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Into the Archives Column: The Beginning

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If you’re researching Swat on the internet, the first sentence on the “about” page of its website reads:

“Since its founding in 1864, Swarthmore College has given students the knowledge, insight, skills, and experience to become leaders for the common good.”

As students on campus, descriptions like this of the college can seem largely rhetorical. Swarthmore has a long, long history of progressivism and social justice, but with our large workloads and busy schedules, it’s easy to feel detached from our place within the institution as a whole. I stumbled upon random facts about the college’s history last year — Albert Einstein spoke here; Nirvana played here; the FBI investigated students and faculty here — and thought it’d be interesting to look further into the narrative that the school’s history itself creates. I’m hoping to raise my own (and potentially our collective) consciousness, to help us appreciate our place in historical time and be better equipped to hold the college accountable to its promises of the past. With that in mind, I’m going into the archives: this week, to the beginning.

Swarthmore was officially authorized to become a college on April 1, 1864. In its authorization, the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives approved Swarthmore College “to establish and maintain a school and college for the purpose of importing to persons of both sexes knowledge in the various branches of science, literature, and the arts.”

However, the process of founding Swarthmore was begun even earlier, around 1860, by a group of Hicksite Quakers in the Philadelphia area, who placed great emphasis on community building and were ‘liberal’ even for Quakers. (They split from more Orthodox quakers as the other group moved away from women leading services and focused more on material possessions than “common people.”) The Hicksites met in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore to discuss the starting of a Hicksite college; one of their main goals was coeducation, highly uncommon for the time. (For comparison, Yale didn’t become co-ed until 1969.)

Apart from the general Hicksite Quaker goals, the main proponents of the school themselves were visionaries of the time. One such person was Benjamin Hallowell (sound familiar?), the man who wrote the first pamphlet advocating the creation of the college. He was a conscientious objector in the War of 1812, and eventually became the president of the University of Maryland — only on the condition that he serve without a salary and the school’s farm not use slave labor. There were initially conversations about what kind of school Swarthmore should be; some Quakers wanted a grammar school, another a school to train other Quakers, but Hallowell wanted more out of the proposed school. He wrote in a letter to future president Edward Parrish “The Institution must, from its commencement, possess faculties for pursuing a liberal and extensive course of study … equal to that of the best Institutions of learning of our Country” (Swarthmore Bulletin).

Along with Hallowell was Lucretia Coffin Mott, a Hicksite Minister — Hicksites encouraged women leading religious services — as well as a leading abolitionist and suffragist of the 19th century. Mott devoted her life not only to these causes, but also “to the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, school and prison reforms, temperance, peace, and religious tolerance” (Swarthmore College, A Brief History). Her home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and she even received a nomination for United States Vice President in 1848, long before the 19th amendment was even on the horizon.

Hallowell and Mott were a few noteworthy proponents, but the creation of the college included a vast variety of people who adhered to Quaker values: from wealthy businessmen, to abolitionists, to former professors at West Point.

The name “Swarthmore” was actually coined in 1863 by Hallowell’s wife Margaret, who wanted to name the school after a historical house in England called “Swarth moor” the home of another Margaret, Margaret Fell, who dedicated her life to the Quaker movement and was a strong proponent of the right of women to speak freely and be leaders, even in religious contexts. As early as the mid 1660s, Fell wrote in her book Women’s Speaking” that the ministry of women was “Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures” (Swarthmore: A Brief History).

From the land for which it was named, to the people who decided on its inception, to the very sect of Quakerism from which the College was conceived, Swat’s beginnings are permeated with progress. The founders had a vision of a school that transcended the societal expectations of the time; one can only wonder how that vision has evolved. How have we translated this original outlook into our present?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Friends Library archives long history

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Located immediately to the left of McCabe’s entrance, the Friends Historical Library Reading Room boasts artwork and rows of desks, looking like what one might expect in an almost 150-year-old academic library. The collection holds more than first meets the eye; amidst the stacks are thousands of books, photographs, pamphlets, and Quaker meeting records spanning from before Swarthmore College opened its doors, through the school’s history, to the modern day.

