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Mueller Monday: A new national pastime?

in Opinions/Words of Wagner by

This Monday, Paul Manafort was indicted on twelved counts, including conspiracy against the United States. This, of course, is part of the investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government to influence the election in favor of the Republican candidate. The indictment along with George Papadopoulos pleading guilty to lying to the FBI signal that Robert Mueller’s investigation is gaining steam, a good sign for those, including myself, who think that it is likely that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to take down former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

My own reaction to speculation from news sources that an indictment was coming on Monday morning made me feel like the question of “who is getting indicted” better fit on the title of a game show. It felt fun, despite the fact that the very sovereignty of the United States is at stake in the investigation. After making a few great jokes on Twitter, including one encouraging Special Prosecutor Mueller to release indictments on days that were more fit for popping bottles of champagne, I wonder if my reaction to the news is problematic for the democratic institutions and norms that I hold dear, especially since it can be argued that making light of Donald Trump contributed to his election. I remember laughing incredibly hard at Trump while watching one of the presidential debates in LPAC, and I shudder at how naive we all were. In laughing off then-candidate Trump, we underestimated Trump’s insidious potential. Could we be laughing away the very freedom to vote a president out of office by joking about the investigation that we hope will take him down?

Or, is laughing at Trump and company flounder in the face of the serious allegations they face a kind of retribution for the stupidity of this presidency? Or is it useful as a coping method in these troubled and uncertain times? Or is Sarah Huckabee Sanders just too roastable for us to not make fun of her blatant lies and even worse metaphors for tax reform?

To answer these questions, I want to start with the fact that there is no good metaphor for tax reform. I almost feel bad for making fun of Huckabee Sanders until I remember that she chooses to peddle the daily lies coming out of the Trump administration despite being qualified for several other jobs, like director of communications for Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated or as a press director for Satan. Laughing at the fools running our country makes it hurt less, and helps the anger not overcome my rational senses. Sending pointed tweets at the press secretary makes me feel better when I want to scream into an abyss.

The Trump circus deserves to be ridiculed, because honestly, they suck. They’re bad people with bad political views who are actively trying to make this country worse for poor people and marginalized group in order to appeal to a mythical silent majority and improve profits for CEOs and pharma bros. I realized that my initial fear regarding using humor to attack the Trump administration was too cautious, now that Trump holds the most powerful position in the world, the only way out is down. While America certainly has a lot left to lose, Trump can be taken down from the tallest tower. Laughing at him makes him angry, and an angry Trump is even easier to take down. As the investigation ramps up, the Trump family will likely keep their inner circle tighter as their world crumbles around them. In the meantime, laughing at them will be the best medicine.

Using humor in the face of the monstrosity that is the Republican president will show the Grand Old Party that the American people do not take their president seriously, which will  make it even harder for them to get their agenda through Congress. As long as moderate Republicans think that the President is to laughable to be associated with, their agenda will continue screeching to a halt in one of the world’s most revered legislative bodies. Making jokes about the president will distract him from advancing his poisonous agenda, and can bring us the joy we deserve after surviving every painful day of a Trump presidency.

I’m looking forward to the next Mueller Monday. I have several drafts of Tweets for each potential indictee, because all eight of my active Twitter followers and I deserve a good laugh.

Sex and Nerf guns? Trying to move past our vision of ML

in Campus Journal by

Like most people on campus, I’ve always had a well-defined idea of “Mary Lyon culture,” and, like most opinions on campus, this conception was based mostly off conjecture and rumor rather than facts or actual experience. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve visited ML, and I can’t name more than a few people I know who have actually lived there. Yet for myself and many others — including the editor who gave me this assignment — those two little letters have always connoted a land where nerds, nudists, and Nerf gun warriors run wild, a mysterious dorm far away, geographically and culturally, from the main campus.

In fact, while ML may be a bit of a hike from the rest of the college, the dorm is not exactly “quirky” in the way our dominant on-campus mythology constructs it. Current and former ML residents, in fact (including a nudist and one of the founders of the famed human-vs.-zombie Nerf gun wars) pointed out that the dorm’s most unique and consistent feature is an incredibly strong, involved sense of community, a place where people easily make a lot of friends.

***

Doriana Thornton ’16 lived in ML for a year and half. They spent their first semester of freshman year hanging out in ML every chance they could, and then moved in with a senior for the spring. The following year, Thornton lived in the dorm in a single.

Thornton was drawn to ML largely due to the residents, rather than any “quirky” activities.

“For me, what made ML so special was the people that lived there with me my freshman year and the closeness I had with them,” Thornton said. “Having people that shared my interests in sex positivity and body positivity was so cool.”

Asked how they found their way to ML in the first place, Thornton let loose their signature laugh and said, “It’s actually a pretty hilarious story.” After their Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention orientation workshop, Thornton mentioned to their workshop facilitator that they enjoyed playing strip Apples to Apples (similar to strip poker) at home. The facilitator encouraged Thornton to come to ML that Friday evening, when the game would take place.

“I was just really happy to be around that,” Thornton remembered fondly. Earlier that day, during an orientation ice-breaker, Thornton had been asked what they were most worried about at the college. “I had said, ‘Not being able to be naked, just around, like I can be at home,” Thornton remembered. Thus, being able to hang out naked in ML was “just really funny and really nice.”

The same night of the game, Thornton met someone who would remain their close friend throughout their first semester at the college. “We went and danced naked in the woods, and it was such a great experience. And that was my first time in ML,” they concluded, laughing again.

