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Group of indigenous students speak on protests of injustice

in Op-Eds/Open Letter/Opinions by

Swarthmore is often referred to as a bubble, separate from the outside world, but for many marginalized groups this campus is simply an incubator. Swarthmore is not immune to issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, colonialism and the preference of funds over people’s wellbeing. This institution mirrors America in this regard. Indigenous students at this college wish to demonstrate that we do in fact have a presence on this campus, and that our voices, indigenous voices, need to be recognized. Our existence is meaningful and our pain did not stop in 1776 with the ousting of the british,  colonization did not end in 1825 when the Western hemisphere was freed from ‘colonial’ rule, our suffering did not end with the trail of tears, our oppression did not end when we were made citizens. Settler-colonialism itself has no end. After 525 years we still feel the pain of Columbus and we still feel the weight of America on our backs. So we burn the flag.

Let us quickly outline the fact that this was not the first chosen route to have our needs met. Swarthmore College has unfortunately time and again invalidated our existence and without apology, upheld settler-colonialism. The student group associated with indigeneity on campus was granted a student space after long negotiations with members of administration. We met opposition in that administrators said they did not want to give a space to a group that is not consistently active. In fact they’re right, Indigenous students on this campus have never been consistently active as an identity group and seem to have not existed on this campus until the 1990s. The irony of this, of course, is that we have been historically barred from opportunities that give one access to Swarthmore and  Swarthmore has historically chosen not to recruit and admit Native American and more broadly indigenous students. In fact, we have almost always made up less one percent of each incoming class. Is this because Native students simply do not apply? Maybe, but blatant racism, stereotyping and prejudice in the admissions office has also been demonstrated.We have not forgotten that in November of 2014 – less than three years ago – Swarthmore’s Director of Admissions JT Duck said that Native high school students are “not academically qualified for Swarthmore”.

Indigenous students at Swarthmore also considered the fact that many Native students may not want to apply to the college because the institution makes no effort to ensure that we have a place here, as Admissions so freely admitted a few years ago.  Within the past few weeks the space that we fought to have was vandalized, and the bias incident report never resolved. Then on Columbus Day, an administrator accused us, the indigenous students, of stealing space in the same way land and life was taken from us. Anyone would be enraged by one of these events, in combination we remain resolved in our protest of this country, this system, and this institution. There is a clear trend of this institution neglecting Indigenous students, and it is up to Swarthmore College to change it.

One aspect of this is having an advocate of our own. In Spring of 2016 Native students met with President Valerie Smith asking, once again, to prioritize hiring a Native American staff or faculty member. We also asked that admissions pay more attention to recruiting and admitting Native students. The freshman class of 2021 has only one Indigenous identifying student and there have been no efforts made to hire a single culturally indigenous faculty or staff member that we have been made aware of. Our voices, yet again, have been left for the wind.

In the greater world, indigenous folks regularly work exponentially harder than those in power for our voices to be heard. We often represent a small portion of national populations, but it is important to remember that these numbers that many use to deem us as insignificant are the result of a genocide, that the systems that count us for their census were built on top of our lands, and in opposition to our existence. Burning a nation’s flag is a demonstration born out of frustration. When respectability politics do not allow your voice to be heard, you must take action to ensure that your voice is heard. Historically when people of color make our voices heard, we are seen as aggressive. So be it. We hope that our actions will be met largely with understanding, but when they are met with discomfort, our hope is then that you will think critically about what established values told you to be uncomfortable with this type of protest, and why we would oppose them. Ruminate on the gap between our lived experiences.

For many indigenous people the first step is recognition in any regard. We need to be recognized as human beings, as cultures that still exist, that we are a vast array of people and histories and we are also in solidarity with each other. We want our history to be recognized, our history that is separate from any US history. Our history is many histories, they are indigenous stories of trial and turmoil and beauty and success. We face genocide and yet we survive. The US history is a colonial history, a history of slavery and racism, it’s a history of genocide and a history of propaganda. The legitimacy of the United States is not a given, Manifest Destiny is not real, and the American Flag can be burned.

