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Finding home

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

Anyone who has talked to me for more than five minutes knows I am from Iowa. I am proud of my Iowa heritage, and I talk about it a lot. But for me, Iowa is more than just the place I am from — it is home. I was lucky to be able to grow up in a place that I can still call home. When I think of Iowa I think of family, laughter, and love. Iowa has taught me the importance of finding somewhere that makes you feel safe and happy. Home is more than a house in which you live or a state where you grew up. Home can be as big as a state or as small as your favorite chair. It is a place where you can go and always know it will make you feel a little better.

I have spent the last few years of my life searching for a home wherever I am. I work to find somewhere where I can feel comfortable, where I can go when I feel sad and know that I will feel safe there.

Like most people, I have a lot of really good days and a lot of really bad days. Recently, I have been trying to do some more reflecting and see if I can find patterns in my good and bad days. I have found that the times I am most happy tend to be in some of the same environments and with the same people. I seem to be the definition of a homebody. I like to find where I am comfortable and stay there, but finding where you are comfortable isn’t always easy.

When I first arrived at Swarthmore, I struggled to find these places. I struggled to find some place where I could go to feel welcomed and comfortable. At first I tried McCabe Second. I felt like a library was a good mix of a welcoming yet productive space. Despite my many efforts to make myself into a McCabe person, I found that not only did I not feel comfortable in the library but my inability to get comfortable mentally or physically prevented me from being productive. It took me approximately my first three semesters at Swarthmore to realize that I was not a McCabe kind of person. I could not study there, and I definitely could not relax there.

By the time my sophomore spring rolled around, I had finally accepted the fact that I could not turn myself into a McCabe person. I spent the semester trying to turn myself into a room-studier. Not only was it the least productive semester at Swarthmore, but I also ruined my room as a place where I could relax.

After two years at Swarthmore I still had not found my home on campus. I had not found that comfortable, welcoming, productive space that I craved so much. Then I realized that I would never be able to find it all in one place on campus.

I have found that for me, there are three kinds of places that I need to make me happy.  My first home is a private space, for me usually my bed. Wherever I am I make sure that my bed is like a home to me, with lots of pillows and blankets and, of course, a comfortable mattress pad.

I like to have a semi-public place like a newsroom where I know I can go and be near people. And finally, I like to have a public place, like a coffee shop, where I can go and know there will always be someone there who can make me feel safe and supported.

Finding a place that you can call home is important. Home is more than just a house in which you sleep. It is the coffee shop where the barista knows your name. It is the lounge where you can always find a friendly face. It is the workspace where you know you can always be productive. It is the bed that you can cry in when you need to. Where you choose to spend your time can play a big role in how you feel and how productive you are. Everyone’s experience on Swarthmore’s campus is unique, and I encourage everyone to spend some time thinking about why they spend time in the places they do, and if it is really somewhere that makes them happy.

Environment and Culture: Bode Wang’s photography of the Miao people

in Arts by

Recently students at Swarthmore have had a beautiful accompaniment while studying for midterms and churning out essays in McCabe’s second floor Cratsley Lounge across the large globe. Colorful windows into a pastoral life hang on the walls contrasting the familiar picture outside of the frame of students with readings strewn across the blue couches and McCabe coffees in hand. These photographs depicting lives of the Miao (Hmong) peoples in southwest China’s Hunan province are on display on McCabe’s second floor thanks to the efforts of the Bi-Co East Asian Languages & Cultures Department. The photographer and scholar behind these works, Bode Wang, captured the intimate details of the environment, human communities, social customs, and religious practices in his county of Fenghuang.

This past Wednesday, Bode Wang completed a circuit of presentations through the TriCo with a talk at Swarthmore. As the audience settled into the small throng of chairs set up in McCabe’s atrium, they noticed their future presenter darting around the periphery. Camera in hand, Wang was ushered through McCabe by Professor of East Asian Language and Culture Yonglin Jiang who — fittingly for his temporary role as a tour guide — maintained an impressive backwards stride. Snapping a few final photographs of his audience, Wang settled in at the podium joined by his translator Syuah Luo.

As Miao himself, Bode Wang was particularly focused on providing his audience with an accurate and extraordinarily in depth understanding of the lives and culture of this Chinese minority group. Opening with a map, Wang took the audience through a lesson that delved into nearly every facet of the Hunan province’s environment, threading rivers into the landscape and encircling the entirety of the province with mountain ranges. After taking his audience through the caves and lush forests of the mountainside, Wang allowed the small ancient county of Fenghuang to enter the picture.

