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The SGO Forum and the Failure to Listen

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The SGO forum on divestment last Friday appears to have produced more tension than dialogue. This is largely due to Mountain Justice’s curious interpretation of the event after the fact. By their account, expressed in the op-ed “Friday’s Forum: An Exercise in Futility” written by Mountain Justice member Aru Shiney-Ajay ‘20 , the organizers only allowed “one student representative when there were three from the administration… the administration repeatedly danced around questions, refusing to give concrete answers.”

The implication that the organizers of the event were trying to stifle student dissent by only allowing one student representative from Mountain Justice is simply unfounded. The forum was about divestment, not Mountain Justice, and the organizers succeeded in finding a diverse array of backgrounds and positions. There were three students: one for divestment, one against it, and one that was neutral. There were two professors: one for divestment and one who was at least skeptical of it. And there were three administrators: the President of the College, the Vice-President of Finance, and the Sustainability Director. It is hard to see how having another Mountain Justice member would have improved this lineup in any way. Regardless, the pro-divestment contingent of Shiney-Ajay and Professor Lee Smithey had by far the most speaking time, and were in no way impeded by the moderator, who gave them plenty of permission to speak on nearly every question, which they did.

Mountain Justice’s second point of contention, that the administration agreed to the forum as a show and had no intention of listening to students, is frankly hypocritical. It is highly doubtful that any member of Mountain Justice, who showed up prepared with cameras, pages of notes, and trendy finger snaps, came to the forum with the intention of listening to any doubts of divestment at all. This is a shame, because despite the awkward fishbowl format there was still a lot of valuable information that came up in the panelist’s statements and interactions. For example, Shiney-Ajay actually convinced me that the 1991 decision to forbid social causes from influencing the management of the endowment is fundamentally at odds with the decision to divest from South Africa, and by extension implies that only one of those decisions was correct in the eyes of the Board. For their part, if Mountain Justice’s delegation had done less talking and more listening, they might have had enough time to hear the answers they are now indignantly demanding. Or perhaps they would have heard Professor Timothy Burke’s warning that as a young activist he had overrated the importance of his own activism work in the context of a larger movement. It is hard, of course, to hear these criticisms over the sound of your friends snapping their fingers as you deliver a pre-written speech that takes up most of the time allotted for discussion and leaves you with no time to hear actual answers.

The real regret I have from the fallout of this forum is the way Mountain Justice has treated President Valerie Smith. Apart from her initial statement and other direct questions, President Smith sat in silence and spent the most time actually listening than any other participant in the forum. For this effort her office was soon the subject of a sit-in by the people at the forum who had listened the least. This is a serious impediment to further dialogue between the administration and students, and pro-divestment students should recognize that dialogue is as much a chance to listen as it is to speak.

MJ members receive sanctions

in Around Campus/News by

On Friday, March 17th, Associate Dean of Students Nathan Miller informed five students by email that they could face sanctions for a violation of the student code of conduct incurred during their participation in a peaceful protest last month.

The five students are members of the student organization Mountain Justice, which held a sit-in in the office of Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz on Feb. 24 after President Smith informed students that the Board of Managers would stand by its decision not to divest, even though students voted on a proposal for partial divestment in a student referendum held earlier in the month.

The Board’s response continued a history of rejecting student demands for divestment. In 2013, the college refused to divest from fossil fuels after student protests prompted the Board to consider its position. In March and April of 2015, students staged a one-month long sit-in in the office of Vice President for Finance and Administration Gregory Brown in an effort to persuade the Board of Managers to reconsider divestment. Since then, the college has amended its student code of conduct to prohibit any protest that occurs in offices or disturbs the normal work of the college.

According to the 2017 Student Handbook: “Expressions of dissent are expected in any living and learning community, but this expression must not interfere with normal College business … Protests are permissible, except in the following locations: classrooms, offices, libraries, dining halls (including cafes), Worth Health Center, residence hall rooms, and lecture halls, ensuring that the normal work, residential experiences, and services of the College can continue. Students who disrupt the functions of the College, including violating the rights of community members and invited speakers to speak, may be subject to the judicial process.”

The students each attended a judicial hearing on March 22nd. In a statement published in the Daily Gazette on Monday, Mountain Justice revealed that the administration found the five students guilty of violating the student code of conduct. Initially, the administration had threatened a consequence as severe as fines or probation, but chose to issue the five students warnings instead. In their statement, Mountain Justice presumed that the administration backed down after it was met with student, faculty, and alumni backlash.

At a faculty meeting on March 17th, faculty voted 53-to-9 in support of partial divestment. Following the student citations, 25 faculty members signed an open letter to Miller and Dean of Students Liz Braun outlining their objection to the administration’s actions and their support of students’ right to nonviolent protest.