Thornton also enjoyed the distance between ML and the rest of campus, and said that it made them more likely to go for lengthy walks. “When I lived in ML, I walked a lot more and was a lot more willing to go on walking adventures,” Thornton said (they now reside in the Barn). “I remember doing ridiculous shit and walking to ridiculous places in the freezing cold.”

ML breakfast is also a unique and positive feature of life in the dorm, Thornton emphasized. They worked in the ML breakfast room for three semesters. Anyone can order “kooky” food, Thornton said — “We have food coloring and sprinkles and shit, and we’ll make you something neat, and we’ll sing … it’s pretty nutty … I made dope-ass omelets all day.”

Thornton, like the other ML residents I spoke to, talked about their time in the dorm with happiness and ease. “ML was great, just great people,” they said. “There were always just a lot of people in their hallways, in their rooms — it was pretty easy, most days, to walk around and hear something happening, and to just go into that person’s room and hang out with them.”

I was curious if this was a quality that pertained to the dorm itself, or came more from the people who ended up living there. “I honestly do think it was the people that lived there,” Thornton said. They reflected that their sophomore year was not quite as enjoyable as their freshman year, as many people had moved out. “I did still make really close friends, but I found myself sleeping more often in places that weren’t ML, and kind of bringing a community of people that didn’t live in ML over there to hang out, instead of already having those great people there,” Thornton said.

Thornton remembers too many funny ML stories to tell, they said — for instance, a Nerf gun battle once transformed into an eight-hour cuddle-fest. They also reflected on the way in which ML created a space for them to feel comfortable with and learn more about their own sexuality. “ML was where I got to explore my kinkiness,” Thornton said. During their freshman year, what Thornton referred to as a “high concentration of kinky people” lived in ML, and contributed to this comfortable atmosphere. (For more about kinky activity on campus, check out “Whips and chains excite them, sometimes,” in the first-ever issue of the Swarthmore Review, which mounted an exploration of BDSM at the college.) “I had never had the chance to explore such an important part of my sexuality before coming to college — actually, I hadn’t had a chance to explore much of my sexuality at all — and it was really cool to find people who had similar interests, or at least were not appalled by mine,” Thornton said.

ML culture is by no means static, Thornton pointed out. “I think the culture changes every year based on who’s living there,” they said. “There’s always an underlying culture of people who are into nerdy shit … actually, I don’t know. I have no idea — I mean, athletes used to live there and have crazy parties,” Thornton said, referencing the common story, difficult to substantiate but probably true, that ML was, years ago, inhabited almost exclusively by varsity athletes.

Thornton saw change within the dorm even on a year-to-year basis. “I know that during my sophomore year there weren’t as many sex-positive people … I had fewer friends there because dynamics were just different. For me, at least, every year’s been really different.”

The ML environment is also subjective, Thornton pointed out. “The culture also depends on where you are — like, how you feel at home in a place depends on where you’re at and what you need,” they said. “So I don’t know if any dorm has a culture … I pushed myself over there and spent all my time there because I felt so at home, but I haven’t been back this year. I’m not scared to go back or anything — it’s just that that place had so much meaning to me my freshman years and then a very different meaning my sophomore year … I don’t know, I just haven’t been back.”

***

Josh Ginzberg ’15 was placed in ML as an incoming freshman, and was initially nervous about living in the dorm, but, after sophomore year on campus, came back to ML as a SAM and now serves as an RA.

Ginzberg’s favorite feature of ML life is the strong sense of community. “I think a lot of dorms have difficulty with this, maybe because of the structure or because of the people in them, with cross-hall interaction, but ML has no problem with that,” Ginzberg said. As a freshman living on the second floor, Ginzberg’s friends were on different floors and of different class years.

“It was just a really great dorm community,” he said. “It really does tend towards a real dorm community, and then people find their groups of friends and everything, but there’s definitely a lot of interaction across all halls and class years.” Ginzberg thinks this stems in part from ML’s distance from the rest of campus. “I have no doubt that’s a function of being so far away from everyone else, but it’s also a lot about the people,” he said.

I asked Ginzberg about fun ML activities, and he mentioned movie screenings in the first-floor lounge, along with ice-cream parties. But I told him that what I really wanted to know about were the Nerf wars. To my surprise, Ginzberg revealed that he was actually one of the creators and first participants in the Nerf wars, which many on campus think of as an ML institution, but is actually a recent (and recently lapsed) phenomenon.

Ginzberg treated me to a brief history of the brief tradition. “I came to college, and I was like, ‘Oh, college means Nerf guns,’” Ginzberg said. As someone whose well-meaning yuppie parents did not allow them to possess any fake weaponry as a child, including Nerf and water guns — I was given a spray bottle instead, which was, needless to say, immensely dissatisfying — I can see the appeal and also the logic behind this statement.  “A couple of other people thought the same thing, including my roommate,” Ginzberg recalled. The purchase of several cheap Nerf guns, and then the they ran around the dorm “pursuing and hunting each other,” Ginzberg said.

The Nerf wars rapidly grew in size, averaging twenty five to thirty participants each week (if only I could get this many people to write for the Phoenix or play women’s rugby…), until, at one point in Ginzberg’s sophomore year, 65 people showed up. “That was way too much — we had to restrict it to ML-only at that point, because it’s a residential space,” Ginzberg said ruefully.

