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New tax bill is harmful to many aspects of Swat life

in News by

Currently, the nation is engulfed in a political and economic debate about the new tax bill that the Senate passed at 2:00 a.m. last Saturday. Though there are still two different versions of this controversial bill in Congress, both have serious consequences that affect the college’s budget, students, employees, and alumni due to an excise tax, repeal of the college’s tax-exempt status, and a tax on graduate students’ stipends.

One of the main parts of the bill that affects the college is the excise tax on college endowments. In the House version, the tax will apply to colleges that have an endowment of $250,000 or more per student. The Senate version has raised this to $500,000 per student, and according to vice president for finance and administration Greg Brown it applies to 27 colleges, including Swarthmore.

Economics professor John Caskey made some rough calculations of the financial effect of this tax. Since excise tax is 1.4 percent of the college’s earnings from the endowment — approximately $100 million per year — the college would have to pay $1.4 million every year. This money would be cut from the college’s operating budget, which is $163.3 million for 2017-2018. Over half of the college’s budget comes from endowment income.

Brown noted that one million dollars is about 20 scholarships, assuming they are $50,000 each. Caskey estimated that this kind of cut to the budget would be equivalent to letting about five professors go, which would also mean the loss of 16 courses per year.

“This would hurt students,” Caskey said. “Obviously, your selection of courses is smaller and the class size gets larger.”

According to Caskey, this could potentially affect prospective students’ college selections of colleges, but since the college’s competitors are facing the same tax, it will likely not make a difference. While the cuts to the budget would still be significant, Caskey said it is unlikely that the college would cut academics that severely.

The second part of the bill that would affect Swat is the removal of the tax-exempt status of colleges’ bonds, which is only present in the House version. This part of the tax plan would not only apply to wealthy, elite colleges but every college and university in the country. This means that if the college borrows money at an interest rate of 3.0 percent without tax exemption, it would effectively be borrowing at a rate of 3.5 percent due to the added tax premium it would have to pay. Because borrowing would become considerably more expensive, the college’s construction projects would be affected.

“That costs a lot of money,” Brown said, referring to the higher borrowing rate. “That’s serious for us.”

Unlike the excise tax, which would take effect immediately, the consequences of the change of the tax-exempt status would take effect gradually because it only applies to new debt that the college will acquire. According to Caskey, the college’s current debt is $250 million.

“If you assume [the debt level] continues, the loss of the tax-exempt status of the college’s bonds would probably raise the cost of the college’s borrowing by about half a percentage point … Over time, gradually, that would end up costing the college about $1.25 million per year,” Caskey said.

If the House bill passes, this cost would be in addition to the $1.4 million per year paid on the excise tax on the endowment.

The bill also increases the standard deduction, which is an amount of money that reduces a person’s taxed income if they donate money to charity. Caskey explained that currently, the standard deduction is $6,350 ($12,700 for a married couple), but under the new law, it would be raised to $12,000 per person ($24,000 for a married couple). Because of the higher standard deduction, people are less likely to itemize their donations when filing taxes. This reduces the incentive for people who would otherwise donate to give gifts to the college. Caskey noted that the college “is likely to see a decline in donations.”

Though he could not say for certain what the loss of money would be, he added that it is concerning to the college.

The combined effects of these parts of the bill would significantly impact the college’s finances. Over time, 10 to 12 years from now, with the combination of the excise tax and the loss of tax-exempt status together, there would be about $2.5 million cut from the budget each year. Caskey suggested that the college might have to cut from academics, libraries, sports teams, or the Dean’s office. Questions have also been raised about cutting financial aid from students.

“The college doesn’t want to do that, and they have a need-blind policy, but there are

other ways they could do it while maintaining need-blind,” Caskey said, though he added, “I don’t think the college is going to do that sort of thing … They could but they wouldn’t.”

However, it is still undecided where the cuts would apply.

Brown said, “I haven’t made any specific recommendations on that yet … If we’re looking at several million dollars a year on a $160 million a year budget, we would have to look to slow down some of the things that we’re doing. And based on our institutional priorities, make reductions in the budget … Right now, I think we’re running fairly lean, so any cuts I think will be seen and will hurt.”

According to Brown, Swat currently gives its employees benefits that includes money for their children’s or their own college education, but under the new bill, that money would be taxed.

“That becomes taxable income for [employees] instead of a benefit. The word I would use for that is unfair, and I think it goes against the values of our institution,” Brown said.

