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If Jesus went to Swarthmore

in Columns/Opinions/Words of Wagner by

After reading the exposé about the treatment of LGBT Swatties in Swarthmore Christian Fellowship, I was appalled but not shocked. I went to a few of their events in my first year but stopped going due to a combination of schedule conflicts and because I thought that they took the Bible too literally. I remained on their email list, so I knew that SCF had intentionally chosen to stay affiliated with Intervarsity after the organization had fired someone for being in an LGBT relationship. I assumed that SCF itself was not that conservative, but it turns out, I was wrong.

I am a Christian, and I am viscerally opposed to SCF’s stance. I might not be the world’s best Christian—I certainly don’t attend church often enough, and I certainly am a sinner (as all of us are)—but I know in my heart that SCF and Intervarsity’s actions towards LGBT students are not what Jesus would do. As I reflected on the piece, I wondered to myself: What if Jesus went to Swarthmore?

Jesus accepted those who were marginalized by society. He hung out with tax collectors, lepers, and a Samaritan woman. In the case of the Samaritan woman, Jesus spoke to her and shared His Word with her, even though Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans. Jesus also rebuked leaders who were too caught up in petty rules and expressed that what comes from the heart is more important, “Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father and mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’  he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition,’” (Matthew 15: 3-7). Jesus spent time with folks from marginalized backgrounds, not those who were caught up in the laws and rules. I see a parallel: Jesus would spend his time with Swatties of marginalized backgrounds, but wouldn’t be an SCF leader. The same Jesus that said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34). Therefore, he would not be a part of a group that makes LGBT students feel unwelcome.

There is a troublesome contradiction in SCF’s policy. There are many ways to interpret the passages in Leviticus that appear to condemn homosexuality, with key words having five to six different possible translations that change the meaning of the passages. The New King James Version, The New International Version, and the King James Version all translate the passages differently. SCF and Intervarsity are choosing to interpret the text in the most conservative way that excludes LGBT people. Reading the Bible in this way and not allowing room for interpretation or context is a political act and a statement on their beliefs.

The Bible also says that women should not speak in church, “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” (1 Cor. 14:33-36). SCF allows women to be leaders, so why draw the line at homosexuality?

The Bible also tells us that Jesus came to Earth and was crucified to fulfil the requirements of the Law for his believers, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified,” (Galatians 2:16). The denomination I practice, United Methodist, preaches grace by faith alone, meaning that it is the belief in God and Jesus, and not good works that gets a person to heaven. Christianity does not require strict adherence to the laws outlined in Leviticus, Christ came here to fulfil them for us. I’m not a theologist, but the Bible is clear that Jesus’s purpose, the reason he was born and the reason he died, was for our sins and so that the only law that was required was this: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these,” (Mark 12:30-31).

There is no love more powerful than the love that Jesus has for us. Jesus loves all of us, no matter who we are or what our sexual orientation is. SCF’s exclusion of queer students in leadership position seems to go against what the Bible says about judging others, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

I highly doubt that if Jesus went to Swarthmore He would support SCF’s exclusionary practices. I also have a feeling he would live in Mary Lyons, as he survived forty days and forty nights in the desert, so I don’t think he would mind the walk.

Into the Archives Column: The Beginning

in Campus Journal/Into the Archives by

If you’re researching Swat on the internet, the first sentence on the “about” page of its website reads:

“Since its founding in 1864, Swarthmore College has given students the knowledge, insight, skills, and experience to become leaders for the common good.”

As students on campus, descriptions like this of the college can seem largely rhetorical. Swarthmore has a long, long history of progressivism and social justice, but with our large workloads and busy schedules, it’s easy to feel detached from our place within the institution as a whole. I stumbled upon random facts about the college’s history last year — Albert Einstein spoke here; Nirvana played here; the FBI investigated students and faculty here — and thought it’d be interesting to look further into the narrative that the school’s history itself creates. I’m hoping to raise my own (and potentially our collective) consciousness, to help us appreciate our place in historical time and be better equipped to hold the college accountable to its promises of the past. With that in mind, I’m going into the archives: this week, to the beginning.

Swarthmore was officially authorized to become a college on April 1, 1864. In its authorization, the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives approved Swarthmore College “to establish and maintain a school and college for the purpose of importing to persons of both sexes knowledge in the various branches of science, literature, and the arts.”

However, the process of founding Swarthmore was begun even earlier, around 1860, by a group of Hicksite Quakers in the Philadelphia area, who placed great emphasis on community building and were ‘liberal’ even for Quakers. (They split from more Orthodox quakers as the other group moved away from women leading services and focused more on material possessions than “common people.”) The Hicksites met in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore to discuss the starting of a Hicksite college; one of their main goals was coeducation, highly uncommon for the time. (For comparison, Yale didn’t become co-ed until 1969.)

Apart from the general Hicksite Quaker goals, the main proponents of the school themselves were visionaries of the time. One such person was Benjamin Hallowell (sound familiar?), the man who wrote the first pamphlet advocating the creation of the college. He was a conscientious objector in the War of 1812, and eventually became the president of the University of Maryland — only on the condition that he serve without a salary and the school’s farm not use slave labor. There were initially conversations about what kind of school Swarthmore should be; some Quakers wanted a grammar school, another a school to train other Quakers, but Hallowell wanted more out of the proposed school. He wrote in a letter to future president Edward Parrish “The Institution must, from its commencement, possess faculties for pursuing a liberal and extensive course of study … equal to that of the best Institutions of learning of our Country” (Swarthmore Bulletin).

