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A dive into the archives

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

In light of recent events on campus, the editorial board figured it would be worth digging into past issues of the Phoenix printed decades ago to see what students back then had been writing about the college. Surprisingly, some of the headlines were just as fitting then as they are now. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, change has come to Swarthmore much slower than previously thought.


“Student Council endorses Black studies major, supports revival of ad hoc committee”

February 29, 1972


“Islamic cultural studies program lags”

April 24, 2003


“Student Council to explore course requirements”

March 25, 1975


“Freeze thaws for tuition; Bookstore sets price hike”

September 21, 1971


“Social Committee plans fall calendar; administration quashes concert ideas”

October 1, 1971


“SAGA food service proposes new design to reduce overcrowding”

September 25, 1981


“Bike thefts reported”

October 16, 1981


“The time to divest is now”

February 26, 1982


“Racial slur found carved into table”

March 20, 2003


“Students in dire need of space, events”

September 24, 1999


“Comm members, Student Council, activists charge inertia of student input”

February 20, 1973

The problem with promises

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Swatties love to make promises. Whether it is promising that you will go support your friend at their game, read over a classmate’s essay, or finish your homework before midnight, we are all constantly making promises both to ourselves and to others. The problem is we aren’t very good at keeping them.

It is not that we are maliciously promising to do things that we know we cannot do. We genuinely think that we can do it all until we can’t. A combination of not wanting to say no to anyone and thinking that we can do everything has led most of us to overcommit.

It starts small, skipping one item on your to do list for the day, or promising yourself you will get it done tomorrow or this upcoming weekend. Maybe you get part of it done, but eventually something drops. This is usually at the very last second, not wanting to admit to ourselves before we have to that we misjudged what we could do. We send a hasty apology note to the friend, classmate, or professor and move onto the next thing on our inevitably long to do list.

This overcommitment culture goes beyond just the student body population to the professors and the administration. Professors promise they will get your paper back to you next class, which turns into next week, or two weeks. The administration promises that the Pittenger-Palmer connector will be done by the weekend, when in reality it is going to take two weeks. This leads to ramifications across the college. There’s always someone else suffering the consequences of unkept promises.

This community needs to take a step back and do some self-evaluation. When we unintentionally make empty promises, it decreases the weight our promises hold in the future. As we slowly get accustomed to making excuses for our broken promises we also become accustomed and desensitized to seeing other people exhibit the same behavior. How can we fault our friends for bailing on dinner when you bailed the week before? When you turn your paper in a few days late, it is only natural to accept it back a few days later than when the teacher originally promised for it to be back. It’s far too easy to condone these kinds of  broken promises from the administration when we ourselves are so accustomed to doing it ourselves.

While it is extremely important for students to engage with the administration if we want to see any lasting change, it is unsurprising that students choose not to because of the way we fail to follow through.  It is difficult to have a conversation to make an impact when both sides are accustomed to shirking responsibility when we inevitably overcommit. As we dive into midterms, we as a community should be conscious when committing to things, in an effort to practice self care and also change our expectations of promises in order to move forward collaboratively to enact real change.


Institutional memory, or a lack thereof

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Remember when the first floor of Cornell didn’t look a think tank, or when points only worked on campus? Remember waiting outside of your friend’s dorm before and after 2 a.m. on party nights? What about the “DJ fund?” First-years won’t remember any of the above, and as time passes, fewer and fewer of the future students will hear about any of these once-common occurrences. These are just a few examples of how a lack of institutional memory can allow campus life to slowly change at the Swarthmore students have come to know. If students want to effect widespread and lasting change on campus, one obstacle that we must face is our very limited institutional memory.

Let’s take as a case study the 2013 Spring of Discontent. This semester marks the fourth year since then, and few students remember the entire story. What’s more, none of the current student body was here when it happened. During the Spring of Discontent, students protested Swarthmore’s inadequate response to sexual assault, a lack of institutional support for marginalized students, a series of urinations on the Intercultural Center door, and the college’s continued investments in fossil fuels among many other issues. It was a time when students of various identities and campus groups came together to hold the college, as an institution, accountable. Yet, it’s quite difficult to know how to bring about better college policies if we don’t remember what circumstances were like before.