The ancient town emerged around the Tuojiang River and over time wrapped itself around the emerald waterway with stone bridges capped with sweeping roofs. However, its banks still hold the same stilt houses that the Miao have built for generations. While the outward beauty of this county is captivating, one of the most unique aspects of Fenghuang county is its population, which is over 60 percent Miao.

“As we look at the landscape of Fenghuang county, we can begin to understand the fundamental question of how the land influenced the Miao culture,” Wang relayed to the audience.

Slowly the facets of Miao culture began to lock into place with corresponding aspects of their shared culture and environment, such as the silver ornaments Miao women wore in the city squares in Wang’s photographs. They clicked with the cultural memory of wearing silver during the many, long migrations their people undertook.

“The use of obvious silver ornaments was to facilitate travel for the Miao who underwent the dangerous migration through the mountain passes  known as ‘carrying home during travel,’” said Bode Wang as his photographs lit up the screen behind him.

A long scarlet table extends toward a misty horizon. On either side, men and women gather around hot pots, some wearing traditional clothing and some younger members of the assembly wearing North Face and holding smartphones. In other photographs, women gilded in silver look over the shoulders of men seated for an evening meal, a canopy of crimson paper lanterns seeming to float gently above them. However, in the majority of cases, Bode Wang preferred to direct his camera toward the land where he grew up. Velvety green mountainsides with cascades of mist running down their faces, and the glassy bottle green surfaces of the rivers are photographed with a special tenderness.

While some of the pieces are on display in McCabe, the exhibit’s center is off campus. Bryn Mawr College currently holds the majority of Wang’s work on display for this exhibit. Bryn Mawr’s professor Jiang planned the event in conjunction with the 360˚ course cluster, “Eurasia in Flux: Trans-Siberian Perspectives on Russia and China.”

Professor Jiang hopes his students  that Wang’s presentation, “will help enrich their understanding and appreciation of the dynamic relationship between the environment and ethnic culture on China’s borderlands.”

Bode Wang’s exhibit “Fenghuang Landscape and Miao (Hmong) Culture” will remain on display in Mccabe’s second floor lounge until April 13th.


The McCabe experience

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Often referred to as “The Cage,” McCabe library inspires a wide range of feelings among the student body, many of which are far from positive. As someone who spends a large portion of my time in McCabe, I can easily see why my fellow students harbor varying degrees of animosity towards this library. As an initial critique, the walls are lined with narrow windows, reminiscent of a medieval prison. Furthermore, sometimes, when I am here late at night, friendly McCabe mice will scuttle past me, and although these small rodents are a cute reminder that there is life beyond my essays, it would be ideal for them not to be in an academic building. The seats of the carrels lining McCabe’s exterior walls are stiff and uncomfortable enough to keep even the most exhausted Swatties awake during a late-night study session. Combine all of this with bleak and colorless walls, everything serves to set a glum mood that fails to lend comfort or inspiration. Whenever I am studying on the ground floor for extended periods of time and the inevitable need to journey up to the second-floor restroom to empty my bladder arises, I am struck by how purely ridiculous it is that the designers felt no need to include a restroom on the main floor.

But all these issues aside, the defining characteristic of McCabe, the one that truly cements the name “McCage,” is the chronically dim lighting. While I was at one of the campus visioning sessions last semester, one of my friends declared, “As soon as I step into McCabe, I instantly feel depressed.” Sitting, as I am now, in a gloomy study room on the third floor, my computer screen is almost brighter than the two meager lights flickering on the ceiling. These poor lighting conditions, combined with the other structural problems of McCabe, make it difficult for the space to promote effective studying and improve the emotional, mental, or social wellbeing of students.

I often ask myself why I return to this library, night after night, to sit in these uncomfortable chairs, surrounded by narrow windows, drab walls, and dim lights. Considering the plethora of problems I have just listed, my presence here seems almost a contradiction. Yet I think that for all its flaws, McCabe has been a defining part of my Swarthmore experience, and is a space that I have grown to love, and that I believe has potential to better serve the student experience. I love the sense of community in McCabe, which I think is most clearly manifested in the collective migration that happens at 10 P.M. for snacks and coffee. Meandering over to the snack line at 10 P.M., being either delighted by the presence of Oreos or disappointed by the presence of those oatmeal-cookie-things that pop up to the collective dismay of assembled McCabe-goers, has become an integral part of my Swarthmore experience. These snacks and coffee, in and of themselves, really aren’t anything extraordinary, but the invigorating social atmosphere created by the nightly 10 P.M. study break tradition is what makes it so important. Despite its flaws, and despite the problems I, and many other Swatties, have with McCabe, it is an important part of communal structure at Swarthmore both socially and academically.