A highly controversial portion of the tax bill is the new tax on graduate students’ stipends, which has caused walkouts at universities across the country. This tax would affect recent Swat graduates who are pursuing their Ph.D.s or any current Swat student who would like to obtain a Ph.D. in the future.

Raehoon Jeung ’17, who is getting his Ph.D. in bioinformatics and integrative genomics at Harvard Medical School, said many graduate students are concerned about this change. Currently, graduate students receive a stipend for doing work, but it is not equivalent to a job because students don’t actually see the money and don’t get any significant savings from it.

“From what I’ve heard, we would be paying around $10,000 extra tax per year if the bill passes. Then, I will no longer be self-sufficient … If the analysis that I read in articles are accurate, the impact is very severe. We would go from being barely self-sufficient to being reliant on loans or help from parents as in college,” Jeung said in an email.

Jeung also said that had he known about the tax bill before attending graduate school, it would likely have changed his mind about getting a Ph.D., and he believes that it will influence students who would have otherwise attended graduate school.

“With this new plan in effect, the opportunity cost for choosing to go to graduate school [for a Ph.D.] is too high. During the 5-6 years, we are foregoing chances to earn more money, and now we would also be accumulating debt,” he continued.

This development is concerning to the college’s administration as well.

“For our government to basically say that furthering your education and furthering our ability to create the scholars who are going to come up with the solutions for future problems is very short-sighted,” said Brown. “It will discourage smart people from going to graduate school, who should go to graduate school. And it will discourage creativity and entrepreneurship.”

The college administration views the new tax bill as a serious threat to the college’s educational mission. On Nov. 13, President Valerie Smith sent out an e-mail to students outlining the damages that the new bill would inflict upon the college.

In the letter to politicians in Washington that she added to the e-mail, President Smith wrote:

The cumulative result of these tax changes will be losses in jobs and national economic health; educational access and quality; innovation and discovery; and American global competitiveness … This will directly harm students and their families.”

For many students on campus, the larger aspects of the bill would affect their family’s finances. According to Brown, about one-third of students from the class of 2021 who receive financial aid — 56% of the class — come from families who earn $60,000 or less per year.

“Almost a third of our financial aid students come from families who are in that lowest income bracket. And yes, I think they would be harmed by this bill,” said Brown.

He also cited another part of the House version of the bill that is damaging to Swarthmore students’ ability to pay back loans.

“Student interest is no longer deductible, so if you borrow for your education, you currently get a tax deduction for paying back that loan. Under this proposal, you wouldn’t get that,” he said.

Within student political groups on campus, there is also opposition the bill, particularly on the part of the Swarthmore Democrats, which held a flash phone bank on Tuesday to contact Pennsylvania representatives in Washington.

“The tax plan is ridiculous,” Abby Diebold ’20,  “Basically the entire Democratic party is aligned with Swat Dems in this instance.”

Diebold also said that while she wouldn’t characterize the parts of the bill such as the excise tax that target wealthy, elite schools like Swat as “anti-intellectual,” the effects on higher education are a problem.

“I think that our biggest issue with [the bill] is that academic institutions are the only corporate-type organization that is not having their taxes cut … taxes on the endowment and higher institutions are going up, and that doesn’t make any sense,” Diebold said.

Jorge Tello ’19, the new president of the Swarthmore Conservative Society, said that though there has not been a formal meeting to discuss the club’s position on the bill, opinion among the members seems to be mixed. Some, like Tello, oppose elements of the bill such as the excise tax while some support it in its entirety. Tello said that he doesn’t see enough strong arguments for the excise tax.

“Personally I’m against it as well,” he said. “I think my main concern with it is that I don’t understand what the main purpose of taxing endowments is because … I think there’s better ways to achieve [helping low income students], like possibly setting a percentage of the endowment that they have to spend on [those students]. Because that was one of the main arguments for it, that it would use more of its endowment on helping low income students.”

Caskey said that though he is personally against the excise tax, which specifically targets wealthy schools, he can’t find a strong enough argument against it.

“We’re an extremely privileged place … Is it unfair that we have to reduce our privilege?” he said.

Though it is true that the college is a privileged institution and will remain privileged compared to other colleges, there are other elements of the bill, particularly the House version, that will have a significant effect on the college’s finances as well as on current students and alumni. If the bill passes with any of these changes to the taxation of higher education, Swarthmore and its students will likely have to face financial problems, whether they are personal or in the college’s budget.

Trump rescinds White House offer to the Warriors

in Sports by

President Trump and Stephen Curry don’t have much in common, but if there is one thing they agree on, it’s that the Golden State Warriors won’t be visiting the White House anytime soon.

