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Politics versus policy

in Opinions/Swat Global by

This morning I woke up and started listening to my Rachel Maddow podcast as I do most mornings. This particular show, she focused heavily on the surprising news that Sean Hannity had been revealed as Michael Cohen’s third client. I found this fascinating and spent my entire morning commute, about half an hour, thinking about what Cohen could have done for Hannity and what this meant for the future of Fox News, the Mueller investigation, and the Southern District of New York’s investigation into Michael Cohen.

When I arrived at school, I tried to spark a conversation about the newest revelation with a classmate. They hadn’t followed the story closely, and as I tried to explain to them the significance of this development, I realized that it wasn’t actually that meaningful.

As someone who has always been an avid consumer of U.S. political news, being abroad in today’s political climate has been an eye-opening experience. While in the U.S., every single New York Times update or Rachel Maddow opening monologue seems to be ground-breaking, but being abroad has allowed me to see how little impact these stories have on the world as a whole. As cliché as it may sound, being abroad has shown me that the political spats, about who said what when, or what the newest polling data says, are not nearly as important as they seem while you are in the States.

Now when I say “political news” I am not referring to policy actions. Obviously, U.S. policy is very relevant both domestically and abroad. The U.S. response to chemical weapons usage in Syria or implementation of tariffs have real-life implications for many people; what I am talking about is political drama. I am talking about the affairs, polling data, speculations, and tweets that appear on the front page of any news website.

More than ever, the news in the U.S. has been dominated by what I see as nothing more than political drama. It is filled with whatever horrible thing Trump tweeted last night or the newest speculation with regard to the special counsel’s investigation.

This phenomenon moves past the national government and Trump; it carries all the way down through the states as well. The only time I have read about the Iowa legislature in the past year is when the Senate Majority Leader had to resign due to an alleged affair with a lobbyist. I consider myself an avid consumer of news and I can tell you more about the approval rating of my governor than I can any of her policies.

News coverage and consumption is a zero-sum game. Every time an article is written about another one of Trump’s ridiculous tweets, someone isn’t covering a policy that is being approved by his cabinet. Every time I choose to read yet another article about the newest polling data, I am depriving myself of the ability to educate myself about the candidate’s actual policy positions. Although I cannot control what journalists are writing, I can control what I choose to read.

It is more important to focus on what elected officials are doing than what they are saying. I’ve discovered that this is much easier said than done. That one should focus on actions instead of words or policy is not a new idea to political observers but it is becoming more important in today’s political climate. I realize that I have to think harder about the choices I make when it comes to news consumption. Despite this internal acknowledgment of the stupidity of many political drama stories, I continue to consume them like I am reading about the newest Kardashian drama. It isn’t always easy to go past the front-page political stories, but seeking out different sources and doing your own searches can help you get a better view of the current political situation.

I have found that doing your own searches is a good way to move beyond the political drama. For example, if you read an article about how Trump feels threatened by the Mueller investigation, you could go on to search about what legislation different senators or representatives have proposed to protect Mueller and where your representatives stand on the issue.

Unfortunately, the current political drama is not a fictional TV show — it is reality. Actions taken by these officials are more important than just what they tweet on any given day. Moreover, there are both good and bad politicians out there that no one is covering at all.

Recognizing the difference between politics and policy is more important than ever in the current political climate. Policy will always be important in our lives, but politics is only as important as we make it. We cannot let ourselves get distracted from our real policy goals. Inevitably, political drama will work its way into our news consumption, but instead of reading it for the entertainment value, look at how this affects the policy actions they are taking. Instead of laughing at the fact that Scott Pruitt got an apartment for $50 a night in D.C. from a lobbyist’s wife, look into what Pruitt has done for liquid natural gas companies during his tenure at the E.P.A. What politicians say and what they do on their own time is important only in the way that it affects their concrete actions.

Trends in Homelessness

in Columns/Multimedia/Opinions by

Housing is something we at Swat take for granted every day. Most of us wake up in dorms where bathrooms that have been cleaned for us are right down the hall.  Most of us don’t wake up each morning grateful for our bed, our window, our floor because we are used to having those things in our lives. Outside the Swat bubble, as we know but don’t always place at the forefront of our minds, that is not the case.