Considering the importance of McCabe, and considering that many Swatties spend a large percentage of their time on campus in libraries, the importance of these spaces cannot be overstated. While those who do not enjoy McCabe have alternative libraries they can turn to, including Underhill and Cornell, the fact remains that McCabe is the largest library on campus. While my experiences with this library cannot be said to represent the entirety of the student body, I think it is an important space that shapes social and academic culture on campus. As such, the importance of addressing the innumerable structural issues of the library must be addressed, and I hope that, in the future, efforts, such as the recent visioning process, can be harnessed to make McCabe a space that enhances the student experience. After all, it wouldn’t take that much—just give us some light!

McCabe Displays Student Studio Art Projects

in Arts by

“Observations of a Box”, the current exhibit on view in McCabe library, presents the works of students in Professor Logan Grider’s Foundation to Drawing class. The students were assigned to design three-dimensional compositions with recycled cardboard and then to configure them within a box into which the viewer can look from a small hole on its side. Students were allowed to choose whether they wanted their work to be presented using natural light or a light fixture within the box which the viewer can turn off and on by pressing a button located on one side of the box. Upon the completion, students drew the scenes of their composition, which are also on view. The compositions were intended to be inspired by the works of the master painters such as Giotto, Poussin, Titian, and Caravaggio. Giotto was  an Italian painter, who is widely considered to be key contributor to the early Renaissance movement of the late Middle Ages. He was known for the remarkable and detailed postures that his figures took on in the paintings, which were intended to be as natural as possible. Nicolas Poussin was a prominent painter of the French Baroque style and usually painted history paintings depicting religious and mythological scenes. Titian, like Giotto, had a profound influence on Renaissance and made use of the power of vivid colors and non-precise brushstrokes. Caravaggio in turn influenced Baroque painting and is often credited as the key artist to introduce modern painting. He is known for his lighting techniques as well as focus on portraying a realistic human state.

Students looked at works by these artists and then sketched interpretations of them. These would later influence their three dimensional compositions. The scenes depicted in these paintings varied in subject, but based on the students’ interpretations, many featured scenes involving multiple characters involved in some sort of conflict. The decision to use natural or artificial light also played a large part on the final product of the work. Alice Dong ’20  visited the exhibit and said,

I chose natural light because I wanted to have less of a harsh difference in the contrast of the material. I felt as though since we had already spray painted the majority of the box white, I felt like the tiniest bit of natural light should be able to give enough highlight to areas of my project. I learned a lot about how different lighting changes and how to trust my hand to draw without having to look at the paper every two seconds. Also, I used four different mediums to create my drawings so I was able to compare how different it felt using each one to create light. ”

The simple materials and methods that the students were permitted to use offer a contrasting perspective to the original sources of inspirations, which were often highly elaborate and ornate, featuring vibrant colors and textures. These contrasting perspectives demonstrate to the viewer that even when the ornateness is torn away, one can impose an equally strong image onto the viewer.  Dong  commented,

I really enjoyed this project as it challenged my ability to physically create something as well as my imagination in order to transform the inner parts of the box into a more natural-looking setting rather than just a bunch of pieces of cardboard. I also really liked that it didn’t matter that much how well you could make your box, but more so how well you could interpret your box of items that you made and transform it from 3D onto a piece of paper in front of you”

At the same time, many elements of the sources of inspiration remain. All of the painters discussed in the class were masters of light and portraying dynamic human interaction, and such themes were depicted in students’ compositions as well. Caravaggio’s paintings in particular depict dramatic scenarios in which a whole cast of characters are caught in an web, each character gripping another. These same dramatic scenarios appear in the students’ works. The box in which the compositions appear adds another layer of dimension. The viewer is prompted to engage with the work in an intimate way, demanding one to literally lean in to the work  peer in. Only one person can look in at a time, further making it an individualized experience.