We burn the American flag not just for ourselves, but for our ancestors who died because of that flag. We burn it for our indigenous siblings across the globe and for all of the people across the globe exploited by the United States and other Western imperialist states, caught in between their wars. We burn the flag for our kinfolk here on these lands we love, the other marginalized groups we are offering our solidarity to, hoping they offer it in return. We burn this flag because we want you to know it’s not just you who is angry and fighting against this broader oppressive apparatus: we are too.

We hope if nothing else, that this act will help you question your country, your school, your identity, and the hegemony we all live under. We hope you will examine how your life may contribute to the colonization of these lands. And we remind you that any group that wishes to take a position of neutrality on indigenous people, anyone who is not recognizing our existence,  or not including us in your conversations or on your syllabi – those groups are complicit in an on-going genocide. A genocide we stand against, a genocide that is led by the state represented by the United States flag.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Phoenix’s editorial policies state that letters and opinion pieces represent the views of their writers and not those of the Phoenix staff or Editorial Board. The Phoenix reserves the right to edit all pieces submitted for print publication for length clarity, and factual accuracy.

In light of that policy, the Editorial Board has the obligation to assume that the statement by the author of this op-ed that “Swarthmore’s Director of Admissions JT Duck said that Native high school students are “not academically qualified for Swarthmore”” is in reference to the 2014 Daily Gazette article “NASA Panel Brings Critical Discussion of Diversity.” If so, the Editorial Board has the obligation to point out a discrepancy between the statement by the author of this op-ed and the content of the Daily Gazette article, which can be read in full at the following link: http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2014/11/20/nasa-panel-brings-critical-discussion-of-diversity/

From the heart of a Las Vegas local

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

I am studying abroad in Cape Town right now, but my heart is in Las Vegas. My mind can’t decide whether to cry or dissociate, pretending that one of the worst mass shootings in the history of the United States did not just happen in my hometown.  Maybe as a coping mechanism, but also out of necessity to feel closer to people back home, I can’t help but scroll through Facebook posts to ensure that my friends and family are okay and to read how people are responding to the tragedy. Yet, this only makes dissociation even more impossible and makes both tears and rage bubble up inside of me as I witness the way some non-Las Vegas locals are minimizing or misrepresenting the horrors that have occurred.

While I am scrolling through Facebook, searching for hope and reassurance, I can’t help but read posts discussing how this Las Vegas tragedy is “just another example” of the need for gun policy changes. People are posting how ashamed they are at how divided America has become and how the shooting is proof that the country “cannot be reunited.” Around me, I hear other college students discussing how shocking it was that the shooter was “anti-Trump.” When people ask me directly how I am responding to the events, they hardly listen to my response before quickly changing topic, comparing the shooting to the hurricane in Puerto Rico or to human rights issues in India. Instead of talking about the families who lost people they loved, people are talking about how all the bad events as a collective serve as proof that the world is coming to an end.

As a fellow student at a social justice-oriented liberal arts college, I feel it necessary to admit I completely understand why other Swatties and college friends are posting about and addressing the Las Vegas massacre in this way. It is part of a larger problem that is often too painful to acknowledge. When tragedies such as these occur, it is impossible to figure out how to react to an attack of such magnitude. Therefore, people respond through politically aggressive social media posts. Instead of conceptualizing the lives lost, it seems more productive to use the event as evidence that a political party is wrong or as an example that policies need to be changed.

This makes sense; the view that policy change should happen in light of an event that hurt so many is entirely practical. The problem, however, is when the tragedy itself becomes a political game where support and grief for the victims are lost in the equation.

No one means to discount the humanity behind trauma. Everyone posting about or discussing the Las Vegas shooting is doing so with good intentions. It is because everyone wants to help that I feel the need to point out the impact of taking the humanity out of a tragedy.