Established in 1871, the library has moved around, occupying areas throughout campus such as the location where Worth Health Center now stands.  It also survived the 1881 fire, which destroyed Parrish Hall and delayed instruction soon after the school opened. A New York Times article from September 27, 1881, explains that the 4,000 volumes in the college’s library were all destroyed, save for “a very valuable collection of old books, manuscripts, [and others] relating to the early history of Friends.” These, Curator Christopher Densmore explained, are still part of the Friends Historical Library’s collection.

“The collections, at least at that time, were in a fireproof room. Think of a large, walk-in vault for a bank,” he said.

The library retains 17th century documents today, as well as journals, correspondences, and papers of Quakers and individuals related to Swarthmore College throughout history. Papers from the Parrish and Magill families, among others, are also included in the collection.

Archivist Susanna Morikawa said, “I especially enjoy the family papers, which often span many generations.”

In addition to Quaker history in general, the library supervises archives of the college and the Swarthmore Borough Historical Society. Information regarding the school’s students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni is accessible and searchable online for those interested. Publications, architectural plans, and syllabi from a World War II-era relief and reconstruction training program remain in the Friends Historical Library’s collections.

Beyond paper records, the library houses a range of artwork, including several copies of Edward Hicks’s “The Peaceable Kingdom.” Variably depicting Quakers, Native American Indians, a child, and animals, the general framework for this painting is derived from Isaiah 11:6, which explains, “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, […] and a little boy will lead them.”

“He could paint it over and over again, make many, many copies of it, and each one would be a little different,” Densmore said.

The collection includes other works by 18th and 19th century artist Benjamin West, who lived in the house now occupied by Public Safety. Some works relate to West’s personal life, such as a sketch of his father, John West. Many of his paintings involve historical and religious themes, such as his 1771 painting of William Penn’s treaty with Native Americans. An engraving of this is housed in the Friends Historical Library.

Also included are both positive and negative depictions of Quaker meetings. In some modifications on a theme seen in an engraving by Ernst von Hesse Wartegg, the devil is depicted whispering into a woman’s ear while she speaks during meeting time. This illustration reflects to the historical audience that the Friends allowed what was considered a sinful behavior: permitting women to speak.

On exhibit in the past have been documents that explore issues surrounding horticulture, slavery, and the LGBT community. Researchers have used the library for Quaker history in addition to their own research around these social topics.

“Because Quakers were involved in so many social concerns, their work in abolition, education, and prison reform are reflected in the collections,” Morikawa said.

Professors occasionally bring students to the library to showcase its resources. Gilbert Guerra ’19, a student in Professor Lee Smithey’s Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies course, visited with the class and noted the breadth of materials available.

“Getting to see it in depth led me to appreciate it as a resource a lot more, and I think that if more students knew about its history, they would take advantage of having it on campus,” he said.

Besides being open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the week, the library hosts a variety of events open to the public. On Monday, Oct. 31st, in honor of Halloween, they held an event entitled “Spirits and Rappings: Pageants of 19th Century Séances.” They also hold Underground Railroad tours and other educational events throughout the year.

Beloved Labor seminar runs one last time

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There are few things Swarthmore students are known for more than strong work ethic and passion for social justice. Professor of History Marjorie Murphy’s Honors seminar Labor and Urban History seem to tie those things together perfectly. Murphy, who has taught at the college since 1983, works her interest in social history and labor organizing into all her classes, from the American Working Class to Irish History.

Murphy’s teaching style is one that motivates students while they are in her courses and well after, according to Anna-Livia Chen ’16.5. “Marj teaches you a type of learning that I think is very unique and absolutely crucial to maintaining one’s academic spark after a year or two,” Chen said. Chen appreciated Murphy’s ability to immerse her students in the material, even when that meant assigning a lot of reading.

