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The dangers of insularity

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President Trump ran on a platform of nationalism, protectionism, and isolationism from both economic and social standpoints; his anti-immigration stances and his proposed pro-tariff policies are salient examples of Mr. Trump’s embodiment of the populist ideals that seem to have taken hold of the U.S. voting constituency. As citizens, it is of great difficulty to look outwards amidst a tumultuous political climate, where unexpected and unforeseen legislation and initiatives are gaining momentum with each day, prompting even the most well-versed and politically literate individuals to find themselves outpaced by rapid developments in their own nation. This propensity to become detached from the ongoing affairs of the world around us is heightened by the tone being set by one’s own national government, devaluing the significance of international relations and interactions between different states, causing individuals to feel that there is a diminished importance of being aware of what is occurring in foreign lands. The disengagement with the international system on both an individual, institutional, and governmental level is worrisome, as we become less attuned to trends that are affecting nations indiscriminately. Populism had begun to create ripples throughout the world in the years leading up to the past U.S. election; this is just one example of how sweeping movements can be traced and predicted, perhaps even staved off and prevented altogether, if we only open our eyes.

Now, populism is not intrinsically bad. Definitionally, populism describes a movement in which individuals collectively band together against a government or institution made of elites. This sounds rather familiar to the spark that can ignite meaningful and successful revolutions, if we contextualize a chain of events as such within the American Revolution, for one. However, what is concerning about populism is the effects it can bring with it, notably a diminishing of domestic institutions that traditionally check the power of executive branches of power and government, particularly those which promote democratic ideals and prevent a consolidation of power within an all-powerful leader. As we have seen in many European nations throughout history, the rise of populism has been accompanied by a weakening of individual liberties, rights, and freedoms. We are now seeing a growing influence of right-wing movements and parties in nations that have long been heralded as beacons of liberal democracy: Britain, Germany, France, and most recently the Netherlands. This development has a few important implications for us as conscious and engaged citizens. We first ought to concern ourselves with the wellbeing of individuals throughout the world, irrespective of the nature of their regime or the state of populism in their respective nations; however, if we are able to recognize what many experts now consider to be an evident trend of populism, we ought to educate ourselves and understand how to reform our political systems or our international order to ensure that the deleterious impacts of populism can be prevented from striking. In addition, we need to ensure that as a constituency, we are pressuring our government to remain engaged in the international system and abreast of the dynamic relationships between and within states that will inevitably impact the future of our world. Not only is this necessary to prevent conflict and promote peace, but such cooperation and collaboration between nations is also the only way in which ongoing and potential global crises, such as global warming and nuclear armament, can be combatted most effectively.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s inauguration and initial actions in office, we have seen marches, walkouts, and protests on issues ranging from immigration to women’s rights. It has been both heartening and inspiring to take part in these movements and to witness my friends, peers, former teachers, relatives, and mentors engage in an impactful way to make a statement. I want to urge each of us, however, to engage with issues that may seem like they are striking less close to home, and remain observant and aware of what is occurring in nations near and far. It is harder to notice a detachment from the arena of international politics when so much is going wrong at home, but the threat of a disruption to the fabric of our international order can have potentially devastating consequences, the ramifications of which may be near impossible to alleviate upon being actualized. What is happening here with respect to a surge of populism is also happening in other countries; our institutions have so far served our democracy steadfastly, maintaining checks and balances and preventing an overreach of executive power when conflicting with constitutional values. This may not be the case for other democracies and nations in which institutions and governing bodies may fall prey to populism’s diminutive effects, à la Hungary.  Now is not the time to turn a blind eye to international affairs, nor is it the time to isolate ourselves from other nations and their affairs. We have a responsibility to hold our government accountable, not just on issues of domestic significance, but on the matters that impact the world around us.

What is Freedom of Speech?

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As a citizen of China, one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, I must say that I am disappointed by my fellow liberals’ indifference toward free speech. My experience tells me that whether or not citizens have the right to free speech is the most important distinction between a democracy and a dictatorship. To give you an idea of what it is like to be a Chinese citizen, for the first 18 years of my life, my typical class schedule included a “Politics and Thoughts” class that taught Communist Party propaganda, a History class that taught alternative history carefully censored and rewritten by the Communist Party, and a literature class that included only authors and articles the Party deemed appropriate. I was required to memorize key speeches and principles invented by Party leaders in order to pass the ideology test, in which if anyone dared to write anything negative about the Communist Party, he or she would automatically get a zero and not graduate.

In China, online forums and social media are carefully monitored so that “counter-revolutionary” comments are promptly removed and perpetrators are punished. Human rights lawyers and activists are routinely jailed in secret locations or sent to “forced labor camps” for their beliefs and activities. It isn’t that life is insufferable for normal people without free speech; the brilliance of censorship is that it makes you think only one kind of view can possibly be right, so you don’t feel the need to protest, dissent, or even think.

In high school, during a summer at Yale, and my first time in the United States, I took a human rights class and a legal philosophy class. For the first time in my life, I read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” I read John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and his belief that everyone should have the absolute right to free speech. I read the landmark Supreme Court case, National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1977), in which a Jewish lawyer of the American Civil Liberties Union defended the Nazi Party’s right to march in a predominantly Jewish village. I learned about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, on which information was censored in China and where brave college students fought for democracy. They fought for freedom of speech and thought only to face the crackdown of an illiberal regime stuck in its own ways. I learned that liberalism means tolerance and commitment to our inalienable and indivisible rights, no matter what powerful people say, and I began to proudly call myself a liberal. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that most of my liberal friends at Swarthmore not only advocate violence against those who hold a different view, but also believe that freedom of speech is somehow a “conservative value.”