“We encourage [students] to think of creative ways to intervene, to raise awareness, to change mindsets, to disrupt systems, or create new ones. We encourage them to not lose faith, or to give up easily.  We encourage them to persist, and they have done so through their persistent calls for divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in alternative energy resources,” the letter read.

Similarly, more than 650 students and other members of the community have signed a petition urging Miller and Smith to affirm students’ right to peaceful protest.

Alumni have also expressed their disapproval with the college’s decision not to divest in an op-ed open letter addressed to Smith and Miller. The letter has collected more than 200 signatures.

Several alumni have withheld financial contributions as a result. Some have instead opted to contribute to the Responsible Endowments Fund, an alternate fund established by Mountain Justice to collect funds it will release to the college on the condition that it chooses to divest. Otherwise, the money will be used to finance students in their fight for climate justice, according to the fund’s website.

John Braxton ’70 explained over email that he will withhold contributions from the college over the issue of the Board’s refusal to divest.

“Until Swarthmore divests, I will not make contributions to the college, and I encourage other alumni to join me. I will hold these funds and gladly make a contribution again when the Board of trustees [divests],” Braxton wrote.

Lee Oxenham ’72 stopped contributing to the college in 2013 when the college initially refused to engage with the divestment movement. She was further upset to learn that the college disciplined students for their participation in the protest last month.

“I am outraged that the Swarthmore College administration would even consider taking action against nonviolent student protesters on any issue,” Oxenham wrote over email.

Peter Meyer ’65 was also upset by the college’s continued refusal to divest.

“I am embarrassed for Swarthmore every time I [read] an article about divestment that mentions where the movement originated and then notes that the college has not acted,” Meyer wrote in an email.

Anne Kapuscinski ’76 stated that she and other alumni sent letters to the Board in January asking members to engage in dialogue with students. In an email she sent to the Board on Jan. 23, Kapuscinski expressed her disappointment with the Board’s refusal to divest and said that she stopped giving to Swarthmore as a result.

“With tears welling, I said that I would feel morally obligated to stop my annual contributions if Swarthmore continued to avoid divestment. In December 2016, with a truly heavy heart, I did not send an annual contribution to Swarthmore because the leadership had still not committed to a plan to divest,” she wrote.

The students cited were dismayed with the college’s decision to discipline them rather than engage with them on divestment.

Stephen O’Hanlon ’17, one of the students disciplined by the administration, noted his disappointment with the college’s response to the protest.

“It’s really disappointing that not only is the institution refusing to engage in dialogue on divestment after the students have passed it by such a huge margin … [but] that they’re so unwilling to engage on this that they would rather cite students than sit down and engage in dialogue,” O’Hanlon said.

O’Hanlon acknowledged that he and the other protesters cited were in violation of college policy. However, he believed that they have upheld a moral code through their actions.

“We acknowledge that we did take action that was in violation of the code of conduct, but we think that even if we broke that code, we held to a moral code that’s grounded in the values of Swarthmore, and in the values that we’ve been taught in our classes and that we talk about with our peers,” O’Hanlon said.

September Porras ’20, one of the students who received a warning, noted miscommunications between the Public Safety officers present and the students in Amstutz’s office over their violation of the school policy.

“We weren’t clearly informed of what the consequences would be,” Porras said.

Director of Public Safety Michael Hill said that he informed the students that they were in violation of the student code of conduct in occupying Amstutz’s office.

“I gave all of the students who remained a chance to leave the office at that point but again made it clear that if they chose to stay they were violating college policy; I repeated this several times as well as the fact that there could be sanctions,” Hill wrote in an email.

O’Hanlon was not sitting in the office when Public Safety took student IDs. He also noted that several students who were in the office during the day were not cited.

“I was never actually asked to leave the office but I was still cited, which seems really perplexing. I had gone into the office a few times to communicate with students but I was never sitting in the office. And there were a number of other students who were in the office throughout the day who also were not cited,” O’Hanlon said.

According to Hill, officers took IDs of five students who were either in the office or continued to enter the office.

Lewis Fitzgerald-Holland ’18, one of the students cited, said that he was unsure as to why Miller cited five students when there were more than five students in the office throughout the day. Miller could not be reached for comment.

Fitzgerald-Holland believed that the administration targeted O’Hanlon simply because he is a coordinator of Mountain Justice.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty clear that they’re going after [O’Hanlon] simply as a student leader, which is just naked political repression. It’s not acceptable,” Fitzgerald-Holland said.

In response to the backlash, Smith published an op-ed article in the Daily Gazette affirming free speech and peaceful protest as values core to Swarthmore. She explained that the students who sat in Amstutz’s office were disrupting his ability to do work and thus were in violation of the student code of conduct.

