of Latinx and black students. Recognizing and pushing against the oppression of Latinx and black people is extremely important, and this effort must be supported by all other minority groups, including Asian Americans and Native Americans. I cannot stress this enough. But I don’t see us, and if I do see parts of us, it is in the form of the whites and Asians vs. the Blacks and Latinx. This is wrong. We are not white. We are not just Asian. We do not mean or exist to be pitted against black and Latinx communities, nor are we here to play misery poker. Nor do we enjoy the same privileges as white people. In fact, have you ever heard of the “bamboo ceiling?”

So why are we, a minority, never talked about when we talk of advancing opportunities for blacks and Latinx in classrooms? We are placed on opposing sides, with this underlying attitude of “Oh, it’s OK, they’re Asian. They’re an anomaly. They do well, adapt well wherever they go. They are insignificant in this discourse of equality and representation.”

This is where the fear comes in. What if these future teachers at Swarthmore endorse this idea of the model minority? For example, Pedro Noguera writes of his student Julian Ledesma, who wished to explore the truth of this model minority myth in 1995. Surveyed students and teachers at Fremont High School in Oakland were asked which group was perceived as the “most academically talented,” and the overwhelming answer was Asian students. But the average GPA for Asian students was a mere 1.9. The conclusion made was that “because Asian students were perceived as academically successful, little effort had been expended to provide them with the kind of academic support or special services that had been made available to other students,” (Noguera, City Schools and the American Dream, 44). What if the budding educators here at Swat go out in the world and become inspiring teachers who preach and practice “diverse” curriculums, but only for Black and Latinx students? Imagine that these teachers unknowingly endorse the idea of Asian Americans in classrooms as nothing other than the model minority, simply because Swarthmore had failed to include the discourse on Asian American education. How many Asian American children will walk away, disappointed and disheartened, feeling insignificant and isolated from the main discourse?

I acknowledge that there are many problems with just labeling us as “Asian.” For example, I am Korean. This superficial category “Asian” is  imposed upon us by CollegeBoard when we might actually be Chinese, Japanese, Singaporian, Taiwanese, Thai, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and a whole lot of other Asian identities that I can’t cover in this short column. But I believe in taking small steps, that even talking about “us” is a huge step. Yet at Swarthmore, I have not seen us. I have more often than not seen us as the silent, uniform, model minority in my classes. I have often been mistaken for another Asian girl in lectures and seminars alike. I have been told by some of my peers that all Asians look the same (in response, I bring up this beautiful Korean actress and ask if we still look the same and they say yes — but I know I do not look like her). Often times, however, we are not even discussed. We are seen as that group that slipped through the cracks of injustice, have been sprinkled with seemingly flattering statements of “model” and left to be glossed over, left to fester.

Perhaps this is why I am skeptical and puzzled by the diversity requirement. Why are we not asking what we can do with the existing curriculums, but intent on adding a new requirement? Why is even learning about diversity a requirement?  Why are we pushed into a space of being required to learn diversity when a simpler solution is for our existing curriculums to acknowledge diversity.

I leave you with this idea. We, as a community, cannot expect to be successful in advocating and advancing the rights, political involvement, and cultivation of a holistic view of culture for only a specific group without uplifting other groups as well. If we do not make a collective effort to support all other oppressed groups, we are left in a stalemate. Another cycle of -isms.

And professor, I actually suck at math.

Meeting the Dean of Diversity finalist candidates

in Around Campus/News by

The countdown is underway to select the new Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development. The final three candidates introduced themselves to both faculty and students in group meetings throughout last week. This position opened up last year when former Associate Dean for Diversity Lili Rodriguez left the college to become Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence at the University of Denver. The position at Swarthmore was established in the fall of 2013, building upon the Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs position, which had existed for 10 years prior.

The position includes responsibilities pertaining to community development and inclusion for students, faculty, and staff, cultivating a more diverse and inclusive environment, and serving as an advocate and resource.

The process of narrowing down these candidates required a considerable amount of time and collaboration among students, faculty and staff. The selection committee was composed of students and faculty members, and was aided by consultant Isaacson Miller, who specializes in helping colleges to locate the best possible candidates for various leadership positions, met together and discussed the opinions and expectations to best fill the spot.

Dean of Students Liz Braun explained, “Back in the fall, Isaacson Miller spent a day on campus meeting with a broad range of campus constituencies to learn more about the Swarthmore community and what different groups were looking for in the next Associate Dean.”

The search process involved gradually narrowing down the initial candidate list through committee discussions and interviews with the candidates until arriving at the final three.

“I greatly appreciate the community’s involvement and feedback in the process and it will be factored into the committee’s final recommendation,” Braun noted.