Most debates about free speech these days are simply confused. The kind of knee jerk reaction that many liberals display toward claims of free speech is largely a response to the hypocrisy of some conservative politicians, who, while arguing that liberals are stifling free speech on campus, are perfectly willing to withhold funding from colleges they deem too “radical.” Free speech as a constitutional right is different from the kind of “campus free speech” for which such conservatives are clamoring. Unfortunately, many liberals fail to draw the distinction and end up losing faith in the doctrine of free speech in general. Even more unfortunate are attempts to equate free speech with oppression or even white supremacy. Without freedom of speech, only those in positions of power can speak.

Freedom of speech as a legal, constitutional, and human right is important because it is the bedrock of democracy. Every attempt to undermine this right risks undermining the foundation of democracy and making the U.S. more like China or Russia. You may think I am being alarmist, but plenty of examples exist where free speech restrictions in other liberal democracies have backfired. After a German comedian accused the Turkish President and Dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of oppressing minorities and having sexual intercourse with farm animal Erdoğan sued the comedian with the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, under an old German law. In France, after the terrorist attack in 2015, a Muslim was sentenced to a year in prison for shouting “I’m proud to be Muslim. I don’t like ‘Charlie’ [“Charlie Hebdo,” a far-left French magazine previously attacked for mocking Islam]. They were right to do it.” As Howard Gillman, the Chancellor of UC Irvine, argues, “[d]emocracies are more fragile things than we might like to believe.” Free speech is important partly because it allows political minority groups to voice their opinion without fear of retribution.

The constitutional right to free speech, however, is not absolute. Child pornography, obscenity, fighting words, libel, and incitement, for example, are not protected by the First Amendment. But these exceptions are meant to be exactly that – exceptions. Some have argued that hate speech is not free speech. It is factually incorrect as a descriptive claim, and practically and legally problematic as a prescriptive claim. Since the issue of hate speech matters deeply to many skeptics of free speech, I’d like to set the record straight here. In R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992), a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a law that banned the placement of a burning cross or Nazi swastika on public and private property. The majority reasoned that the law was unconstitutional because it only prohibited particular kinds of fighting words that involve “race, color, creed, religion or gender.” In other words, the law constituted both viewpoint and subject matter discrimination. Even though in Beauharnais v. Illinois (1952) the Supreme Court upheld a similar law because the Court considered speech targeting racial or religious groups to be “group libel,” as constitutional law scholars Kathleen Sullivan and Gerald Gunther explain, most judges no longer believe that Beauharnais is good law.

Should the government be allowed to ban hate speech as many free speech skeptics wish? I do not believe this is a good idea. While it is permissible for the government to prohibit speech that incites imminent violence (see Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)), or increase penalty for hate crime (see Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993)), as the Court argues in R.A.V., any specific prohibition on hate speech involves content-based restrictions. If, for the sake of argument, the government is allowed to ban speech based on its content, then who is to stop right-wing politicians from passing laws that prohibit speech, for example, that advocates for the violent overthrow of capitalism or mocks Christianity? As the ACLU argues, “free speech rights are indivisible. Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence you.” Of course, the Court can recognize a hate speech exception to the First Amendment, but as The Economist argues, such an exception will only encourage ideologues to harass those who hold a different view. In India, a psychologist and well-known public intellectual was charged under the country’s hate speech law for making a point about corruption and lower-caste politicians. He has since said that because of the incident, he “will have to be careful now.” Similarly, a hate speech law may allow Trump to sue Clinton if she had instead said Evangelical Christians or white Trump supporters belong to a “basket of deplorables.” I am not arguing that instituting a hate speech exception is constitutionally impossible, but I suspect it will either be too broad so as to amount to censorship, or too narrow so as to be utterly indistinguishable from other exceptions such as fighting words.

Speech on campus, of course, is an entirely different matter. Public colleges are required by the Constitution to provide First Amendment protection for everyone. Private colleges like Swarthmore, on the other hand, should protect the most vulnerable members of their communities, but they should also promote diversity of political opinion and speech that has intellectual value. The decision to allow or disallow certain speech is ultimately a balancing act, but colleges should not, for example, disinvite conservative speakers merely because their viewpoints are unpopular or offensive. (I do not, however, believe Milo Yiannopoulos deserves a platform on campus, because I do not believe his speech has any value at all.) Some, however, have argued that hate speech deserves a place on campus. Gillman and UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, for example, argue that only by subjecting hate speech to examination can we expose the lie and bigotry that it is. I am sympathetic to such arguments even though I believe the line should be drawn where students might begin to feel unsafe.

There is another issue: do some students, because of their “privileges,” have no right to discuss certain topics or issues? There is a strong case to be made that those who belong to groups that traditionally have less voice should be given more voice to enrich the “marketplace of ideas,” but I think the answer to this question should be no. A friend of mine told me that when his public policy class was discussing whether catcalling should be made a felony, he was told by a female student that his view does not matter because he is not a woman. However, as a low-income and minority student, he knew that such laws disproportionately affect minorities. Regardless of whether his view was correct, he was capable of making a valuable contribution to the discussion. The point is, in the context of campus speech, more speech is almost always better than less.

