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Black History Month kick off prompts conversations about race and identity

in News/Uncategorized by

On Feb. 1, students gathered in the Black Cultural Center to kick off Black History Month and talk about the experiences of black students at Swarthmore. The event was organized and led by Shiko Njorge ’21 and T. J. Thomas ’21 and covered topics such as what it means to be black, black representation in the media, and what Black History Month means to students.

The meeting began with a brief summary by Thomas about how Black History Month was created.

In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson pioneered Negro History Week because he felt that black individuals and their accomplishments were not recognized. Negro History Week was the second week of February, purposely coinciding with both Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. It wasn’t until 1970, however, that Black United Students at Kent State University proposed an entire month devoted to black history. Six years later, in 1976, Black History Month was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford.

After an introduction about the history of Black History Month, Thomas led the conversation by asking  students the question ‘What is blackness?’.

Maleya Peterson ’21 shared her experience growing up in predominantly black area in Brooklyn.

“I got the nickname ‘the whitest black girl,’” Peterson said. “I think that people thought that knowing how to express myself clearly and appearing eloquent made me ‘white.’”

Another student, Paul Buchanan ’21, talked more about the effects of these stereotypes and how he sees blackness.

“I think that blackness is something that is defined individually by black people. When people try to put black people in a box, they try to rob someone of their comfort in their black identity,” Buchanan said. “This creates a tendency to conflate success with whiteness. Success shouldn’t be just seen as whiteness.”

The conversation then shifted to perceptions of blackness on Swarthmore’s campus.

Peterson talked about how she felt the need to code-switch, or to change the way she expresses herself according to her setting, at Swarthmore.

“It feels like I’m a whole different person here than when I’m at home. I’m scared that people will judge me as ‘just another black girl,’” Peterson said. “I try hard to hide certain parts of my personality when I’m here.”

By contrast, Brie Dinkins ’21 expressed that she felt a stronger need to code-switch at her predominantly white private high school than at Swarthmore.

“I had never really fully embraced myself [in high school],” Dinkins said. “Now I’m starting to see people [at Swarthmore] that look like me and am finding spaces where I belong.”

At Swarthmore, black students make up 6 percent of the student population. Some students conveyed dissatisfaction with the size of the black community on campus. Buchanan shared that he had initially been excited by the diversity offered at Swarthmore but was disappointed when he found out about how few black students there were on campus.

“Most of the schools I was looking at were majority white,” Buchanan said. “I came here and I saw that there weren’t as many black people as I thought there were. It’s been an adjustment to reckon with that.”

Despite Swarthmore’s small black community, Buchanan believes that it’s important for black students to attend schools like Swarthmore.

“I think that it’s important for black people to go to predominantly white institutions and show that black people are just as capable as others,” Buchanan said. “6 percent is not what I want to look at when I leave. I want that percentage [of black people at Swarthmore] to be higher.”

According to Buchanan, it’s the administration’s responsibility to expand their reach and make schools like Swarthmore more accessible to black students.

“I think that if Swarthmore were to expand their reach to different areas of the U.S. we would get a lot more interested black students,” Buchanan said.

To wrap up the conversation, students talked about the representation of black people in the media.

Pempho Moyo ’21 believes that the few opportunities in Hollywood for black actors and actresses leads to better performances from them.

“If you put black people in movies, they’re going to thrive because there aren’t opportunities for us to be represented, “ Moyo said. “When you have a majority black cast and a history of not being represented, they’re not going to give 100 percent, they’re going to give 150 percent.”

The conversation moved onto the representation of black people in the media.

Buchanan shared his own thoughts on how black representation can be problematic.

“My big issue with tokenism is that it puts one black person on a pedestal. It makes that one person represent the whole black community,” Buchanan said.

The conversation on Monday was just the beginning of a string of events held throughout February for Black History Month. In the upcoming days and weeks, there will be movie screenings of “Pariah,” “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” a poetry reading by Dr. Eve L. Ewing, talks about Queer African Studies, the relationship between African Americans and Quakers, and queerness in the black community. The Black Love Formal will then be held at the end of the month.

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

Events management restructuring reflects college-wide change

in News by

On Oct. 30, President Valerie Smith sent out an email announcing that the special assistant to the President, Susan Eagar, will have a new role as director of events and programs, effective Nov. 20. This role will be to oversee event planning broadly, and it is part of structural changes to the department of events management.

President Smith’s email outlined the responsibilities of Eagar’s new position.

“In her new role, Susan will be responsible for all event operations and year-round logistical coordination of Swarthmore College events including major campus events, prominent speakers, and presidential events, as needed.”