Usually, Ginzberg explained, Nerf wars are conducted in what he called “humans-vs.-zombies mode,” which removes some of the competitive aspect of the game, as the zombies inevitably emerge as the victors. “There’s less cheating that way,” Ginzberg explained, “less of people saying that they didn’t feel a Nerf dart, because when you’re running with adrenaline you don’t feel a Nerf dart.”

In humans-vs.-zombies mode, humans shoot at zombies, who, if hit, must “go down” for thirty seconds. If a zombie tags a human, however, the human must become a zombie for the rest of the match, meaning that the number of zombies is constantly increasing. “You get some really creative people hiding behind doors, some humans trying to camp out in really open spaces so that they can see where people are coming from,” Ginzberg recalled.

Seeming to further prove the idea that ML culture changes from year to year, however, Ginzberg said that the Nerf wars have tapered off this year, due mostly to seniors’ lack of interest. “There hasn’t been as much enthusiasm, but there’s still a box of Nerf guns, so if people want to do that, they definitely can,” Ginzberg said.

Ginzberg thinks that the design of ML contributes to its communal feel, specifically the first-floor lounge. “You walk in and you’re in the biggest gathering space in the dorm, and that makes it very easy to join whatever’s going on — there’s always lots of hanging out, and we’ve got a TV in there and I think a PlayStation or something, and people just gather.”

So if ML is so great, why does it get such a bad reputation? Ginzberg thinks this is mostly because of the distance. “I can’t imagine why else it would get a bad rap,” he said. “It is far, for people who aren’t used to the walk or don’t like rolling out of bed and running to class, but I got to class a lot later when I lived on campus — it teaches time management pretty well, because you pretty much have to learn.”

I asked Ginzberg about people who might not enjoy or participate as fully in ML’s community. He again chalked this up mostly to distance. “It’s not like other dorms — you can’t just walk to the dorm that’s twenty feet away,” Ginzberg said. “You actually have to make an effort to get on campus, and it definitely is hard for some people.”

Others, though, Ginzberg remarked, like the distance, particularly those people who might want more alone time or space from the rest of campus. “You do get a bunch of different sorts of people in ML, some who really love the community and some who try to make or join another community,” he said. “It just takes some time to settle in, maybe a month or two, or there are some people for whom it never really clicks.”

I kept pressing, though — what about ML’s reputation as a nerd haven? “There’s definitely a very large contingent of people who do like some of the more classic nerd stuff — I would say I’m one of them — but I’d also say that there are plenty of people on campus who get attracted to that stuff who never live in ML and honestly never visit,” Ginzberg said.

So where does the stigma come from? “It would be unfair of me to say that ML gets its rep from people who haven’t been there, but a lot of proponents of ML’s more negative reputation have never been there, or have gone once and have had some bad experience and concluded that that encapsulated the dorm,” Ginzberg said.

Ginzberg expressed concern that this incorrect perception might frighten first-years who were assigned to live there. “There are things that are true — it does appeal to people who are comfortable being far from some of the social centers on campus and sometimes that does include a greater than average proportion of science-fiction/fantasy fans, more classic nerd people … I personally don’t see why it’s a negative but otherwise I don’t think it deserves much of what it gets,” Ginzberg said. “A lot of the reputation is from years ago,” he added, referencing ML’s history as a gathering space for the Swarthmore Warders of Imaginative Literature, the precursor to the modern-day science fiction/fantasy club which organizes the annual Pterodactyl Hunt and campus-wide live-action role play, Psi Phi.

“It changes every few years,” Ginzberg concluded. “The fact that it used to be a place where so many varsity athletes gravitated towards, and then became a place for SWIL, and in the years I’ve been here has been neither, and has been a very community-oriented space … I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but that’s been my experience of it.”

 

The LARP at Swat continues ever on

in Campus Journal by

Confession time: When I was a kid, I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. My mom sent me to an after school program, and the guy who ran it, John, was just really good at D&D. Good enough to spark a minor obsession in me, and I stayed interested in the game for a long time. It was exciting to lose myself in a world of wizards and monsters, away from the mundanities of third grade. So, I think I’m pretty well positioned to understand Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, which is basically a Dungeons & Dragons/Theater Improv mash-up. It’s D&D on a human scale, in which you enact the character you are.

There’s no dice-rolling in LARPing. Instead, when you encounter a foe — invariably another person “in character” — you might challenge them to a duel and draw your big pink foam sword; or, you might cast a spell, if you’ve got that going on. How that works out is up to them. Josh Ginzberg ’15, who is writing this year’s third annual LARP along with five other students, stressed the collaborative aspect of roleplaying.

“If someone says, ‘I’m a pink elephant,’ don’t say, ‘No you’re not,’ say, ‘Oh yeah, from where?’ Or, ‘Yeah? Well, I’m a rhino and I hate you,’” he said. “The point is to build something rather than shoot down what other people are building.”

Although Ginzberg does not have a background in theater, many LARPers do, since improv is at the heart of the game. Darbus Oldham ’17, a self-professed “theater person,” is working with Ginzberg to put on the 2015 LARP.

“In some ways LARP can be said to be a cross between Dungeons & Dragons and theater,” he said. “It takes sort of the world-building and the roleplaying aspects of Dungeons & Dragons and it melds it with the idea that you are becoming a character for this period of time.”