At least in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, there are so many more productive and empathetic methods of helping a community than using their suffering for political gain. Instead of posting about your disappointment in society, share a Facebook post letting the families and friends affected know that you stand with them in solidarity. Restrain from comparing two disasters with one another because each community is affected by an event differently and has different methods of coping. Reach out to anyone you can from a community through donations or kind words. Practice active listening to show you truly care about how they are coping with an event and how you may be able to play an active role in supporting them. Only after a community begins a healing process should the political implications be more broadly discussed and acted upon to create a better functioning society. What good is a political policy in ensuring security if society can not first come together to practice the compassion and empathy needed to follow that policy in the first place?

As for my home in Las Vegas, I can say I have never been more proud to be a Las Vegas local. The community is resilient, looking out for one another and practicing empathy in ways often not discussed. The day after the shooting, people waited for hours to donate blood to the victims. When a charity requested 80 air mattresses for family members with friends in the hospital, the donation request was fulfilled within hours. A donation fund website was created almost immediately to support those affected and vigils have been held for the community to stand together in solidarity.

These acts give me faith that the world is not coming to an end and that society is not as divided as we are often made to believe. They remind me that compassion and community values are still a large component of societal ideals. However, a large part of this reassurance stems from remembering during events like these, that the first response must always be unification for healing before politicalization for change.

 

College conservatives and democrats emphasize activism and collaboration

in News by

Amidst the first year of a controversial presidency with near-constant political turmoil, campus political groups such as the Swarthmore Conservatives and the Swarthmore Democrats are looking for ways to expand their outreach and build upon the progress they made last year.

The values of each club, while rooted at different points on the political spectrum, are currently leading to increased activism, and both clubs look forward to joining together for projects.

Swat Conservatives aims to promote free speech on college campuses. According to president Gilbert Guerra ’19, the club is a place where Trump supporters can share their ideas without feeling personally attacked but where they will still be challenged.

“It would be a challenge of their ideas, not their own personal merits,” he added.

Guerra explained that in past years, the goal of the club was to build a core base of about thirty participating members. The group was previously called the Swarthmore Republicans, with a base mostly consisting of moderate Republicans, but then it shifted to a general conservative society mostly comprised of socially conservative Catholic students and focused on socially supporting students with conservative ideologies. After that, more libertarian students joined, and now there are wide range of conservative-minded students, including an executive board whose members voted for Clinton, Trump, Gary Johnson, or write-in candidates. Some chose to protest by not voting at all.

“There’s certainly a lot of debate within the group,” Guerra said, but the group is still unified in terms of how [they] act and treat each other.

Now, Guerra and other members of the club say they are looking toward more activism on campus, which includes bringing in non-controversial speakers who will bring intellectual, not inflammatory, discussion.

The club also has partnerships with organizations such as the Leadership Institute, a political nonprofit with conservative leanings. As stated by the organization’s website, its goal is to train conservative activists and students to “fight the left and win.” Other partnerships include the American Enterprise Institute, which Guerra hopes will bring “more dynamic speakers to campus and present alternative opinions,” as well as Turning Point USA.

TPUSA is, according to their website, a student movement for free markets and limited government. As the Phoenix covered in April, TPUSA has been the subject of national controversies. However, according to Guerra, the relationship with TPUSA is not monetary. The organization sends materials for students to express their political opinions but does not fund Swat Conservatives.

As for Swat Dems, activism is rooted not just on campus, but also in the Swarthmore community.

President Taylor Morgan ’19 noted that since the election, many members of the group are looking at more action-oriented strategies to engage their community. She noted that while the name Swarthmore Democrats evokes the idea of a politically moderate group, there is a variety of political ideology within its ranks, ranging from far-left to moderately left-leaning, to even some right-of-center members.

“What unites all of us is that we want to seek strategies that lift people up and raise up voices, particularly the people who have been silenced,” Morgan said.

Swat Dems is not affiliated with the Democratic Party at the state or national level, which allows the club to diverge from of the mainstream Democratic Party.

“We have the ability to stray from the platform and hold the national and state party accountable for things that we see as being necessary to be advocated for or spoken out about,” Morgan said.

In addition, this allows the club to take stances that are controversial or debated and that are radically different from most other Democratic groups. One example of this is on issues of Israel and Palestine.

“[The club has] explicitly [rejected] the Israeli government occupation of the Palestinian territories, which is pretty much something that you will never hear any Democrats say,” Swat Dems Vice President Ben Stern ’20 said.