Sasha Williams thought she’d found a new place to live. A survivor of domestic abuse, severe depression, and years in the streets, she’s been trying to move her and her four-year-old daughter from their current apartment into a safer neighborhood.

The problem? The apartment building has denied her on the grounds of bad credit—despite the fact that the housing voucher she’s held for over two years guarantees she will be able to cover the rent. Frustrated by what she perceives to be discriminatory treatment, Sasha sees it as just one more setback in a long-standing, seemingly interminable fight for housing.

It’s a fight that many Americans—particularly those living in the nation’s capital—are losing. The graphs below illustrate the breadth of the homelessness crisis and what can be done to solve it.

Homelessness is a national crisis.

According to an annual point-in-time count, over 549,000 people were homeless in the U.S. on a single night in January of 2016—more than the populations of 62 countries around the world. Twenty-nine percent of those people were in families with two or more children, and 32 percent were reported to be living outside. Despite the efforts of organizations across the country to raise awareness about this issue, homelessness has barely declined since 2007.
Things are particularly bad in Washington, D.C.

The nation’s homeless crisis is near its starkest in the nation’s capital, where the District is lagging far behind the national average in combatting homelessness.

D.C.’s biggest problem lies with its inability to effectively address the increase of families experiencing homelessness. While the national average for individuals in homeless families decreased by 2.6 percent from 2015-2016, D.C.’s average increased by over 34 percent.

Homelessness knows no race, gender, or age, affecting nearly every group imaginable. There are certain categories of people, however, who bear this burden at a higher rate. African Americans represent a disproportionate number of homeless people (roughly 71%) in the D.C. Metropolitan Area relative to their percentage of the area’s population (roughly 25%).

From pre-K to college, students across the country are also experiencing large degrees of homelessness. There are currently enough homeless American children to fill American University’s enrollment 10 times. The lack of a stable home has a devastating effect on a student’s likelihood of furthering their education: only 3.4 percent of homeless students who enroll in 12th grade attend college the next year.

The rising cost of housing is a root cause of homelessness.

The causes of homelessness are as multifaceted as its constituents, but the most obvious in D.C. is the ever-increasing cost of housing.

D.C.’s minimum wage relative to these rising housing prices exacerbates the problem. A District resident earning minimum wage would have to work 93 hours per week in order to afford a one-bedroom rental at the Fair Market Price.

D.C. has the second-highest housing wage—hourly pay necessary to afford a two-bedroom apartment without spending over 30 percent of income on rent—in the country.

Solutions should be based on Housing First.

The D.C. government’s reliance on rapid re-housing—a model that grants people experiencing homelessness temporary, short-term rental assistance and services—has in many cases done more harm than good, often landing families back in shelters. As of October 2016, one out of every eight families in D.C.’s shelter system had already gone through a rapid re-housing program at least once. Further, families in such programs are forced to allocate an average of 40-60 percent of their income towards their rent, leaving them severely rent-burdened and incapable of providing for themselves.

Contrasting the failures of rapid re-housing is the Housing First approach, a method that research has proven to be successful in permanently moving people out of homelessness. Unlike rapid rehousing, Housing First prioritizes providing those experiencing homelessness with permanent housing as quickly as possible, providing other supportive services only after a person is firmly secured in housing—an approach founded on the principle that people will respond better to treatment and or help if they have a secure roof over their heads.

In Utah, Housing First programs helped the state reduce chronic homelessness by 91 percent in 2015. In Denver, Colorado, emergency-service costs alone went down 73 percent for people put in their Housing First; the program has proved to be an extremely cost-effective approach to ending homelessness.

Another jurisdiction that implements this Housing First technique is just across the river from D.C. in Arlington, Virginia. Crediting its participation in the 100 Homes campaign, nationwide Zero: 2016 Campaign, Homeless Services Center, and continued implementation of a Housing First model, Arlington has been able to specifically target the populations in their city experiencing the highest rates of homelessness.

