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letter to the editor

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by

Dear President Smith,

Since the founding of Swarthmore in 1864, the college has educated students in terms of global impact and social change. From Helen Magill to Micah White, students have been encouraged to engage in community and speak out against injustice; to become righteous voices in troubling times and recognize the responsibility that such an education endows upon them.

It is only fair that we call on our own leaders to do the same.

Here in Pennsylvania, methane from fracking is polluting our air, oil pipelines are spilling into our water, and rising temperatures endanger the economy and our lives. On the west side of our country, we’re burning, and on the east, we’re drowning. All the while, Swarthmore continues to have an endowment invested in the fossil fuel industries that catalyze this destruction.

In addition, our federal government is recklessly rolling back environmental protections that affect targeted regions and groups of people within the country. Right now, world leaders are gathered in Bonn, Germany, negotiating how to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement after the world’s biggest economy has withdrawn. Across the nation, local leaders, from mayors and governors to college and university presidents like you, are committing to show leadership when our President refuses to.

But we are at a turning point in history, and must make our commitments real by standing up every time that our voice is needed. We write to you, as your students, asking that you choose to stand on the right side by endorsing divestment from fossil fuels.

On November 18th, the Sunrise movement will be hosting ceremonies in Philadelphia and over two dozen other cities across the country, commemorating what we love and have to lose to climate change. We will be building our legacy, and burying a time capsule that will be unearthed in 50 years. It will be a time for mourning, for reckoning, for uniting, and for building our future.

If you meet our request, you are invited to join us on the 18th at the Philadelphia City Hall and contribute your commitment and a letter or item to the time capsule. We have asked our politicians to refuse money from fossil fuel billionaires, commit to 100% renewable energy by 2050, and halt the construction of dangerous new fossil fuel infrastructure. Swarthmore has committed to be carbon neutral and is growing its sustainability initiatives, but we continue to profit from the fossil fuel industry that we are otherwise trying to stop. Just as we want our political leaders to represent us and reject fossil fuel money, we want our educational leaders to represent us too.  If Swarthmore wants to be remembered as a leader on climate, we must divest from the dangerous fossil fuel industry.  

Overwhelming majorities of students, faculty, staff and alumni have made clear time and time again how we want to be remembered. We know the Swarthmore we are proud of, and we are committed to forging ahead and building a just and equitable future, where all people have access to clean water and safe homes. We would love nothing more than for you to lead with us, and be remembered as somebody who chose to stand up in the face of corrupt politics and fossil fuel money.

But if you choose to remain silent, we will document that as well. In 2067, when the time capsule is unearthed, Swarthmore has two potential legacies. Students might remember Swarthmore as a leader in the fight against climate change: the birthplace of the fossil fuel divestment movement, supporting necessary measures to move our society away from the coal and gas of yesterday and towards the clean energy economy of tomorrow.  

Or, Swarthmore could look back upon 2017 as the year of a lost promise. When local leaders across the world were pledging to take action on climate change, the institution of Swarthmore chose to remain silent in the face of climate devastation.

President Smith, there are two paths in front of you: one where you stand with the fossil fuel billionaires who endanger our health and wellbeing, and another where you stand with the students of Swarthmore who are asking you to be the kind of leader they are taught to be.

This is your chance to choose your climate legacy. You have until November 18.

Sincerely,

Gabriel Brossy de Dios, September Porras Payea, and Aru Shiney-Ajay
Members of Sunrise Swarthmore

(Formerly Swarthmore Mountain Justice)

Letter to the Editor: Why Teach for America

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by

Shawn Sheehan is a career teacher from Oklahoma who cares about her students, but simply can no longer put her heart and soul into teaching without a living wage. Her dilemma is one felt and lived by many teachers in Oklahoma, the state where I grew up. Since high school, I had been aware of the plight of public education in my home state. Currently, Oklahoma leads the nation in funding cuts to public education, forcing administrators and teachers to find other jobs. Having failed our last public referendum in November, my state ranks 49th in the nation for teacher pay. All of these factors affect the quality of education given to students. When I started teaching last August, there were 1,200 unfillable teaching positions across the state. Now, with budget shortfalls cutting into teacher pay and education resources, I fear that the gap between the number of teachers willing to continue to teach and the demand for qualified educators will only widen.

The current crisis in education in Oklahoma is why I want to encourage Swatties to re-evaluate the role of Teach for America (TFA) in schools and communities. I understand TFA can promote a neoliberal agenda that can be detrimental to social justice. But in a place where the organization provides much-needed educational resources and research through collaborating with schools and districts, TFA is one solution, albeit an imperfect one,  toward the educational equity of underserved school districts. During a time of severe teacher shortage when Title One schools face sequestration, the choice to use TFA gives community leaders a chance to provide their communities with the opportunity of education, far from the ideal educational equity it may be.