The box requires the viewer to observe the art from a single angle chosen by the artist. This allows the artist to take control of the viewers perspective, empowering them as they expose their work to observers. From the outside, the box itself becomes the piece of artto an outside viewer. This fall, Pippilotti Rist’s exhibit at the New Museum in New York featured these same boxes, . Looking at the sea of boxes ahead, these became as important to the artistic experience as the actual video inside of them.

“I loved the way that the box itself became part of the artwork. It made it a really interactive experience.” said George Menz ’20 about the work. She added that “the boxes disguised the drama of the scenes at hand, so that the unsuspecting viewer was surprised when she peeked inside.”

More Swastikas Appear in McCabe Library

in Around Campus/News by

Despite continued efforts by senior college staff, Public Safety, and the Swarthmore Borough Police to investigate and eliminate incidents of hateful graffiti on and near campus, two more swastikas were discovered at separate times in the stall of the gender neutral bathroom on the second floor of McCabe Library. An investigation into the incidents is ongoing, and although there are no named suspects and no major college policy changes resulting from the repeated acts of vandalism, various community members and groups have responded to the continued acts of hatred with demonstrations of unity, support, and solidarity.

The most recent vandalisms in McCabe Library were first announced to the broader college community via an email sent out by Dean of Students Liz Braun on Nov. 21. In the email, Braun explained that a single swastika had been found in the gender-neutral bathroom of McCabe Library. This can be assumed to be the same bathroom President Valerie Smith referred to in an Aug. 31 email, in which she detailed a similar incident where two swastikas were spray-painted on the interior wall of a bathroom stall. The Nov. 21 incident occurred shortly after an on-campus vigil in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which GLAAD describes on its website as an annual observance that honors the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. The discovery of the first of these new swastikas so close to the Day of Remembrance bears particular significance because German Nazis, who used the swastika as a part of their propaganda, actively discriminated against and interned transgender citizens during the 1930s and 1940s in similar ways to the discrimination against Jews and other minorities, as explained by the Houston TG Day of Remembrance website.

The discovery of a second swastika in the same location was reported in a Timely Warning Notice sent out via email to students, faculty, and staff on Nov. 23. In the email, Director of Public Safety Michael Hill reported that Public Safety received information about the second swastika at approximately 9:15 p.m. on Nov. 22. The email also notes that Swarthmore Borough Police had been contacted in reference to these incidents.

“These incidents do not define us. They strengthen and unify us in our fight against them…[and] I am thankful to belong to a community such as ours, that does not tolerate such action, and has both the will and the ways to fight it,” Braun said in her campus-wide email.

Co-President of Kehilah Jamie Starr ’19 noted that these repeated incidents were not as shocking as the discovery of the first swastika in McCabe, but recognized that the recurring nature of the graffiti was upsetting.

“The first time, this [was] so new and novel and [we thought] we need to stop it right now, and now that it keeps happening…we feel kind of helpless. You learn to just deal with it. And I think that’s been happening…It’s a busy time, and people don’t have time to be emotionally upset by this,” Starr said.

She pointed out that, at this point, there is not much else Kehilah can do as a student group, and tasked the college with taking proactive and preventative steps.

Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Joyce Tompkins was notified of the incidents before the entire campus was altered via email. She participated in meetings with the college’s Bias Response Team as soon as possible after the discovery of each swastika alongside Jewish Student Advisor Adam Lavitt.

“We don’t know who the targets of these [incidents were], but I feel, in my role, that I need to be cognizant and available to any marginalized group or individual that’s hurting. In the Interfaith Center, we were focusing on our Jewish community because of the history of the swastika,” Tompkins said.

She noted that the response to these two swastikas was different than the campus response after the first one, partly due to the fact that the incidents happened right before Thanksgiving break.

“My sense [after the third swastika was found] was that a lot of people had already left campus and that—II can’t speak for everyone—[but] there was a general feeling of wanting to get away and just heal and be away from it. It felt to me like a wound that had begun to feel better, and [the question was], ‘Do we rip off the Band-Aid?’, or ‘Do we try to allow the healing to continue?’ and it felt to me…[that we should] let some time away settle things,” Tompkins said.

As students took a break and returned home or gathered on and off campus for the Thanksgiving holiday, several felt these incidents jarred their expectations of a place like Swarthmore.

“I never expected something like this to happen at Swarthmore. I figured Swat was a liberal place and in a liberal area, since it was near Philadelphia,” Katherine Huang ’18 said.