Students here only really have an institutional memory of four years, and only four years (give or take a few) to make an impact on campus. Of course, a lot can be done in four years, but many things can’t. We must come to terms with that. If students, for example, want to change the fact that there are so few Writing courses in the social sciences or natural sciences compared to the humanities, tackling that issue must go through multiple committees, faculty members, and administrators. The same can be said for recent efforts to enact some sort of diversity or social justice requirement for incoming students. The same can still be said for striking the right balance of how much trust the administration gives students through its party policies. While a bureaucracy can be beneficial in preventing too much change from happening too fast, students still must bear the consequences of the issue to begin with. Our short institutional memory is a major roadblock that we frankly cannot overcome but must deal with and recognize when students want to make a change on campus.

However, the same cannot be said for an administration that has an institutional memory much greater than our own. In just four years, the administration has the power to incrementally enact widespread change without incoming students noticing the difference. At the risk of sounding too conspiratorial, we must be cognizant of the power administration has to change student culture. When put into policy, the administration has the luxury of taking its time in forming various ad hoc committees and selectively incorporating student input only when it sees fit. When taking steps to improve student life on campus, the administration must realize that students only spend a short time here. It’s possible to enact policies that will at least marginally improve the lives of students currently on campus, while still remaining thoughtful of the implications of policies long after the current student body is gone.

Acknowledging the extent of our institutional memory as a community is key to recognizing what policies can reasonably be enacted at a fast pace and what policies will take years or decades to achieve. Regardless, the administration should still recognize the fact that incremental change benefits them more than it benefits current students.

Of course, there are complex problems that need to be addressed on campus that will require thoughtful dialogue between students and administration. That takes time. What we shouldn’t forget, however,  is that students have a much smaller institutional memory than the administration. There is an incentive for the administration to keep the status quo or change policies while ruffling the least amount of feathers possible at the expense of current students’ satisfaction with the campus life. Bringing about widespread, beneficial change is slow. Let’s not make it slower than it needs to be.


The power of a name

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If you can think back to your first couple of weeks on campus, whether that was a week ago or three years ago, you will probably remember being very confused about where things were. Whether you showed up at the Lang Performing Arts Center for a class that was supposed to be in the Lang Center for Civic and Social Engagement, or your friend told you they lived in Danawell when they really meant they lived in Hallowell you aren’t alone. Swarthmore is known for being especially difficult for newcomers to navigate; building signs are small, and maps are few and far between. What makes this campus even more difficult to navigate is the fact that many of the buildings do not have their own distinct names.

A prime example right now is the PPR Apartments. Instead of coming up with a new name for the brand new dorm, which is its own separate building, the college chose to call it the PPR Apartments. Not only is the name PPR already taken, but it is also already confusing enough as it combines three different buildings into one.

So why doesn’t the college give these buildings real names?

In addition to reducing confusion around campus, giving these buildings official names will give the college an opportunity to honor notable alumni or community members. President Valerie Smith reminds us that “by choosing to come or return to Swarthmore, [we] renew [our] commitment to the core values of a liberal arts education.” It seems like choosing notable alumni that’s life works are in line with our mission and core values would be a good way to do just that.

According to the college’s written objectives and purposes, the college aims to “help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.”

We understand that many buildings are named after people who give generous donations, but we do not think that the only way to name a building is to name it after a rich donor. No one has publicly donated a large amount specifically for the BEP, Danawell Connector, or PPR Apartments. Why not take the opportunity to name some of these buildings after notable alumni and community members?

This will give the college an opportunity to make a statement about the importance of ethics and social concern. It will also allow future students an opportunity to learn more about the college’s rich history.

We have chosen to include several possible names in this editorial. As a way to keep our list short, we have limited our list to alumni and community members who have passed away.

Lucretia Mott: As one of the founders of Swarthmore, Mott spent her life dedicated to many of the same values the school still holds today. Mott devoted her life to working on issues such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, school and prison reform, peace and religious tolerance. Her hard work can be seen in the creation of this institution, the Medical College of Pennsylvania, the Moore College of Art, and the fact that her house was a stop on the underground railroad. Mott is still remembered nationally today as one of the most prominent suffragette of the late 19th century and early 20th century.