The group is also looking for ways to actively participate in political events, such as registering voters for Pennsylvania elections, hosting flash phone banks, or bringing in speakers who might challenge the group.

Morgan stressed the importance of understanding “uncomfortable truths about what Democrats have done and meant to a lot of people” as well how college Democrat groups can improve.

The two organizations have made the effort to collaborate this semester, including hosting Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to speak about free speech.  Swat Dems also discussed working in a bipartisan manner to fight gerrymandering and participate in local elections at their meeting on Sept. 26.

“We’re doing a lot more things that involve outreach to other groups on campus. This year, we’re hosting a lot of events with the Swarthmore Conservative Society, which I think is great. We’ve been able to have a lot of good bipartisan dialogue with them,” said Stern.

According to Stern, the two groups are working with other on-campus groups such as i20, the Swarthmore international club, and Deshi, the South Asian student organization on campus, for a disaster relief event.

Both presidents also said that they want their clubs to create beneficial change.

“[We want to] engage with and lift up members of the community, particularly the most unheard,” said Morgan.

Guerra also wants his group to be a constructive force.

“[Swat Conservatives is] trying to focus more on the positive things that we can change and ways that we can make the Swarthmore community a better place instead of just trying to tear it down,” Guerra said.

For these two clubs, activism can mean working together in a bipartisan way and having a discussion of political differences despite an increasingly divisive political climate nationwide.

The Value of Science

in Columns/Opinions/The Fan Letter by

The historic March for Science, a worldwide protest led by scientists and activists in support of the value of scientific inquiry and evidence-based policymaking, took place this past Saturday. One of the signs at the March read “I have faith in facts,” alluding to Kellyanne Conway’s notorious “alternative facts” remark. Other signs highlighted the benefits of modern technology, or the urgency of climate change and environmental degradation. While I agree with the overall message of the march, we must not unconditionally extol the benefits of “scientific progress.” Focusing on the end product of science distracts us from what makes science and its methods intrinsically valuable and meaningful.

A quick survey of the history of science shows that science is not always beneficial. Newtonian mechanics and gunpowder significantly improved the power and accuracy of artillery and made them more deadly. Atomic science and nuclear physics contributed to the development of atomic bombs that killed hundreds of thousands people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, countries are using artificial intelligence technology to develop Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), or “robot killers” that can track and kill human targets with minimal human supervision.

Science is responsible for racial eugenics, and the remnants of “scientific racism” persist in the ideology of white supremacy. Science is responsible for the Industrial Revolution, which led to child labor, poorer working conditions, as well as surging income inequality. Science is responsible for the creation of engines, cars, and power plants, but science is also responsible for their emission of greenhouse gases and for climate change.

It is hypocritical to focus only on the benefits of science and ignore all its harms. Science is a powerful tool that can be used or abused, and any application of science is a political act, whether it is the development of new technologies or the use of scientific knowledge for society.  I believe a stronger case can be made that science is valuable for its own sake, rather than for any extrinsic reason. Only talking about what benefits science can bring risks politicizing the subject; science itself  is and must be free from political and partisan interests.

The purest of sciences, maybe paradoxically, should be useless. Pure science is about discovering eternal truths of nature, rather than improving quality of life. Albert Einstein never intended his theory of relativity to be anything other than an exposition of the fundamental laws of nature. He dedicated his life to finding a Theory of Everything, the Holy Grail of theoretical physics. The avant-garde of physics, or string theory, is a more extreme example. There seems to be no way to experimentally confirm whether the theory is correct or not. In other words, whether string theory is correct has no effect on our everyday life.

