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Statement on kneeling during anthem

in Open Letter/Opinions by

Dear Friends,

This past week, President Trump released several tweets chastising athletes who have not stood during the national anthem as well as those who have declined White House invitations. His blanket critique speaks to a reckless pattern of racist sentiment that now endangers the very diversity that America is built upon. Our country’s history suffers from the remnants of massacred Native Americans, enslaved Africans, discriminated against Latinx Americans, persecuted Muslims, economically marginalized Whites, and others disenfranchised by American society. Our own grandparents — some of whom are proud American military veterans — recollect stories of lynchings, church bombings, and police brutality. As young women, we fear a future in which our children will not come home for dinner because they have been assailed or shot in the streets simply for being black or brown.

We are patriotic Americans who value our freedoms to speak against injustices. President Trump struggles to recognize that to be patriotic might at times also require dissent. Our Founding Fathers acknowledged that as much as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did. Patriotism and dissent are not mutually exclusive; America’s greatness is manifest in love and equality for all, not hate and privilege. Thus, in solidarity with athletes and activists around the country who have taken a knee in hopes of addressing a long-standing and systematic pattern of racial violence aimed at brown and black people, we feel compelled to join this action. As black athletes, we especially understand the hateful perception of our bodies as valuable on the court, but disposable on the streets.

We invite all athletes and spectators to express solidarity with a movement that believes America can do better.

Trust in our love and faith in our country. Trust when we question an America that does not afford all its citizens security and safety. Only when we address the disease of white supremacy and racial injustice, can we truly become, as our anthem states, the land of the free. Today we kneel because this sense of security remains unattainable for the average young brown and black person walking or driving in their neighborhoods; today we kneel to honor the brown and black lives lost to violence, and to remind ourselves that none of us can truly be free until we all are.

 

In solidarity,

 

Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20 and Lelosa Aimufua ’20

SGO works to find answers to police presence

in News by

Police activity on campus has been an issue of salience amongst students since the beginning of the semester, as reported in a previous Phoenix article that relayed their presence. This stemmed from a notable series of incidents in which Swarthmore Borough Police were called to campus. The results of such activity have included the shutting down of parties and, more seriously, the arrest of a junior the night of Sept. 17.  

Much of the speculation about police involvement ties into the general confusion felt by students about what warrants the presence of Swarthmore Borough Police and the apparent frequency of their visits. Coleman Powell ’20 was unsure about the severity of other student claims.

“I hear a lot from upperclassmen that there has been an increase. But, I personally don’t notice it. It might just be because I was fairly used to police interference at party scenes in high school because it happened all the time. But, it’s probably because I’m only a freshman that I don’t notice it,” Powell said,

Clare Perez ’18, the Chair of Student Life Policy in Swarthmore’s Student Government Organization, notes that there has indeed been a difference in presence of police on campus from previous years.

“Police are never on campus. My freshman and sophomore year, I never saw them. We don’t usually get noise complaints because there aren’t really neighbors close to campus party spaces. So you never saw police here that often,” she said.

To dispel some of this speculation, Director of Public Safety Michael Hill reiterated the point that police presence is not without reason.

“We rely on a partnership with the Swarthmore Borough Police to assure the safety of the campus and members of our community. Through established protocols, when a “911” call results in response from Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), the Swarthmore Fire Department or any other municipal service, the Swarthmore Police accompanies them.”

Roman Shemakov ’20, an SGO Senator for the class of 2020 (full disclosure: Shemakov is a photographer for the Phoenix but had no involvement in the production of this article), asserted that their presence should not be looked upon as unusual.

“People are distraught and mostly confused, but I think it’s important to understand that it is within the police’s purview to come to the campus whenever they need to. It’s not something that you can stop from happening because it’s well within the law,” Shemakov said.

In addition to heightened police presence, students are reporting that the actions of Public Safety are felt to be stricter now than in previous years. As stated on their website, the main function of Public Safety is to enforce college policies and regulations, as well as provide any assistance necessary to protect the wellbeing of Swarthmore’s students. In relation to party antics on campus, a great deal of general consensus amongst students is that Public Safety does not act firmly, as Perez explains.

“It seems like every year it gets a little bit stricter, though I feel like Public Safety’s presence has been more this year than it ever has been. They’ve been shutting down more parties than they ever did. I remember my freshman year they literally did nothing. Last year, they didn’t really do anything either,” said Perez.