As of last week, Trump controversially withdrew his White House invitation to the NBA championship-winning Golden State Warriors. He did so after two-time MVP and Golden State star Stephen Curry’s public statement of his intent to avoid visiting Trump at the White House.

Visiting the White House has become a ritual for NBA championship-winning teams over the years, and even though Trump had not yet written a formal invitation to the Warriors, it was understood that one would be given to the team if the members expressed even the slightest interest in attending. The Warriors general manager Bob Meyers said that he had been in communication with the White House and had left the door open for a possible visit.

However, the plans Steph Curry had in mind were a bit different. Last Friday, Curry stated during a media event, “I don’t want to go…[But] it’s not just me going to the White House. If it was, this would be a pretty short conversation.” When asked to elaborate on what his intended message was, Curry continued, “That we don’t stand for basically what our president has – the things he’s said and the things he hasn’t said in the right times, that we won’t stand for it.”

Keep in mind, Curry’s statements were made with Trump’s poor handling of the riots in Charlottesville still fresh in the minds of his entire team. Additionally, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that he would prefer not to participate in the long-standing tradition.

Even though the team had not yet made a collective decision on whether to visit the White House, the day after the team’s media event, Trump impulsively rescinded his informal offer via Twitter. He enthusiastically tweeted, “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

In response, the Warriors published a statement in which the team collectively expressed disappointment with Trump’s premature withdrawal of the invitation.

“We’re disappointed that we did not have the opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities,” the statement read.

In support of Steph Curry, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers tweeted on Saturday, directed towards Trump, “U bum, @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

Curry appreciated James’ encouragement. He applauded it, saying, “I think it’s bold, it’s courageous for any guy to speak up, let alone a guy that has as much to lose as LeBron does.” Curry elaborated on his original message later that day, criticizing Trump once again by calling his comments “beneath the leader of a country.”

Furthermore, the active protests against Trump and some of his controversial ideals have manifested themselves in other American sports leagues as well.

Several NFL players, starting last season with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have knelt or sat during the national anthem to protest police brutality and institutional racism. On the opening weekend of the NFL two weeks ago, more players refused to stand during the anthem. Trump responded during his recent Senatorial campaign speech for Luther Strange by exclaiming, “That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.” He encouraged team owners to act, adding, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!’”

This past Saturday, President Trump continued his fixation with the issue on his Twitter feed.

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag and should stand for the National Anthem,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” He then added, “They’re ruining the game,” attributing the recent drop in NFL ratings to the players’ refusal not to stand during the national anthem. This past Saturday, many players kneeled for the anthem, along with some entire teams deciding not to come out during the patriotic moment.

This Monday’s New York Times published an article in which football fan Laurie Flynn, 28, spoke about the bigger issues than football that Trump has on his plate. She asked, “Why is the president commenting on the NFL? Doesn’t he have bigger things to think about? This is unfair to the fans. I didn’t come here to deal with this.”

Returning to the original actions of Steph Curry, I asked Eudy Lopez ’21, a fellow sports fan, about Curry’s intent to decline Trump’s invitation to the White House.

“Well, I think he should be able to express his opinions, regardless of what they are. So, I think it’s fine to say what he thinks. As far as if I agree, I definitely think that he has a valid point by acknowledging that he doesn’t stand with several of Trump’s beliefs.” Regarding Curry’s decision to end the long-standing tradition, Lopez argued,

“He has the right to do so. I also believe that it’s a necessary step in protesting. He doesn’t give in, he doesn’t play both sides. He makes his decisions and stands by them, showing commitment to social justice. Steph Curry has the platform and outreach to help influence change in a turbulent time in our country. His actions and those of similarly minded NFL players are going to help give voice to those who have historically been silence.”

It’s still not fully clear whether the Warriors and Trump will make amends and continue the long-standing tradition, but from the actions of both parties, it seems as though neither Curry and the Warriors nor Trump and his ego are going to apologize anytime soon.

Let’s Give a Damn: Trump Game

in Campus Journal by

 

We’ve all probably freaked out a little about climate change and President Donald Trump’s outright denial of it. It seems like President Trump has hand-picked a team that will happily sign off the future of our planet to build walls. Or something. And everyone’s playing the Trump Game like, “oh, can he do this?” Can he rip up the Paris Agreement? Can he actually increase coal mining? It’s almost as if I can hear a collective wailing and lamenting about Trump’s EPA picks, and what seems like his personal vendetta against environmental agencies and regulating companies that can be heard all night and day.