This idea isn’t new and actually has roots at Swarthmore that stretch back at least to 1983, with the formation of the Pterodactyl Hunt. That, according to Ginzberg, counts as an especially “combat-driven form” of LARP, but its more recent incarnation as a gigantic, complex world-building event was started in 2013 by Ben Schwartz ’13, affectionately known as “Books.” Schwartz began LARPing in high school at a summer camp, the Wayfinders Experience, and fell in love.

“[LARP] combines my loves of theater, improvisation, storytelling, worldbuilding, fantasy, and adventure into something wholly unique,” they said. “I’ve formed incredible friendships through roleplaying, learned and developed countless new skills, and discovered a whole lot about myself in the process,” In fact, Schwartz has gone on to work at two LARP summer camps post-graduation, at The Wayfinder Experience and at Trackers.

Swarthmore’s first non-Dactyl LARP was called “The Secret Major,” set at a fictional college. About 80 students participated, and Schwartz had to write a character sheet for each of them. To give you an idea of the enormity of this undertaking, Ginzberg aims to make each of his character sheets about 700 words.

“[I try to] create some sort of moral foundation for the character,” they said, “and then also include some connections and then, for people who want a personal goal, write that in.” Players are assigned characters on the basis of a survey that they complete, in which they can indicate their favorite fandoms, topics they might want to stay away from or confront actively, and their preferred allegiance to good or to evil or to neither, amongst others. Ginzberg divvied up the writing process with his five co-authors, but Schwartz did it all themself in three weeks.

This year’s LARP is on April 4 and has 98 participants so far; it is — without giving too much away — set in a pocket universe called “The Crossways,” so called because “a lot of universes connect to it,” according to Ginzberg. Characters have wandered into this universe accidentally, for the most part: Perhaps they were “walking in a field” or, as in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” they entered a closet. But now something has gone wrong, and suspicion lies on a research facility called SIRIUS, which happens to be exactly the size of Swarthmore College. Characters from all over this universe are arriving at SIRIUS. It’s there, after an afternoon of workshops on everything from combat to improv to just getting comfortable LARPing, that the game will commence.

Once it does, it’s near-impossible to know how it will go. “It’s really incredible, some of the choices that people pull out in the course of a game,” Ginzberg said, recounting how, during “The Secret Major,” his character had numerous goals and accomplished none of them. “It was better for it not happening almost, because I went with the flow of the game and I saw what other characters were doing and I interacted with a couple characters … [Y]ou learn things about your character as you progress through the game, as you interact with people whom maybe you knew for a thousand years before the game or maybe you met this very night.”

Oldham agreed that LARPing can be an opportunity to explore a character, and even a side of yourself, with which you’re unfamiliar. Before he came to Swarthmore, he participated in a year-round LARP program called Westfinder in Berkeley, Calif., where he even met Schwartz. In one game there, he roleplayed a politician. Oldham, who describes himself as an anarchist, said that “having to be that character who’s so different from me … was a very interesting opportunity to get an insight on a completely different mindset from the way I normally think.”

Despite all this room for exploration, LARPs do usually have plots, and, to ensure that things stay somewhat on path, Ginzberg, Oldham, and their co-organizers will assume the roles of Helping Player Characters, or HPCs. Their job is “to be a little more distant to the plot and help ensure that some of the major events move along and help ensure that people are doing things,” as Ginzberg put it. Think of them kind of like Yoda: wise, friendly, but not the hero of the story. Ginzberg will be playing the chief of security of SIRIUS, and Oldham will be a research scientist.

In fact, weeks before the game began, its creators were already setting its plot in motion. Those who signed up for the LARP received an email entitled “A Night of Upheaval,” which describes a shadowy figure who has retreated into the woods outside of Megatropolis, the city that occupies most of the Crossways universe. This person detonates some sort of explosive device, but for what reason or purpose we don’t know.

After the success of “The Secret Major” in 2013, and Schwartz’s graduation, Ginzberg and other students decided over the summer to plan the 2014 LARP. Lacking the near obsessive work ethic that enabled Schwartz to single-handedly organize that event, they “decided to run it more officially, get some administration backing, get some SAC funding if we could, and try to turn it into a yearly thing,” said Ginzberg. For the most part, this was successful, though it wasn’t easy: Aside from writing what amounts to hundreds of pages of text for world-building purposes, there are the logistical challenges of securing funding and spaces — this year, Paces, Bond Hall, and Sci 101 are reserved for the event — as well as informing Public Safety that there will be around 100 individuals running around campus with foam swords and that “some of them may say ‘I want to kill you’ to other people,” according to Ginzberg. Due to the immense amount of work it has required, many of last year’s organizers stepped down this year, and Ginzberg and some new faces, like Oldham, stepped up to the plate.

They couldn’t have done it without help, of course, and a lot of that came from Mike Elias, the Assistant Director of Student Activities, Leadership, and Greek Life. As one of the few large-scale dry events on campus, it’s easy to see why the LARP might appeal to Swarthmore’s administrators. Still, Ginzberg gives a lot of credit to Elias, saying that “this wouldn’t be happening without his help.”

LARPing, however, is not that expensive — one does not need a sound system, after all, and the stage is built-in to the campus. It does however require a modicum of foam swords, many of which have been borrowed from Psi Phi’s Dactyl Hunt; others have been left over from last year’s LARP. I asked why people in a futuristic universe like The Crossways don’t use guns, and Ginzberg cited practical concerns about students yelling “I want to kill you” at each other, with Nerf guns, in the dark. “There’s always some way to write into the world that guns don’t work,” he explained. “Last year it was something to do with … warping gravity… I’m not actually sure what our reason is this year, but we’re definitely going for the swords.”