O’Hanlon said that the students in the office aided Amstutz in completing menial tasks.

“During the sit-in we made sure there weren’t too many people in the office so that [Amstutz] couldn’t move around and complete his tasks, and his task for the day was shredding papers. The shredding company had big bins in his office already … He told us that was what he was going to be doing that day, and that we could help if we wanted to, and a number of students who were at the sit-in helped him do shredding and helped him with his tasks that day,” O’Hanlon explained.

Amstutz could not be reached for comment.

Porras believed that Smith’s tone toward the five students was biased.

“[Smith] said in her op-ed article that several people left the room once they figured out what the consequences were going to be, and five remained, making us sound like five of us were obstinate, rude, and refused to leave and were disrupting what everybody else was going for at the protest, which wasn’t true. We were leading the protest, so we very much knew what we were doing,” Porras said.

Fitzgerald-Holland noted that Smith’s op-ed was published before the five students had been notified of the results of their hearings. The op-ed was published on Thursday, Mar. 23, and the students were informed of the results the following day. Fitzgerald-Holland believed Smith’s action was unprofessional.

“The op-ed that Val Smith put out was particularly egregious because as an administrator, she was commenting on a judicial proceeding that had not actually finished, assuming guilt, making numerous factual errors, and in that respect, it was very out of line for an administrator to do from a due process perspective. It’s not acceptable in any regard,” Fitzgerald-Holland said.

Porras also noted factual inconsistencies in Smith’s op-ed. One error involved the number of participants in the protest. Smith wrote that three dozen members of the community participated in the sit-in, but Porras said that this number was higher.

“Over the course of the day, 70 people signed in, which we were very proud of considering we planned this the day before,” Porras said.

Fitzgerald-Holland believed Smith’s condemnation of the student’s actions as violations of college policy is contrary to her personal beliefs in the power of student activism and peaceful protest.

“I think the hardest part for myself and a lot of people right now is seeing Val Smith come out publicly like that and condemn our actions when everything she has said and done in the past — in her inaugural speeches, in her interviews — she has so strongly pushed for this idea that you need to rely on the younger generations to expose moral challenges … and that’s why student protesters and student leaders should be respected, and then here you have Val Smith doing precisely the opposite,” he said.

O’Hanlon believed Smith and the administration have contradicted the values on which Swarthmore stands.

“[The administration] betrayed our values as an institution, our generation that’s going to be impacted by climate change, and the millions of people who are being threatened by the Trump administration’s and the fossil fuel industry’s disastrous climate policies. President Smith has a choice about whether she’s going to stand up for students, for communities around the world impacted by climate change, and our values as an institution, or if she’s going to stand with the board. And we hope that she stands with us,” he said.

Fitzgerald-Holland noted the importance of condemning the fossil fuel industry in an age in which many deny the existence of climate change.

“I think it’s more urgent than ever that independent institutions like Swarthmore take a stand against the fossil fuel industry when our president doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of what I think is probably the greatest moral threat to our generation,” he said.

He also affirmed the value of nonconventional forms of protest to producing change.

“Cookie-cutter protests aren’t going to get us anywhere if all you’re doing is standing at a table, giving people flyers. You’re not going to actually pressure powerful organizations to change. Val Smith cannot purport to uphold these values of student leadership and students taking a moral stand and then erase that when those students actually stand up to power in any respect. You can’t have it both ways,” he said.


Not to Humiliate but to Win Over

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Reflections on the Right to Peacefully Assemble to Protest Fossil Fuels Endowment Investment at Swarthmore College”

The 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution states the right of free people to peacefully assemble, and to petition their governing body for a redress of grievances.  In this spirit, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1958 that the aim of the nonviolent resistance movement is not to “seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding.”  Beginning five years ago, the on-campus campaign to persuade Swarthmore to divest its fossil fuels holdings has operated in the spirit of King’s constitutionally protected movement for social change.

But this peaceful effort has now provoked a disappointing response on the part of the College.

The core mission of Swarthmore College is to teach students how to pursue learning with a commitment to social change.  Faculty agree with this goal, and on March 24 voted 53-9, with 4 abstentions, to urge the College to divest from Big Oil, Gas, and Coal.  Additionally, on February 24, students sat in the administration’s Investment Office and surrounding public spaces to protest the college’s endowment policy.  This action is the same action that was taken in the Spring of 2015, but the earlier protest lasted almost five weeks instead of one day.  In the recent one-day sit-in, the same spaces were occupied as the one in 2015, including the so-called private work area of the Investment Officer.  As a faculty ally, I was present at the beginning of the 2015 sit-in — along with student protesters who temporarily, and peacefully, occupied the Investment Office at that time.  No action was taken against anyone involved in the 2015 sit-in.