Ivan Lomeli ’19 agreed with Huang’s sentiment, explaining that he never imagined something so hateful could occur during his time at the college.

“I had heard about hateful incidents, such as the Intercultural Center’s door being ‘vandalized’, to say the least, but I never fathomed something so directly hateful and targeting to occur,” Lomeli said.

Student Government Organization’s Chair of Diversity and Inclusion Chris Chan ’17 said that these incidents were a setback for a campus that is constantly striving for inclusiveness and unity.

“I personally think the incidents are unacceptable, intolerable, disgusting, and revolting. The fact that this is happening not just once, but multiple times indicates that there is someone out there, either on or off campus, explicitly discriminating and targeting a specific group of people,” Chan said.

After these repeated incidents came to light, many groups across the college community have mobilized in different capacities. Tompkins praised Wednesday’s Jewish Day of Resistance as a positive way for both Jews and allies to channel hurt and anger about the fact that these events have continued to occur on campus. Braun said in a statement that the Bias Response Team has been working to connect with individuals and groups that have been most directly affected to get their input on how to improve the overall campus climate. She pointed to the upcoming intersectional anti-Semitism workshop organized by Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development T. Shá Duncan Smith as an example of a programmatic opportunity for the community.

On the same day as the Timely Warning Notice released by Public Safety, Mosea Esaias ’17 penned an email to the student body on behalf of the Student Government Organization, issuing a call to social and political action in response to hatred, bigotry, and violence, on campus and on a broader national scale. The statement outlines that SGO wants to recognize and support those who have been engaging in social justice work on campus and outside of Swarthmore.

“We will act as allied partners in their struggle for liberation and equality…and will use its access and allocate our economic, physical, intellectual, and symbolic resources in order to support students organizing on campus, in local communities, and on the national stage,” the call to action reads.

It also included a link to a Political Action Resource Guide, intended to give students an opportunity to find organizations that are mobilized on a local and national scale, as well as upcoming events and other ways to become politically engaged. The guide includes information about events, such as the Stand with Standing Rock March in Washington, D.C. happening on Dec. 10, and lists of organizations grouped by interest area, such as Gender and Legal Defense.

In a statement, Esaias also noted that, in accordance with both the call to action and the SGO Bias Response Policy, SGO reached out to groups potentially targeted by the vandalism in McCabe to extend their support and to offer the possibility for future collaboration on projects addressing the issues of anti-Semitism and homophobia. He explained that SGO members are also continually meeting with members of the college administration and will be meeting with Braun next week, where these issues surround hateful graffiti will be a main focus of the meeting. Esaias also highlighted a meeting with Tompkins about the last collection of the semester, titled The Celebration of Light and that is scheduled for 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Upper Tarble on Dec. 7, which will be co-sponsored by SGO.

Braun confirmed that Public Safety is working very closely with the library staff to find ways to increase vigilance in the library since it has now been targeted multiple times. She also said that Public Safety is also working closely with Swarthmore Police Department on their ongoing criminal investigation. Both Hill and Braun could not comment directly on the ongoing investigation due to concerns that statements may inadvertently impact the investigation. At this point, no suspects have been identified, and it is unknown whether or not the various swastikas were all created by the same individual or by different individuals, as well as whether or not the perpetrator(s) is/are members of the Swarthmore community.

Huang appreciated the college’s prompt response to the discovery of more swastikas.

“I’m glad they include links to help groups on campus like CAPS, and Kelilah, and MSA,” she said.

However, Huang was not convinced that the college was doing all it could to improve the security of campus in light of these recent events.

“I feel like this horrific thing is at least preventable inside our McCabe, which has people posted at the desks. But I don’t work there, so I don’t understand really know what’s going on,” she said.

Huang is an employee of the Cornell Science & Engineering Library.

“You’ve gotta send the email, but I already want more than an email. I think they should be doing something now…we are hoping the administration does give some sort of stronger response,” Starr said.

The library staff has begun to take some steps to move forward after these incidents. Digital Resources and Scholarly Communications Specialist Maria Aghazarian pointed out that library staff are providing sticky notes and inviting students to share their responses to the incident on the door of the bathroom where these incidents have occurred.

“[We] are planning additional ways of building community and making our library welcoming, safe and inclusive,” she said.

Aghazarian also mentioned the library had formed a response team that will be meeting with Tompkins on Friday and plans to collaborate with Lavitt in the future.