So I decided to talk to a couple of different people who have been doing environmental work to see how Trump’s administration might impact their work.

Laura Rigell is a recent Swarthmore alumna who does environmental justice work in Philadelphia, primarily with Serenity Soular. Khai Dao and Roberta Riccio both work in the Environmental Protection Agency. Dao is an engineer working with the RCRA Corrective Action Program, which works in collaboration with facilities with hazardous waste to perform cleanups. Riccio has worked with the EPA for 27 years, most recently with the Water Protection Division to enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act. She works with states and oversees public drinking water systems, ensuring they’re doing the right testing and treatment. Mike Ewall is the founder and director of Energy Justice Network. Full disclosure, I did not actually get a chance to interview Mike Ewall. However, I did meet him last year at a conference, and he wrote something that is relevant and will be quoted.

 

It was clear that this article had the potential to become very bleak, and so I wanted to start by stating that after my conversation with Rigell, Dao, and Riccio, I am reassured (and you should be too) by all of the great work and people who will continue doing what they believe in no matter what. They’re out there, and they’re fighting! Basically, the apocalypse won’t happen, like, tomorrow.

Rigell, who is driven not only by the reality of climate change, but also by the desire to bring about more racial and economic justice, works with Serenity Soular and seems sure that the local project she is working on is not fazed by the uncertain future.

Serenity Soular is a project based in a place called Serenity House, a community center in North Philadelphia. It started out as a gardening project but has since become a project about creating jobs in the community. Since 2014, Serenity Soular has been focusing on training and helping members of the community find employment at a solar installation company. The training is done by Solar State and in fact, a lot of Swatties have been involved with the project, and you can learn about it through the Lang Center or on Swarthmore websites.

“I want to help us shift to a more just society, one with the focus on climate justice,” Rigell said.

The one concrete thing that Trump’s administration can do that concerns Rigell is the changing of the solar investment tax credit. The tax credit is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems for residential and commercial use. It is one of the most important federal policy mechanisms to support the deployment of solar energy in the United States and was just recently renewed to continue until 2021.

“If congress retracted it, the solar industry might really crash. It could have a very negative impact unless the cost of solar comes down a lot,” Rigell said.

When I called Dao and Riccio, I had this in mind and hoped to hear more about the policy changes that concerned them. However, at the start of the interview they professionally and politely told me that there were some restrictions that couldn’t allow them to disclose certain information.

“I guess we have to come out with the process for this interview because the current administration…” trailed off Dao.

“We have certain restrictions about what we can talk about. And there’s a lot that we don’t know about too,” interjected Riccio.

Both of them continuously reassured me that although they were initially shocked, they realize that with any change in administration there are protocols for federal agencies.

“I think it was a shock to everybody in general in how Trump took over the government and how it trickles down to EPA too. One of the first things was the limitations to what we could discuss with the media and also postponing decisions on regulations, so that the administration and their people can review what we’re planning to do in terms of our approach and our regulations, the works,” said Dao, “But, that’s common.”

“In retrospect that’s common when administrations change,” chimed Riccio, “That’s to be expected in the beginning. If something is in the works, they would want the opportunity to review it all.”

However, they were definitely shocked about the change in some of the initiatives and missions that they both hold onto dearly.

 

“I think the biggest shock right off the bat was when it was announced to the media and then confirmed with the EPA that they took out some initiatives that we thought were pretty commonly accepted within EPA, such as climate change,” said Dao.

From what Dao and Riccio were able to share, it seems that everyone is continuing their jobs as usual with their current budgets, but new proposals or initiatives are on pause or slowed down. Within the EPA, there are no more additional hirings or decisions about new managers. However, Riccio believes that managerial positions will be implemented after there is a new regional administrator. As I spoke with them, it was clear that there was a lot of uncertainty, and almost a defeated laughter accompanying it all.

“Honestly, we don’t know what exactly is going to happen yet. I want to say we’re nervous,” Roberta said.

“Right now,” Dao added, “We’re just following the typical protocols with a change of administration.”

Both Dao and Riccio expressed concerns about how certain protocols can definitely set the agency back, undermining a lot of good work that they and their agency have been doing for a while. How exactly that might look however, no one is sure.

“In general, from what we’ve heard from the Trump administration is outside homeland security and the military, the entire federal government is alert,” said Dao. “For us being scientists and engineers, we really hope the administration continues to use data and science to make the decisions — not just politics.”

Dao and Riccio were both hopeful, however, that smaller local organizations or states can rise up and take more of a lead. Dao laughed and called out California, expressing hope that they will take the lead in regulating what is right for their state. Riccio pointed out that local organizations that are not funded by federal agencies, such as Serenity Soular, can and are definitely going to make a big impact.