So, alas, LARPers will not be able to shoot each other, but if you’d all like to do anything short of that — including, perhaps, casting hexes on your real-life friends and enemies — then Swarthmore’s third annual LARP might be a place you’d like to be this Saturday.

You can sign up for the LARP until this Thursday night by clicking here. 

Remembering the origins of struggle, change

in Campus Journal by
Photo bu Bobby Zipp
Photo bu Bobby Zipp

From 1968 to 1972, the Black student protest movement reached more than 500 American colleges and universities. Students across the country demanded, often successfully, higher enrollment of Black students, increased hiring of Black faculty and administrators, more relevant educational curricula in the form of Black studies programs, and Black cultural centers on campuses.

The spring of 1969 alone saw 292 protests at 232 schools, and the demands of Black campus activists stood as the major issues in about half of these protests, according to Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a historian of racist and anti-racist ideas and movements who recently spoke at the college.

Swarthmore was among the schools that saw direct student action, including an eight-day sit-in in the Admissions Office, led by students in the Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society in 1969, and transformation, such as a large increase in Black student enrollment at the college the following year, the establishment of the Black Cultural Center, the hiring of Black faculty and administrators, and the roots of a Black Studies curriculum.

“Many colleges and universities which experienced student unrest and transformation in this era have documented the story and incorporated the narrative into the greater history of the institution,” reads the introduction to the Black Liberation 1969 Archive, a collection of documents, interviews, photographs, and newspaper records pertaining to the Black student protest movement at the college.

“This has not been the case at Swarthmore College,” the archive introduction continues. “Until now, this important piece of the College’s history has not received the attention it merits … this archive challenges visitors to reconsider the stories that have previously constituted the official narrative and to engage with the black experience of Swarthmore in this critical period.”

As the archive makes clear, the problem seems to go deeper than the already monumental task of correcting the official narrative, one characterized by racism, lies, and omission. In fact, the true story may never have been told in the first place.

Why was the real story of the spring of 1969, of the concerted student efforts that produced a series of changes which seem to be a key part of the way the school functions today, never included in the school’s record? What does it mean to write and document this forgotten narrative, to bring to life a buried, crucial part of the college’s history? What can we learn from this process and what implications may it have for the institutional memory of the history of our own time at Swarthmore, such as the events of spring 2013? How can we avoid misremembering, or completely forgetting, again?

Alli Shultes ’15 believes that the true story of the 1969 sit-in and the direct Black student action, which led to changes at the college, was deliberately repressed.

“My argument is that they didn’t forget it, they purposefully erased it,” Shultes explained. “The college just doesn’t acknowledge it at all. There is no narrative of what happened.”

Shultes had not heard the story of the Black student protest movement on campus until the first day of Professor Allison Dorsey’s “Black Liberation 1969: Black Studies in History Theory and Praxis,” when Dorsey recounted the common narrative of the sit-in as the time when “the Black students killed the president [of the college]” by giving him a heart attack. Since Dorsey’s class was permitted to utilize the faculty meeting minutes from 1969, a set of documents never before available to students, Shultes decided to focus her research for the class on a series of competing stories of the 1969 sit-in and its aftermath. She spent a great deal of her time looking at the faculty minutes, at the supplement published by this newspaper each day of the sit-in, and at outside news reports about the sit-in, attempting to figure out what was happening when the news reports and the faculty minutes did not match up.

The dual problems of false memories and of complete repression of history become clearer through looking at Shultes’ work. On the one hand, there is a persistent false narrative to be dispelled. Shultes found this narrative under construction in the headlines splashed across the pages of publications from 1969, from the Delaware County Times and the Philadelphia Bulletin, to the New York Times and the Washington Post. Her creative project for Dorsey’s class reprints sections of the daily Phoenix supplement as well as excerpts from outside publications, such as Time magazine’s headline: “Engulfed by Black Anger.” The Washington Post’s take: “So the militants have lynched a good and valuable man.”

Shultes’ work with the faculty minutes in particular reveals a potential explanation for why no correct record of the SASS protests and demands was established until now. She argues that from the time that SASS staged its sit-in, the faculty was so deeply concerned about the potential loss of its legitimacy if it was perceived as responding to “militant” Black student demands that they seized control of and falsified the narrative from the beginning. The faculty, Shultes explained, continually released statements declaring that they were acting based on the recommendations of their fellow faculty, rather than in response to SASS demands.

“No one was attributing the changes that came about at the time to SASS,” Shultes said. She recounted an article in the Wall Street Journal which appeared in March of 1969, claiming that the sit-in brought positive change to the college community. A Swarthmore faculty member, Shultes explained, wrote back saying that the paper was wrong to attribute positive changes at the college to the Black students, and that the students had not in fact effected any change — even though the series of changes which came to Swarthmore happened as a direct result of efforts by these students.

Alis Anasal ’15 found in her own research a similar erasure of the relationship between the direct action taken by Black students at the college and the institutional changes which followed. For Dorsey’s class, Anasal examined a student-led course conducted during the spring of 1969 entitled Black Philosophies of Liberation. She attempted to discern students’ concerns from the curriculum in terms of both pedagogical significance and historical context.