In her current role as special assistant, Eagar provides high-level administrative support to the President and manages the daily operations of the President’s office. The email also outlined that Eagar would collaborate with external clients, oversee booking, and act as the main contact for all scheduling as well as the main point of contact between the event staff, host of the event, and support for events. She will also “implement, execute, and manage” the reservations systems and “provide ongoing training and resources for those scheduling events.” All of these tasks will be done through Swat Central, which is a “new, centralized” online event reservation system.

According to Eagar, Swat Central will replace the current online campus calendar and EMS, the current space reservations system. This new system will put space reservations, setup needs, and events publicity into one place; it will be implemented in spring 2018. Swat Central, like Eagar’s new role, indicates structural changes in the department of events management.

“It will serve as a one-stop hub for our campus community to learn about and reserve space for College events, classes, and meetings,” Eagar said via email.

The department of events management operates under the executive director of auxiliary services Anthony Coschignano. Coschignano mentioned via email that Swat Central will “provide more efficient and effective services.”

The Events Management Department was previously known as “Space and Summer Programs,” but since the department underwent restructuring, the name has been changed. The Events Management Department falls under the umbrella of Auxiliary Services. Other departments under Auxiliary Services include Dining and Catering Services, OneCard, The Swarthmore Campus and Community Store, Office Services, Post Office, and the Inn at Swarthmore.

Regarding the function of her department, Eagar said, “The Events Management Department is responsible for providing quality service to all our customers seeking the use of campus facilities.”

The structure of the Events Management Department includes an events coordinator and setup crew leader. The department plans to hire student workers as well to help with daily planning, particularly relating to summer programs. Coschignano said that this hiring process and structuring will occur over this academic year.

Coschignano noted that the department’s previous structure was similar, the changes are significant.

“The objective is to create an events office that will be best be able to support campus events in a more holistic, efficient, and creative way,” he said in an email.

This objective is reflected in President Smith’s college-wide email, which mentioned that this particular instance of restructuring relates to the 2016 visioning exercise.

On the Swarthmore College website, the 2016 visioning exercise is said to be “an effort … to help [the college] think more holistically about both the nature of students’ lives beyond the classroom and the types of spaces, services, technologies, activities, and campus culture that might support those experiences, both now and into the future.”

The 2016 visioning exercise is a complement to the Strategic Directions plan from December 2011, during the presidency of Rebecca Chop. Strategic Directions is a 40-page outline of a “strategic plan” to explain core values of the college, evaluate the current environment of the college, outline recommendations for change, lay out commitments to support the work, and provide implementations and future steps for the plan. Other elements of the plan included a campus facilities master plan as well as a diversity and inclusion plan.

A result of Strategic Directions was the development of a Master Plan for the college, which includes plans for the college’s growth, including the expansion of the number of buildings and students. The Master Plan can be found on the Swarthmore College website.

Eager’s new position as director of events and programs is indicative of the college’s efforts to grow and restructure which have been outlined in the 2016 visioning exercise and the Master Plan.

Students create swateventsaround.me website to streamline social scene

in Around Campus/News by

An independent team of students has created an events website with the hope of creating a more organized social scene on campus. The website, entitled swateventsaround.me, allows students to quickly add a pin on a campus map to advertise their event.

Team member Jason Jin ’20 explained why he thought creating the website was necessary.

“This was pretty much my idea. I was frustrated with the way that the events system worked here. We have no central or universal events list. We have a lot of flyers everywhere, a bunch of email spam, and sometimes, there’s Facebook events that people share with you. So I wanted to create a universal system that everyone can post their stuff to,” he said.

The team, which includes Won Chung ’18, Bunn Buraparat ’20, William Lee ’20, and Tristan Cates ’20, started developing the website at the PennApps Hackathon at the University of Pennsylvania about a month ago. A hackathon is an event during which a team of programmers typically work on a single project for the duration of a whole weekend. Jin also mentioned that since then, the team met almost every night to fully develop the website’s features.

To register an event on the website, all a student needs to do is complete a short form filling out the date, time, and description of the event. After the team approves the event within 24 hours, a small pin is dropped on a campus map for other users to see.  

Won Chung further explained the mechanics behind the website.

“For the front end of the website, we use CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. For the back end, we use Google Firebase API, Google Analytics, and Google Maps,” he said.

While Chung is also the Chair of Internal Affairs in SGO, he mentioned that SGO supports the website and will advertise it to students.

He later added the extent to which the administration will control the website.

“We approve the forms based on the guidelines Andrew Barclay gave us. Basically, no alcohol,” he said. Andrew Barclay is the Assistant Director of Student Life, Leadership, and Engagement.

According to Chung, the website will remain under the control of students, and OSE will transfer a master list of events to the team in the future. In the future, OSE emails announcing events will be phased out while the current website will be integrated with the college’s main website.

As of publication, the website has averaged around 130 users and 20 pins per week. Following integration to the college’s home website and further advertisement, the website’s creators hope that the website will further increase community members’ access to campus events.

 

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