Looking forward, Tompkin praised the sense of unity she saw between different groups on campus, such as the increased dialogue between the Muslim Students Association and Kehillah, in light of these events.

“It’s not just one person’s wounds. It’s all of our wounds, together,” Tompkins said.

CORRECTION: The piece currently states that Esaias penned an email to the student body on behalf of the Student Government Organization. While Esaias did send the email out, it was written collaboratively and approved by the entire SGO.

CORRECTION: The statement released by SGO was written by Esaias and Roebuck, not just Esaias as the piece currently notes.

McCabe Displays International Graphic Novel Collection

in Arts by

Several graphic novels assembled by Hazlett Henderson ’17, who recently received the Newton prize for her collection, are currently being displayed at McCabe Library.

“Graphic novels are a really compelling way to tell a narrative. They’re short, but they contain a lot of information and a lot of emotion,” said Henderson.

The Newton prize is given to three Swarthmore students every year for their collection of 25 or more books assembled around a specific theme. The prize was established in 1930 in honor of Edward Newton, a Philadelphia native and businessman known for his rare book collection, who gave Swarthmore and McCabe Library the funds to continue the competition. The Newton prize includes a cash component, and it was originally intended by Newton to help fortify interest in books among students.

The collection focuses on graphic novels set in several different countries, many of which tell the stories of immigrants or of alienation. Swarthmore students can see the books on the second floor of McCabe displayed in several large cases. The books are grouped into five regions: France, North Africa, Middle East, West Africa, and the Anglophone world. Accompanying each book is a short blurb, written by Henderson, explaining the book’s inclusion.

Henderson wrote that her interest in graphic novels began as a child when her mother, a librarian, gave her a copy of Persepolis, a book depicting Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran. She accumulated more of the books that would make their way into the collection during her time at Swarthmore, particularly through a French class focused on analyzing Francophone comics to understand culture.

“I took Professor Guyden-Turek’s class, and really loved some of the books we read, and had to buy them for the course. I was in France the following summer, and I found some other volumes of a book we read and some similar graphic novels, and bought them.” said Henderson.

Henderson’s experiences studying abroad helped her further gather books that emerged into a cohesive compilation centered around identity and belonging.

“They all deal with themes of dislocation, whether that’s in a country or actual dislocation. That came partially out of the class, which focused on North Africa and Francophone traditions. The second wave came out of being in Morocco in a program focused on migration. I did a final project that focused on graphic novels, so I read a lot of books that fit that theme.”

Roberto Vargas, the main project supervisor of the award, noted the committee was impressed with the way Henderson captured the spirit of her collection in her essay and bt how she offered insight into its specific details.

Just as her graphic novel collection [does], her essay reflected the effects that images and words on a paper can have on people. She wrote about the way she acquired her graphic novels, how she crossed borders to do so, and what it meant to fail at acquiring some of the books she desired,” said Vargas.

Henderson named Arab of the Future as one of her favorite books featured in the collection, which she noted she highlighted despite the fact that French Professor Guyden-Turek doesn’t like it.

“It beautifully portrays the vision of Riad Sattour’s childhood through Libya, Syria, and France. There’s a humor component to it that I find really appealing. It’s also cute and has nice cartoons.”

Henderson offered some reflection upon the ways in which owning physical books continues to be a significant and valuable endeavor.

“Even though books and print media in general are becoming less and less popular, asking people to own or buy physical books is important in that it’s giving money to a publisher and showing that you think that there’s value in writing and in reading. There is also an aesthetic value to owning physical books.”

Vargas explained that the Newton award is meant to encourage thoughtful reflection among students about the books they’ve read and own, rather than encouraging the commodification of impressive or expensive books.  

I think the significance about this specific award is that it asks the students to think about the books they own, to think about their possessions, and to try to meaningfully make correlations between them that go beyond the subject matter,” said Vargas.

Rather than being purely academic, the collection is an opportunity for students to create something more personal and meaningful.

“There is a temptation to view a book collection as a reflection of one’s own intellectual capacities, but this is the opposite of what we hope this award encourages. Rather, we want students to think and reflect on the books they own as ways to tell their histories—like a biography through the eyes of their books,” said Vargas.

Swastika incidents prompt further discourse and education

in Around Campus/News by

One month ago, the Phoenix reported on bias incidents of swastikas that were found spray-painted on campus and detailed the college’s plans to address these concerns. In the article, one student, Jonathan Cohen ‘17, said he believed the Dean’s office did not fully recognize how severe the issue of anti-Semitism is to students.