“It ended up being a conversation about how students were taking claim of their own education … what it meant that they had to do that, that it wasn’t something that Swarthmore was receptive to,” Anasal explained. “They knew Swarthmore wasn’t working for them in the way that it should, and this was a process for them of asserting their place at the school when they were kind of being overlooked.”

She attributed institutional misremembering in part to the perception of the concerns raised by Black students at the time as unworthy of consideration. Anasal believes that a focus on action rather than on the demands of students played a part.

“Swarthmore thinks that it’s above these questions in a lot of ways, and to see in ’69 when they’re talking about the class and the sit-in and the questions these students are asking, they’re basically being ignored, and people are looking instead at this perceived violence … the conversation becomes about the action, not the content,” Anasal said. “The narrative sort of reflects that. It becomes about what they did and not about the questions they were asking Swarthmore about whether or not they actually belonged there.”

Anasal noted that the college was left with visible signs of change effected by the Black student protests, such as the BCC, but refused to attribute this to the student demands.

“Swat likes to take credit for that and not acknowledge that the students said, ‘This is what we want,’ and then Swat responded to that — it becomes, ‘We were going to do that anyway,’ when of course it really was the student protests. There is no memory of that for them, and they’re not talking about it at all — Swarthmore would like to claim the BCC for itself when really it was the student demands that created it,” Anasal said.

Anasal also located this forgetting of history in the context of Swarthmore’s perception of itself as utopian.

“They thought they were the most liberal of the liberal already,” Anasal said. Thus, when Black students claimed that the college was neglecting their academic and social lives, Anasal explained, administrators and faculty members took pains to deny this.

“This is all part of the narrative that we were always liberal, we were always progressive, when really the liberal white men who founded Swarthmore were not all that liberal,” she said. Anasal mentioned the project that Davis Logan ’17 undertook on the college’s Quaker history, and noted that the Quakers’ historic connections to abolitionism did not mean it was free of racism — for instance, Black Friends had to sit in the back of the Friends Meeting House until the 1950s.

“It’s not as if our Quaker liberal heritage makes us immune to questions like this,” Anasal said. For her, these issues remain relevant. “I don’t think we can claim to be super liberal if we aren’t thinking about these questions at the highest level,” she said.

Haydn Welch ’15 wrote her final paper for Dorsey’s class on perceptions of militancy among the Black students who participated in the 1969 activism.

“One thing you’ll see on the database is that some faculty members, members of the administration, and alumni at the time were very intent on painting the Swarthmore students as being radical and militant,” Welch said.

Welch believes that this false perception came from a focus on tone over content, echoing the distinction Anasal pointed out.

“One of the things I realized was that they were mostly referring to the tactics that SASS students used, as opposed to the actual goals,” Welch said. “The actual demands that SASS made weren’t actually that radical, especially since many members of the administration of the administration and the faculty were already planning efforts that would go halfway towards meeting SASS’ demands. It wasn’t as if SASS’ demands were all of this over-the-top, crazy, unnecessary, radical stuff — so people were very much responding to the tone that SASS used and the tactics like the sit-in.”

Welch traced the institutional forgetting of the truth of the sit-in — and the confusion of the sit-in with the president’s death — to the time period immediately following the events.

“In the aftermath of the death of the president, the college set aside these places where people could mourn and come together and collect and reflect about the death of the president, but there was never any such space that was created in the aftermath of the sit-in,” Welch recounted. “It was so easy for these events to become conflated because … it was the only thing the college focused on … The college responded to the death of the president, but it didn’t respond to the sit-in as if it were a separate event.”

The last document Shultes will produce for Dorsey’s class compares the demands made by students in the spring of 2013 to those made by SASS following the sit-in.

“It’s shocking, disturbing, and startling how much of what SASS is demanding in 1970 resonated in our own spring, the spring of 2013,” Shultes said. These similarities include SASS’ demands that the college make its administrative functioning more transparent and include black representation in decision-making structures, increased socioeconomic diversity, and later demands by students for more students of color, Shultes explained.

Clearly, many of the conditions which led students to take direct action in 1969 have still not been sufficiently addressed. Shultes sees these problems at places beyond Swarthmore as well. She connected events at places such as Colgate University, where 300 students staged a sit-in in the admissions building this fall, and Harvard University’s “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign, a photo project which highlights the experiences of Black students at Harvard, to the continuing legacy of the Black campus movement’s demands for relevant educations and greater admission for Black students.

“I really think what people have been trying to do at colleges and universities in the past few years and what’s been coming up have been similar issues that Black students in the movement tried to address, of expanding higher education and making it more inclusive, which we haven’t done. It’s an unfinished legacy,” Shultes said.

Shultes hopes her project will make clear the parallels between this unfinished project and the college’s response to student demands in the spring of 2013.

“It’s not that the administration hasn’t responded to 2013, it’s just that looking at this time period in which things have not been accomplished that were asked for, and looking at the ways we haven’t changed, and the way this is part of a national problem … will help us think more about the issues on this campus and help educate some of the people who do dismiss the legitimacy of what the spring of 2013 was about.”

After all, the institutional stories we choose to forget, to remember, or to retell have consequences. “I remember hearing talk on campus like, ‘I don’t understand what an unsafe space means,’ not like, ‘I don’t get it,’ but like, ‘I don’t think it’s real,’ and I hope that this project shows how damaging those kinds of narratives can be,” Shultes said.

Welch sees a complex set of similarities as well as important distinctions between the spring of 2013 and the events of 1969, and their respective memories and forgetting.