What is causing such problems in schools in Oklahoma you may ask? First, I would consider the effect of legislation from the last decade, such as No Child Left Behind that used standardized tests from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to hold teachers and schools accountable through legal and fiscal ramifications for poor performance. Teachers are responsible for making their students pass standardized tests, or risk losing federal funding for their school. Administrators and schools also jump on this bandwagon by purchasing test-prep materials and technology that orients students toward testing strategies and learning. For underserved schools, poor test grades strip schools of even the most basic resources to support teachings. Such is my case, as I only got two class sets of textbooks to begin teaching three subjects. And the cumulative effect? My students’ test-taking behavior is flawless, but the same cannot be said about their test-taking abilities. It is regretful that such well-intentioned legislation can generate results that could not be further from its intent.

Second, the day-to-day experience of working with kids who may not have had the opportunity or environment to develop academic habits presents an ever-recurring mental and emotional obstacle. When I experienced teaching at my school first-hand, I started to understand the many challenges of teaching at an underserved school in 2017. I quickly learned that students can, and do, refuse to do work, listen to instructions, or partake in academic instruction. Disciplinary action often left me drained and deprived of any control of my class as other students watched on in amusement. The entire experience of the daily grind is overwhelming socially and emotionally, and colleagues tell me a good day in my placement school is a bad day anywhere else—so just imagine what a bad day was like. The tragedy of the situation is that students refuse what it is that you know they need the most to be successful members of society, begging me to ask whom social justice is for; it is dismal that I have recently developed a sense for picking out students who have “mastered the art of abusing the system” to shirk ever further from leaning,

These are just a handful of challenges teachers and administrators face day after day, week after week, and year after year. With such high academic expectations, little support, and classrooms of students who act apathetic toward academics, who would want to work in such an environment? Teachers are ready to leave the profession, and I have had many conversations with veteran colleagues who want to leave the profession because of all the issues with teaching, discipline, funding, and resources. Due to these challenges, proficient teachers I know have stopped caring about teaching: they are too burned-out from being unsupported, underpaid, and putting up with the daily “disrespect.” It can be a demoralizing experience to work through a year with classes of students whose actions and behavior indicate their apathy towards academics, and with broken tools to discipline students in the hope they adopt a more academics-prone behavior, and for many older teachers, with paychecks that cannot pay their bills. This is my conclusion on why teachers leave: they cannot financially, mentally, and emotionally afford to teach anymore.

It is no coincidence teachers who leave will adversely affect the educational opportunities of students, but what can administrators and school districts do in the wake of dwindling funding? Therein lies one role for Teach for America. When the challenge simply is trying to find teachers who want to teach, TFA provides a solution to a long-term substitute. While I understand the drawbacks of my two-year commitment, having a career science teacher for my students is not currently a reality for the community or students whom I teach. Perhaps my contributions may not be the closest option to educational equity and social justice, but the alternative is not having someone to teach my students. When comparing the choice between not having a teacher and having someone who wants to do his or her best to teach students, like myself, considering TFA as an option becomes paramount.

Having gone through the controversy of joining Teach for America from Swarthmore, I understand full and well the implications of being a teacher from the organization. I have heard and deliberated the arguments about TFA, but still decided to become a TFA corp member because I do not believe sacrificing the education of those today will bring about a better educational revolution tomorrow. Yes, I have heard the claim that TFA actually hurts underserved communities and that TFA co-opts community and resources for neoliberal school reform. Yes, these are all legitimate arguments, but they are only speculation without a concrete study of the role of TFA in each school and community. When my TFA friend’s first graders cannot tell her why they are important, perhaps my role, and hers as well, may be as simple as showing the students that some strangers really care about them enough to devote two years of their time trying to teach them. Just perhaps, I might suggest that these simple intentions are social justice too.
The more I teach, the more I believe teaching is becoming an unsustainable profession. Too often teachers are blamed for the faults of our schools and failing education system. I love my students, and I want to be their teacher and try to teach them something every day at school. Yet, the extra duties, responsibilities, and accountability of teaching strongly discourage me from pursuing it as a career. Of 15 teachers at my school, I will not see six of them next year, and three of which have already left before the end of the year. Yes, I could have selected a better program to partake in the education of students, but my school, like many others out there, do not have the privilege of receiving the assistance from such programs. This is where my and TFA’s reformed, broader definition of social justice begins to take form.

A response to “Tensions between recruitment and access”

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by

Dear Leo (News Editor),

It is heartening to see The Phoenix join the national conversation focused on inclusion, access and diversity in higher education. Your article, “Tensions between recruitment and access in holistic admissions” (Feb. 11, 2016) offers valuable insights from Dean of Admissions Jim Bock,  as well as interesting commentary from members of the Athletics staff.  It is important to note the comments regarding the Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program reflect a limited understanding of the program and might be subject to misinterpretation by readers.