Fast forward to today.  Now, in response to the recent one-day protest, the college is charging student protesters with entering and failing to leave a private work area, and interrupting the work of staff members.  This is a debatable charge for two reasons.  Fundamentally, no college-owned work space is strictly private.  Moreover, why was the current standard not invoked two years ago when faculty and students, in protest, entered the same office and surrounding space and interrupted the work of staff members?

On March 26, President Valerie Smith wrote an open letter charging the sit-in students with violating the student code of conduct.  This letter followed a March 17 confidential letter by Dean Nathan Miller announcing an administrative review of the protesting students.  But the mission of the college says “Swarthmore seeks to help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.”  To me, this is the core issue at stake in this on-going disputation.  I believe the nonviolent protesters were simply living out this mission statement and realizing its full aim by peacefully taking over an administrative office guided by their commitment to social and planetary well-being.

Contrary to President Smith and Dean Miller, the students’ action, fundamentally, was not a conduct code violation, but a courageous act of conscience.

Concerning the specifics of Dean Miller’s private letter and subsequent secret hearings, the college’s review of the students in question violates due process.  The hearings assumed certain facts in question, gave the students only two business days to prepare, made no provision for students to secure outside counsel to assist them in their defense, prohibited the students from asking for a continuance, and announced a set of dire consequences if they failed to accept its terms.  According to Dean Miller’s letter, the students were adjudicated under the Minor Misconduct Process, but the intended punishments were potentially severe, ranging from notations in students’ records to probation, monetary damages, and “additional educational sanctions,” whatever that means.  In the end, it appears the college let the students off with a warning.  But what will be their fate, or that of future protesters, if they attempt a similar act of peaceful dissent in the future?

Guided by conscience and good will, Swarthmore students today, as they did two years ago, are putting their education and their futures on the line by thoughtfully challenging the college administration to do the right thing and stop giving the toxic fossil fuels extraction industry its seal of approval.  Nonviolent direct action is not a new tactic at Swarthmore.  Previous peaceful occupations of administrative offices – for example, African-American students take-over of the Admissions Office in 1969, and Anti-Apartheid students take-over of the Admissions Office in 1985 – portended the fossil fuels sit-ins of 2015 and last month.

As King said, we should never demean or insult one another as we struggle in the communities we serve to realize common ideals.  Fair-minded people of good will, then, can sometimes agree about long-range strategic goals, but disagree about immediate tactics to realize these goals.  The College’s Sustainability Office, Environmental Studies Program, Climate Action Plan, carbon charge, green advisors, and much more, are central to its concerted efforts to facilitate learning and living responsibly in troubled times.  But Swarthmore is also squandering its good name by lending its moral capital to a dying industry hell-bent on destroying the self-regulating climate system that sustains Earth’s biosphere.  Instead of charging students with conduct violations who are living out the College’s mission through peaceful action, Swarthmore should crown each of these students as climate heroes whose fearless actions are an inspiration for all of us.

Candy-coated family-friendly version of activism achieves nothing

in Opinions by

Swarthmore brands itself as an institution where student-staff-administration collaboration is crucial not only to student culture but to college function. Another critical value of the campus community is student activism, which has been present at the college since its radical founding. This spring semester, the college is neither living up to its history as an actor for social justice nor holding true to the values it advertises.

An essential part of the Swarthmore experience is learning to question the world around oneself. Through academics, campus resources and organizations, and simply being with other Swatties, students are taught to question, point out flaws, offer improvements, and assert their voices in an earnest way. Part of what students examine is the very institution from which they learn this critical thinking. This action can be seen presently in Mountain Justice’s divestment campaign and multiple demonstrations and protests on the issue. The college should largely support these initiatives, but has threatened students with citations and probations for interfering with college operations.

To first offset some concern, the Phoenix does not expect the college always to orchestrate actions perfectly in time with current events — the college does not control each aspect of this issue. Questions of the student handbook must be addressed to follow due diligence; however, the college’s handling of these situations must be examined independently, so students can engage earnestly with their institution.

Beyond disagreeing with divestment, the college’s warnings of citation and probation are seemingly meant to deter students from exercising their rights to assembly and peaceful protest. As an institution that encourages political activism from its founding to the sanctuary campus initiative and financing of Women’s March events, it is disappointing and demoralizing that the college only supports activism as long as the demonstrations are not aimed at it.

We acknowledge that it is true that the students sitting in the Chief Investment Officer’s were in violation of item six of the disorderly conduct definition of the Student Code of Conduct. However, we not only protest the enforcement of this item, but it’s very existence. Item six includes within disorderly conduct “other conduct that disrupts the normal operations of the college.” This broadens the definition of disorderly conduct to include anything that inconveniences faculty or staff. It’s also important to note that this item is a new change to the 2016-2017 Student Code of Conduct; any claim that the students opted in to this rule is tenuous as the majority of current students had already established themselves at the college before this rule was added. Although the previous edition of the Student Code of Conduct did state that conduct which impinged on the “orderly and essential operations of the College” was disorderly and that the previous defining list of five items was not limiting, the language has since been clearly intentionally broadening, which is troubling.