Large-scale data is critical in understanding homelessness and its potential solutions, but it’s also imperative to remember what is actually behind each line and number. Sasha Williams is a statistic present on multiple graphs used in this piece, but she is also a woman trying to move into a safe neighborhood so she can raise a young family. She is funny, engaging, smart, and interested in studying filmmaking. She is a point on a graph, on many of these graphs, but she is, first and foremost, a person.

Stephen Walt: Foreign policy-wise, Trump is much of the same

in News by

Phi Beta Kappa lecturer and foreign policy expert Stephen Walt offered harsh criticism of the American foreign policy establishment last Thursday, Oct. 26. In his talk, titled “Where is U.S. Foreign Policy Headed?” Walt argued that foreign policy under president Trump is still commandeered by the pre-existing bipartisan foreign policy establishment; the administration now pursues long-standing, already flawed policies in an erratic and incompetent manner pursued by Trump.

Walt is a professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He authored three books, including The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which created a media storm. The New York Times called it “ruthlessly realistic,” while others accused it of anti-semitism.  

In his talk, Walt argued that the foreign policy establishment — or the ‘blob,’ as he refers to it — is to blame for decades of failure in global affairs. He referenced the US policy of ‘liberal hegemony,’ defining it as a foreign policy that actively tries to promote the basic principles and ideals of liberal democracy. The policy assumes the US is an indispensable nation, and that it should try to use its power to spread democracy, whether peacefully or by force.

Walt outlined changes in international power dynamics over the past thirty years. China’s power has steadily increased, the relationship between the US and Russia is at its worst since the Cold War, and the Middle East is in turmoil largely due to US efforts at regime change.

According to Walt, the election of Donald Trump, whose policies represent a repudiation of the grand strategy pursued since the Cold War, proves that the American people want change. However, the change in his foreign policy is in how Trump himself acts, not in policy.

Walt blames the establishment for the state of US foreign policy. Although Trump ran on the premise that foreign policy in the US is “a complete and total disaster,” he doesn’t follow through on the policies he supported during the election. McMaster replaced Flynn, Trump said in an interview that NATO is no longer obsolete, he ordered a cruise missile strike in Syria After Assad uses chemical weapons, and he announced 5,000 more troops will be deployed to Afghanistan. According to Walt, these are many of the same actions Hillary Clinton would have taken if she was president.

“In a competition between Donald and the establishment, the establishment is winning,” he said.

Apart from criticizing the policies in place, Walt also listed the policies the US should pursue. The US should reduce or eliminate its military role in Eastern Europe, since Russia isn’t an existential threat to either the EU or the US. Trump should take a harder line with China to prevent it from becoming a regional hegemon and let Russia take the lead in Syria. The US shouldn’t have special relationships with any Middle Eastern powers, and should refrain from pursuing nation-building experiments.

Student reactions to these ideas were mixed.

“[Walt] underestimates Russia’s willingness to take risks given the threat it perceives from NATO and its declining global influence,” said Irina Bukharin ’18. “Although Professor Walt’s views most likely differed from the average Swattie’s, it was really encouraging to see so many people come out to hear his views.”

Frank Kenny ’20 was also unsure about one of Walt’s stances.

“I was surprised to hear him argue for a more interventionist approach when it comes to foreign policy dealing with China,” Kenny said.

Associate Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney offered a different analysis of post-Cold War US policy. He questioned Walt’s harsh criticism of the establishment, considering the failure of Trump’s anti-establishment agenda. The Trump administration and all its missteps don’t seem to endear Walt to the establishment, like they do with many Americans.

“Instead, [Walt] seems to be sticking to his guns,” said Tierney. “While I think a lot of people look at the Trump administration and think that the establishment is looking better every day, by comparison to some of the blunders that we’ve seen.”

The failure of US foreign policy over the past thirty years, said Tierney, doesn’t have it’s roots in the establishment, although they have blundered.

“If you look at the bigger story of American foreign policy, it’s actually been fairly successful over the centuries and even since WWII, so I’m not sure that the American establishment is the fundamental problem here … that suspicion has been reinforced by the trump administration because it is explicitly anti-establishment and has made very serious mistakes,” he said.

According to Tierney, the deeper reason for these foreign policy gaffes is that America has no one to challenge its power like it did during the Cold War.

