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Candy-coated family-friendly version of activism achieves nothing

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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

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

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

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

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

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

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

Valerie Smith, President

 

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.

Sincerely,

Doug Huron ‘67

Why us “snowflakes” won’t stop marching

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

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 student 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 in addition to parts of the left and right sections of seating. Many students not affiliated with the protest, various administration, and some faculty members were also in attendance.

Prior to Murray coming 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 for Hillary Clinton to be elected president before having Charles Murray come 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, 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, Charles Murray examined the signs from protesters and walked to the podium. Right 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 students that participated in the protest went to the IC’s open discussion too, in addition other students, faculty, and administrators. 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 what he thought of 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 thought the protest was irritating.

Mountain justice stage protest on steps of Parrish

in Around Campus/News by

Last Friday, Swarthmore Mountain Justice held a protest reiterating their demands that board members Samuel Hayes III ’57, Rhonda Cohen ’76, and Harold Kalkstein ’78 recuse themselves from future board discussions regarding divestment due to their fiscal ties to the fossil fuel industry. M.J. members washed the windows of Kohlberg where the board was meeting last weekend in a symbolic act of protest before moving to Parrish. John Braxton ’70, assistant professor of ecology at the Community College of Philadelphia and a longtime social justice activist who received an honorary degree from the college in 2010, attended the event. Though they resisted engaging in any directly confrontational actions with the Board, Mountain Justice members repeatedly said that if their demands were not met they would engage in escalating action.

Mountain Justice members had high expectations for the protest. M.J. member Ethan Chapman ’19 said he hoped the protest would send a message that the student body demanded accountability from the board.

“I hope we get a good turnout and show how serious we are about transparency and having a transparent dialogue with the board about divestment,” he said.

Students Annie Zhao ’18 and Killian McGinnis ’19 spoke at the event. Lee Smithy, assistant professor of sociology, introduced Braxton, the event’s main speaker. Their speeches advocated for divestment, demanding board members with ties to the fossil fuel industry recuse themselves from board discussions about divestment.

 “Just as the power of the fossil fuel industry has stifled meaningful action on climate change nationally, ties to the fossil fuel industry from members of our own board hold back meaningful climate change discussion here at Swarthmore.” Annie Zhao ’18, the first speaker, said.

Braxton, a biologist and ecologist, served 17 months in prison in the early 1970s for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, has been involved in labor and social justice activism for most of his adult life. He recently collaborated between Noam Chomsky, Arlie Hochschild, Lotte Bailyn, Lorene Cary, and Barbara Hall Partee in a letter to the Board of Managers calling on them to enact divestment. In his speech, Braxton connected the activism of Mountain Justice with activism at the college in the past, including the 1969 sit-in held by black students in the admissions office to increase diversity on campus.

The protest started with about 15 people, all members of Mountain Justice, but as time went on the crowd grew to about 40. In addition to students, several faculty and staff came, including college gardner Sheila Magee ’81, who has been involved with the movement since the beginning.

After the speeches, the crowd walked up to the second floor of Parrish and delivered a letter addressed to Valerie Smith stating their demands for Hayes, Cohen, and Kalkstein to recuse themselves. Assistant to the President Brexton Eason accepted the letter with no comment.

“I think this rally was very successful. I looked around and saw a lot of really excited participants,” said Mountain Justice member Christopher Malafronti ’18.

The board did not address Mountain Justice’s demand but did announce a new $300,000 carbon charge. According to a Daily Gazette article, the charge will be assessed at a rate of $40 per metric ton of carbon emitted from new construction and a .5% charge on all department’s budgets. The charge will “increase the visibility of the campus’ sustainability programs and aid in the college’s efforts to include the entire campus community in the effort to address climate change,” according to a press release on the college website.

Malafronti stated that board’s inaction would mean escalated protests from Mountain Justice, but said that what those protests will look like has not yet been determined by the group.

 

Colgate students occupy admissions building, present action plans

in Around Higher Education/Breaking News/News by

colgate

At 7:30 this Monday morning, close to 300 students occupied Colgate University’s admissions office in response to instances of racial intolerance in the first three weeks of classes. Immediate catalysts to action included racist remarks made to students on the campus shuttle, a slew of anonymous slurs posted on the social media app YikYak and the publicizing of hate speech towards students of color.

Led by the Colgate Association for Critical Collegians, a student coalition that formed last Wednesday to address Colgate’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, the sit-in will continue until the administration proposes a plan for addressing issues of marginalization and cultural insensitivity on campus. Although hopeful on Tuesday night, students were ultimately disappointed on Wednesday afternoon after the promised proposal fell short of meeting their demands. On Wednesday evening, they continued to evaluate the administration’s concessions to determine which, if any, addressed their needs.

The ACC circulated a list of recommended actions to the student body via a campus-wide email on Monday morning. Longer than the list prepared by Swarthmore students during the spring of 2013 following incidents of intolerance here, Colgate’s action plans nevertheless share many of the core goals. Both documents recommend making the academic curriculum more inclusive by incorporating non-Western traditions and paradigms, increasing the number of faculty of color, female faculty and LGBT, and providing clarified procedures for seeking support and filing complaints within existing institutional channels.