Shemakov recalled instances that he had witnessed actions made by Public Safety that did not follow the status quo.

“I live in DK and last weekend, there was a party there. Police came and broke it up, and they took away all of the hard alcohol that was visible which is something new. And then the same thing happened…actual police went to Worth the night of Halloween, and Public Safety came to DK to take away the alcohol,” said Shemakov.

On-campus confusion centers on the heightened level of action taken by both Swarthmore Borough Police and Public Safety. SGO, as Perez explains, does not have any solid answers or explanation for what is going on, mainly because of the lack of willingness from administration to discuss the issue. In attempting to reach out to Hill, Perez was met with unprecedented obstacles in communication where he would not respond to her multiple requests to meet.

“I asked him if he would have any time in the next semester to meet with me to discuss if there was any policy change that caused the police to be on campus, [ask] what is protocol, and just express to him concern by the student body about their presence on campus and he did not get back to me. If administration isn’t willing to work with us and discuss issues like this, how are we supposed to relay anything to the student body and get anything done?” she said.

According to Shemakov, SGO is largely in the dark.

“We just don’t know. A lot of these things are done within the administration itself. There’s not a lot direct student-to-police conversation, it goes through a different channel. Nobody knows anything,” he said.

Both Perez and Shemakov have their guesses for the increased police presence, ranging from the increased number of student hospitalizations, a rambunctious first-year class, to repercussion from the Spring of Discontent, a colloquialism for the group of events in the spring of 2013 including reports of sexual assault and the opening of a Title IX investigation. None of these, however, have been confirmed. Hill maintained that there is a simpler answer to this question.

“There has been no change in policy or practice.  The police have been responding to calls and the number of calls has increased,” he said.

In terms of plans moving forward, Perez asserted that meetings are in the works.

“I have a Dean’s Advisory Council meeting coming on this coming Tuesday and police on campus is on my list of things to bring up. Also, this is the first one of the year, which is frustrating: the first meeting shouldn’t be happening in the middle of November, it should’ve happened in the beginning of the semester,” said Perez.

Shemakov stated that though there is a lull in flow of information between SGO and administration, they were not going to halt their efforts in trying to break through to them.

“I know that Ben and Mosea [SGO Co-Presidents] were planning on having a meeting with Val Smith about this and getting some answers, but that is coming through them.” Shemakov said.

Both Roebuck and Esias were contacted for comment, but the Phoenix received no response.

Perez added to the sentiment of unrelenting effort from SGO.

“I just want to stress that this is an issue that is important to me and important to SGO.  Like I said, we tried. We didn’t get any response from both Mike Hill and the deans about it, which I plan on talking about at my meeting…I hope that in voicing this to the deans, they can do something about it,” she said.

Hill stressed for students to not keep any concerns to themselves..

“Most public safety and police officers endeavor to be respectful and courteous, and they expect the same from members of our community. However, if anyone on this campus believes an individual officer’s behavior is inappropriate, disrespectful, or inflammatory itself, they should feel free to contact me or the Chief of Police immediately. Ultimately, we all share the goal of protecting and safeguarding each and every member of the community, and doing so with cooperation, dignity, and respect,” he said.

As the the semester draws closer to its end, it remains to be seen if police presence will indeed dial down. Members of SGO continue to seek answers from administration so as to work towards dispelling confusion amongst students. All told, SGO wishes that the avenues of communication would open in order for them to succeed and, in the interest of the student population, lead to a conclusive answer.

Blue lives have always mattered

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Edited by Niyah Dantzler ’18

This summer, in the state of “We Swear We’re Not as Racist as the American South” New York, the Staten Island Yankees-Brooklyn Cyclones baseball game was the designated venue for “Blue Lives Matter Day.” At this family-friendly outing, Blue Lives Matter merchandise was distributed, the families of fallen officers were recognized, and the proclaimed heroes, otherwise known as the NYPD were celebrated. As the marketing director of the event asserted, this occasion was really a chance to support those in need. This date was also the one year anniversary of the police killing of Michael Brown (an “unfortunate, unforeseen coincidence,” as would later be claimed).