Furthermore, if the college intends to stand by this change to the Code of Conduct and its broad enforcement of the new definition it cannot position itself as a supporter of campus activism. The new wording bans any activism inconvenient to the college and, put very simply, supporting only activism which is convenient for you is not supporting activism. The point of demonstrations is to disrupt day to day activities to draw attention to a pressing issue. If there’s no disruption, all that’s left is a candy-coated family-friendly version of activism which achieves nothing and would be shameful to this college’s founders.

Future students will enter the liberal arts tradition. When speaking to prospective Swatties, the college rattles off stories of students using the campus to incubate ideas that they can explore boldly on and off campus. Tour guides mention  sit-ins and trips to Philadelphia and Washington they have attended to illustrate the campus’ activist tendencies. Item six in the Student Code of Conduct hampers inquiry and challenge where students are meant to hone those skills for the future.

The college’s actions this March, in its threats of probation and citation against student protesters, have demonstrated the college does not support the activities it promotes if those actions are directed at it. As it has decided that social justice is part of its history, character, and branding, the administration must find some to respect student activism.

President Smith: Peaceful protest at Swarthmore

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

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

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

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

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

Valerie Smith, President


Letter to the Editor: Help us reclaim our country

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by

Dear class of 2017:

When my Class of 1967 was getting ready to graduate, we paid no attention to the class of 1917, which was then celebrating its 50th reunion. To the extent we thought about them at all, they were just old farts. But if we had asked, they could have told us about Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, progressive in every way but race, the horrors of World War I, or the post-war Red Scare, courtesy of our own A. Mitchell Palmer (class of 1891).

You probably think we’re old farts too, although, perhaps, you imagine the ‘60s as a rush of revolution fueled by sex, drugs, and rock & roll. In fact, we’re not very different than you. We came to Swarthmore in September 1963, shortly after the March on Washington at the end of August, which some of us attended. The campus buzzed with civil rights our first year. Scores of students went to jail in Chester in the first northern demonstrations. Later, there was a debate between two seniors – Carl Wittman (dead these many years) and Jed Rakoff (now a Federal judge in New York) – over the proper role, if any, of violence in the movement.

Schools outdid one another in sponsoring civil rights conferences. In one, at Connecticut College in New London, senior Mike Meeropol showed up with his guitar, belting out songs. I didn’t know anything about him at the time but remember his saying, “I’m from Swarthmore, and I’m proud of it.” 

Back then, we had Collection every Thursday in Clothier, and students were required to attend. A speaker one Thursday was a South African official (perhaps the country’s UN representative). We loathed apartheid, but it didn’t even occur to us to demand that he be barred from speaking. Instead, we demonstrated outside Clothier, so he would be sure to see us when he was going in. One of the signs said, “Free Speech Yes/Apartheid No.”

Yes, things swirled. One Friday in November, though, everything stopped. On November 22, I was talking to upperclassman Jack Riggs in his room in Wharton when Mickey Herbert, a friend from high school, burst in and yelled “The President’s been shot!” My parents remembered where they were when they heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and your generation probably remembers where you were on 9/11. The assassination of JFK was our 9/11.

The war in Vietnam began under President Kennedy, and he may – or may not – have ended the war had he lived. Certainly Lyndon Johnson didn’t, and thousands of Americans and Vietnamese were dying. And unlike the wars you have known, many of our casualties had been drafted. So, men in college had a special reason to be skeptical, and men and women protested the war.

But we weren’t always marching. We listened – and danced— to  great music. The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan our first year, and “Satisfaction” hit the summer of ’65. Early on, Swarthmore had a folk festival, but it was supplanted by one featuring rock, and the Jefferson Airplane appeared at the rock festival on the group’s first East Coast tour. Finally, on the eve of our graduation, “Sergeant Pepper” came out.

There was no “Saturday Night Live” in our era. But the Smothers Brothers made their debut early in ’67, lampooning pomposity and resolutely anti-war. Blacklisted for 15 years, Pete Seeger came on to sing “Big Muddy” (“we were neck deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool said to push on”). We knew who he was singing about.

Perhaps the class of 2017 has already been asked to decide on a class gift, maybe an oak to be planted or a bench to sit on. Our class gift was a protest. In our time, the college still had what was called the “sex rule,” a seldom enforced edict that forbade coupling by students on pain of expulsion. The rarity of its invocation did not make it any less troubling.