Coping with Trump’s presidency

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We unlocked the door with our twisted imagination. Beyond it was a dimension with sounds, sights, and perspectives that we had never seen before it. Shadows descended upon our senses and judgment to nullify any real substance, and since November of last year we’ve been living in a 21st century Twilight Zone. Most people on this campus didn’t expect Trump to win the presidency. I was one of them; in my mind, I was convinced that the America that I knew growing up, despite its contentious and problematic history, always strove for progress and inclusion. The country wouldn’t, in the span of an election, voluntarily decide to go back to the America of the 1950s. Although in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was with the outcome. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are the daughters of bigotry and hatred. They’ve been woven into the fabric of America since its tortured beginning. I knew this already, so I don’t understand why I’ve been so infuriated by Trump’s presidency.

It’s been about two-and-a-half weeks since his inauguration, but each day feels like an eternity. Each day he (or maybe Steve Bannon at this point) declares a new executive order from his little box of horrors. From reinstating the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to instructing federal agencies to weaken Obamacare, he’s already shown complete disregard for the communities that are most vulnerable. Since his inauguration, he’s signed more than twenty executive actions. While he’s been busy turning D.C. on its head, I’ve been trying to ignore him but to no avail. Whether it be on TV or on the internet, I’m frequently stressed out as the consequences of his actions loom over me like the clouds did the day after he won the election.

With the prospect of declaring my major relatively soon, applying for research and study abroad opportunities, and dealing with back-to-back 8:30 classes for a heavy course load, Swarthmore has been difficult for me. Maintaining mental health takes just as much work as maintaining physical health and the last thing I needed was to get enraged over something which I have no control over. There’s a limit to how much you can react angrily on Facebook. Besides, at this point nothing that he says or does really surprises me.

That changed about a week ago when I20 hosted the Immigration Panel Discussion regarding the possible repercussions as a result of his executive orders changing the H1B/H1B1/work visa programs. As a natural-born citizen, I was privileged about not having to worry about this, so I didn’t go to the Immigration Panel Discussion. In retrospect, I’m ashamed that I didn’t go since shortly afterwards I realized for every problem that didn’t directly affect me, it would affect someone I knew. He/She/They would have to carry that burden with them, only for the cycle of fear and anxiety to repeat itself each day. There’s a difference between dedicating time to yourself and being selfish, and I’ve erred on the wrong side for too long.

Of course, Swatties already know about the multiple ways to resist Trump’s fascism: protest, call your senators, donate to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, etc. and yes those are all wonderful courses of action to take. However, there’s something else that I want to suggest for those who are currently afraid of our increasingly uncertain future.

I asked a good friend of mine how he was going to live through Trump’s presidency and his response stunned me. Even though he firmly believes everyone should have and should continue to fight for equal rights, we can’t expect to live the same life as those with privilege do and we have to reconcile with that. My grandparents who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement believed that one day we’d live in a more equitable and just society. They carried that hope with them until they passed away, gave that same hope to my parents who in turn passed it on to me. Whenever all feels lost, through this hope I find the strength to persevere. Hopefully, someday my future children and grandchildren can find the same solace. Regardless for now, I suggest that there are two actions you should perform:

Find Joy. It doesn’t matter how but this is important. Whether it be through your friends and family or socializing, making it a priority to find joy in your life is one of the greatest acts of self-love that you can do for yourself.

Be content in who you are and live your life. No matter what Trump does, he can’t determine how far you go or the dreams you make for yourself. The fact that you exist and there can be no other human being like you is proof of your uniqueness. Just by doing what you already do on a daily basis is the ultimate form of resistance and signals how powerful and indomitable you already are.

The next four years will be difficult for sure, but that doesn’t mean your life has to be made any worse. Whatever you decide to do, I hope that you can find your own peace and happiness.

Trump and the violent, enraged Muslim ‘other’

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Much has been said about the implications of the executive order signed by President Donald Trump that bans immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, indefinitely ends the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the United States, and suspends the U.S. refugee program at large for a 120-day period. Even amongst friends who generally align with Trump’s charades, it has been difficult to find a single individual that takes no issue with the order: if not with the policy itself, then with its heedless execution. Arguments ranging from the impacts on the U.S. economy, historical parallels to the horrendous 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and a compromise of fundamental American values are all issues that have been rightfully raised.

Similarly, there is a general consensus by opponents of this order that, by far, its most destructive immediate impact applies to displaced populations who will perish as they attempt to seek refuge and asylum in a world that ferociously denies their very existence. I completely agree. However, it is also necessary to call attention to the “race branding” of Muslim populations, of which this order is the manifestation par excellence. This is no novel phenomenon. United States politicians have always struggled to speak of Muslims as anything other than products of a cultural milieu, or Islam as anything other than a manifest political ideological project. Politicians across the spectrum have always encouraged Muslim communities to seek out the “Bad Muslims” amongst their ranks. This feeds well into the narrative of an imaginary cultural war against an enlightened western world and the other half that ostensibly “lives in the dark.”