“Countries the with kind of power that the US has had since the end of the Cold War in history have rarely acted in restrained and measured ways,” he said.

Despite having controversial views, Walt filled the room with students engaged in

meaningful deliberation, and encouraged reexamining widely-accepted points of view.

On our op-ed section

in Columns/Opinions/Staff Editorials by

A dialogue has opened up on campus and around the nation about the role of journalism. As the nation becomes more and more polarized, so too do news organizations and publications. Publications are easily labeled “conservative” or “liberal,” and their readers often exclusively fit into those categories.

As a publication, the ideas of free speech and the first amendment are always on our minds. As student journalists, we recognize the responsibility we have to the campus to report accurate stories, represent the community, and be a space for people to express their opinions.

The Student Press Law Center offers guides and tips for student publications across the country. The SPLC lays out four key goals to which every student journalist should adhere. We quote the goals below, and these and later quotes can be found on the SPLC’s website.

  1. Produce media based upon professional standards of accuracy, objectivity and fairness;
    2. Review material to improve sentence structure, grammar, spelling and punctuation;
    3. Reasonably check and verify all facts and the accuracy [of] quotations; and
    4. In the case of editorials or letters to the editor concerning controversial issues, determine the need for rebuttal comments and opinions and provide space or airtime, if appropriate.

Although some of these guidelines may seem straightforward, they can be difficult to implement, especially on a campus such as ours where much of the community is attentive to its constituents’ positionality, and capturing each sentiment is nearly impossible. We at the Phoenix aim to make our paper, including our opinion section, a place that presents factual, well-articulated stories and arguments that represent our community as accurately as possible.  

We aim to make our opinions section a place where people can come to voice their opinions and participate in civil and productive intellectual debate, even those writers with controversial thoughts from across different social strata. As we discuss more below, we are also aware of our responsibility not to cause the community harm. To ensure that every article we publish is productive,  we review and update our letter to the editor and op-ed policies every semester, printed in the lower right hand corner of this page, to reflect these goals. We review each opinions piece we receive and edit it for clarity, style, length, and factual accuracy. We aim to give voice to community members’ well-reasoned arguments while making sure nothing we publish is damaging to our living and learning environment.

We at the Phoenix know that our opinions section sometimes has too narrow a field of viewpoints and is often perceived as representative of the Editorial Board’s opinions. This disparity is mostly due to the lack of submissions we receive to the opinions section. First, editorials stand for the opinions of the board members, but board members cannot, by Phoenix policy, write for the opinions section themselves. Further, we do not actively refuse most pieces; instead, we publish, following editing and reviewing pieces, what we receive because we do not receive many outside arguments. Yes, this problem is in part due to the limits of our social reach to garner opinions, but by no means do we cherry-pick our pieces. We can only publish what we receive.

That being said, there are some obvious things that we decline to publish. We support the need to prevent any hate speech and language that dismisses the marginalization of groups or disparages attempts to break social barriers.  The SPLC carefully lays out some guidelines with regards to omissions. The items below are quoted from the organization.

  1. Material that is obscene, as defined by state law and this policy.
    2. Libelous material, as defined by state law.
    3. Material that unlawfully invades a person’s right to privacy, as defined by state law.
    4. Material that will cause “a material and substantial disruption” of college activities.

Separating ourselves from one of SPLC’s guidelines, disruption is not always a bad thing. We want articles that incite constructive discussion and protest. We will bar, however, any hate speech from our pages. We will never be perfect at this dismissal, but we hope to diminish its presence as much as possible.

The Phoenix has a long history on this campus. We have published some really great pieces and some not so great pieces over our 136 years on this campus. We aim to improve upon the Phoenix’s legacy. We recognize that even now, we are not perfect and have many ways to improve. We’d love to hear from you about those ways. We are open to suggestions from the public and actively solicit constructive criticism through our weekly Thursday evening editorial meetings from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. and events similar to the forum reported in “Phoenix forum yields feedback,” an editorial in the Sept. 15, 2016 issue.