“Though she loads on the readings like pastrami on a Katz sandwich, you aren’t expected to read every single one with extreme depth. Instead, she gives you a variety of materials in the hopes that you will be inspired by one of the many perspectives offered and dive into that author/time period/etc with self-powered zeal,” she observed. Chen also added about Murphy’s teaching, “Many might describe her as not having a filter.”

Murphy’s personalized interest in students as well as labor led to the creation of the Labor & Urban History seminar, which has special relevance to students. Unfortunately, we all have to work for our money and labor is really all around us. As students at Swarthmore, we encounter workers who are necessary to our everyday life, such as dining and EVS staff members.  Many students on campus are workers as well, be it in McCabe, LPAC, or the Lang Center. This is something that affects all of us, and will affect us for the rest of our lives, so why does passion for labor studies seem so absent?

Murphy’s Honors seminar has an enrollment of four people this semester. As this is her last time teaching the course, Murphy decided to run the class despite its small size. Murphy expressed consistent trouble in trying to fill classes about labor and working but has continued to teach about these subjects and believes they are still undervalued.  “I think people get a lot out of hearing the stories of working people and working lives,” Murphy said, and her former students seem to agree, many of whom have moved to careers in organizing.

 

Murphy immerses her students in the subject matter of the course through community based learning. This style of learning involves venturing out into the world to do different projects to improve the surrounding community. She described some of her early classes talking to different labor organizers, registering people to vote, and also working on individual community organizing projects based on the students’ interests. The ability of students to make real, tangible differences in the world seems to be a running theme in Murphy’s teaching. She describes social justice movements as “unfinished revolutions” which constantly need to be passed down to the next generation in order to maintain the change that has been made. Bringing students out to do this work, and pique their interest in it, is necessary for it to endure.

That said, Swarthmore has a very strong activist community. “Vocal,” “radical” and “passionate” are adjectives that describe most student activists on campus. Places like the IC and BCC are home to students committed to making serious change on campus and beyond. Their commitment to social justice is consistently inspiring and their work has impacted multiple aspects of campus. But is this the best environment for more introverted activists?

Often students who were once considered the crazy liberal in their town are exposed to a whole different level of radical politics they may have never seen before. This could be very intimidating for someone with minimal activist experience. With an abundance of radically outspoken activists at Swarthmore some less radical students can easily feel overshadowed or too intimidated to participate in movements on campus. There’s a whole pool of untapped enthusiasm for activism that can be dominated by more extroverted activists. Murphy makes an effort to empower these more introverted activists, and its results have been significant.

Murphy assigns much of her classwork with the goal of bringing out the activist in everyone, showing them the potential of their own efforts while also laying a groundwork for students’ potential further involvement in social movements. The mobile aspect of these community based learning classes has diminished over time because of the lack of support from the school. Murphy noted that professors aren’t valued for taking students out into the world as much as they would be for publishing a paper or working on research. The time commitment to these projects takes away from research or writing time, and so professors generally less inclined to do it, Murphy explained.

The Labor & Urban History seminar, although under-enrolled, continues for those four students who have taken up the challenge. The conversation about class hierarchy at Swarthmore has not caught much attention, and with Murphy retiring in 2018, labor studies classes like hers may no longer be available as academic settings for such discussion. Many students at Swarthmore have seen first hand the effects of low minimum wage and bad labor practices, whether through their own experience or those of their family or friends. We would all love to believe that at Swarthmore everyone is equal, but the burden of class background is prevalent all over campus. More classes like Murphy’s could open up that academic conversation and offer students a class that could encompass their experience within the class system. A quote by Bayard Rustin that hangs over Murphy’s desk seems to ring true to her philosophy, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”

Student-run course explores Native lands

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Each semester, the college offers hundreds of courses in a staggering array of disciplines. Choosing a single class, let alone an entire course of study, is a challenging process, especially with the availability of curricular offerings at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Penn. For some, though, the course catalogue isn’t enough, and these Swatties have the option of designing and executing their own classes. This semester, a student-run course entitled “Indigenous Communities and the Lands They Belong to: An Indigenous History of North America” brings together nearly a dozen students, without a professor, to discuss the readings from an almost entirely student-designed syllabus.