To begin, othering Muslim populations is no novel concept. Western academic discourse has a tradition of granting Muslims subaltern status as an extension of a larger imperialist project. One need not travel far to read the words of the Guardian article by Princeton’s Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” in which he explicates, “why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified.” Lewis’s essentialist speculative discourse defines a “Muslim subject” that possesses little volition of their own who is programmed by an external political ideology that replaces their blood with violence and rage directed, of course, against the enlightened peace-loving west. Similar orientalist and imperialist predilections carry through future works such as Huntington’s “clash of civilizations,” in which he predicts cultural wars under the assumption of western cultural superiority and its right to establish global hegemony. These orientalist renditions of enraged Muslims, their supposed ideological predilections, and their imagined ontological inferiority are what inspire the policies of Trump and his cabinet appointees.  

In the context of this stream of orientalist thought, Trump’s campaign rhetoric against Muslims is not all that surprising, yet its incorporation into mainstream presidential rhetoric is all the more alarming. In a December 2015 rally in Charleston, South Carolina, he boisterously shouted, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”  Here, Trump searches for the means by which “Lewisian enraged Muslim subjects” are being mass produced.

Further testament to Trump’s staunch commitment to target Muslims is seen in his cabinet picks. Newt Gingrich, a top Trump ally, claims, “We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported.” Furthermore, Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor, proudly exclaims, “Islam is a political ideology masked behind a religion, using religion as an advantage against us.” This fabricated imagination is sadly Trump’s and his advisors’ shared reality, yet it is not an entirely newly held belief. Rather, it is a continuation of a time honored tradition, tracing back to Lewis and Huntington, that is now being further normalized, popularized, systematized, and operationalized. The parallels between these efforts and the underpinnings of past examples of ethnic cleansing and genocide are unnerving.

The use of the word “mask” by Flynn captures the scrutiny under which Muslims are continually placed by governments and citizens alike. According to Flynn and his cronies, Muslims are always concealing and conspiring under the guise of a religion, Islam, which makes claims for peace, but in reality is an ideological project that plans to undermine global peace. Such suspicion of Muslim communities crosses traditional party lines. Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton in one presidential debate stated, “Donald has consistently insulted Muslims abroad, Muslims at home, when we need to be cooperating with Muslim nations and with the American Muslim community. They’re on the front lines, they can provide information to us that we might not get anywhere else.” As to what lines the American Muslim community occupies and what information they possess is unclear, but the suspicion of communally shared secrets hidden behind an Islamic veil is certainly not a novel phenomenon.

This suspicion is further manifested in the ubiquitously practiced post 9-11 “Good Muslim” “Bad Muslim” litmus test by which Muslims are tirelessly scrutinized in order to determine their degree of “radicalization” or supposed commitment to extremist doctrinal commitments. What politicians fail to recognize is that, sadly, the screening of Muslims is not only a governmental procedure. Muslims are being constantly vetted, even within their own communities. The ideal ‘Moderate Muslim’ that has just the right horizon of attachment and detachment to Islamic principles, however, can only be defined by the outside objective eye. The visual nature of many traditionally practiced Muslim aesthetics becomes a direct target of this screening. Trump’s rhetoric only strengthens these screening practices and provides them with institutional endorsement from the highest echelons of civil government. In doing so, many Muslims are constantly forced to live an increasingly apologetic existence. The social pressures placed upon Muslims to meet this imagined standard are suffocating and aim at producing groups of docile acquiescent subjects that constantly aim for outsider propriety rather than individual expression.

Trump goes to great lengths to differentiate between Christians and Muslims in the countries in his ban, and deems Muslims from these countries as ontologically inferior in his new foreign policy. He tweets in clear prose that refugee Arab Christians should be given preference over refugee Arab Muslims for admission in the United States. While he would be right to give voice to the unique pressures and struggles of Christian minority communities throughout Muslim-majority counties, Trump’s benign appearance relies less on affirming the struggles of Christian minority groups, and more on negating the suffering of both minority and majority Muslim communities throughout the region. This is clearly expressed in his move to release statements about allowing Christian admissibility in the United States directly following his statement about banning all immigrants from the seven Muslim majority countries. University of California’s Professor of Religion Reza Aslan encapsulates the bigotry embodied in Trump’s sentiment in his statement, “A Christian fleeing discrimination in Yemen would be given entry, but a Shia facing death and starvation would not.” Additionally, such statements only exacerbate existing fraught relationships and antagonisms between Muslim and Christian communities in these countries and compromises existing examples of solidarity and peaceful coexistence.

Trump’s new obsession with popularizing the adage ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ is tied up in the aforementioned power-relations. This is yet another clear attempt from Trump to ‘other’ Muslims and view them as a single collective unit rather than self-determining individuals. The adjectival use of the word ‘Islam,’ sandwiched between the words radical and terrorism is also a clear ‘race branding’ practice. This aims to permanently associate the words radical and terrorism with Islam in the public conscious. In essence, its use posits that Muslims only exist for Trump’s team as a collective herd that are constantly susceptible to alien forces that are attempting to push them towards ‘radical behavior.’ This, of course, implies that this is an inherent aspiration of Islamic discourse that must be actively combatted and resisted. Rather than citing dogmatism as an inherent human potential or a feature of globalized discourses, this phrasing localizes such critique on one such body of knowledge and in turn makes its practice stigmatized and taboo. This also completely disregards the dynamic exegetic practices of classical religious texts practiced by almost all religious communities. One must ask why such factors are being intentionally overlooked.