To reiterate, the op-eds that the Phoenix publishes do not represent the opinions of the editorial board. We want our op-ed section to be a space where students can speak articulately. However, we understand and are committed to our responsibility to turn down articles that are purposefully inflammatory, unproductive, or silence marginalized peoples. We will also not tolerate the distortion of facts.

Our publication’s goal is to represent the student body and to hold the college administration accountable. We do take pride in our work. We work day in and day out to produce a publication that this campus can be proud of, too. Help us realize our goal by reading and contributing to the Phoenix.


College releases sanctuary campus policies amid national DACA debate

in News by

A few days before President Donald Trump announced his decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months pending an action from Congress, President Valerie Smith released Swarthmore’s Sanctuary Campus Working Group Report in an email to the campus. The report delineates steps the college has taken and plans to take to solidify its commitment to its sanctuary campus status.

The report was crafted by a coalition of students, administrators, and professors that convened this past spring after the college announced its decision to be a sanctuary campus in December. According to the report, the goals of the group included “advising President Smith and staff by recommending resources, policies, and services to support undocumented and DACA students at Swarthmore College.”

Yasmeen Namazie ’19 was one of the students in the Working Group. Along with other members, Namazie researched initiatives in the Philadelphia area designed to aid undocumented people.

“After conducting that research, we looked at how those programs could be integrated into the Swarthmore community, keeping in mind community sensitivities,” Namazie said.

Based on this methodology, the report establishes ten “high-priority” recommendations identified for immediate action. These recommendations include: forming a uniform approach to requests for information by law enforcement, connecting DACA and undocumented students with attorneys and potential employers willing to sponsor green cards, and working to establish pathways for citizenship post-graduation from the college.

With regard to requests for information by law enforcement, the group report officially establishes Public Safety as the first point of contact for the police and other law enforcement agencies. Director of Public Safety Mike Hill clarified that this is not a new policy but rather an explication of the general practice.

Typically, Public Safety has been the initial point of contact for law enforcement agencies. We work closely with Swarthmore Borough Police Department and other emergency responders to ensure the safety of our community,” Hill wrote in an email. “This has been a long-standing practice, but as part of the Sanctuary Campus Working Group we reviewed all relevant policies and protocols to make sure they align with our institutional commitments. We also wanted to be sure to communicate this policy broadly so that all members of the community would be aware of it.”

The working group report also presents some allocation of funds to provide for sanctuary campus measures. It states that the Dean’s Discretionary Fund has been expanded, and there has also been a “small increase in budget” for the Office of International Student Services. However, the exact amounts are not stated.

Mirayda Martinez ’20 is a Philip Evans Scholar and a DACA student affected by the sanctuary campus policies. Martinez was initially uncertain about Swarthmore’s commitment to the cause.

“I was kind of skeptical when Swarthmore first announced it was a sanctuary campus because I felt like they were just doing whatever other colleges [and] universities like Pomona were doing. I don’t think they really had an idea of what was needed to support/protect us not just physically, but academically and emotionally,” Martinez said.

However, Martinez is optimistic about some of the steps listed in the report.

“I think one of the main benefits is providing us with attorneys who are willing and able to help us through a lot of our questions and concerns,” Martinez said. “I like that …  they provided us with funds to renew our DACA [status] but didn’t like how long the process took since you only have a certain period of time to submit your renewal documents.”

Martinez was also complimentary of the school’s efforts since the national news about DACA.  

“I know that they are currently trying to pass something at Swarthmore that would help DACA students financially after their work permits expire and work study becomes no longer available, but there isn’t much I can share on that since it’s still in the works. I think that’s also something that Swarthmore is trying to do well,” she said.

Since the report was released on Aug. 31 and the Trump administration’s decision on DACA was announced on Sept. 5, Martinez would like to see the report updated to reflect this change.

“I … think they should update the report now that DACA has been rescinded to reflect the current climate surrounding DACA and the resources available to students,” Martinez said.

Martinez emphasized the importance of emotional support for students.

“In terms of what needs to be done, I think they just need to ensure that all of the DACA [and] undocumented students are feeling welcome and safe on campus.That’s the main priority, checking in with them.”

In its “further questions and final thoughts” section, the working group report emphasizes intersectionality.