Daniel Orr ’16, a special major in Native Education and officer in the Native American Student Association, explained that the course began to take shape during a previous student-run class of which Orr was also a part, entitled Colonization and Survivance in North America.

“Last semester, we had a lot of really cool people in there, and what came out of it was that a couple of people were interested in looking at how indigenous migration had changed throughout the centuries,” Orr explained. Students were specifically interested in the consequences of indigenous migration for communities, identities, and political and social relationships, Orr said, and the specific focus of this semester’s class emerged as he constructed the syllabus.

Though the course is in some sense a history of indigenous peoples in North America and follows a chronological path, it focuses less on the United States’ development and more on how indigenous communities were impacted during that time.

The class will also spend a week focusing specifically on the Lenape. The college stands on the Native tribe’s historical land, which included the Delaware River watershed. Orr said he wished the course could include a more in-depth history of the land on which the college is built, but suggested that this might be the basis for an entirely different class. Since his freshman year, Orr has spent time with one of the Lenape bands in the area.

“I know a little bit of one of the classic stories they tell, about the Walking Purchase, which was how the land was stolen from them, but I don’t know the details of how the land was carved up,” Orr explained. The Walking Purchase of 1737 was a supposed agreement between the Penn family and the Lenape, by which the Penns claimed and forced the Lenape to vacate 1.2 million acres of land.

Bruce Dorsey, a professor in the history department who helped Orr create the syllabus for the class, explained that the focus of the course had shifted from movements and diasporas to land and communities. Students are thinking through large questions about sense of place, challenges to this sense from first encounters to decimations of populations by disease and violence, the active identity of certain lands, and the meanings of being forced to exist in locations such as reservations.

Dorsey said that the class will also consider “Indians in unexpected places.” While cities are often assumed, in historical narratives, to be the place of white ethnic migrants and of African American migrants post-World War I, they hold Native communities as well, Dorsey explained.

“I think it subverts some of the mythologies and assumptions about American history,” Dorsey said.

For Julia Wakeford ’18, who hopes to go into Native law and policy in her professional life, the course’s focus on land is key.

“Native movements and functions are completely different from those of other minority groups,” Wakeford said. “We are of a separate status — it’s different to be a minority than it is to be aboriginal, and so the movements in diasporas and lands have always been important to us.”

For Wakeford, Native society functions differently around the concept of land, and so studying this functioning and the meanings of urbanization and reservation life are key, especially due to Native groups’ differing land statuses and interactions with the government.

“I think this class is really important because if you want to understand Native peoples and mindsets, you have to understand our relationship to the land,” Wakeford said. She feels that this relationship is often portrayed as environmentalist when this may not be accurate.

“That’s not Native voices — it’s something different, it’s about the memories and the lack and where you live. This land Swarthmore is on, this is Native land, and that conversation never happens,” she said. Thus, one of the tasks of the class is to consider why this question is rarely asked.

Though her overall intellectual commitment to Native Studies comes from her Native heritage and growing up around Native culture, Wakeford’s interest in Native law and policy stems from issues of land. In a case which the Supreme Court declined to hear, Osage land was demoted from reservation status to middle ground status for tax purposes.

“I was with my grandpa through this process, listening to him talk about it, and it really frustrated me to see that land status go away,” Wakeford said. “That was my first interest in Native policy and its land, but land is always there.”

The issue of land came up again for Wakeford during her time at a summer camp in Georgia, when she realized the camp was built along the trail upon which the Creek were removed.