Current Colgate students also share concerns with alumni who graduated from the university over a decade ago. Racial tensions at the small liberal arts school in upstate New York aren’t without precedent; in 1991, 70 students occupied the admissions building following the publicization of an email in which a professor stated that minority students tended to take easier, “exotic” courses to secure “undeservedly” higher grades. Among other demands, the incident prompted students to call for faculty workshops in cultural sensitivity — the same sort of educational initiative that students are demanding now.

Despite the university’s history with racial insensitivity, this week’s sit-in was “shocking” to the campus community, according to Colgate student and ACC Outreach and Communications chair Charity Whyte. While four of the leaders of ACC had secured a slot at a Saturday meeting of Colgate’s Board of Managers, no mention of direct action had been made. With student efforts conducted entirely by word of mouth, even sit-in participants were unsure as to how many students would join the movement in its first hours.

On Monday morning, students occupied the admissions building and proceeded outside to hold signs and chant “Can you hear us now?” as faculty and staff arrived up the University’s main drive. That afternoon, approximately 70 of the students held a seven-hour meeting with Colgate’s president Jeffrey Herbst, Provost and Dean of Faculty Douglas Hicks, and Dean of the College Suzy Nelson inside the admissions office, during which they shared personal encounters with intolerance and discrimination on campus. According to Whyte, all three administrators were brought to tears by student testimonies.

“There were 70 plus people telling their own stories of being discriminated against, being marginalized, being segregated, all the things they had to go through because of race, sexual orientation, gender — all things they didn’t choose,” said Haeun Kim, a student participating in the sit-in. “It was really incredible to listen to the stories. We stand in solidarity because we could hear that what other people were going through were the same things I’d been going through, and then we realized ‘Oh, this isn’t just my problem, this is our problem, and this might be Colgate’s problem or an institutional problem and not only about me not being able to fit into the stereotypical Colgate mold.’”

Following the Monday meeting, Herbst, Hicks and Nelson publicly expressed their support for student activists in a news bulletin on the college’s website.

“As recently as this weekend, a community member witnessed Colgate students yelling racial and homophobic slurs,” the post read. “We are also aware of appalling anonymous social media posts from members of our community that disparage persons of color, and students have reported having to endure offensive remarks.”

The administrators additionally pledged “to join with the entire community to create positive change on our campus,” and encouraged reporting of all instances of racial discrimination. Herbst, Hicks and Nelson are expected to present ACC with a plan of action this morning.

ACC’s “demands” were presented as “a list of concerns and action plans as a means to remedy the shared experiences of the ways that both our larger institution and our personal interactions prevent us from fulfilling our mission to becoming [an] inclusive institution.” The list of suggested reforms includes altering the image of the college presented during the admissions and recruitment processes, providing more services in recognition of the diverse socioeconomic backgrounds of students, actively recruiting a more diverse faculty, creating multicultural fraternities and sororities to address inequities in national networking, conducting a campus climate survey that explicitly looks at questions of race, and preparing students more candidly for study abroad experiences. Clarifying the college’s internal procedures for reporting acts of discrimination and providing oversight of budgeting allocations to ensure equitable distributions also appeared on the students’ list of concerns.

Additionally, the proposed action plans called for a reevaluation of Colgate’s required CORE curriculum. Suggestions include mandating sustained education in diversity training for all faculty, staff and administrators to insure that themes of difference are integrated across the curriculum, financially backing efforts to establish an Intergroup Relations Program as an academic discipline, and ensuring that CORE courses include non-Western perspectives and traditions.

The action plans were voted on by approximately 200 students invited to attend a meeting on September 17, five days prior to the sit-in. From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday evening, students occupying the admissions office held an open forum to discuss the demands and collect suggestions for clarification and improvement.

“I think that every moment we’ve been together as a coalition has been us learning and practicing democracy,” said Whyte in a Skype interview on Tuesday night. “And I don’t know if it’s democracy that will work everywhere, but so far, in the admissions building at Colgate University, it’s been working for us. And that is so refreshing – to know that something is working, and that there are people somewhere in this world who are working together and finding a form of democracy that matters and that encompasses everyone’s feelings and discontent.”

The campaign, inspired in part by the social media movement “I, Too, Am Harvard” from this past spring, is using the slogan #CanYouHearUsNow to spread awareness of their campus movement to other colleges and universities via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, in the hopes to offer foundational support for other students facing similar issues on their campuses and within society at large.

“‘I, Too, Am Harvard’ is something that other universities started doing, and that spoke so much to my life,” said Whyte. “I thought, ‘Wow, if this is a social media campaign, what can I do?’ And now that I’m part of a coalition at Colgate University, I realize how important it is to get the word out about what we’re doing, because I don’t know if there’s a first-year in high school right now who’ll see this on the news and think, ‘wow, if Colgate University does this, what can I do, or how can I be an agent for change?’”