“This makes me sad, but I am certain that spring 2013 will be forgotten,” Welch said. She said that she had now spoken to two incoming classes of first-year students about spring 2013, and that a great deal of innuendo surrounded those events, much like the innuendo and double-talk Welch discovered around 1969.

She felt that framing spring 2013 as “the spring of our discontent,” a phrase which became widely used to describe that spring after former President Rebecca Chopp deployed the often-misused variation on a line of Shakespeare in an email, is harmful, much as calling the events of 1969 a “crisis” moment in the college’s history was damaging.

“The fact that it’s even being framed in the same way — it serves to trivialize and minimize a lot of the complaints that people had,” Welch said.

Welch pointed out another relevant comparison in the way in which many focused on students’ actions rather than their concerns and demands.

“There was the focus on tone instead of argument, instead of content. People were really pissed off at the Black students on campus because of how ‘disrespectful’ it was to take over the Admissions Office and disrupt the functioning of the college, and in the same way, people were upset when students disrupted the Board meeting. It was almost as though this Board of Managers meeting was something sacred, and the vitriol that happened on campus after the Board meeting was interesting — the events that preceded that action were forgotten, and it was all focused on tone, how it was disrespectful, how this is not the attitude befitting Swarthmore students, that sort of thing,” Welch recounted.

Still, she was careful to point out that a direct comparison between the two time periods would be disrespectful.

“The penalties for the 1969 action were much more severe. Swarthmore was actually debating, ‘Do we bring in a police force?’ There was a very real possibility that violence would be enacted against SASS protestors … I want to be very, very clear, the penalties facing us [in spring 2013] were nothing, and the penalties facing SASS students were death.”

Framing, for Welch, is key, as the college finally adds the memory of 1969 to its official records.

“I think it is absolutely necessary for the college to own up to its history. I am 100 percent on board when institutions try to live up to that memory, and not try to sweep the more unfortunate or unpleasant under the rug,” Welch said. “What becomes a problem is when the same language is recycled and not enough effort has been made to remember it properly.” She pointed again to the “crisis” language utilized by those oppositional to student action in 1969: “It was a crisis from the administration’s perspective and the faculty’s perspective, but from that of the students it was a necessary moment. I think that sort of simplifies what was actually happen and doesn’t capture the necessity of that moment.”

Shultes hopes students will use the online database to prevent further forgetting. “I think one thing that is really responsible about the archive is that even though there are 13 kids in the class and we all told different stories, anyone can go on there and piece together their own story and their own account … we have all these alumni interviews and all these sources. Now the college can’t forget again, and it also can’t tell the story wrong again, because that information is available.”

Welch also believes we can avoid forgetting and oversimplifying again in part through being good historians.

“Archives are great, these talks are fantastic. There’s a four-year turnover — four years after spring 2013, nobody on campus is going to have been there for the action … so documentation is so important. Photographs, write-ups, articles, and compiling those into an archive are incredibly important,” Welch said; other students in Dorsey’s class are currently working on a database for spring 2013, Shultes said. “We have to preserve these memories somehow. That’s how stuff gets forgotten, when you don’t have articles, you don’t have write-ups. There are some photographs from 1969 and they’re incredibly important. History is about people, and it’s incredibly easy for these people to get lost behind a name.”

Shultes saw in her work for Dorsey’s class a further set of questions about the unique way in which Swarthmore seems to choose to remember — or forget — itself.

“We don’t talk about our history in the ways that other colleges do. Other colleges have traditions and history, and our traditions are things like the Pterodactyl Hunt, which has been around since, what, the ’80s?” Shultes said. “It made me skeptical — what other things about Swat do we not know about, do we still have legacies from? What parts of our college’s history are just not there?”

 

Psychology lab, or nuclear research site? The history of Papazian Hall

in Around Campus/News by

In the years leading up to the Cold War, the U.S. government enlisted the help of a wide array of research sites around the country, including Papazian Hall, to assist in the Manhattan Project: an endeavor to construct the first atomic bomb. Recently, however, a report spearheaded by the Wall Street Journal has found that many of the sites that were declared safe by the Department of Energy (DOE) during the 1970s and 1980s still contain radioactive residue. While Papazian is not one of these sites, the recent publicity of similar nuclear research centers working in the Manhattan Project has brought the college’s involvement to the fore.

According to the journal’s report on the college, the Bartol Research Foundation, an extension of the Franklin Institute created specifically for research in electrical engineering, rented four acres of land from the college in 1924. Bartol then constructed its own building on campus where Papazian Hall now stands. According to the Swarthmore College Computer Society’s (SCCS) database of campus buildings, it was not until a few days after August 9, 1945, when Nagasaki was bombed, that Bartol revealed its involvement in developing nuclear weapons.

“During the late 1930s, Bartol became more involved with nuclear physics research,” said a Bartol representative. “The foundation began to do more government contract work, and Bartol personnel began the construction of a cyclotron intended to simulate the collisions of uranium atoms.”

The limited documents made publicly available by the DOE corroborate this. Bartol’s primary role in the Manhattan Project appears to have been to monitor the radiation caused by the interactions between uranium atoms in the cyclotron.

“Knowing how uranium atoms behave during nuclear collisions was crucial to the design of the bomb,” explained Peter Collings, professor of physics and coordinator of the environmental studies program at the college.