“We conclude by observing that although our working group’s charge focuses primarily on how the school can support DACA and undocumented students, no student is simply described or characterized by any single designation … whatever it means to be a sanctuary campus, it must mean recognizing all of the intersectional factors influencing our DACA and undocumented students, and supporting their ability to be full members of the college community, to the greatest extent we are able,” it reads.

Namazie believes that the Sanctuary Campus Working Group was beneficial in helping the college identify steps for moving forward with the sanctuary campus status.

“I think this group was incredibly successful in that we were able to continue a much needed dialogue between students and faculty regarding the urgency of sanctuary campus status; it also reaffirmed the administration’s standing commitment to student safety and security amidst a political climate fraught with instability,” Namazie said.

As of publication of this article, senior democrat leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer reached an agreement with President Trump to protect dreamers, although no legislation has yet been brought to a vote.

CLICK HERE to read the full 27-page report

Pub Safe aims to build safer campus despite student concerns

in News by

At the start of this fall, Public Safety started their new program, Building Patrol Notice, to increase awareness of college campus theft and other safety issues.

The Building Patrol Notice, or BPN, is a system of communication for Public Safety officers to indicate safety concerns to students, and it will serve educational purposes for the community.

“Officers are now able to leave a note, or BPN, to indicate a concern, such as lights left on, an unlocked door, or unattended property. In certain circumstances, if the item left behind is of value, the officer may choose to secure the item and leave a BPN note for the owner to contact public safety,” said Director of Public Safety Mike Hill.

Because of the college’s low crime rate, many students sometimes leave their belongings unattended in public spaces. However, theft does happen, as Public Safety confirmed that several dozen thefts occur every year on average at Swarthmore. Some lost personal items were of high value.

“College campuses are a frequent target for opportunity theft of unattended property, especially at the beginning of the semester and during exam times,” said Hill.

According to the college’s most recent crime statistics report as mandated by the Clery Act, there were 12 reported counts of burglary and 94 reported counts of larceny in 2013, which decreased to five counts of burglary and 87 counts of larceny in 2014. In 2015, reported burglary counts increased to 10, but larceny decreased to 55.

In a Sept. 7 email to all the Residential Assistants, Assistant Director of Residential Communities Isaiah Thomas echoed Hill’s theft concerns.

“Please work with your residents to ensure that they secure their doors (and your own door!) when you are not in your room.  We do have thefts from rooms on our campus, and we recently learned about a serious theft that occurred at Haverford College today,” wrote Thomas. Although the Haverford theft was unspecified, it involved a student’s belongings being stolen from their room.

The RAs have also been informed of BPN at one of their meetings. Connor Hodge ’19, a current RA in Dana, expressed his concern about Public Safety directly taking away students’ belongings.

“They told us during training, and a lot of people were like, ‘Wow, what’s this about?’ … They obviously have good intent. They’re obviously just trying to keep people’s stuff from being stolen. That’s their job. That’s fair. But it’s also like, ‘Wow! My stuff!’” said Hodge.

Public Safety’s intention in initiating the BPN is to increase awareness and help community members secure their personal properties.

“It is far better to be proactive than reactive and it’s certainly preferable to have an officer secure an item of value instead of taking a report of stolen property … It is my sincere hope that our community will see this as part of our ongoing commitment to making sure that people and property are safe.” said Hill.

Along with BPN, Public Safety also introduced the Garnet Safety Award this year.

“This award is intended to recognize individuals in our community who have worked with Public Safety in responding to a safety issue or incident. Recipients are nominated by Public Safety Officers and leadership,” wrote Hill in his welcome back letter to students.

Hill further explained that this award has been implemented to acknowledge the contribution that any community members made to the safety of Swarthmore.

“Over the last several years I have made a concerted effort to acknowledge members of the Public Safety team when they have gone above and beyond the call of duty.  I’m excited to share that we will extend this practice to include all community members.  The award is given by Public Safety to a community member(s) who worked with public safety involving a safety matter or incident,” said Hill.

To improve security on campus, the OneCard system has also been updated over the summer. OneCard now covers all residential buildings on campus, in addition to several academic and administrative buildings.