In this idealized realm of the purest sciences, scientific theory inextricably merges with the beauty of mathematics. G. H. Hardy, the famous author of the now classic text “A Mathematician’s Apology,” counted Maxwell and Einstein among “real mathematicians,” a high praise he reserved only for those who work in areas that have “little practical value … for ordinary men.” His remark was unfortunate; five years after his book was first published, the world saw the creation of atomic bombs, the possibility of which was first indicated by Einstein’s famous mass-energy equivalence equation. But the point remains. The beauty of science owes much to the beauty of the mathematical language in which it is expressed, and mathematics is (or should be) innocent and harmless. While it was perhaps a little premature for Hardy to deride the ugliness of “useful science” and contend that Einstein’s and Maxwell’s theories were perfectly useless, string theory, with its mathematical success, has the potential to claim the throne of theoretical science.

I suspect that the argument that science is beautiful is not terribly convincing to the more practical-minded of the readers. For these readers, I shall argue that the scientific method is our best tool to dispel myths and ideologies. This is not to say scientific knowledge should always be revered and unconditionally accepted. To make this claim is to argue that scientific knowledge is absolute truth, a claim even the scientists themselves cannot rationally support. Scientific progress is impossible if new generations of scientists uncritically accepts everything that has been said in the past. Imagine if a student of evolutionary biology now still believes in the discredited theory of eugenics.  He or she is not only a morally bankrupt racist, but also a terrible scientist at best.

But as the example of eugenics has made clear, science often is influenced, if not controlled, by some ideological agenda. To some extent, this problem is perhaps unavoidable. As philosopher of science Karl Popper makes clear, scientific observations cannot be purely objective, since our interests and expectations tend to affect what we see. But Popper also argues that the scientific spirit of critical rationalism is the best tool we have for creating knowledge. The standard of rigorous critical thinking employed in science allows us to conclusively refute false theories in the past, and hopefully our knowledge system is made better as a result.

As Popper correctly points out, there is no reason why the methods of science cannot be used in other areas of our society as well. Dogmatic ideologies must be rejected because they resist the test of evidence and criticism (Popper is himself fiercely anti-Marxist because of this). It is better instead to keep an open mind and critically debate each issue on the basis of facts and evidence rather than blindly endorse any particular ideology that is most popular at a time.

The large turnout at Saturday’s march is uplifting given the dark time in which we live. But if we fail to appreciate science for its own sake, the March for Science is just going to be another case where political actors take advantage of science and the independence of scientists from political interests gets undermined. The least we can do is to start a conversation about what really makes science so wonderful.

Is America Really a Democracy?

in Columns/Opinions/The Fan Letter by

Despite one’s political leanings, President Trump’s election is a phenomenon in need of an explanation. How did Donald Trump, a businessman of no experience with public policy, become the leader of the free world? More specifically, how did he lie his way to the presidency?

Some, as exemplified by Kellyanne Conway’s justification of “alternative facts,” attempt to rationalize Trump’s apparent lies by attacking the “elitist liberal establishment” that holds conservatives to an impossible standard. Others contend that Trump’s claims are not meant to be taken literally. Cornell University Professor Anna Katharine Mansfield, for example, recently argued in the Washington Post that Trump is delivering a different kind of truth: “emotional truth” that captures the frustration many Trump supporters feel. She claimed this kind of truth cannot be discredited by facts and evidence.

Instead of treating Trump’s lies as just another form of democratic discourse, why can’t we admit that American democracy is broken? What is a democracy when its participants cannot observe the basic laws of logic and reason, when slogan shouting has replaced thoughtful deliberation?

As a citizen of China, manipulation of facts and logic is not foreign to me. Our history is replete with examples where defiance of reason has led to spectacular policy failures. The Great Leap Forward, a Mao-initiated campaign that aimed to “reach Britain and surpass America” (Ganying Chaomei) in domestic production within 20 years, led to the most devastating famine in human history. According to the University of Hong Kong historian Frank Dikötter, the death toll of 45 million people was almost comparable to that of the Second World War.

My grandmother was a survivor. She used to tell me that in order to reach Mao’s goal of doubling steel production, her fellow villagers would set up “backyard furnaces” and melt cooking pots, thinking that somehow low-quality iron could thus be transformed into high-quality steel. Villages competed to grow and harvest unrealistic quantities of crops, sometimes by fraudulently combining crops from several different fields. When the famine hit, food was much more difficult to come by for a big family like hers. Malnutrition was pervasive; some were so starved that their bodies started to bloat, like balloon animals filled with body fluid. I was 10 when she told me that story. It is a gruesome reminder that grand designs must always be grounded in reality. Otherwise, people die.