So we decided that our class gift would be the abolition of the sex rule. Of course, we lacked the power actually to abolish it, and then we left. But if you never heard of the sex rule, maybe you should thank the old farts in the class of ‘67.

I’m writing this in early March, just after President Trump’s first address to Congress. It’s too early to see how bad things will be – for example, whether the Republicans will fulfill their pledge to gut Obamacare, which brought healthcare to millions, or whether deportations will skyrocket. But it’s certainly not too early to fight to reclaim our country. We geezers are going to spend our retirement doing that, and we’d appreciate some help from you younger folks.


Doug Huron ‘67

Why us “snowflakes” won’t stop marching

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Walking down the streets of Center City, I am surrounded by hundreds of equally passionate individuals, all gathered to reach a common goal. All of us are marching through the streets, careless of anyone who may be against our protest. We are too empowered by our chants and energy to care. Instead, we are all united by a purpose, which is to stand by the values of which the United States was founded upon

As we make our way from City Hall toward Old City, our protest gains momentum. Everyone in the crowd begins to chant at the top of their lungs. A couple of Swatties are sprinkled across the crowd and we smile at one another as we make eye contact. We switch off between shouting “when our country is under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” and “no hate, no fear! Refugees are welcome here!” As we chant, people walking on the streets begin to join in and people in shops begin to run outside to witness our movement. Observing its growth, I could not be more proud to be a member of this march. Clearly, our movement is achieving exactly what it is meant to achieve, which is to share our voice and make clear America’s true values.

Of course, in parts of Philadelphia and across the United States, many are not as empowered by our movement. Rather, they find the action immature and wish that we would accept the president instead of continuing to complain. Especially as the movement continues throughout the country and spreads on social media, people view the challenging of Trump’s presidency as a movement driven by “millennial snowflakes” who are crying because they didn’t get what they wanted. While I acknowledge that this view exists, this couldn’t be further from the truth about why we continue to organize. Although many see us protesters as whining and unrealistic about our goals for the country, this is not why we march against the very real dangers of Trump, his cabinet, and his executive orders. Yet, because people see us whining, it is more important than ever that we make clear our true purpose of organizing rather than accepting the misconception that we are simply “liberal college students who don’t know what we are talking about.”

Rather, marching down the streets of Philadelphia, we are not whining, but chanting our love for refugees, our values, and our nation. Many of us are reminded of what it means to be “one nation, united” as our fellow protesters proudly wave signs with messages like “make America great for all, including immigrants and refugees” and “a staircase is more likely to kill Americans than a Muslim.” One petite woman is holding a sign that reads “Scary Sudanese immigrant” with an arrow pointing down at herself, indicating that the stereotypes Trump’s executive orders were founded upon are false. A caucasian six year old child is standing next to her mother and baby sister, leading the crowd in a chant of “black lives matter.” This young girl is already aware of what it means to be an American and serves as an inspiration that one is never too young to exercise their freedom of speech to fight for their beliefs.

Although many people may disagree with our marches and our protests, this movement is much bigger than Swatties “crying about Hillary Clinton losing the election” or anger that Bernie Sanders did not win the nominee. It is more than us millennial snowflakes upset because we didn’t get what we wanted. This movement is much bigger than a simple dislike for Donald Trump as president. Rather, the purpose of our protests, marches, and opposition are people of all ages, ethnicities, and even some differing political beliefs joining together to make it clear that the United States is a country that stands up for basic human rights and all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or origin. As we Swatties join the movement, we need to make it clear that we are a country that believes in serving as a role model and opening our doors when people’s lives are being threatened, rather than shutting people out. Perhaps most importantly, we need to remember that this movement is a call to action and a reminder to people around the world that, even with a leader that refuses to stand by our freedom and commitment to fundamental rights, Americans will not remain silent and will continue to fight for our people, our humanity, and our values.

As the march concludes, the energy and momentum created by the crowd still resides in the air. My face is red from the cold, but I don’t care, nor does anyone else around me. We all smile at one another as we prepare to return to our daily lives, midterms, or ordinary jobs until the next protest ahead of us.

One thing is certain. We will continue to march for our country, our refugees and immigrants, and for others suffering around the world. We will continue to march because this movement is bigger than us or a tantrum against Trump. Our protest is about love for our nation, love for our people, and we need to remember that, as Swatties, we can not stop joining the protests until that love is restored.

Charles Murray talk sparks student protest and frustration during talk and Q&A session

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Charles Murray was met with a protest exceeding 100 students and a heated question and answer session following a talk on his new book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” at the Swarthmore Quaker Meetinghouse this past Tuesday. The talk was co-sponsored by The Swarthmore Conservative Society and the American Enterprise Institute on campus.