James A. Michener: After graduating as part of the class of 1929, Michener went on to write more than 40 books. After teaching English for a few years, Michener was called up to serve in World War II where he was a naval historian in the South Pacific. It was while working for the Navy that Michener got the inspiration to write his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. As he became a successful writer he donated to many different educational and writing institutions, including Swarthmore.

David K. Lewis. As a philosophy major in the class of 1962 Lewis went on to become one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. He worked in a wide range of philosophical issues including language, mathematics, science, decision theory, metaethics, and much more. His most significant contribution was in metaphysics where he developed a theory of humean supervenience. According to Mark Johnston, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, Lewis was “one of the outstanding philosophers of his time,” and “he is the greatest systematic metaphysician since Leibniz,”

This list is nowhere close to an exhaustive list of alumni who have made significant contributions to society it serves as proof that the college has a rich history that is worth remembering.

Although naming a building after a person is a small act compared to things such as putting money towards helping DACA students or reforming our sexual harassment and assault policies, it is a small step the college can take to show that it is committed to remembering our history and reaffirming our values.

Plus, Mott would be a lot easier to say than PPR apartments.

Editorial: SGO and admin don’t encourage student voices

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

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

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

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

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

Candy-coated family-friendly version of activism achieves nothing

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Swarthmore brands itself as an institution where student-staff-administration collaboration is crucial not only to student culture but to college function. Another critical value of the campus community is student activism, which has been present at the college since its radical founding. This spring semester, the college is neither living up to its history as an actor for social justice nor holding true to the values it advertises.

An essential part of the Swarthmore experience is learning to question the world around oneself. Through academics, campus resources and organizations, and simply being with other Swatties, students are taught to question, point out flaws, offer improvements, and assert their voices in an earnest way. Part of what students examine is the very institution from which they learn this critical thinking. This action can be seen presently in Mountain Justice’s divestment campaign and multiple demonstrations and protests on the issue. The college should largely support these initiatives, but has threatened students with citations and probations for interfering with college operations.

To first offset some concern, the Phoenix does not expect the college always to orchestrate actions perfectly in time with current events — the college does not control each aspect of this issue. Questions of the student handbook must be addressed to follow due diligence; however, the college’s handling of these situations must be examined independently, so students can engage earnestly with their institution.

Beyond disagreeing with divestment, the college’s warnings of citation and probation are seemingly meant to deter students from exercising their rights to assembly and peaceful protest. As an institution that encourages political activism from its founding to the sanctuary campus initiative and financing of Women’s March events, it is disappointing and demoralizing that the college only supports activism as long as the demonstrations are not aimed at it.

We acknowledge that it is true that the students sitting in the Chief Investment Officer’s were in violation of item six of the disorderly conduct definition of the Student Code of Conduct. However, we not only protest the enforcement of this item, but it’s very existence. Item six includes within disorderly conduct “other conduct that disrupts the normal operations of the college.” This broadens the definition of disorderly conduct to include anything that inconveniences faculty or staff. It’s also important to note that this item is a new change to the 2016-2017 Student Code of Conduct; any claim that the students opted in to this rule is tenuous as the majority of current students had already established themselves at the college before this rule was added. Although the previous edition of the Student Code of Conduct did state that conduct which impinged on the “orderly and essential operations of the College” was disorderly and that the previous defining list of five items was not limiting, the language has since been clearly intentionally broadening, which is troubling.

Furthermore, if the college intends to stand by this change to the Code of Conduct and its broad enforcement of the new definition it cannot position itself as a supporter of campus activism. The new wording bans any activism inconvenient to the college and, put very simply, supporting only activism which is convenient for you is not supporting activism. The point of demonstrations is to disrupt day to day activities to draw attention to a pressing issue. If there’s no disruption, all that’s left is a candy-coated family-friendly version of activism which achieves nothing and would be shameful to this college’s founders.

Future students will enter the liberal arts tradition. When speaking to prospective Swatties, the college rattles off stories of students using the campus to incubate ideas that they can explore boldly on and off campus. Tour guides mention  sit-ins and trips to Philadelphia and Washington they have attended to illustrate the campus’ activist tendencies. Item six in the Student Code of Conduct hampers inquiry and challenge where students are meant to hone those skills for the future.

The college’s actions this March, in its threats of probation and citation against student protesters, have demonstrated the college does not support the activities it promotes if those actions are directed at it. As it has decided that social justice is part of its history, character, and branding, the administration must find some to respect student activism.