Is America really a democracy? Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argues that democracy is not equivalent to “majority rule,” where even the basest of desires and prejudices deserve satisfaction when enough people have them. Instead, democracy has to be deliberative, which can only happen when citizens and their representatives come together and converse on the basis of reason and facts.

Trump’s popularity stems partly from his many outlandish promises that, not unlike Mao’s, he has no chance of fulfilling. His racist and xenophobic messages represent not the exception but the rule of American politics, which rewards manipulation of emotion more than honest discussion of what’s best for the people. Instead of offering realistic solutions to the problems his supporters face, Trump the politician does what most before him did: concoct the perfect lie and hope everyone believes it is the truth.

A tale of two countries

in Opinions/The Fan Letter by

A couple of days ago, I went to a faculty-led panel discussion on Fidel Castro, the former president of Cuba who passed away last year. Before the talk, I knew embarrassingly little about this controversial figure, except that he was a socialist. About 15 students showed up, and we formed a circle around the professors and waited intently for them to begin. After chatting with her colleagues in Spanish, Professor Désirée Diáz started reading from a pre-written introduction about her mixed feelings toward the Cuban revolutionary. As she put down her script, it was now Bryn Mawr College Professor Enrique Sacerio-Garí’s turn.

A celebrated scholar on Latin American politics and a commanding speaker, Professor Sacerio-Garí had none of the ambivalence of the previous professor. He prefaced his speech by saying that he supports Fidel Castro. What ensued was a spirited defense of his patriotism and his love for the Cuban people. Professor Sacerio-Garí talked about Castro’s education and literacy campaign, his anti-apartheid and anti-racism beliefs, as well as his courage to stand up to America’s “psychopathic desire” to harm and control the Cuban people. Notably missing, however, was much mention of Castro’s socialism.

Does a country’s ideology actually matter?

This is a question I often think about as a citizen of another socialist country, China. When I was growing up, I heard many stories about Mao’s China. My paternal grandmother told me that during the Great Chinese Famine, she only had carrots and a thin layer of rice for lunch every day. My dad told me he witnessed gangs beating young people to death with bats covered in nails during the Cultural Revolution. My maternal grandmother, a leading expert in cardiology, was humiliated and persecuted by the Red Guards.

However, both of my parents are members of the Communist Party. When I vowed not to join any Communist Party-affiliated organization, my grandparents were concerned. They told me I was being ungrateful. If not for the Communist Party, they said, I would not have the life I have today.

Officially, China is still a Communist country, even though China’s current economic system is closer to capitalism. Many western commentators mark Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform, which embraced privatization and globalization, as the end of Maoism. However, the Communist Party is still the only ruling party in China, and previous attempts at liberalizing the regime all ended in failure.

My father participated in the 1989 Democracy Movement as a protestor. Now, he is no longer a believer. Western style democracy will never work in China, he says, because nobody will care enough to vote and participate any way.

Does a country’s ideology matter? Not to the citizens, based on my experience. Castro defenders need not defend his socialism, just as Chinese Communist Party members like my parents need not be actual Communists. But the purest ideologues can argue all day about whether communism or capitalism is better. A Maoist can pontificate about the evil of money and the downfall of capitalism, while being blissfully ignorant of the pain and sufferings that Mao caused to the Chinese people. A conservative can tell you all about the invisible hand and the importance of deregulation, while neglecting millions of people in America who live in poverty and dejection. We need a new way to think, a way that focuses not so much on ideology, but on policies that make a difference. Calling oneself a communist or a capitalist is intellectual snobbery, because ideology does not help people.

SAO refocuses toward more political role

in Around Campus/News by

The Swarthmore Asian Organization is shifting to become a political group. This change, which comes after decision made by SAO leadership in the 2015-2016 school year, was marked by a “re-birthday party.” The event was both a 30th birthday for the group as well as an opportunity to refocus their organization.