“I called my grandma and cried,” Wakeford said. “I felt something with that — the idea that my ancestors would have been here in these lands and lived here.”

Beyond issues of land, Dorsey explained that the course incorporates a different perspective of history, one which early Americanist historians like him attempt to utilize.

“Part of that training is to newly configure the way in which you think about early American history — it’s not a history that’s the story of a kind of passive group of indigenous populations that gets invaded and conquered and disappeared,” Dorsey said.

Classes such as Dorsey’s Early American Honors seminar, he explained, attempt to do what Dan Richter terms “facing east.” This requires historians to consider history “without the assumption of the westward inevitability of the movement of Europeans, European civilization…,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey explained that Native history is key to much other work in which he is interested.

“It’s the centerpiece of any kind of American history you want to do: whether it’s environmental history or cultural history or history of critical race theory, you are going to confront the questions and issues of the histories and stories of indigenous peoples,” Dorsey said.

An enormous amount of work is involved in creating a student-run course, Dorsey explained, adding that Orr’s production of the three courses is fairly unheard-of and astounding. This semester’s course is the third student-run course in the Native studies field for which Orr has designed much of the syllabus, as he also drove the creation of the U.S. Federal Indian Policy course in the spring semester of 2015.

When asked by Orr to support the course, Dorsey explained, he simply suggested a few textbooks for Orr to consider, rather than handing him a reading list. Exploring the suggested readings, topics, and questions raised by these textbooks, and specifying the focus of the course more fully, was entirely up to Orr, who drew on various online resources, conducted research into related classes at other institutions and looked at extant syllabi through Tripod. Once the syllabus was more fine-tuned, Dorsey suggested pairings, additional readings, and further questions.

The class counts towards a major in history, and all the students in the course write weekly blog posts and a group midterm paper, and will be creating collective or individual final projects of their choice.

Despite the effort required, Orr suggested that Swarthmore might provide a uniquely receptive environment in which to create a student-run course.

“One of the really nice things there is about Swarthmore is that we can just create these classes — you have to do the work, but there aren’t really any people standing in your way,” Orr said.

Orr explained that he prefers the student-run format to professor-led classes. Though he is studying education, Orr does not feel he knows how to be a professor, and has much to learn in terms of educational practice and familiarity with a topic, but he believes that student-run courses fit his learning style and intellectual interests more closely.

“It’s basically just like an in-depth book club, usually with people you enjoy being around. Of course there is some work to be done, but at least for me, in classrooms it feels like you have to be an academic and talk and behave in a certain way, but in student-run courses, we’re just sitting around talking.”

Dorsey contextualized the development of student-run courses in various political movements of the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Black Campus Movement and the women’s liberation movement.

“All the things we take for granted, like women’s studies, Black studies…because of students who’ve been thinking theoretically about things that might not always get put there such as race theory, those kinds of things have been approached from student initiatives,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey also remarked upon the recurring focus of student-run courses on people’s histories. In 1970 and for years before, for example, Black students at the college repeatedly created and led their own Black Studies courses as they pushed for a formalized program. In more recent history, a fall 2012 class that provided an introduction to ethnic studies took place, thanks to Shelly Wen ’14, a special major in multicultural education.

“We’re a small college, and so you would lose what Swarthmore would be if you had a student body large enough to have a faculty large enough to have someone to teach every aspect of all the people’s histories that need to be told, which happens at big universities,” Dorsey said. “We need greater diversity, and so it’s great to have students who want to do those kinds of courses — we usually have visiting professors offer what would be expanding our possibilities.”

Dorsey added, “I think it’s just a really bold and brave endeavor. I know they’re going to have a great time exploring the difficult issues but also the really fascinating, deep history that exists.”

Student-run courses in Native studies have felt very validating for Wakeford, she said.

“I didn’t realize that academics were writing about the things that I was feeling, and it turns out they were,” Wakeford said. “A lot of [the readings] answered questions about things I’d always wondered about in Native politics and being Native, living in a white world.”