Rigell from Serenity Soular and Riccio also both commented on the mass public support and protests that have become more and more commonplace. Both are amazed and inspired by the great activism that is occurring on the local level.

“On some levels, I think this is pushing people back to the question: ‘what do I believe in?,’” Riccio said.

“The left gets more organized under Republican presidents, even when facing the same things that they often ignore under Democratic Party presidents,” Ewall reflected. Ewall’s article is definitely much more hopeful than the interview I had with Dao and Riccio. In fact, he points out that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have both promoted fracking, which “is worse for the climate than coal.”

Ewall writes that resource depletion has more of a say with what energy resource is being used than a president, and thus Trump’s incessant threat about promoting coal is impossible.

“Coal production, in terms of energy value, peaked in 2002 in the U.S. The affordable half of the coal is already used up, and the rest will mostly stay underground, economically unreachable,” he writes. “It’s geology, not a Democratic president, that has a war on coal.”

The EJN have also continued to fight against incinerators in rural Pennsylvania, with two victories in December and January. The EJN is definitely one of the local organizations that can make a huge impact when it comes to bringing environmental justice to local communities.

 

“We’re hopeful,” ends Khai. “I think common sense and doing the right thing will eventually prevail. I think people in the agency and in the government are going to move forward, and do the right thing, and do their best.”

 

And no one, not even the President, can stop the people fighting for what is right.

Editorial: Standing Together

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Next? Fighting Against Trump’s America

in Campus Journal by

On Jan. 20, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America. Being on a campus as liberal as Swarthmore, tense emotions were palpable within the community following the results of the election. Classes were canceled, tears were shed and a multitude of distressed Facebook posts were written. However, inauguration night seemed much less intense, with most students choosing to ignore it completely. Walking around campus, there was really no sense of panic or despair, a contrast to that which was starkly felt in the days following the election. I, personally, forgot it was the inauguration day last Friday – simply because no one had really been talking about it. I unwillingly caught a few glimpses of the ceremony while in the Ville, but other than that I spent my time watching a movie with a friend, it was a normal Friday night.

 As an international student, I feel I have an “outsider-looking-in” vantage point from which to view this election. Therefore, in order to truly understand the individual experiences of minority Americans – from election night up until now – I sat down with three Swatties to talk with them about what this new president means to them. I talked to them about their emotional processes during this intense election cycle, and their preferred methods of reprieve.

 On inauguration night, I sat down in the ML lounge with September Porras ’20 where she passionately talked about her commitment to protesting. The mood in the room was friendly and casual, everyone around us was nonchalantly socializing and studying. You would never know that a political event as major as a change in presidency occurred just earlier that day, an oddity on a campus as politically charged as Swarthmore.

“I didn’t even remember it was inauguration this morning,” Porras admitted, “which is good because I can focus on things and not be too upset by what’s happening.”

 Although she wasn’t too concerned on the day of the inauguration, Porras spent election night covering the polls on Swarthmore’s radio station, WSRN, with her friends until 2:15 in the morning.

As a patriot, she felt particularly betrayed because she believes that what makes America great is its diversity.

“To think that so many people find that to be not American – that shook me,” Porras said.  However, as time went by, Porras found solace through protesting.

“[The protests] helped me a lot…everyone decided ‘we’re angry and ready to fight back’…it was a sort of catharsis.”

 Porras described her emotional process from election night to inauguration night as a journey from being “sad and devastated, to being angry and then ready to solve.”As to whether protesting is an effective mechanism of resistance, Porras offers the following.

“Protesting an inauguration isn’t going to stop an inauguration. We all know that…the point of protesting is to let the rest of the nation know that people care, … years from now when people look back on documents and photographs – you’re looking at a divide in a nation, this is documented evidence that people did care and people did fight,” said Porras.

The Sunday following the inauguration, I sat down with Mirayda Martinez ’20, who said that she was heartbroken when she realized Trump was going to win.

However, Martinez found solace in solidarity on election night.

“I left the viewing party and went off with a couple of my friends who are also undocumented minorities and Latinx students. We talked about how it would affect us. It was very upsetting and there was a lot of crying, but we let each other know ‘hey, we can get through this,’” she said.  

Martinez also notes the in-your-face nature of social media as it relates to the coverage of the new president.

“I try and stay away from seeing posts on Facebook, I kind of just ignore them – just because it breaks my heart a little bit more every time I see it,” she said.  