Blue Lives Matter -yes, an intentional corollary of Black Lives Matter — is a campaign and non-profit organization that is partially devoted to raising money for police families in times of need. No one is here to argue that supporting these individuals is not just and admirable in principle. “It’s not the cause that is a slap in the face to me and Mike Brown’s family — it’s the slogan. That slogan stands for every single person that has been lost to police and gotten no justice. It’s a slap in the face to everything that Black Lives Matter stands for,” proclaimed Erica Garner, whose father, if you recall, was suffocated in the same borough by the same fraternal order that the event honored. On the Blue Lives Matter webpage, you can find the organization’s public intentions under “About Us”: “Police lives these days are very difficult and stressful. Having support makes daily life as a Police officer much easier and reminds all of us why we suit up and strap on our gun-belts on a daily basis.” Am I the only one who reads that and is a little confused at the slightly random, seemingly threatening allusion to guns? Probably not. Was I surprised when I saw, under the website’s “Proud Sponsors”, that the very first establishment is a deli I frequent for bagels in the white, working class, Long Island community that neighbors my hometown? Not really.

As it turns out, I come from an area where the majority demographic feels a lot more comfortable with Blue than they do with Black. Before Blue Lives Matter, the same community gravitated towards All Lives Matter, a contradictory dichotomy that I’m not sure I need to explain. The logic behind the Blue Lives Matter support makes sense to me; a lot of people in the community have police presence in their families, a lot of people don’t have minority presence in their social circles because despite the ethnic diversity of our county, residential segregation does a good job of making the experiences of neighbors invisible. My sympathy for this side-taking doesn’t run too deep, however. When a Facebook friend changes their profile picture to the blue ribbon symbolic of this campaign, it’s not genuinely about supporting officers in a time of unfortunate circumstances. While there are commendable people and organizations who do exactly that, Blue Lives Matter is just a defensive riposte to Black Lives Matter, and, as Monica Weymouth of Philadelphia Magazine explains, uses “an inflammatory slogan that occupies that strange, uncomfortable space between threatened and threatening.”

To reiterate; Blue Lives Matter is just All Lives Matter, with a little intimidation thrown in.

Aside from serving as an adversary to the anti-police brutality movement, the campaign draws attention to the fact that there is a vocalized sentiment of legitimate wrongdoing against police officers on the streets and in the media. If you watch Fox News, you’ll recognize this as the War on Cops. Where exactly is this ideology coming from? As a young woman of color emotionally invested in the progress of the Black Lives Matter movement and the safety of my loved ones targeted by police, I realize that I do have a bias against the possibility that there may be some kind of epidemic of mistreatment against law enforcement. So I like to refer to hard statistical facts to keep me grounded.

As we now know, black men are 6% of the American population but make up 40% of the unarmed victims killed by law enforcement. So far in 2015, at least 161 unarmed citizens have been killed, a large percentage of whom are black men, women, (especially trans women and men), and children. That the violence against these people is systemic, racially charged, and disproportional is not disputable.

Law enforcement has no incentive to publish how many unarmed citizen deaths their department has been responsible for each year, so it’s fair to say that these numbers are an underestimation. What they do keep detailed tabs on, however, is how many police officers die in the line of duty. In the same amount of time, 27 police officers have died as a result of gun violence.  What that means is today, if you are a police officer, you are almost ten times less likely to get killed by firearms fire than you were in the 1970s. Aside from gun violence, automobile accidents have taken police lives, as well as suicide. Though suicide isn’t disproportionately high compared to other professions, it’s worth noting that black officers are 2.55% more likely than their white colleagues to take their own lives. Why do we rarely talk about black policemen? Men like Christopher Owens, an ex-police officer who served for over 10 years on the force in Providence, RI and was later violently beaten along with his son by fellow officers when mistaken for a black criminal in 2012. As we put policing in the context of the most dangerous jobs in America, even I was surprised that being a law enforcer couldn’t be found in the Top 10. (This list consisted of primarily labor occupations. In 2013, looking at only Latino workers in construction, 817 died while at work. I digress.) Since police officers are the safest they have been in 40 years, why does Blue Lives Matter suggest that officers need to “raise war in the streets?”*.