Draw a picture, take a break!

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Midterm season is upon us and it’s easy to become too stressed or overwhelmed. However, we at the Phoenix want to stress the importance of self-care and the need to take a break every once in awhile.  We want to encourage you to focus on the bliss that will come from spring break after midterm season. Draw a picture of what you are doing over break and submit your drawings to the Phoenix! We will feature the winning drawing in our next publication!

Journalistic integrity involves us all

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Freedom of the press is threatened each and every day at a local, national, and international level. Within the United States, we enjoy constitutional protection of our most basic freedoms of speech and press; the same can be said here at Swarthmore for the most part. However, with the rise of President-elect Trump, the national and international press are entering into new territory. They no longer have an ally like President Obama within the White House, who protects free and independent journalism. Instead, the press is being antagonized by President-elect Trump, who is accusing media outlets of applying bias and liberal skew to their portrayal of every issue. Undoubtedly, certain networks are politically biased and slanted. However, the press serves an absolutely critical role as the fourth estate, an institution that has an unparalleled ability to monitor and report upon governmental affairs. It then falls upon us as citizens to ensure that we are consuming media that is transparent and reputable, spreading truth rather than misinformation. This becomes essential amidst reports of fabricated news stories and false claims, especially when these fallacious statements are being spread by someone as powerful as the President-elect himself.

The Phoenix strives to uphold a high standard of transparency and journalistic integrity as we conduct our affairs on campus. However, we have run into some obstacles in the past. We hope to work with faculty, staff, students, and the community to overcome these hurdles. We write this editorial in hopes that we can move forward and achieve progress together.

Most recently, when tasked with covering a story involving the Student Government Organization, the Phoenix became aware of the circumstance that members of SGO must present their statements to the Co-Presidents of SGO before releasing them to campus publications. The Phoenix was, unsurprisingly, unable to find students willing to go on the record to discuss the reason why this policy was enacted. However, we denounce such practices as inherently opposed to the free flow of independent information between members of SGO and campus journalists. Providing objective and unbiased coverage of the ongoings of campus institutions is near impossible when we are unable to gather untampered quotes and information from all relevant stakeholders and sources; the news we are able to present can only unbiased and impartial when our sources, be they students, faculty, or administration, cooperate fully and are willing to be quoted on the record and not regulated by the voices of others. We encourage SGO to work to create a more transparent and open dialogue with campus publications to ensure continued accountability as they pursue various policy agendas.

Furthermore, criticisms of coverage of on-campus events by student journalists can often be proactively resolved if the campus community engages openly and honestly with those student journalists.The journalistic process is severely impeded when no students of a particular constituency are willing to comment on a given issue. The Phoenix strives to include as many perspectives as possible, but the Phoenix also recognizes that the nature of journalism makes this task particularly difficult in certain instances. As per our policies, the Phoenix staff also recognizes that the newspaper’s audience is a small campus community; therefore, reporters and editors continue to strive for a balance between reporting events accurately and respecting the privacy of community members. However, the Phoenix asks the college community to continually engage with student journalists and work with them in the pursuit of comprehensive news coverage.

The Phoenix staff has also noticed an increase in the number of requests for anonymous quotes and anonymously published op-eds this semester. Anonymous sources undermine the integrity of campus journalism and detract from our stated mission to keep institutions accountable. The senior editors may choose to publish submissions without the writer’s name in exceptional circumstances only. In no case will the Phoenix publish the name of anyone submitting a letter or op-ed with a request for anonymous publication. Letters may be signed by a maximum of five individuals. Op-eds may be signed by a maximum of two individuals. The Phoenix will not accept pieces exclusively attributed to groups, although individual writers may request that their group affiliation be included.

Furthermore, when the Phoenix is forced to publish stories with the disclaimer that certain sources were unable to be successfully contacted, we inevitably and reluctantly provide an unobjective and limited view of an issue; this is not the type of journalism we wish to pursue or engage in, and we rely on the members of the college community to aid us in this pursuit.

Despite the challenges the press may face on a national or international level, the media continues to be one of the most valuable institutions to hold governments, institutions, and individuals responsible for their actions and words. We want to maintain and improve our standards of journalistic integrity, and seek the support of each and every one of you in this endeavor.

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