Bartol’s lab on the college’s campus was selected to research these collisions given the interest of the Bartol Research Foundation director, Dr. W.F.G. Swann, in cosmic radiation. Prior to the foundation’s government commission, Swann’s research in Bartol’s Swarthmore site primarily revolved around the energy of beta and gamma rays. Given these expertise, Colonel John R. Ruhoff, a high-ranking officer in the Manhattan project in charge of the procurement of raw materials, chose Swann and the Papazian lab as a site for government-commissioned radiation studies.

In a correspondence made public on the DOE website between Ruhoff and W.C. Fernelius, a physicist employed by the Monsanto company, Ruhoff is asked to mediate a transaction between the Bartol Foundation and Monsanto. According to their website, during the 1940s, Monsanto’s Central Research Department was deeply involved in the development of the Dayton Project: the engineering of the devices that would eventually trigger the atomic bombs. In the letter, Fernelius asked Ruhoff to purchase six Geiger counters from the Foundation. The counters were to be used by Monsanto to measure alpha, beta, and gamma rays for the Dayton Project. These counters were eventually made where Papazian Hall now stands.

From the specifically articulated presence of Geiger counters and uranium in historical documents regarding the site, the DOE’s concerns for the safety of Papazian Hall arise from the potential for there to be remnants of radioactive substances where the building stands.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has conducted various investigations into nuclear research sites such as the Bartol Foundation through the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). According to the FUSRAP website, the corps undertakes a procedure of reviewing information about the site, assessing contamination on the site, and advising state-sponsored methods of remediation for the site if contamination is found. The entire process is made public so that those who live close to the sites can be informed of potential dangers.

Papazian Hall was assessed through FUSRAP in December of 1987, and was declared to be free of contaminants. The investigators determined that on the basis of the records they reviewed for the site, there were small amounts of uranium present in Papazian during the 1940s and 1950s. Nevertheless, when the site was tested based on these suspicions, it was deemed to be clear.

“The fact that radiation was produced is not necessarily something to worry about,” Collings said. “A good deal of radiation becomes inert quickly after it is produced … A little more complex is whether radioactive materials were used or produced during the experiments and could not be easily removed because they resided in part of the building’s infrastructure.  Again, if present, they would be easy to detect with a radiation meter, which is something I’m sure was done when the building was declared safe.”

The Bartol representative agreed: “While the site was certainly commissioned by the government to do nuclear research, no dangerous manufacturing was taking place at the institute.”

Collings added, “I doubt if anything produced here made it into one of the bombs … probably only knowledge was produced here and transferred to the bomb makers,” Collings added.

It is for precisely this reason that in 2011, Papazian Hall was “eliminated from further consideration” according to a public FUSRAP report.

After Nagasaki was bombed, Bartol’s involvement in government sponsored atomic projects decreased. The foundation’s site at Papazian Hall became a laboratory where, according to the SCCS database, students and faculty at the college could work with professionals from Bartol. In 1978, the college purchased the building and refurbished it.

“The construction was done by an alum named Paul Restall who owned a construction company headquartered in Media,” said Stuart Hain, vice president for facilities and services at the college. The company could not be reached for comment, but according to the FUSRAP website, the refurbishment of sites used for nuclear research has to be carried out following the guidelines laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency, particularly the Comprehensive Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). CERCLA provides a framework for the short-term removal and long-term remediation of hazardous substances, ensuring that the college is a clear site.

Free of residual contamination, today Papazian Hall is home to the college’s Psychology and Philosophy departments. Though the purpose of the hall has changed, its contributions toward one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century remain an integral part of the building’s historical identity.

Department of Education to investigate the college post-government shutdown

in Around Campus/News by

A campus-wide email from Director of Public Safety Michael Hill on September 25 announced that the Department of Education would be on campus to investigate the College’s compliance with the Clery Act — specifically regarding reporting cases of sexual assault and harassment.

“Members of the Federal Student Aid office — which oversees the Clery Act — are on campus this week,” the email said.  “We anticipate that the Dept. of Ed may visit our campus more than once this fall in order to undertake their investigation.”

The Clery Act states that all universities and colleges who engage in federal financial aid programs must preserve and report every case of crime around and on the college’s campus. A federal complaint by 12 Swarthmore students last spring accused the College of violating the Clery Act on multiple occasions.

“Their review is welcome because we want to ensure we are doing everything within our power to meet both the letter and spirit of the law, and their careful analysis will further strengthen our efforts,” Hill said in a separate email.  He declined to comment further.

The Department of Education also refused to comment until the investigation is over, although the DOE’s website implies most of these investigations are conducted in similar ways.

“The U.S. Department of Education conducts reviews to evaluate an institution’s compliance with the Clery Act requirements,” the DOE’s website states. “A review may be initiated when a complaint is received, a media event raises certain concerns, the school’s independent audit identifies serious non compliance, or through a review selection process that may also coincide with state reviews performed by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) Audit Unit.  Once a review is completed, the Department issues a Final Program Review Determination.”

Another campus-wide email from Hill on September 30 disclosed all reports of crime on or near campus from 2010–2012.

This past spring, a U.S. Department of Education review of Clery Act compliance on Yale’s campus resulted in a $165,000 fine for not complying with what the act mandates.  According to the university’s newspaper Yale Daily News, this amount was a result of four $27,500 fines for not reporting sex offenses, as well as two extra fines for not reporting crime in the surrounding area.

The DOE’s investigation of Swarthmore has been suspended during the government shutdown.

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