Public Safety has initiated these new policies or updates to help build a safer campus. However, it remains to be seen whether these new policies will be effective.

A nerd goes to Washington

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The rain pounded us and we slipped in the mud.  When I held up the protest sign, the cold water poured down my sleeve and ran all the way down to my socks.  I nibbled on a soggy sandwich and asked myself why the heck I was standing here.  Why did I spend the last two months planning and organizing buses to take students and Swarthmore community members to the March for Science?  Why was I standing in the rain in a distant city with a plastic sign scrawled in Sharpie? The answer, for me, was fear and hope.


I’m scared.  I just lectured in Bio 2 (our introductory biology course) on extinction rates and global warming.  I went to the scientific literature, preparing to write my lecture for Bio 2 from scratch with an open mind.  Even without global warming, the outlook is bleak as a result of environmental destruction.  Add in global warming, and we really are on the precipice of a sixth mass extinction, one that could surpass the extinction that killed the dinosaurs.  Let that sink in for a moment. Humans are killing off species at a faster rate than the extinction triggered by a six-mile-wide asteroid.

And yet, we can’t even get the people in power to listen to facts.  Climate change is a problem, vaccines save lives and do not cause autism; these are facts that are scientifically verified, tested, retested, and yet the current administration and many in Congress act as if these are debatable and subjective ideas. The solutions are complicated and we need people of all perspectives working on smart answers that solve the biological problems while also doing it in a fair and socially just manner.  The political conversation should be about how to deal with these problems, not about the fundamental scientific facts.  For me, one of the main messages of the March was a plea for rational, fact-based decision-making from our government.

I’m a nerd, and perhaps I’ve read too much dystopian science fiction, but my inner Orwell tells me to be very worried.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when the current administration put a gag order on our scientific agencies, but I still reeled from the news. When governments hide the truth, it is never a good sign.  Government scientists dedicate their careers to serving our country through their knowledge and expertise of the natural world.  We need to know what they are discovering and how it could impact our country.  Our tax dollars pay their salaries and now they aren’t even allowed to tell us what they are finding. The recent proposed budget cuts to scientific agencies are also terrifying. Cutting the budget of the National Institutes of Health by 18 percent will slow the development of the cure for cancer.  Gutting the EPA will keep us from understanding the effects of fracking on drinking water.  How can we stop global warming if the Department of Energy’s research into alternative fuels is cut by 44 percent?  How are the science students I’m training going to find jobs if research is no longer a national priority?

And so, I asked the local chapter of Sigma Xi for funding, emailed bus companies, bought all the rain ponchos at Target, hung up posters, and stood in the mud because I am afraid of the future of science and of our democracy.


I love science.  I love the nerdy facts, the awkward people, and the goofy fun that happens when people spend hours and hours to help each other add one more number to a spreadsheet just to answer a rudimentary question.  I love the excitement people get when they discover something new, no matter how small.  I love that scientists gasp out loud when beautifully elegant results are unveiled at a conference.  I have hope that if we are smart enough and loud enough and if scientists can effectively share our love of discovery with the public, we can actually save the world.

I hope that the energy generated by the March for Science and similar acts of resistance inspires students to spend their lives making a lasting impact.  Swarthmore students go on to do great things.  One of the speakers at the podium was Christiana Figueres, an architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the previous Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. She was also a Swarthmore anthropology major who graduated in 1979.

I hope that the March for Science gets more Swarthmore students to vote.  In the 2012 Presidential election only 46.7% of Swarthmore students voted, less than the average of similar schools.  If there is one thing that should motivate Swarthmore students, it should be avoiding getting an F, even for voter turnout.  Come on! The issues surrounding the March for Science are important. They require everyone to pay attention and make informed choices about who is granted power. And it’s not enough to show up only for national races; we should be packing the polling stations for local elections too.

I hope that once finals are over (or maybe during reading week), students call or write to their local leaders.  I hope they can find common ground with those with whom they usually disagree.  Perhaps enough letters will convince a senator that science is good for jobs, good for democracy, and good for our health.  This weekend (while writing my final) I am going to write Senator Toomey and lay out why funding the NIH is important for the economy of Philadelphia.  This is not because the economy is necessarily my most pressing concern, but because I think it is a subject where there is common ground between us.