Though there are nearly a dozen students in this semester’s student-run course, only three are members of NASA, which Wakeford appreciates.

“It touches me that there are other students on campus taking courses on Natives,” she said. “That makes me happy — it means that they want to learn about my history and my culture that I love so much.”

In the future, Orr hopes a more definitive program in Native Studies might emerge at the college, based upon the framework of the student-run courses he and others have created.

“Eventually, that would be great. The ultimate goal really is to destroy the higher education system, so who knows?” he concluded.

 

Remembering our secret society of old

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Photo by Michelle Myers
Photo by Michelle Myers

At seven minutes to seven tonight, many of us will be daydreaming about Pub Nite, enjoying Caribbean bar at Sharples, or settling in for another long night at McCabe. Had we attended Swarthmore in the first half of the 20th century, though, seven of us might don dark suits and garnet ties, and walk side by side down Whittier Place to the Egyptian-style temple housing the college’s very own secret society, Book and Key.

From 1906 to 1957, the members of Book and Key met every Thursday evening in the temple. The society was closed to all but distinguished senior men, who were chosen at a gathering of the junior class men on the first Thursday of each May by the previous members. Crowds of students, alumni, and residents of the Borough massed to witness the event. One student was tapped every seven minutes, until the seven new members had been selected. The following Thursday, the new members would make their first trip to the temple on Elm Avenue, presenting themselves at the door to the building. There, the members would wait for a single ghostly hand to emerge and pull them inside, one by one, every three minutes, accompanied by the ringing of a gong on the roof. No one would emerge until morning.

Book and Key styled itself after Yale’s secret societies — perhaps an impulse of what may have been the beginning of a long tradition of Swarthmore students who “applied early to Yale, actually,” but are “really happy” they’re here now. Morris Clothier, class of 1890, and Howard Johnson, class of 1896, founded the society after graduating from Swarthmore. Shortly after the turn of the century, the two men discussed the possibility of establishing a society modeled on Yale’s groups. Clothier and Johnson visited, among others, Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, and Book and Snake’s buildings to find inspiration for the Swarthmore temple. The clubhouse was a nearly windowless building with four stained glass windows that pictured a book, a key, the scales of justice, and the number 232. The windows, to be illuminated from behind, were completed in 1906, when the first class of members was initiated.

Members were chosen on the basis of their involvement at the college. Many captained sports teams, participated in student government, served as fraternity officers, or led other student organizations. Membership in Book and Key seems to have either conferred on its recipients positions of power at the college, or to have consolidated and strengthened pre-existing connections. Many alumni of the society became members of the college’s administration after graduating.

A 1957 article in the Phoenix speculated that this pipeline from the society to the administration stemmed from a lack of a functional student government. “The significant undergraduate decisions were worked out in the secrecy of the Temple, then presented tactfully but emphatically to the College through the members of the Society. It was inevitable that, through the feeling of shared responsibility for the community, there evolved a group solidarity among members unequalled by any other ties on campus,” the article read. In other words, Book and Key members seemed to have been accustomed to making decisions about everything from the establishment of an honor system to the publishing of a picture directory of the freshman class, and simply continued this exertion of control over everyday college life upon graduation.

Alumni played an active role in selecting current students for initiation and exerted control over Book and Key through the Temple Trust Association, a group founded by Clothier that consisted of the group’s founders and its alumni.

Many members also eventually served on the Board of Managers. For instance, J. Lawrence Shane ’56, who chaired the Board from 1997 to 2003 and became an emeritus member in 2008 after serving on the Board since 1970, was tapped for Book and Key in the spring of 1955. Book and Key’s members typically achieved post-graduate success in the financial sector as well — Shane went on to earn his master’s in business administration from Wharton and climb the corporate ladder to a top administrative position at a paper company, for instance.