Martinez says she “definitely” still feels heartbroken and disillusioned, and it’s been that way “since the day this election started.”

 In terms of protests, Martinez says “I’m really happy that people are acknowledging that this is a problem.”

However, she points out that protesting without active action is not enough. “I feel like some people go to these protests and then the next day they act like nothing happened …Yeah you can go to a protest and show your support…but if  you’re not doing anything about it in your own life and you’re just going to these events that make it sound like you’re doing something – then there’s no point in you trying to join the movement,” said Martinez.

She also acknowledges the positive ways in which social media has been manipulated for resistance. “I definitely think it’s good when people post about [issues regarding the election] on social media because you are making people aware that these are issues that need to be tackled,” she said.  

Byron Biney ‘19 remembered that on the day of the election “people were looking at the results as they came in – this was still around the time Hillary was in the lead, but still any time someone brought it up I’d tell them to stop talking about it — I didn’t want to hear about. Something about it just made me feel very uncomfortable, the fact that we were choosing between Hillary Clinton and this he ominously references the newly elected president.

Like Porras, Biney was also broadcasting live with WSRN. “There were so many emotions in that room, I feel like I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life,” he said. Biney also expressed the need to be in contact with loved ones during the elections.

“This is a move which threatens so many different people based on their identities, so there was just a longing to be in contact with my family,” he said.

After  the broadcast was over, however, Biney spent time with his friends, “they were trying to create a safe space to relax and calm down, and I did what I could to contribute to that safe space” said Biney.

The night ended for Biney with him walking back to his dorm, “playing the saddest song on my phone, and crying quite a bit.”

Biney continued by describing his headspace. “America is a system that has never really been for marginalized groups…[the election] is just a continuation of having to create a place for yourself in a system that really doesn’t want you to begin with, and now that Donald Trump is our president it’s just more upfront.”

  When news about the inauguration came up on his phone, he ignored it because it made him feel powerless amidst the day’s events- “the inauguration was going to happen and Donald Trump was going to come out looking like a bowl of spilled milk,” he said.

“I definitely have a more cynical viewpoint where I feel as if the protests aren’t going to convince people who are Trump supporters to not be Trump supporters,” Biney said.

“It’s almost as if they live in two different worlds.” he went on to say about the divide between Trump supporters versus those against Trump,

What effect does this have on protesting?  “Protests are more or less and expression of grievance and call to action, but Trump supporters won’t find those grievances valid – so what you end up with is people like Tomi Lahren saying it’s a gathering of cry babies,” Biney stated.

“I’m someone who goes to DIY punk shows, which are specifically made for marginalized groups. I see a lot of utility in the gathering of people from marginalized backgrounds and people actually creating discussions and expressing themselves through art or physical action,” said Biney.

Biney also acknowledges the fact that violence as a protesting tactic has become a very divisive feature of protests. He believes however, that marginalized groups are often inevitably considered aggressive or violent when they try and advocate for themselves.  

“[Protests] are the tools which they have, we can’t villainize those people just because they are using the tools around them.” His parting message for America: “My advice would be for people to stop treating these issues as if they’re new.”  

Oppression isn’t new, it just has a new face, and Americans must be ready and willing to fight against it as they always have.

Musings of Mariani

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Fire alarms go off at odd times in the Willets dormitory, where I sleep and clean myself and occasionally work and socialize. Late one night near the end of the last semester, the alarm sounded, and we all filed out. It was a forlorn period, when the sinking, impending reality of Trump’s election and the travails of finals seemed to be conspiring together to produce the maximum feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. The residents of Willets filed out in their pajamas and stood together outside the doors. But instead of annoyance, a feeling of cheerful bemusement and calm resignation seemed to pervade. One girl walked out of the door with a lit cigarette and a mischievous smile as if she had set the alarm off herself, and was proud of it. We all knew that that the alarm would be deactivated soon, that in the meantime we could commiserate with our friends, and that this nocturnal excursion would make our beds all the warmer and cozier when we returned.

America is like Willets: beloved by a bacchanalian few who make it nearly unlivable for the rest, the site of many recurring crimes and infamies and injustices which go unaddressed and unresolved.

Like I live in Willets, I live in America and despite its flaws I love it deeply and I feel very dedicated to it. This is obviously a very bad time for our country, or at least worse than usual, but I’m not sure if it’s unprecedented. The government has often been corrupt. We’ve had incompetent, disturbed leaders before (Nixon, Reagan, W. Bush, Andrew Jackson, to name a few), and the immediate problems facing us have seemed intractable and hopeless. Our nation has been more divided before (we had a civil war!), we’ve had a worse economic crisis (the Great Depression!), we’ve faced extremely grave internal injustices whose solutions seemed totally out of reach.