One of the most insidious effects of the current executive order is it role in promoting a typological study of Muslim subjects as solely products of a culture. Treating Islam as a culture radically opposed to western liberal democracies further creates antagonisms in areas where such tensions need not exist. This study of cultural conflicts also dismisses the roles of history, socio-economic factors, and other forms of western intervention that might have influenced the birth of the current political climate. Such a lens of study also undermines self-agency and individualism. This does not absolve local forces that spur acts of violence in these regions of blame, but rather, serves as a necessary contextualization that can help us better understand their rise.

As Trump continues to issue Islamophobic platitudes through both his Twitter and national speeches, we should be critical, wary, and alert of his regime. Such blatant race branding and scapegoating practices almost always carry underlying political motives. In service of such, we should recognize the origins of these sentiments and recognize the harmful effects of their global normalization in public discourse.

One of the most worrisome things I faced while writing this piece was a phone call from my aunt and, soon after, one from my mother. My aunt saw a Facebook post in which I mentioned Trump, admittedly one of perhaps too many, and out of worry called me to say, “You cannot say such things, we cannot, we’re Muslims—we are not safe.” Word travels quickly in my family, and soon after my mother was on the phone telling me, “they’ll take us away and no one will realize, we are in such small numbers.” I don’t know why I took their words so seriously. I generally don’t when it comes to these matters. However, I think their sentiment captures the fear and anxiety faced by first generation immigrants particularly well. Writing, however, is a strong form of resistance. In face of such injustice, it is important that our ink does not dry.

Swat athletes and political engagement

in Columns/Sports by

Whether it’s Lebron James on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton, or Colin Kaepernick and other professional football players choosing to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with black people against police brutality, the trend of separating politics and athletics has slowly dissolved in the age of social media and 24/7 sports coverage. Americans from two or three generations ago no longer recognize the new professional sports landscape, where it is commonplace for athletes to inject their opinions on contentious political issues. Back in the era before social media, athletes like Larry Bird were notorious for avoiding press conferences and not commenting on anything political. Magic Johnson was met with stark opposition for supporting HIV awareness following his highly publicized HIV positive test. Even Bill Belichick, an old-school NFL coach for the New England Patriots, famously commented in 2011 that he didn’t “Twitter, MyFace, or Yearbook. I don’t use any of those things.” However, it is clear that the advent of social media and constant media coverage has thrown professional athletes into the limelight, and politics and sports are becoming increasingly intertwined.

       The Centennial Conference and Division III sports in suburban Pennsylvania don’t exactly equate with the glamor of major professional sports in the United States. However, the recent election results have prompted many student groups on campus to speak up, including prominent athletic teams. Three days after the election, the Swarthmore Men’s Tennis team posted a public statement on their Facebook page that received over 130 likes and 20 shares.

       “The Swarthmore Men’s Tennis team is devoted to ensuring the respect, safety, and dignity for all individuals and communities that have been, and will continue to be, affected by the recent election. As male athletes, we urge ALL men’s athletic programs, as well as ALL male organizations on campus to do the same. Silence is inaction, and we must speak up.”

       The post continued, “This is also a reminder to ALL men on this campus, regardless of your athletic affiliation, that sexism and misogyny are systems of oppression that you are, consciously or not, a part of. This means not only standing in solidarity with your fellow Swarthmore students, but also actively fighting for, marching with, and listening to those around you who don’t benefit from said systems.”

       Blake Oetting ’18, a co-captain of the Men’s Varsity Tennis team, said the intention of the post was to show solidarity with marginalized groups on campus.

       “It was necessary to make the posts to show solidarity with the women on this campus, but we shouldn’t pretend that our job is done. I hope male sports team set expectations for themselves to drastically shift the type of discourse they have regarding women and their bodies and show up to rallies, demonstrations, etc. to prove their written support. Our job is far from over and I hope those who make the posts don’t think that is the case,” Oetting said.

       When asked about the unique responsibility as a student-athlete at Swarthmore, Oetting talked about the connection between athletics and an exclusively male group with societal power and privilege.

       “I don’t feel responsibility as an athlete to speak out, per se. But, because being an athlete places me within a specifically gendered group, and because that group is the benefactor of undue social privilege, it was necessary to collaborate and produce something, even something as simple as a Facebook post, to show solidarity,” Oetting said.

       Later that day, the Men’s Soccer team came out with a similar public statement on their Facebook page, pledging to create a healthy locker room environment and disavowing all forms of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

       “The Swarthmore College Men’s Soccer team echoes the sentiments expressed by Swarthmore Men’s Tennis in response to recent political events.We would like to pledge a renewed commitment to ensuring that racism, sexism, and discrimination of any kind are not welcome within our ranks.”

       The statement went on to address the nature of the Men’s Soccer team’s locker room, and provided a contrast to the recent news surrounding the Harvard Men’s Soccer team, whose season was cancelled after team member emails were uncovered rating girls in a misogynistic manner.

       “Almost every day, we come together in our locker room. ‘Locker room talk,’ as Trump has put it, does not have a place in our locker room. Under absolutely no circumstances are sexist and misogynistic comments acceptable, nor is sexual assault something to boast or joke about. We will be working everyday to ensure that our locker room, and more broadly the culture of our team, will always revolve around care and respect for others.”

       Billy Evers ’17, co-captain of the Men’s Soccer team, noted that the team’s mentality after the election was characterized by solidarity with the campus.