“The Bell Curve” is arguably Murray’s most infamous work, which he co-authored with Richard Herrnstein in 1994. The book received widespread criticism from major media outlets and academia for his discussion of the relationship between IQ, class, race, and economic success. The majority of criticisms stemmed from Murray’s discussion of racial differences in intelligence and subsequent policy implications, which called for the government to severely cut back on welfare expenditures, to end of affirmative action, and to enact more restrictive immigration policies. Advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center classify Murray as a white nationalist.

“Charles Murray has become one of the most influential social scientists in America, using racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women, and the poor,” says the SPLC on its website.

Student protesters, dressed in black, occupied the entire middle section of the Quaker Meeting House. Many students not affiliated with the protest, various administration, and some faculty members were also in attendance.

Before Murray came on stage, an official affiliated with the meetinghouse and Society of Friends religious group announced that they were not co-sponsoring the talk. The official stressed respect and dignity at both ends. Next, Ben Termaat ’18, co-president of the AEI executive council at Swarthmore spoke, mentioned that the organizers expected Hillary Clinton to be elected president before Murray came to campus. AEI is a conservative public policy think tank, of which Charles Murray has been a fellow since 1990. Termaat is co-president of the AEI executive council at Swarthmore, as well as the president of Swarthmore Democrats.

As reported in a previous Phoenix article, however, Swarthmore Democrats had pulled their sponsorship of the event a week before Murray’s arrival, according to the Facebook event page. Swarthmore Democrats denied any past involvement. Maggie Christ ’17, former president of Swarthmore Democrats and current board member, explained that Swarthmore Democrats had never officially sponsored or helped organize the event.

After a short introduction from the President of The Swarthmore Conservative Society and Co-Chair of AEI on Campus, Patrick Holland ’17, Mr. Murray examined the signs from protesters and walked to the podium. As Murray began to speak, the entire middle section of protesters stood up and turned their back to Murray, holding up signs that read statements like “intellectualized bullshit,” “racism with a PhD still racism,” and “civically engaged welfare recipient.” About 15 minutes into Murray’s talk, the protesters left the meeting house.

Response to the protest was mixed from students who attended the event but did not participate in the demonstration themselves.

“I think that the protest was really well done in the sense that it was well organized and peaceful, and I think that they made their point. I didn’t participate in the protest because I hadn’t read his literature beforehand, and so I didn’t have a sense of what his views were on everything. I had heard things from other students, so I was very understanding of why there was a protest and also a need for a protest. I’m happy that students were able to organize in a peaceful manner,” said Nikhita Luthra ’17.

Min Zhong ’19, however, expressed doubt about the productiveness of the protest.

“I’m convinced that the protest was the best way for some people to react to the talk and the speaker, but I thought it was unproductive, which is why I didn’t participate. I saw the talk as a chance to understand why Murray thinks the way he does, not as a chance to convince him from it,” she said. “I think the protesters missed out on that opportunity to interact with the primary source of some very controversial ideas.”

Desta Pulley ’17, one of the lead organizers of the protest, shared her thoughts on how the protest went, why she personally chose to protest, and her opinions of Murray’s work.

“I think the protest went very well, lots of people showed up (more than I expected) and the protest itself went seamlessly. I think it definitely sent a statement to those in the audience,” she said in an email.

“Personally, when I found out Murray was coming to campus, I was shocked, angry, and betrayed that my fellow students and administrators were letting this happen without batting an eye. This is a guy who thinks that I, as a woman and African-American, is inherently disadvantaged because my genetics make me less intelligent,” said Pulley.

“That sort of ideology is harmful and hateful. I wanted people to know that this wasn’t acceptable, and shouldn’t be acceptable, and a protest happened to be the best way to accomplish that,” she later said.

During his talk, Murray started by condemning the president-elect Donald Trump, calling him an extremely insecure man. Murray further condemned Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. Bannon is a former executive of Breitbart, a popular media platform for the alt-right, a movement known for its white-nationalist, nativist, and anti-feminist ideologies.

Murray discussed what he viewed as a growing, culturally divergent upper class that has a fundamentally different lifestyle than those of average Americans. Citing a rise in mean SAT verbal scores, he spoke about Harvard’s increasing meritocracy. He said it concentrated people at Harvard into a critical mass of people with views different from others. Murray said this widening divide in culture and lifestyle between the “cognitive elite” and working class Americans is not a question of good or bad but difference. He concluded his talk by defining the key to American exceptionalism as the presence of a civil society through egalitarianism between classes. He speculated on a new “secular great awakening,” akin to the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The question and answer session session followed the talk, moderated by Holland. The questions asked by the audience mainly focused on Murray’s controversial positions surrounding IQ, race, gender, and class structure. Many questions received a chorus of snaps from the audience before Murray answered them. Frustrations grew as some students voiced concerns that he was dismissing controversial statements he had made in the past. While answering questions, Murray admonished students for not reading full quotes from his books, and he twice asked students reading quotes from their phones to bring them up to the podium so he could read them for himself.