I think what is different about the crisis we face today is the widespread total hopelessness felt about the impossibility to solve any of the problems facing us. I do not think this lies solely in our traditional national values, institutions, and ideals failing to solve the problems we face and the systemic flaws they have. The radical alternatives offered seem to me to be equally unlikely, insufficient, and futile.

This point is trite and obvious, but I still want to make it because I feel that it continues to be overlooked by many. I think that at least part of reason the political problems in the United States seem so intractable is because no one examines the basis of their fundamental values. People constantly talk about the responsibilities we have to other people in our country and then simultaneously question the legitimacy of our country itself. Or, like Trump, they talk about protecting our country without examining how the fundamental nature of the country they are protecting precludes doing the types of things they want to do to defend it.

Even in the era of globalization, the political institution which connects us the most is the nation-state. If you state that the United States of America is a hopelessly flawed country in which revolutionary changes need to take place, then you can no longer appeal to American values or the responsibilities Americans have to each other because of our national history, because then you are only contributing to the continuation of something which you say should not exist. If you say America needs to protect itself and in its interests in the world, but that to do so entails violating one of the country’s core principles of religious freedom, then you go further and actually destroy the thing you are trying to defend. You make the defense of America the thing that destroys America, you eliminate any value there is in defending America.

I do not want to make this sound like a Fourth of July speech. I do not forget that the crimes of slavery and the genocide of the natives peoples of this continent are as foundational to this country, and in many ways more-so, then the Bill of Rights. I know that is impossible for me to understand how difficult it is for many people to simply exist day to day in this country. But as long as a great deal of the American radical left totally eschews patriotism or even vaguely patriotic rhetoric, then I do not see how it is going to get anywhere in national politics. How are we going to criticize Trump for silencing the media or the continuing Republican efforts to take away the right of low-income people and people of color’s right to vote unless we appeal to the Constitution? How can we appeal to the Constitution unless we espouse some sort of dedication to the American national project?

The Democratic party is deeply flawed and has an awful policy record in many areas, but at a certain point the disengagement from the party stemming from the belief that it is hopeless to attempt to improve it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, almost got the nomination. I feel that if the left had made greater attempts at consensus and coalition building, he could have won. This would not have solved all of our national problems, but it certainly would have put us on a fundamentally better path.

What is indisputable is that everyone, especially people like myself who have tremendous privilege in our society, needs to do more to engage politically. Trump is the personification of the worst aspects of this country, but I believe, perhaps foolishly and romantically, but sincerely, that the good aspects of this country can defeat him and what he represents.

Trump’s Subtle Language of Oppression

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Cw: xenophobia and homophobia

 

As I watched Donald Trump’s inaugural address, eyes both welling and rolling, a certain section stuck out to me. It occurred early in the speech as Trump was still getting started. After thanking Obama for his gracious support during the transition process, Trump said, “Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning because today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”

Initially, this part of the speech didn’t strike me as any more vitriolic than any other part of the speech. The anti-corruption sentiment certainly wasn’t a surprise — hell, Trump’s entire campaign was built on that message. Additionally, it is nothing new for an “outsider” politician to condemn the nation’s capital as a hotbed of corruption and bureaucracy.

No, it was only after I had heard it a couple of times (usually in the form of Facebook videos comparing Trump to Bane) that I realized what felt so fundamentally wrong about this statement. By placing those represented by “Washington, D.C.” in opposition to “the people,” Trump essentially argued that the political elite are not people.

As I reflected on the 2016 presidential campaign that afternoon, I realized that Trump’s attempt during the inauguration to divorce people from their humanity by using language wasn’t an isolated incident. In fact, this subtle form of dehumanization has been one of his favorite rhetorical devices since his campaign began in June of 2015. Take, for example, the infamous quote from his campaign announcement that set the tone for the remainder of his presidential bid: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Before anything else, he classifies immigrants as rapists, only adding as a secondary thought that some of them might be good people.

Trump’s political enemies aren’t the only people to get this treatment. Last June, upon seeing a black man in the audience of one of his rallies, Trump exclaimed, “Look at my African American over here!” MY African American. Yes, it could have just been a poor choice of words, but, to me, that statement is eerily reminiscent of one of the worst institutions of Antebellum America. In another incident this month, CNN journalist Jim Acosta’s request for a follow-up question was met with the bizarre response, “You are fake news.” In addition to being absurd — reporters themselves aren’t the news organizations for which they work— the president-elect reduced a man’s entire identity to one of the most commonly denounced aspects of the media landscape.