And other colleges are watching. On Wednesday, students from nearby Syracuse University came to campus to sit in solidarity with Colgate activists In the ACC’s Facebook group, students from Hobart and William Smith College and the University of Massachussets-Amherst have also declared their support.

“Learning from the ‘I, Too, Am Harvard’ movement, I’ve learned there’s power in community and connectivity and a coalition of people who are outside of their own bubbles,” Whyte said. “The things we’re asking for are at our school, but the agency we’re practicing is everywhere.”

An earlier version of this article appeared online on September 24, 2014. This piece was updated and published in the print edition of The Phoenix on September 25.

 

Chopp Sponsors Student Protest of Keystone XL Pipeline

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“Crippling drought. Devastating wildfires. Superstorm Sandy. Climate has come home — and the American people get it.” These words are the slogan of the “Forward on Climate” rally scheduled for Feb. 17.The protest stands in opposition to the proposed Tar Sands Pipeline (also known as the Keystone XL Pipeline) that will carry toxic tar sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, cutting through multiple western states in between. Fears over the pipeline include oil spills, damage to plants, animals and people situated in its intended path, and the potential for pollution.

With over 100 organizations supporting the movement, the rally is expected to be the largest ever for climate change, attracting thousands of Americans, including Swarthmore students. Buses are scheduled to take supporters to Washington D.C. from over 25 states, including Pennsylvania. One of those buses will come from the college, taking interested students and faculty to the protest.

“We hope to offer transportation on the bus to whatever students, faculty and staff members are interested in joining us,” said Patrick Ammerman, the college’s current sustainability intern — a position for a single student each year who makes recommendations to the the College community concerning policies related to environmental sustainability on campus. “This is a very exciting opportunity, since we can essentially give an open invitation to all members of the Swarthmore community.”

The college will fund the bus through donations from President Rebecca Chopp and Vice President for Community and College Relations Maurice Eldridge, both of whom support the rally and the opportunity for as many members as possible from the college community to attend.

“Maurice Eldridge and I have offered support from the President’s Office to pay for a bus to take community members who are interested in participating.” said President Chopp. Eldridge meanwhile highlighted his belief in the importance of the rally.

“Clearly climate change is a major threat to humankind that must be confronted by all of us,” he said. “I am expressing my personal view [about the harmful effects of the pipeline], but the college and the college community together face the same issue and together we will seek ways to make a difference.”

Chopp also said that she hoped many students would attend the rally and make their voices heard about the urgency of climate change, particularly as President Obama begins his second term.

However, not all are in accordance for stopping production of the pipeline. In fact, according to TheHill.com, public polling during the 2012 calendar year suggested that the majority of Americans are actually in favor of it. Hill blogger Cindy Schlid, a senior manager of Downstream at the American Petroleum Institute, believes that the pipeline could in fact be beneficial, creating 20,000 jobs immediately, and potentially “117,000 new U.S. jobs by 2035.”

For Giovanna Di Chiro, the Lang Visiting Professor for Issues of Social Change, the job statistics are no all they are cracked up to be, and the effects of the pipeline on the environment unquestionably outweigh the economic incentives for it.

“Drilling tar sands oil in the first place already adds to greenhouse gas concentration, which is bad enough,” she said. Ecological, climatological, and biological studies show that the risks of climate issues and this pipeline are not exaggerated. Also, historically job creation in these cases is never what its promoted to be.”

At the congressional level, the pipeline has been a characteristically partisan issue, splitting Democrats and Republicans down what have become traditional and staunch partisan lines. However, two Democratic senators from Montana and North Dakota (states on the intended route of the pipeline) have strongly supported the project, further stressing public variance on the issue.

Ammerman, though, believes that the fervor surrounding the issue on campus is fairly archetypal of nation-wide tar sands views.

“The Forward on Climate Rally is attracting support from those who oppose the pipeline for so many different reasons: the indigenous people it will displace, the
damage it will do to local ecosystems, and the effect it will have on global climate change. I believe the sweeping support we’re seeing on campus for those opposed to the Tar Sands pipeline is a testament to how deplorable the proposed pipeline really is,” he said.

Advertising and logistics for the rally are being executed as a joint effort among members of several of the college’s student run ecosphere groups, with additional help from members of the Dean’s Office. However, considering the magnitude of the issues at stake, Di Chiro thinks that the event has not been publicized enough on the Swarthmore campus.

“I’m an environmental professor and I didn’t even know about the buses leaving from the college for the rally,” she said.

Whatever the differing opinions from state to state and across party lines, it’s evident that there is zeal among the college’s environmental groups and their members who are eager to participate in the protest.

“It is important for concerned students to join us on the 17th as we show our solidarity against Keystone XL in Washington,” said Ammerman.

“Climate is what makes the earth the earth,” said De Chiro. “We failed to stop climate change already, so how do we really join together and wake up? The rally is one way, not the only way, but it sure can be a good catalyst.”

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