Student response to the talk and Q&A session was mixed.

Luthra asked Murray about his position that genetic differences explain his observation that there are far fewer influential female mathematicians. She felt dissatisfied with his answer and understood other students’ frustration with the question and answer session.

“I understand why the Q&A session ended up the way it did. I was a little bit frustrated because I felt like he wasn’t necessarily answering questions very directly. It was difficult to have an academic debate when people were justifiably really offended by just his presence on campus. I guess in that sense, I understand why there was a lot of anger and resentment for him being on campus, and that is why the Q&A session kind of got diverted,” she said.

Zhong shared that she thought students asking the questions should have been more prepared.

“I think the audience, myself included, should have done more homework about Murray’s ideology prior to the talk. I had only read Murray’s Wikipedia page and a few articles discussing quotes, which may or may not be taken out of context, from his books. If we had been more prepared, I think we could have asked more quality questions with less of an insinuating tone to them. Some people could have definitely been more careful with their language; I thought some statements were definitely unnecessary and don’t lend themselves to creating a objective and constructive dialogue,” she said.

Holland, the lead organizer of the event, welcomed both the protest and questions challenging Murray’s views.

“The Q&A session was what I expected it to be. There were some good questions that tried to hold Murray accountable for past statements, and I think that’s really what these events are supposed to be about. I’m glad the protestors showed up to add to the discussion,” he said. Holland later mentioned he did not fully agree with the opinions Murray espoused during the talk.

Similarly, Zhong thought Murray’s talk wasn’t especially insightful.

“I thought the talk was relevant, and Murray definitely made valid points, even though he didn’t point out anything that I haven’t already read or thought about in post-election analyses,” she shared.

Following the event, the Intercultural Center hosted an open discussion about the talk and protest. While the IC was not a sponsor of the protest, many of students that participated in the protest went to the IC’s open discussion. The topic of discussion floated around from the nature of resistance and protest to personal stories.

According to the Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development, T. Shá Duncan Smith, key organizers of the event like Holland and those affiliated with the Swarthmore Quaker Meetinghouse had not fully researched Murray’s work before having him come speak on campus.

“All that Patrick was familiar with were panels where he had seen Charles Murray speak …  with two other speakers that had alternative views. I believe it was Robert Putnam and Julius Wilson. It wasn’t until our final meeting, which was recently, when Patrick really started to read into Murray’s work and question what he felt about Murray’s work,” said Smith.

She agreed with the characterization that Holland grew more apprehensive about having Murray come to campus after further research into Murray’s more controversial work.

The student event organizers, however, thought that this characterization was an exaggeration.

“Dean Smith’s comments are a bit of an exaggeration. If we were to repeat this process again, we still would have made the same decision to bring Murray to campus. The biggest regret we have about the event is the poor timing of the lecture in relation to the outcome of the presidential election,” the group organizers affiliated with AEI and SCS said.

Smith later explained that, because many people and speakers use the space each day, the staff at the meetinghouse did not research Murray and his work before allowing him to use the space at the meetinghouse for the talk.

After the event, Murray also responded to the student protest.

“I am old school when it comes to what universities are for. I love the idea of the college and university, where there is an exchange of opposing opinions, but you’ve gotta document them, you’ve got to give reasons for why you’re saying what you’re saying, you’ve got to be civil and respectful,” he said. “Within that framework, nobody should need safe spaces, nobody should need trigger warnings, and nobody should try to intimidate either the speaker or the rest of the audience. Frankly, it’s not pleasant to go into a place where people are acting as if listening respectfully to the speaker is somehow a wrong thing to do.”

Murray further explained his policy hopes for the Trump administration.

“I have no hopes! For someone with my political views, I’m happy that he will be appointing supreme court justices, not because I think he has any principled devotion to limited government, but I think that his feet will be held to the fire, and there will be people who are more strict constitutionalists than Hillary Clinton would have appointed. I’m happy about that,” said Murray.

According to Holland, Murray had expressed interest in speaking at the college before. Additionally, Murray tweeted about a controversial column, “The Admissions Office Doesn’t Care About Your Values,” written by a student at the college. Specifically, he responded to Swarthmore students’ responses to the op-ed.

Swarthmore was once a Quaker college. This, trust me, is not Quakerly,” read the tweet.

On why he came to the college, Murray expressed that he doesn’t speak at colleges as much as he would like.

“I like speaking to college audiences. I really do. I wish I did it more often — It’s fun!” he exclaimed.

Murray later reiterated that he found protest irritating.

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