But what did the society do, exactly, besides perpetuate the pre-existing dominance of white men in leadership positions at the college and beyond, like any good secret society? One clue lies in the text of the society’s elaborate rituals available at the Friends Historical Library. From the initiation rites, it appears that the new members were told, “Do you realize that our action in choosing you has changed your standing from one of the rank and file of the Junior class of Swarthmore College to that of a distinguished member of the Senior class? For we consider that no honor which has been conferred upon you in your college career equals that of being one of the chosen … we have watched you carefully during the past year; have studied your character, noted your actions, and weighed you carefully …”

Members worshipped the society’s Book of Knowledge, a huge, heavy Bible — also available at the Friends Library. During initiation, members were told to “cherish it and revere it, not only during your senior year, but throughout your life.” Much of the society’s initiation rites seem also to have focused on devotion to the college: the members bound themselves through initiation not only to one another but “above all to your and our dear Alma Mater, Swarthmore College, for whose best interests you will ever strive, whose fair name shall ever be as dear to you as your own, and whose escutcheon you will never suffer to be tarnished by word or deed, if it is within your power to prevent it.”

The temple itself was a sacred space, according to the society’s records of its initiation rites. “Within these walls, all is brightness, and our hearts warm with feelings of brotherly love and affection borne of our … compact. Without, Night spread her sable mantle over the campus and college halls … May love of your Alma Mater increase as the night wears on, and may the morning found you bound to each other, to us, and to your Alma Mater, with ties of deathless affection.” However the members were “bound to each other” throughout that long first night remains a secret, though one might wonder if other exclusive campus groups might draw inspiration for their own intimate and secretive bonding rituals from these historic rites.

In its early years, the group remained committed to secrecy, refusing, for instance, to publicize its contributions to the college. Beginning in the 1930s, however, Book and Key dropped several rituals, including Tap Night and its members’ Thursday evening procession to the temple. In 1945, the current member class was expanded beyond just seven. From 1942 to 1955, the society conducted freshman orientation on campus, ushered at commencement ceremonies, toured high schools to promote the college, co-sponsored a one-act play contest, and organized a number of community service projects.

The society’s secrecy and exclusivity reached an all-time low point in the spring of 1957. Most of the group’s senior members at that point favored eliminating the selection process entirely, but those in the Temple Trust Association preferred that the society dissolve completely rather than undergo such a radical change. None of the 1957 members of Book and Key were inducted to the Trust, and no new members were tapped that spring. Until 1965, society alumni attempted to restart Book and Key, but in May of that year, the organization was formally dissolved. The Trust handed the deed to the temple over to the college, and turned its investment fund into a scholarship for a graduating senior man. In 1966, the temple was demolished. Notwithstanding a few Board members and a handful of documents on file at the Friends Library, no memory of Book and Key remains on campus.

Swarthmore’s Book and Key was never quite as secret as the University of Virginia’s infamously impenetrable Seven Society, which only reveals its members after their death, as publicly mischievous as UVA’s IMP Society, whose members tend to march the university grounds carrying pitchforks, wearing horned hoods, and occasionally pouring gasoline for the purposes of bonfire-starting, or as much of an elite factory as Skull and Bones, which counts among its members three U.S. presidents. So perhaps the conditions of our student body — its smaller-than-average size, its purported distaste for elitism, its definite lack of a taste for creative troublemaking, unless that troublemaking consists of figuring out ways to cover dorm room smoke alarms for weed-smoking purposes — preclude the existence of a secret society today.

But maybe, the rumors about a handful of upperclassmen — not just white men, supposedly — who meet weekly on a certain rooftop in the dead of night and select for their ranks a combination of the most powerful and most intriguing students on campus, are true. Perhaps we should look more closely for their sign around campus and for evidence of their power. After all, we go to Swarthmore, where nothing can stay secret for long.