In response to feedback similar to Cohen’s, the Lang Center and the Intercultural Center teamed up with many of the college’s social sciences departments to address anti-Semitism in the college’s community and around the globe.

The talk, which was initially held only for Professor Sa’ed Atshan’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict class, was opened up to the general public in response to the recent occurrences.

Rabbi Alex Weissman was featured as the guest speaker, and over 50 students and ten faculty members attended to hear his thoughts.

To begin his presentation, Weissman asked all of the Jewish people in the audience to come stand at the front of the room. After giving everyone a few moments to register this request, he proceeded to ask everyone how they felt. Some responses included “terrifying” and “I feel singled out for something beyond my control.” The activity served to give a notion of what it is like to be targeted based on some aspect of one’s identity.

Weissman then spoke in great detail about the history of anti-Semitism. Even as a child, he recalls that the early Jewish texts included some acknowledgement of religious persecution. For him, the idea of persecution was, and always has been, a part of Jewish tradition. He then proceeded to trace the different stages of anti-Semitism throughout the ages, from the pre-Christian to the modern era.

In order to reinforce that discrimination against the Jewish community has always existed, he asked the non-Jewish people in the room for early perceptions of Jews that they received from media and their schools, while asking those in the room who identified as Jewish for their first experiences with anti-Semitism. The audience then broke into small groups to discuss their individual answers to the questions posed.

Most of the people in the room first learned about Jews and the concept of anti-Semitism through their studies of the Holocaust and religious persecution. Weissman found it to be disheartening that this tragedy is the extent of our knowledge of Jewish history in the past 2,000 years.

In order to connect the history of anti-Semitism with the discrimination against Jews in the present day, Weissman described the four ways that he believes Jewish people are used. The first way is the Jewish function as the “middle-person.” He states that he has seen many Jews involved in careers like social work and teaching, which causes them to become the face of the state that oppresses poor people and people of color. Secondly, Jews can be used as “buffers,” forced to live in dangerous places that are susceptible to outside attack. They are also used as “pressure valves” to alleviate the pressures of the economy through their personal successes. Finally, there is the “Court Jew,” who Weissman sees as a  Jewish person with some power in government, who, despite this privilege, is ultimately expendable.

Rabbi Weissman ends his talk by urging the audience to affirm that Jewish rights are basic human rights. “Fighting anti-Semitism is not about whether you’re a good Jew or a bad Jew. It’s about human dignity and justice,” said Weissman.

In terms of overall effectiveness, some felt that this space was extremely conducive to fighting the anti-Semitism that has appeared on the school’s campus, while others found it to be less productive.

Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, Dr. Joyce Tompkins, who was present to support the Jewish community and to learn more about the issue of anti-Semitism, believed her expectations were met.

“I’m hearing from students about different experiences, and it wasn’t just a lecture; there was a lot of sharing back and forth,” said Joyce. “I learned a lot, and felt privileged to hear the deep personal sharing that students were willing to divulge.”

In response to the swastika incident, she responds, “We don’t know a lot about who did this, but we’re clearly not a perfect community. This can be a learning opportunity. We have a lot more learning to do about how anti-Semitism impacts people personally.”

Several students felt that this event helped them to better understand and analyze the problems of discrimination and injustice at the college. Christian Galo ’20 said that he had become desensitized to anti-Semitism as it was so apparent throughout his middle school, but recently, he has become more aware of sensitivity to these issues.

“I had dismissed the swastika incident as childish vandalism, but when I talked to other people, I realized many were very offended and had strong emotional reactions in regards to the incident,” said Galo.

Some, however, found the talk to be less helpful than they had originally anticipated it to be. Ben Stern ’20 believed that the event focused too much on painting a picture of oppression and not enough average Jewish experience.

“Growing up as a Jewish person in the U.S., I felt that I didn’t really have that experience of oppression and emotional trauma,” said Stern.

Despite the varying opinions on the overall effectiveness of Rabbi Weissman’s talk, the key takeaway, according to several students who were interviewed, was that anti-Semitism does exist and as students of a school that prides itself on diversity and understand and address, as members of a global community, it is essential that we do our part in staying aware of these issues.

“We are like fish in water. Fish don’t take note of the water around them,” said Weissman. “We breathe and live in a water of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism, but it’s hard to see the thing surrounding us sometimes.”