The statement “Black Lives Matter” is a response to the unique injustice and social conditions that accompany the inherently political identity of being black in a system of enduring white supremacy. Black lives didn’t matter when America instituted slavery. Black lives didn’t matter when segregation was enforced. Black lives didn’t matter throughout the War on Drugs. Black lives continue not to matter in a state of mass incarceration, endless police brutality, and unequal access to resources. Antithetically, police lives have always mattered, and the state makes sure we know this. Every fallen officer is honored with an official memorial ceremony, following strict traditional protocol, accompanied by media attention, often a street named after him or her, and special tributes invoking the country’s flag. This is not a critique of the way in which we commemorate the lives of fallen officers, but of the ways in which we simultaneously dehumanize, disregard, and disrespect the lives of black Americans.

No unjust killing of a police officer should be taken lightly, but the rhetoric of a War on Cops does nothing but increase the paranoia that manifests in racial polarity and violence. While we cannot be lenient on individual acts of violence, it’s important to also recognize that police are only one part of a scapegoating system for the greater will of hegemonic American society, where high racial capital is enjoyed as the result of a judicial system positioned against already-marginalized masses.  It should not have to be explained that life is not a zero sum game, in which valuing black lives would somehow insinuate the devaluing of police lives. Criminal violence against officers and police violence against black citizens are simply not comparable, and to continue to silence black voices by proposing such a comparison with the very existence of Blue Lives Matter only further perpetuates the violence at hand.

*from the official Blue Lives Matter Facebook Group description.

Party Shutdown Causes Controversy

in Around Campus/News by

After local police and Public Safety officers broke up four parties on a Saturday night shortly before the end of fall semester, students waged a heated debate about drinking culture and fraternities on campus in the comments section of a Daily Gazette article.

Commentators on The Daily Gazette’s article (The Gazette offers online coverage only) covering the party shut-down primarily blamed the fraternities for encouraging binge drinking on campus, perpetuating rape culture, and enacting racist policies. Fraternity members and other students felt as though the accusations stemmed from a variety of factors, including negative stereotypes attached to Greek life, rather than from actual evidence.

During the night in question, the International Club, i-20, hosted a heavily publicized “Arma-get-it-on” apocalypse-themed party at Olde Club, while an “End of the World” party took place at Paces. Additionally, both the Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi fraternities held their winter formals. In the aftermath of the parties, several students were hospitalized. Five received citations for underage drinking, including a Bryn Mawr college student, according to Chief of Police Brian Craig.

One anonymous commentator (entitled “Hmmm…” on The Daily Gazette website) wrote, “The dangerous levels of intoxication and numerous hospitalizations related to the DU formal repulse me to no end… and you all claim you are nothing like a drinking club.”

The commentator (Student 1), who chose to remain anonymous, stood by her description of the fraternities as a drinking club in an interview. “I would prefer that they owned up to that instead of shrouding themselves as some preposterous service or leadership group,” she said. Student 1 added that she did not feel the fraternities were entirely to blame for perpetuating binge drinking on campus, but that the entire campus had a strong drinking culture.

Rory McTear, Delta Upsilon president, disagreed with Student 1’s assessment of the fraternities as drinking clubs and described DU’s community service activities as a way in which the group is more than simply social. During fall semester, DU cleaned up the Swarthmore Friends’ Nursery playground, helped with the Red Cross blood drive and the Swarthmore Friends’ Meeting House jumble sale, participated in a cleanup with the Chester Housing Authority, and joined with the other Greek organizations on campus, Phi Psi fraternity and Not Yet Sisters (soon to become Kappa Alpha Theta sorority), to pick up trash in the Crum Woods, McTear said.

In connection to drinking culture, Student 1 and others raised the issues of sexual assault at the fraternities. “Rape and alcohol are generally co-morbid,” Student 1 said. She added that the social expectations surrounding alcohol at the fraternities contribute to instances of sexual assault on campus and said she feels that students feel safer committing sexual assault in the environments of the fraternities. “I believe the frats need to work on combatting their very obvious rape culture,” Student 1 said.
Student 1 feels that the fraternities have a responsibility to take action when they are aware of brothers who have committed sexual assault, but that this action has not taken place. She believes that fraternity members are aware of fellow brothers who have committed sexual assault or rape, but continue to allow these brothers to participate and in some instances even protect them.

Student 1 said that, in her opinion, the fraternities promote a culture of violence, and that the administration does nothing to curb the problem. While she acknowledged that her evidence of sexual assaults was largely anecdotal, Student 1 sees this as indicative of administrative efforts to shield fraternities from disciplinary scrutiny. “The administrators are out to protect these gross white misogynistic, racist, homophobic groups instead of victims of violence,” she concluded.