 

Dual film screening asked to whom history belongs

in Arts by
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Photo by Bobby Zipp

Hong Kong-based filmmaker and film professor Louisa Wei let her work speak mostly for itself when she presented it to a smattering of students and other community members on Tuesday,  October 7 in the LPAC Cinema.  She introduced her movie, “Golden Gate Silver Light,” with a few words of background information and a quick clarification on the presence of subtitles.  During the screening, she reacted together with the audience members through laughter and full-bodied sights in response to amusement and mild shock at the story being told.  At the end of her presentation, Wei concisely answered a few questions, one of them with a clever, almost coy sounding variation of, “Well, what do you think?”

Unassuming and honest, Wei revealed her artistic motive only subtly towards the end of the event.  It seems wrong to open coverage of an event with a detail from its closing, but there isn’t a better way to introduce the recent screening of Wei’s work than with what she said as the audience prepared itself to leave — “History should belong to everybody.”

The meaning seems obvious, but becomes more layered when considered in tandem with the work displayed.  Perhaps considering the presentation of the material backwards sheds more light on its purpose.

The films shown were a short titled “The Heart’s Mouth,” by Professor of Film and Media Studies Erica Cho, and “Golden Gate Silver Light” — Wei’s 2013 documentary chronicling the life of 20th-century film director Esther Eng.  Born in San Francisco to Chinese parents surnamed Ng, Eng embarked on an ambitious film career both in the States and in China, changing the spelling of her name in the process.  Eng was a cinematic trailblazer, representing Asian American, female, and queer performers and filmmakers in a period of American cinematic history during which members of those groups could be counted on one hand.

Wei tells the story and importance of Eng’s life both in traditional documentary narrative, with interviews from family and colleagues, and in context, explaining the lives and times of Eng’s contemporaries.  The film tells parallel stories of fellow filmmaker Dorothy Arzner and Chinese actress Anna May Wong.  Ostracized and oppressed, these women succeeded in moving themselves forward despite barriers that the director does not even bother mentioning.  The film is almost campy despite its power.  Interestingly, though, there is little sense of solidarity in struggle among these women despite their being on seemingly common ground.  Their lives and personal characters are said to be full of compassion, energy and friendship.  Yet it is understood that they struggled regularly, and were ultimately alone.

Eng kept no written record of her life.  There are no known audio or video documents featuring her.  Much of the information Wei had at hand to put the film together was a dumpster’s worth of photo reels of Eng and her family, offering insight on where she lived and where to look for interview subjects.  In these images, we see Eng’s willingness to push limits as she readily embraces men and poses provocatively (by the standards of her circumstances, at least) with women.  The demanding interpretation of the only insight into Eng’s life portrays Louisa Wei as a true visual historian and the film as a historical work.

The presentation of Wei’s film was preceded by Cho’s “The Heart’s Mouth.”  The work probably merits an analysis longer than this piece, but a basic understanding of both its obvious and subtle connections to the main event is important in realizing the value of Wei’s closing statement.  Cho’s film, made on commission for the San Jose Museum of Art, is a fantasy sequence from a longer work that involves a dreamlike encounter of love between two nameless, scarcely made-up young men set to Nat King Cole’s version of “Nature Boy.”  The scene is vivid without being lurid, romantic without being erotic — a totally charming experience.

Later, “Nature Boy” appears in Wei’s film in the form of a specially commissioned saxophone cover.  It was apparently a coincidental overlap, but it still makes the connection between the two pieces more clear.

The films present a changing history in two different ways.  Wei’s approach is retrospective, relying on details of the past to make statements on the nature of the present and expectations for the future.  Cho, on the other hand, presents a work that is immediately evident as part of history in the making.  In neither film is it explicitly voiced what is important or unusual in the stories being told.  The (rightfully) assumed and implied legitimacy of media of all groups runs as a theme through both of them.  A conception of this theme adds to the understanding of Wei’s soft-spoken closing statement: history should belong to everybody not only as it is read, but as it is written.

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