SAO was formed originally as a political group to advance the interests of Asian and Pacific-Islander students, faculty, and staff, but shifted over time into its current form. In recent years, the group has served as a social and cultural group. Part of SAO’s shift is to change the perception of who SAO is for, as the group’s membership mostly consists of students of East-Asian descent, according to SAO co-presidents Josie Huang ’19, David Chan ’19, and Shuang Guan ’19. Guan explained some of the reasons for the shift.

“The way SAO started, its mission was political in order to increase numbers of API students and faculty on campus. … SAO was really a home for a diverse number of people falling under this label of Asian or Asian-American, and we’ve found that, in the past few years, SAO has been kind of shifting towards a social [and] cultural kind of path and our member base has also gotten very East-Asian-American. And, that’s led to some people telling us that they feel a little bit excluded from SAO or they don’t feel comfortable coming to SAO events because they don’t see a lot of people who look like them or represent them,” she said.

SAO hopes that the political shift will make SAO more welcoming to a wider group of Asian and Asian-American students.

“Instead of SAO being tied together by this social-cliquey feeling of ‘oh my friends are here so I belong here’ … hopefully it’s that people are passionate about working on API issues,” Shuang said.

Shuang also described the group’s political plans.

“We want to do more collaborations with other affinity groups to build community at Swarthmore. We also hope to volunteer with Philly organizations (currently in talks with AAI, Asian Arts Initiative). We are trying to increase awareness and support for Asian-American Studies at Swat by bringing Asian American Studies scholars to talk at Swat while advocating for more Asian-American Studies courses,” she said.

“We’re really hoping that one, we take up SAO’s political mission again, and really do political work, talking about API issues, possibly working with organizations in Philly who already do work in arts and community empowerment and education and also doing more collaborations with other groups on campus,” she said.

The “re-birthday party” was intended to help SAO start becoming a political organization, and was well received event. According to SAO leadership, some of the attendees were not regularly attending SAO members. This suggests that students see SAO less as an organization for students of East-Asian descent and more as one that represents students from many API backgrounds.

The co-presidents also met with the leadership of other groups representing Asian-Americans on Swarthmore’s campus in order to best serve the interests of Asian-American and Asian students across their different organizations.

“There’s a bunch of other Asian-affiliated groups, and what we’ve realized in having conversations is that the nature of these groups tends to be more cultural, so it’s kind of like us deciding to not overstep the things that they’re doing and to kind of fill in for the spaces that they don’t have … having SAO is sort of a space for us to have these [political] conversations outside of the cultural groups,” Huang said.

The reactions to SAO’s political shift have been generally positive, according to the co-presidents, and they are optimistic about the future.

“We had a SAO-rebirthday, which was when we announced the change, and it was also a celebration of SAO’s 30th anniversary. We had a lot of people come to this, except …. we’ve realized that, because of the nature of how SAO is right now, it’s going to take a lot to change [the perception that SAO is primarily an East-Asian group]. The people that came to the event, some of them were people that we haven’t really seen before at past SAO events, but a lot of them were also still primarily still East-Asian, and so what we realized after this event is that it is a little bit difficult, that it is going to be a work in progress. This change is mainly to open up SAO again to the rest of the community. We did get a lot of positive reception from people who were at the event, who expressed that this is something that they had been looking for,” Huang said.

SAO included other Asian-affiliated groups to discuss the shift and get feedback.

“We gathered the board members … of other Asian-affiliated groups in the IC to talk about our idea to shift from being a social cultural group to mainly be a political group and get their feedback.

Aamia Malik ’18, the president of Deshi, a group for South Asian students on campus, expressed that she thinks the change will be positive for other Asian-affiliated groups on campus.

“The biggest shift will be SAO acting as more of an umbrella organization for other groups instead of its own entity as it is acting currently. In my opinion, this is a good shift because it will create a space for more IC groups to communicate and collaborate, something that needs to happen more,” she said
The implications of SAO’s changes are likely to be more pronounced next year when the incoming Class of 2021 enters and interacts with Swarthmore’s cultural, social, and political organizations for the first time.

The dangers of insularity

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

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.

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