       “We were inspired by the similar post from the Men’s Tennis team, and also by some of our friends outside of the team who suggested it could be helpful to some people who were hurting. Because our locker room is a meaningful space for us, we were also inspired to respond to comments from politicians labeling sexual assault as locker room talk. […] We have had several team meetings about our core values, in which we have discussed relevant issues on campus and how we can work to assure that our impact on community life is a positive one.”

       Fay Blelloch ’20, a member of the Women’s Varsity Lacrosse team, commented on the importance of the Facebook posts and male athletes standing in solidarity with women on campus.

       “I really appreciated that a lot of male sports teams spoke up and showed solidarity with people who were adversely affected by the results of the election. Regardless of whether you are an athlete or not, I thought it was really important that prominent groups on campus decided to renew commitments to diversity, inclusion, and disavowing ‘locker room talk,’ Blelloch said.

       Athletes from many varsity teams at Swarthmore have seemed to unite over the issue, but the need to stay politically engaged on campus remains.

       Jordan Reyes ’19, a member of the Varsity Track and Field team and a key organizer behind the recent school wide walk-out, spoke regarding the need for continued advocacy from student-athletes and all members of the Swarthmore community.

       “Whether you are an athlete or anyone, you have a responsibility to say something about these negative things we are seeing in the news. Sports teams need to speak out because we consist of people, and we as a collective entity need to tell others that we want to make sure everyone feels comfortable in this community and beyond.”

       From professional athletes to student-athletes at Swarthmore, political engagement isn’t just a trend, it’s a civic responsibility for people in positions of public privilege. The Facebook posts following the election from various sports teams on campus go to show that from the professional level to Division III sports, athletes in the 21st century are civically and politically engaged, emblematic of the responsibility that athletes have today.

Don’t be silenced by the election

in Campus Journal by

Election night at the political science department’s viewing party in Trotter was a mess of emotions, petrified students wandering in and out of the various watch rooms, pacing the corridors, and frantically refreshing their phones for the updated electoral counts. Swat Dems and Conservatives alike held their breath as CNN projections flashed across the screens, groaning collectively as state after state was announced a Trump victory.

On Tuesday, I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.  Following the polls, especially the New York Times’ grossly misleading Electoral College map, I was confident that come Nov. 9, we would have our first female President of the United States.  I came to Swat from Washington, D.C., leaving one largely liberal bubble and inserting myself into another.  Though I believed myself to be informed — updated on the latest poll numbers, stats, and articles — my perspective was undeniably skewed.

However, I was not the only one. Shocked expressions mirroring my own were ubiquitous Tuesday night, plastered across the faces of so many in Trotter who watched with dismay as red seeped into Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio. All of us — students and pollsters, news organizations, and celebrities — are insulated within these urban dots of blue. We are guilty of liberal elitism as we continuously underestimate and ignore the swaths of red upon which Trump so effectively capitalized.

Among the reactions to the disappearing blue states was that of Hamza Hashim ’18.  

“I don’t know whether to think about the implications as a Muslim international student, but as a political science student, you kind of wonder how such an upset is possible when everything was pointing in the right direction, ” Hashim professed as it became less and less likely that Clinton could pull off a victory. “No one mentally prepared themselves for thinking about those implications.”

Jorge Tello ‘20, an international student from Mexico, expressed different concerns.

“I just saw our currency depreciate by the largest amount in recent history,” Tello exclaimed. “Besides the moral, it is quite literally a financial thing, and at this point; it could not be worse.” When asked about the potential of a Trump presidency, Tello asserted that he could not even imagine what “tomorrow” would look like.  

“My parents live in Mexico, but they live on the border,” he professed.  “hatever happens, it is going to be pretty bad.”

Wednesday morning saw somber Swatties dragging their feet through the rain. Both the school and the weather seemed to grieve collectively.  Some professors cancelled class, many tests were postponed, and classes that did meet disregarded the syllabus to unpack emotions surrounding the night before. Come 11:00 a.m., students crowded into Kohlberg, huddling around computer screens to watch Hillary give a composed, eloquent concession speech, sighing sadly at the presidential potential that will forever remain unrealized.

It is important to note that a lot of people in this country woke up Wednesday morning scared to leave their homes, frightened of what a faction of white supremacists ignited by their candidate’s victory could do.  Here at Swat, we are fortunate that we can all venture outside without fear for our safety, and we should not take this luxury for granted. Although we can’t assume he will follow through on all of his outrageous campaign promises, Donald Trump’s platform poses a threat. In a Trump presidency, the health insurance, right to choose, ability to get married, permission to live in this country — of so many Americans, of so many Swatties —  are on the line.

So, how do we move forward? We now live in a nation where a man who refuses to believe in the science behind climate change, whose unprecedentedly divisive rhetoric has attacked nearly every marginalized group, will take the most powerful leadership position come January.

Swarthmore College is no stranger to political activism, and the next four years should be no exception.  Although the Presidency, along with the current composition of congressional representatives, is out of our hands, as Swatties, we can still do everything in our power to prevent the horrific onslaught of racism, sexism, and xenophobia that has penetrated the political sphere from seeping into our policies.  

“Now more than ever we must fight for our ideals and the causes that led so many of us to support Secretary Clinton. We lost an election but there will be more elections to come, and we must continue to do our part to create a more fair, just, and inclusive America,” Swatties for Hillary President Emily Uhlmann, ’19 declares.