Summer 2015 was the first year of the Scholars Program, the result of two years spent designing and planning on the part of faculty from all three divisions of the College. The goal of the Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program is to facilitate academic success for students interested in STEM fields who are the first in their families to attend college, or come from historically underrepresented populations and/or under-resourced families. The Program introduces students, who have already secured admission to Swarthmore but who may have attended a low-performing high school, to college with an intense five week long academic experience that supports their transition to a new environment. Students develop relationships with faculty mentors as well as build important connections with their cohort. The Program encourages students to master necessary study and time management skills, and offers other academic support necessary for optimal academic performance at the collegiate level.

Students, faculty, administrators, and other readers of The Phoenix should understand S3P is a scholars program rather than a bridge program—the significance being that S3P is not designed to be remedial. The faculty working in the program and the Swarthmore students who organized to research and then request such a program as early as 2010 recognize students come to Swarthmore from different paths. Many first generation college students come from working class or working poor families and recognize their experiences as different rather than deficient. To be clear: all S3P students are fully qualified to be at Swarthmore. Equally important, neither the college nor anyone teaching in S3P would refer to the summer scholars as “underprivileged.” As a historian, I recognize such language to be both dated and inaccurate. I encourage you and your readers to read Natasha Rodriguez’s piece, “Who you calling underprivileged?”

I look forward as the campus community continues to engage in conversations about these important issues.

Sincerely,

Dr. Allison Dorsey

View Rodriguez’s piece here: http://chronicle.com/article/Who-Are-You-Calling/146719/

 

Premature judgement from Philip Queen on A&F essay

in Letters/Swarthmore Review by

ABercrombie photo

When reading Lydia Bailey’s September 2013 essay “My summer at Abercrombie & Fitch” I found myself somehow simultaneously engrossed, laughing nervously and wishing I could meet this mystery writer who somehow was so similar to me. As someone who has also experienced the odd social culture of the Abercrombie & Fitch/Hollister Co. mass corporation, I too could empathize with her experience of feeling like “James Bond trying to blend in with a bunch of terrorists.”

Unlike Bailey, I’d known that I was going to work at Hollister Co. since I was approximately sixteen. As a teenager, I’d always tried to conform to the social norms of southern California and had loved the idea of working at one of my favorite stores. Little did I know that working at Hollister would only strengthen the “otherness” that both Bailey and I felt while working at these image-obsessed, fetishized institutions.

I found Queen’s response and interpretation of Bailey’s essay incredibly mystifying. Bailey wrote this essay as a humorous social critique on her personal experience working at one of the most controversial brands in America. And yet her every word and casual remark is dissected and placed on display by Philip Queen, who decidedly has determined that Bailey is a perpetually shallow individual. I believe that it is ridiculous that Queen, who so adamantly argues that Bailey is “perpetuating the need to value oneself primarily on his or her physical qualities” is in complete contradiction to the true message of her personal essay, which in fact is that she came to understand how the people around her who seemed to promote this view were actually just as alienated from it as she was.

Making assumptions about people based on how they dress is the complete opposite point that Bailey is in fact making in her essay. It baffles me that Queen could actually conceive his argument through her comedic, personal writing. Bailey scrupulously observes her co-workers clothing and lifestyle, which are so different than her own, while simultaneously fearing that they are reciprocating the judgment. She says, “My first day greeting, I was terrified that my inner nerdiness would be discovered. They know, I thought to myself. They know I don’t belong here.” She feels out of place, which I and many others have felt working in such an image-based, shallow environment.

When Queen sarcastically says, “Were they not humans before? Do double chins and crossed eyes make you more human? Do symmetrical features make you less? Since when can we judge someone’s worth based on their physical attractiveness?” when referring to Bailey’s discovery of Polaroid pictures of her fellow floor models, I had to stop reading for a moment, for his arguments are so weak. I am not sure about Queen, but I believe that imperfection is what makes us human, and therefore revealing imperfections makes people seem more human. It is simply a visceral reaction, which Bailey very obviously expresses. Bailey is surprised by their willingness to not be perfect and its revelation of their humanity, not their ugliness. How he misconstrued that, I do not know.

When Bailey’s manager says, “Oh you go to Swarthmore? I don’t really see you there…,” I don’t see Queen making personal judgments about the manager’s personality and character based on a simple, honest observation, as he is so quick to do with Bailey’s personal reflections about her co-workers. Queen also misconstrues Bailey’s argument around the symbol of the flannel. He says that she identifies the flannel as “cool” in one instance and “hippie” in the other. But Bailey’s subtly expressed symbolic point is that through wearing the same styles, groups of people who view each other as separate actually are not so different.

Bailey argues that in such a superficial and fetishized institution it is hard to fight against the social pressure to conform and to judge others on their appearance. As she points out, the irony of this is that all of the employees of Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister are normal, awkward, unique people who ALL conform to the job and to the environment.

I believe that Queen was thoroughly confounded by Bailey’s message, and therefore decided to take it out on her “chunky hipster glasses” and flannels, which ironically he wears on a daily basis. In fact, Bailey once pointed out to me that they own the same LL Bean men’s flannel.

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