Joe Hagedorn ’15, a member of Phi Psi, believes that the accounts of fraternity members perpetuating rape culture stem primarily from the interface between the school’s judicial organizations, privacy policies, and the fraternities.

“The most common complaint seems to be that brothers who have been accused of sexual assault or other offenses are not disciplined by the fraternities,” Hagedorn said. “The problem is, we have absolutely no information about these [disciplinary] proceedings. We can’t punish someone for something we don’t know happened.” Swarthmore does not release the names of students involved in disciplinary cases regarding sexual assault.

McTear detailed Delta Upsilon’s involvement with several on-campus organizations and groups which target issues of sexual assault and rape culture. During fall semester, McTear said, DU joined with SMART to provide sober escorts at Halloween, tabled at Sharples to promote consent, and participated in a workshop hosted by SMART, along with Director of Worth Health Center Beth Kotarski, to discuss how to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus.

“We look forward to teaming up with SMART again this semester to raise awareness for sexual violence by helping with their annual Clothesline Project and Handprint Pledge,” McTear said.

Students also leveled accusations of bigoted policies and behavior at the fraternities in the article’s comments section.

Paul Cato ’15, who has served as the president of two cultural groups in the past two years, including the Swarthmore African American Student Society (SASS) and Achieving Black and Latino Leaders in Excellence (ABLLE) wrote in a comment, “I can attest to the fact that there have been multiple incidents involving inexcusable racial insensitivity by fraternity members at Greek functions, parties, etc… I can confirm the fact that we have had to support the victims of such incidents on multiple occasions.”

However, Cato concluded by thanking the fraternity members to whom he and his groups had reached out, and expressed a desire for the entire campus to make an active effort to prevent such instances.

McTear explained that, in an effort to curb discrimination and create an inclusive atmosphere, DU participated in a workshop at the Intercultural Center (IC) to discuss reaching out to queer students as allies and providing safe spaces for the queer community at Swarthmore. He added that the fraternity is currently in the process of organizing a similar workshop with the IC and ABLLE to provide more inclusive spaces and discuss issues of racial insensitivity.

Lanie Schlessinger ’15, who also weighed in on The Daily Gazette debate, felt as though the accusations leveled by many commentators were founded on anti-Greek and anti-athlete prejudice rather than actual evidence. Schlessinger said that at Swarthmore, athletes and members of Greek organizations are stereotyped as irresponsible, stupid, or poor students as a result of their frequent participation in social activities, stigmatic notions which she feels are tremendously inaccurate.

Schlessinger explained that this stereotyping is not in line with Swarthmore’s usually accepting culture, and that she feels it is paradoxical to claim a commitment to diversity while discriminating against members of Greek organizations.

“I’m not proposing that we construct an affirmative action plan for frat members, and I want to make it very clear that I’m not equating the suffering of ethnic minorities to that of frat members,” Schlessinger clarified. “But when I came here, I was consistently taught that judgment as a whole was unacceptable.” Schlessinger said that while she makes a concerted effort to shed all of the stereotypes and stigmas she previously believed in, the lack of acceptance for Greek groups and athletes keeps her from fully subscribing to this philosophy of inclusivity.

An anonymous commentator called “Junior” (Student 2) wrote that they found Schlessinger’s comparison between anti-fraternity discrimination and other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia and racism, offensive.

“Minority students are marginalized and oppressed. We conduct anti-oppression work to combat that,” Student 2 wrote in the comments section. “The frat brothers do not need anti-oppression work because most come from the most privileged groups of society. They don’t have laws against them. They aren’t victims of hate crimes. They don’t fear for their safety as they walk down the street.”

Student 2 added that anger towards fraternities on campus was not a result of fear of the groups as foreign or different — in fact, Student 2 wrote, fraternity culture permeates the dominant culture. “We challenge the frats because what they’re doing is wrong and runs counter to the values of Swarthmore as an institution. They deserve to be scrutinized,” Student 2 concluded.

Despite efforts by both sides to create a constructive conversation about Greek organizations, students remain bitterly divided over the role of fraternities in shaping campus culture. It remains to be seen how the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, which takes its place on campus and receives an official charter this semester, will change the debate.

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