“As college students, we can volunteer on Senate and Congressional elections in 2018 for candidates who reflect our core beliefs and values. And we don’t have to wait until the next Presidential elections to fight for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, climate justice, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, and economic equality.”

Clinton’s concession speech echoed Uhlmann’s sentiments and eloquently called the American people to action: it should be met not with tears but with a chorus of rallying cries.

“Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time,” Clinton informed the country Wednesday morning. “This loss hurts.  But please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

In the end, Clinton reached out to America’s girls—the ten-year-olds who went to bed Tuesday night believing they would wake up to a Madame President, the teenagers who constantly internalize the omnipresent objectification of female bodies, the women working tirelessly every day to close the wage gap, and the grandmothers who never believed they would get the opportunity to vote for a female candidate.

“I know that we still have not shattered that highest glass ceiling,” Clinton told us. “But some day someone will”

On sexual politics: shared games and intimacy

in Campus Journal/London Calling by

Sex is always political, especially at Swarthmore. We draft and redraft flirty texts like press releases, assuming that every detail will be scrutinized the same way we dissect the cryptic proposals we receive. If you gossip, your approval rating for last night’s hookup might enter public lore, to be used by future Swatties deciding on their next sexual candidate. We’ve all witnessed the inevitable PR nightmare when too many swords cross on the same hall, or in the same seminar, or between the same obscure McCabe shelves. As we watch the world around us show its ugliest side and elect a commander-in-chief whose sexual politics are abhorrent at best, we need to figure out the ways in which we can be better. We must ask ourselves: what makes a good sexual politician?

The first step is to acknowledge the ways in which those around you are acting politically; you can only play the game if you know the rules. I know this guy who schedules his hookups up to eight days in advance, as if you’re being slotted between a call with “China” and a ribbon cutting at some ethical health foods store. Since I refuse to believe that anybody at this school is both that busy and that committed to an inflexible schedule, I can only assume that he does it in order to maintain control over the situation, forcing his partners to submit to his timetable or get slotted out. This tactic bores me. Another friend of mine who is rarely spotted wearing anything but a practical boot, comfortable denim, and flannel shirt turned heads all night when, on Halloween, he strutted Upper Tarble in the tightest booty shorts you could imagine, in a transformation that can only be described as “cool dad CEO” to “come fuck me.” Politics love shock value, and a good sexual politician knows how to draw you in through harmless manipulation of your expectations. Lest we forget, honorable mention is due to the assholes of this world who ghost you for weeks, only to text back the Friday night you finally decided to move on: we know your game, we see you trying to rope us in, and it’s not cute. The bad sexual politician is a dick to you. Avoid them.

Beyond specific behaviours, sexual politics are about power: acquiring, holding, and displaying control over a situation. The sexual politician can deploy an arsenal of tactics to reach a certain position relative to the other parties. Take the following anecdote: I’m standing with a friend on a sidewalk somewhere in the depths of Brooklyn, too hungover to feel pretty, when a Swat alum acquaintance (Nick, say) I hadn’t seen in years walks towards us with bags of groceries. I wave, which felt like the appropriate amount of intimacy for this unexpected encounter. Nick disagreed, and instead he kept coming closer and closer to me, ignoring my friend, until he’s standing about five inches from my face. I’ve never stood so close to someone without kissing them. I’ve probably never stood this close to someone without sucking their dick. I was so near him I could smell his breath, wafting through a toothy smile — spearmint, I think. It was hot.

“Hi, Tom, how’ve you been?”

I was tetanized. In the time it took for him to walk over to us, Nick decided he would own the situation, and now, he can probably comment on how loose my pores are looking. That’s a power move. I stood my ground — literally, I didn’t step back an inch — and smiled back, said I was fine, and tried to have conversation without spitting on him. It went well enough; I complimented his hair, then he complimented his hair, which was fair game because he has these drooping black curls to die for, then he complimented my hair, then I didn’t compliment my hair because we both knew it was looking like a greasy rat’s nest, and he was probably just being polite. Needless to say, it felt suffocatingly flirty, and I loved every second of it. Nick eventually walked away, and I finally got to exhale, but for days, those curls were on my mind, bouncing inches from my face. He could only leave such a lasting impression by controlling the dynamic at hand, wielding it to his advantage. He had me exactly where (I suppose) he wanted me: craving something more. Nick saw, he came, and now I want more. That’s politics. Nick, if you’re reading this, drop me a line.

What I loved most about the interaction was its kindness, as physical proximity conveyed intimacy and assurance instead of dominance and intimidation. We both smiled genuinely, and recognizing that the dynamic at hand didn’t take away from the fun. The whole thing demonstrated that good sexual politics aren’t threatening, but rely on a mutual understanding and engagement. Who likes to play games alone?

Let’s be real. I wrote most of this prior to the election, and am publishing it because I believe humor is cathartic and valuable. However, we must remember in these moments that our sex is political in concrete and essential ways. On the night of the election, most of my queer friends and I were cruising Grindr or desperately texting booty calls to set up some good old fashioned election panic sex.