Throughout the various attempts to provide safe spaces for learning and discourse, it is important to note that the school does not take student feedback lightly.

Pulitzer-winning photojournalist exhibits in McCabe

in Arts by

On the Wednesday before break, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist April Saul delivered a lecture on her work, currently on display at McCabe library and the List Gallery. Saul’s work, primarily based in the Greater Philadelphia area, documents the experiences of individuals and families in celebration, hardship, and their day-to-day lives.

“I always see myself as someone who is trying to help people understand one another better through my art, whether it’s in a newspaper or magazine or hanging on a wall,” said Saul. “My greatest passion is photographing families.”

Saul’s earlier work, displayed in McCabe, highlights this passion. During her lecture, Saul noted a major turning point in her work that came in 2005, when she followed around Victoria Yancey. Yancey worked with grieving families and employees in the Philadelphia School District. During her time spent with Yancey, Saul heard about the high number of children who lost their lives to gun violence. She subsequently produced a column, Kids, Guns, and Violence: A Deadly Toll, for the Philadelphia Inquirer to cover the children and their grieving families.

This brought Saul to her next body of work, currently displayed in the List Gallery, that focuses on documenting life in Camden, New Jersey. The exhibition brings to light many salient problems in Camden around poverty, guns, employment, and drug addiction, but tries to avoid the commodification of suffering.

“There’s tremendous heart in Camden,” said Saul. “Most of the residents are just trying to lead normal lives against really difficult odds.”

The exhibition also includes Saul’s photographs of mentoring organizations, pageants, and outdoor boxing matches to illuminate parts of Camden that are often overlooked by the media.

Throughout her lecture, Saul also discussed the process of documenting the lives of others, occasionally noting the friendships she formed with many of her subjects, or how and when she decided to pull out her camera equipment. These procedural blurbs helped explain Saul’s work and offered general insight to photojournalism or photography.

“Her work is fascinating and challenging because it’s the intersection of so many different kinds of practice,” said Andrea Packard, List Gallery Director and the curator of the exhibition. “Fine art, in the sense that she’s choosing images that have a…compositional clarity that…connects you with her subject matter. They’re obviously [also] documentary.”

Professor Ron Tarver of photography, who worked alongside Saul for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is responsible for bringing her work to the attention of Swarthmore’s Art Department and the List Gallery. On Wednesday, Tarver introduced Saul and her work, noting the countless awards she has received, as well as the tension between photojournalism and art photography.

“These photographs, from a photojournalistic point of view, are not art,” said Tarver. “They are documents that tell a story—that communicate. As photojournalists, we used to bristle with the word ‘art’…but what April does transcends photojournalism.”

Packard noted the various challenges that came with curating Saul’s photographs. For example, Packard and Saul were not able to display all the photographs they wished due to logistical issues—one individual did not like the way their hair looked in a photograph, and thus asked that it not be included in the exhibition. Respectfully, Packard did not include these images. Other challenges arose in navigating the sheer size of Saul’s work.

Although April Saul described trying to avoid the commodification of suffering, responses to the exhibition have been mixed. Zoe Wray ’16, one of the List Gallery interns, noted the generally skeptical responses of students she spoke to, who found the exhibit problematic.

“One thing I’ve heard brought up,” said Wray, “is that while Saul’s intentions might have been very good and she might have been genuinely trying to help the people she photographed by telling their stories, and telling a story that may not otherwise be told, that may not change the end result of how these pictures are perceived.”

Wray noted these responses in comparison to the positive responses of older adults that visited during her shifts monitoring the gallery.

“I don’t know why that is exactly,” said Wray on the somewhat polarized nature of the responses. “But perhaps it’s because, as Swarthmore students, we’re a lot more aware of the effects of images like that…What role is having these images in general serving, and what role does it have being exhibited specifically as art, specifically at a place like Swarthmore College?”

However, by generating such a wealth of conversation, the exhibition has already accomplished one of Saul and Packard’s goals.

“Viewing art can be a very solitary experience,” said Packard. “But my hope is that people would be in dialogue with others, conversing with others, about the experience. ‘This is how it made me feel, do you feel differently after reading the artist interview?’”

Saul’s work in Camden will be on view in the List Gallery until April 3. Free copies of the 70-page catalogue, which includes an essay by Packard and an interview between Tarver and Saul, will be available in the gallery and during the closing reception.

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