Because the candidate pool has been tapered down, the search committee gave each candidate a chance to meet with the community and to interact with both faculty and students. Each candidate met with faculty and staff during the day and attended a second meeting held at night specifically for students.

In each of the meetings any person was able to attend to hear about the background of each candidate as well as have questions answered.

Kara Bledsoe ’16 noted that the meetings also allowed the candidates to get a sense of how the Swarthmore community works and how different groups around campus operate. The candidates had the opportunity to see what the position would entail and how they could tailor their aim to best work with the community as a whole.

Many students expressed their interest in the decision making process including Bledsoe, who recently joined the search committee and has played a large role in narrowing down the finalists.

“I agreed to be a part of the committee because I feel very strongly that students should take every opportunity to have their voices heard and exert all the influence at their disposal so that the college reflects to the best of its ability what the students want to see.” Beldsoe explained. “This was a chance for me to walk my walk.”

Different campus stakeholders have different specific interests for what aspects the next Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development should focus on most, but there is a general desire to bring the community closer together and to connect to the student body.

“What I’m looking for in the position is someone that can be connected to students and advocate for their needs, someone who is approachable, honest, and trustworthy, and someone who has experience dealing with a student population comparable to Swarthmore’s,” said Bledsoe.

 After this multi-month process, the position will be filled soon and expectations will hopefully be met.

 

Smaller, but more diverse applicant group for class of 2020

in Around Campus/News by

The 2014 application season yielded an applicant pool only slightly smaller than last year’s record number of applications. In addition, the application pool continues to diversify. To date, 7737 applications have been submitted, a less than two percent decrease from last year’s record of 7785. Over 600 applicants applied through the Early Decision process, a record for the college. In recent years an average of only 550 Early Decision applications were filed.

Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 remarked that only minor changes to the application occurred this year but did note a noticeable increase in the economic and international diversity of the class.

“There are more first generation students in the application pool this year versus last [year] and slightly more international students,” Bock said in an email. “We did yield 11 QB[Quest Bridge] Match students this year through Fall Early decision versus six last year.” For the first time the college also held two DiscoSwat weekends, an all-expenses-paid overnight program for high-achieving high school seniors to visit campus, instead of one.

Bock also pointed out that a high number of students continue to request consideration for financial aid.

“Both last year and this year about 75% of applicants have requested to be considered for our need-based aid.”

The college dropped the requirement for SAT subject tests and for the writing portion of the SAT and ACT. Now the college only recommends SAT math subject tests for prospective engineering majors.

The college has gained positive press over the past year and continues to do well in college rankings systems.. The inauguration of Valerie Smith, the college’s first president of color, in October and the college’s rescinding of Bill Cosby’s honorary degree in December were both widely reported in the local press. In addition, the New York Times profiled 17-year-old chess prodigy Alice Dong in January who will be attending Swarthmore in the fall. Swarthmore ranked number seven on Forbes’ Top Colleges of 2015 and third in U.S. News and World Report’s National Liberal Arts College ranking.

Applicants emphasized that the atmosphere was a primary reason for picking the school.

“I picked Swarthmore because I wanted a school where learning was more important than any one discipline or career path,” said Shreya Chattopadhyay ’20. “It stood out to me because it didn’t have a snobby atmosphere like some other schools I visited, and seemed to be a place where people genuinely care about things.”

“What stood out the most was the fact that there’s no dean’s list, GPA, or ranking at Swat. I’m hoping to find a cohesive and comfortable campus environment where students are more focused on competing with themselves rather than those around them.” said Shayla Smith ’20.

Smith, a student who applied through the Questbridge program, also gave her thoughts on the effectiveness of the college’s efforts to reach out to students from underrepresented groups.

“I loved how Swat only required a conversion form for my QuestBridge application and how I could send my financial documents through e-mail. The financial aid officers were also easy to contact over the phone and were happy to answer all of my questions. All of these factors made applying to Swarthmore less stressful. The e-mails and booklets I received in the mail also helped me learn about Swat,” said Smith in an email.

Smith did think that the college should attempt to raise its profile nationally.

“I would suggest [that Swarthmore] send more information to high schools. After I announced having been accepted to Swarthmore, neither my guidance counselor nor my principal, a Pennsylvanian himself, had ever heard of the school.”

According to data from the institutional research section of Swarthmore’s website, the total number of applications to Swarthmore nearly doubled in the last fifteen years. The only major decrease occurred in 2014 which corresponded to a decrease in applications to other elite liberal arts colleges. The consistent number of applications in the last two years suggests that a 12% acceptance rate will be the new norm for the college, down from around 20% only a few years ago. The admissions staff will continue to have a broader and more competitive pool from which to build classes at the college. It remains to be seen if the college’s recent emphasis on access will actually result in classes that are increasingly racially and economically diverse.

 

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