There’s something absurdly dystopian to the thought of climaxing as Hillary loses Ohio, but who can deny our need for physical intimacy, bodily comfort, and reassurance? We need to fuck our way into a pleasure so blissful that we forget the world around us, that we remember that we’re living regardless. We need to make love so passionately to those we care about that we know we’re not alone. We need to hold each other so tightly that we express all the solidarity and strength we can muster, that volatile Facebook posts don’t do justice to. Our sex is political because it’s our only evidence that we exist and feel together. It won’t change the world on its own, but it’ll remind you that you can.

To be a great sexual politician is to wield your power with love and for mutual pleasure, as a tool for resilience. Sure, the games can be fun and make a good story, but they’re not what matters most right now. Fuck Trump’s hate.

With conversations, a focus on the Hillary question

in Campus Journal by

Every four years a wave of political excitement seems to crash onto college campuses across the United States. The prospect of a new president flashes on every TV screen and Facebook feed, and this semester the election seems to be on everyone’s mind. Unexpected candidates, historic candidates, and new messages of social change are capturing attention on campus.

 

“This election could potentially change the course of American history depending on how it goes,” commented Bernie supporter Barbara Taylor ’18.

 

There’s no doubt about the historic significance of this year’s election. Either Democrat candidate would be a groundbreaking first for our country, either first woman president or first Jewish president, but there is a large divide forming between their supporters: a dichotomy riddled with emotion for many.

 

“The election is defined a lot by anger at the political system and establishment as it is now,” said Aaron Metheny ’18, another Bernie supporter.

 

Anger seems the only way to describe it — with the growing popularity of Donald Trump, the anger of people in the US becomes more visible. Even Bernie supporters show a large amount of frustration for how the current political system is being run. Much of this anger at the system seems to be pointed at Hillary Clinton.

 

Everyone has an opinion on Hillary Clinton, whether adamantly against or overwhelmingly for her, and it seems Swatties are split down the middle. Why do emotions run so high once Hillary enters the conversation? Why aren’t people having the same guttural reactions toward Bernie? Where does the road split between Bernie supporters and Hillary supporters?

 

“They’re both good candidates but they represent different things,” said Doug Leonard ’19, a Hillary supporter. “I see Hillary Clinton as a leader who is more pragmatic, and her policies reflect the challenges she’ll have if she is to govern, and Bernie Sanders is promising a revolution, which is difficult to compete with in terms of excitement.”

 

The amount of excitement Bernie generates among college students is immense. His demands for a change of the political system and free college and healthcare greatly resonate with young voters.

 

“I relate Bernie Sanders with the divestment movement … and my values lie in the values of the candidate I vote for,” commented Taylor Morgan ’19, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, “Even if one leader is more ‘pragmatic’ than the other, even if one is more ‘experienced’ even if one ‘has a better chance of winning’, I’m not willing to give up my moral stance on the issues Sanders represents for pragmatism,” she continued.

 

Establishment vs. revolution. Moderate vs radical. Hillary vs Bernie. But how do the reactions to Hillary Clinton differ from the reactions to moderate candidates before? Many students feel that outrage about Hillary’s past decisions has been disproportional to candidates with similar records, who just so happen to be male.

“The media has always been very Hillary focused as ‘she’s obviously going to be the Democratic candidate’ but it’s really funny because at the same time they love bringing up her shit,” Morgan mentioned. “The subtle to non-subtle misogyny, I’m not a fan but still…that should be out of the question.”

 

Many of the attacks towards Hillary from the media have been criticized for being highly gendered, unlike those toward other candidates. A blatant example of the sexism Clinton faced, from the last election in 2012, are toys like the ‘Hillary Clinton nutcracker,’ an action figure of Hillary Clinton that is designed to crack open peanuts — the implications there are not exactly subtle.

 

Elijah Reische ’19, a Hillary supporter and first time voter, commented, “I think a lot of young people who just violently hate her, more of that is coming from sexism than a lot of people realize.”

 

A new Friday tradition at the WRC called ‘Tea with the WRC’ held a discussion last week on conflicting opinions of Hillary Clinton and how we can address sexism in the upcoming election. The dialogue brought up questions of how Hillary’s decisions have been addressed in media and beyond, perhaps in a very different way from decisions of a male candidate. Hillary Clinton, the first woman seriously considered for president, is certainly not the first politician who has voted in favor of war, said one thing then said another, and has accepted donations from large banks and corporations, but we drastically focus on these aspects of her record.  Perhaps these blemishes on Hillary’s record stand out due to the striking contrast with the record of Bernie Sanders, or perhaps it’s her gender, perhaps it’s a mix of the two, but how can we really know? How can we divorce ourselves from internalized messages of sexism we don’t even realize are coming into play?

Even if we can’t fully separate ourselves from internalized misogyny by the time we vote in the primaries, many students hope Democrats can unite under one candidate to ensure a Democratic politician in office.

 

“The scary part is with Clinton there’s so much anti-Hillary, ‘anyone but Hillary’, stuff going on and that has been raised in Sanders group of support,” commented Morgan, “And that’s scary when we have a real possibility of Donald Trump getting the nomination.”

 

No matter the candidate, it is important to acknowledge throughout this election and others in the future. Morgin Goldberg ‘19, a WRC associate who facilitated the Hillary Clinton discussion, brought up the question “What does it say about us if we can’t even elect a moderate woman?” Maybe it’s time for a reshaping of the political system, and part of that reshaping is to acknowledge the sexism that lies just beneath the surface, in our own minds and beyond.

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