I also Marched for Science because I am hopeful we can make science into the universal enterprise it should be.  At the March, there were signs that read “science is universal” and “science is for everyone.” Although this should be true, science is hardly universal; billions of people don’t have access to the findings of science, its beneficial products, or even the chance to get a basic education in science.  We still have serious biases in our hiring and publishing practices. Systems of privilege and differences in economic opportunities to continue make success in science an uphill battle for many.  When the March for Science was announced, these problems came to the fore and forced the community to publicly address them.  The March organizers drafted principles of diversity, acknowledging that science is struggling with its own internal troubles even as we protest against science deniers. And there were hints of change at the March that gave me hope that we will make science better. Many people carried signs celebrating the contributions of scientists who have been ignored because of their identity, others proudly claimed their own identities on shirts and signs, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook coalesced around solutions for greater inclusion and outreach to the underserved.

This is not to say we won’t be discouraged. Even small acts, like organizing buses for a march can wear you down.  Many more people signed up for the buses than showed up at 6 am on the rainy day of the march.  I began to get discouraged, and then I tripped over a small child.  One of the faculty and her partner had brought their son, a self-reported 5 and 1/3 year old. I asked him why he was here.  He replied, “I want to be a biolologist when I grow up.” That did it.  I packed away my frustration and decided to be hopeful.  Hopeful that we can make the world a place where there are enough species left for him to study, hopeful that his findings won’t be censored, hopeful that his leaders will make fact-based policies, hopeful that science will be well funded, and hopeful that when he is a biolologist, science will be an inclusive enterprise where everyone is welcome.


Current administration puts a gag order on scientific agencies


Proposed Budget cuts to scientific agencies


Principles for diversity at the Science March


President Smith: Peaceful protest at Swarthmore

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Peaceful protest and free speech have always been central to Swarthmore’s ethos, history, and identity. Today I want to reaffirm our long-standing commitment to the right of our students and all members of our community to protest peacefully. This right is among our proudest traditions and most essential values.

In April and May of 2015, students sat in peaceful protest in the hallway outside the Investment Office for almost five weeks, without incurring any conduct violations whatsoever. In fact, our student conduct policy explicitly and unequivocally supports students’ right to express their views, feelings, and beliefs inside and outside the classroom and to support causes publicly, including by demonstration. The policy clearly states, however, that these freedoms of expression must not “impinge on the rights of other members of the community” or the “essential operations of the College.” Disrupting the work of staff members or of an office violates this policy and intrudes on the rights of individuals.

On February 24, a group of ​three dozen community members who are passionate about climate change and support divestment, ​held a sit-in on the second floor of Parrish Hall in front of the Investment Office, the same hallway as in 2015. It was their right to do so, as it was in 2015. Most of the assembled students remained in the hallway, but some crowded into the Chief Investment Officer’s small office, preventing him from completing all but the most menial of tasks and restricting his movements and rights. The students who occupied the Investment Office were warned multiple times that they were in violation of the student conduct policy and were given the chance to move to the hallway to continue their protest. Several chose to return to the hallway; five others chose to remain in the office despite multiple warnings that they were occupying a staff member’s workspace and preventing him from doing his job.

Refusal to leave a staff member’s office clearly does not adhere to our student conduct policy. That policy needs to be applied equally and consistently, no matter who breaches it. And when there are intentional breaches, it is fair that those doing so face potential consequences which might include a warning or probation.

Here at Swarthmore we have focused considerable attention and resources on changing our energy use on our campus. We are now leading efforts to galvanize the institution of a carbon charge on college and university campuses around the country, and we are encouraging other higher education institutions to support carbon pricing publicly. Faculty in our Environmental Studies program offer courses that educate our students about the causes and consequences of climate change so that they might be empowered to create solutions to this urgent challenge. More than a dozen student organizations are dedicated to sustainability and to making a positive difference on this campus and in the world. While we may disagree with those who support divestment as a strategy, we agree on fundamental principles, including our deep commitment to environment sustainability and our enduring respect for peaceful protest both on this campus and beyond.

Valerie Smith, President


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