I do not mean to say that the President has used inherently offensive words in his speeches. In spite of his off-the-cuff style, Trump has been good about avoiding the use of some of the worst slurs in the dictionary. However, this actually represents the insidious nature of Trump’s word choice. Most Americans would instantly have written-off Trump as a candidate if he used a racially-charged epithet to refer to Mexican immigrants or his African American. Instead, Trump offered the American people a sneaky alternative. He refused to put marginalized groups in human terms, while also evoking the same prejudices as an epithet without being explicit.

If all Americans ignored President Trump’s attempts to dehumanize through language and instead chose to recognize their peers’ basic humanity, this issue would be irrelevant. Sadly, however, the President’s hostile messages have resonated with many Americans. According to a survey conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, 4 in 10 teachers reported in November 2016 hearing hate speech based on race, religion, immigration status, or sexual orientation in school. Such a high percentage would be indicative of a problem in any segment of society, but it is especially frightening to learn that students are being exposed to, and in some cases expressing, such dehumanizing and hateful words. When a student constantly hears the implicit message that some people are “less than,” it becomes easy to rationalize hatred and forget compassion. How can a man hope to understand and appreciate the struggles another person has experienced if he cannot bring himself to even refer to the other person in human terms?

I know what it’s like to be reduced to a label. Although it didn’t happen often, I remember vividly the mixture of rage and sorrow I felt after being called a “faggot.” It was the feeling that no matter what else I tried to be or do, I couldn’t escape that stereotype-laden box a fellow human had placed me in.

Many of us at Swat understand this feeling. Given the varied cultural and religious backgrounds of the Swarthmore student body, I’m almost certain that many of my peers have experienced this form of oppression, oftentimes more intensely than I have. We know the destructive power of linguistic dehumanization because we have lived it. If we want to make the world a more open and accepting place, it starts with acknowledging the simple, self-evident fact that people deserve to be treated like people.

Proud to be an American?

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Once upon a time I cringed at Hillary’s too-convenient, smugly clever response to Trump: “America is already great.” American exceptionalism, and the superiority and complacency that accompanies it, has always annoyed me. “Pride” in my country is not something I can justify; my patriotism is better described by relief, or gratefulness, that I was born here and enjoy the benefits that come with being an American citizen. And as thankful as I am to live here, shame more often describes my attitude toward my country than does pride. The country’s glaring, too often racial flaws—and our questionable behavior abroad—surface with disturbing frequency (particularly in recent months) and have thoroughly disabused me of any satisfaction with the country’s state.

So when Hillary—and more progressive heroes like Elizabeth Warren—started to retort to calls to “Make America Great Again” with claims that “America is already great,” I felt betrayed. The people I trusted to see what is unacceptable about this country set that awareness aside in favor of a cheap slogan. “America is already great.” It seemed a validation of our eagerness to go to war and to forcibly impress our “beliefs” on others, an endorsement of the country’s ugly history.

As the campaign progressed, though, “America is already great” took on a new meaning for me. It wasn’t complacent, it wasn’t self-congratulatory. It said, “America is already great because of its people. Because of its diversity.” It rejected the not-so-subtle racist, sexist, xenophobic undertones of Trump’s slogan. “Make America Great Again” meant, I realized, Make America White Again, Make America Patriarchal Again, and so on. It looked fondly on the days of white supremacy and its bedfellows and called for a return to the very parts of American history (and present reality) that I was wary of Hillary endorsing. And in rejecting that, Hillary didn’t ignore the country’s flaws. She looked not to the past for its days when America was great for so few of its citizens, but to the present, to the incremental, too-slow but essential progress we’ve made since then, and to the progress we must make in the future.

Well, now I really know what it is to be ashamed of my country. If I was reluctant to say “proud to be an American” before, this election has made me want to bury my head in the sand, bang it against a wall. If we can choose Donald Trump over the eminently qualified, unbelievably poised, clearly competent—and, yes, perhaps unexciting and certainly flawed—Hillary Clinton, for whom I was sure I would cheer as she broke through the glass ceiling of the Javits Center, it’s not the country I thought I knew. We are not the people I thought I knew.

This election was never about me. I, and most people I know, will hardly be affected by Trump’s presidency in any tangible way. For families torn apart, for women denied access to healthcare, for Muslims whose home feels less and less welcoming, I am scared. And I am sorry.

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