Along with Hallowell was Lucretia Coffin Mott, a Hicksite Minister — Hicksites encouraged women leading religious services — as well as a leading abolitionist and suffragist of the 19th century. Mott devoted her life not only to these causes, but also “to the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, school and prison reforms, temperance, peace, and religious tolerance” (Swarthmore College, A Brief History). Her home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and she even received a nomination for United States Vice President in 1848, long before the 19th amendment was even on the horizon.

Hallowell and Mott were a few noteworthy proponents, but the creation of the college included a vast variety of people who adhered to Quaker values: from wealthy businessmen, to abolitionists, to former professors at West Point.

The name “Swarthmore” was actually coined in 1863 by Hallowell’s wife Margaret, who wanted to name the school after a historical house in England called “Swarth moor” the home of another Margaret, Margaret Fell, who dedicated her life to the Quaker movement and was a strong proponent of the right of women to speak freely and be leaders, even in religious contexts. As early as the mid 1660s, Fell wrote in her book Women’s Speaking” that the ministry of women was “Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures” (Swarthmore: A Brief History).

From the land for which it was named, to the people who decided on its inception, to the very sect of Quakerism from which the College was conceived, Swat’s beginnings are permeated with progress. The founders had a vision of a school that transcended the societal expectations of the time; one can only wonder how that vision has evolved. How have we translated this original outlook into our present?

Students join with North Philadelphia’s green economy initiative Serenity Soular

in Around Campus/News/Regional News by

On Friday, March 31st, members of Serenity Soular, the initiative to address social and climate justice issues and to make solar power affordable in North Philadelphia, met in the Intercultural Center to update the Swarthmore community on their recent actions and new aims, including a project to outfit Morris Chapel Baptist Church in North Philadelphia with solar panels.

Serenity Soular, spelled as such to ensure that people, relationships, and their inherent worth are acknowledged in the work being done, is a project of Sustainable Serenity, a larger program in North Philadelphia that also maintains the Peoples’ Garden at Serenity House and its co-op. The initiative began in 2012 when Professor of environmental studies Giovanna Di Chiro founded the group with O, the caregiver and a leader in Serenity House, which is an old United Methodist Church that now offers “Spirituality and Holistic Healing Ministries such as women’s and men’s support groups, Bible studies, book and film discussions, exercise and stress management sessions, and the development of a Serenity Garden in partnership with students from Swarthmore College,” according to the group’s website.

Since the group’s inception, Swarthmore students, although neither the founders or the drivers, have been important members in the process of different programs through Serenity House. Di Chiro notes how students have become involved since the partnership was made through different academic programs on campus.

“Serenity Soular is a campus-community collaborative that developed out of my environmental studies course, Sustainable Community Action, which was first offered as a Directed Reading course in Spring of 2013 [and] is now offered in the environmental studies major as ENVS 004: “Urban Environmental Community Action” recognizing its focus on community-based sustainability in inner-city, urban contexts,” Di Chiro said. “In the course, students work in action-based research clusters to address issues of concern to local urban communities, including urban agriculture and food sovereignty, renewable energy and community solar, environmental justice organizing for public health, community arts, and social change.”

This semester, the group has added many new members including attendees of the launching party, as the Facebook event titled it. Students that hosted the event with Di Chiro and O were Allie Naganuma ’20, Tessa Hannigan ’20, Nathan Anderson ’19, and Katherine Zavez ’17, as well as alum Nora Kerrich ’16.

Naganuma recounted how Serenity Soular and the issues it engages with are in dialogue with the curricula here at Swat.

“As students, we constantly notice parallels between our involvement with Serenity Soular and our academic lives when we learn about climate change in biology courses, when we discuss racial inequality in peace and conflict classes, and when we read about the importance of hearing underrepresented or erased voices and histories in my environmental studies classes,” Naganuma said. “Swarthmore engineering professors, like Carr Everbach, and students have also contributed to this project by sharing information about solar panels with the North Philadelphia community. This project also revolves around the ideas of the green economy, the creation of green jobs and the combating of gentrification, all of which have ties to Swarthmore’s economics and political science departments.”

Di Chiro spoke on Serenity Soular’s developments this year, particularly how the program and its partners collaborated in the growth of the green economy and training of community members in it.

“In the fall of 2016, a group of Serenity Soular members (students, alums, and North Philly community members) were selected as a part of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance’s (PACA) program to support the development of worker-owned cooperatives in Philadelphia,” Di Chiro said. “This group is now working on developing a business model to launch a solar installation co-op in North Philadelphia that would be staffed by local youth trained in the green economy. Other members of our collaborative (including first-year students) are looking into working with North Philly residents to develop a local food co-op and a local bike sharing and bike repair business. Others are allying with local initiatives including the Earth Quaker Action Team’s campaign to demand that Philadelphia’s energy utility, PECO, source its electricity from local rooftop solar.”

The launching party focused on reintroducing the group and its efforts in North Philadelphia to the Swarthmore community members gathered in the IC. An essential part of that meeting was the announcement of a $30,000 campaign to equip Morris Chapel Baptist Church, across the street from Serenity House, with solar panels and to train two North Philadelphians in the growing green economy in the city.

Anderson highlighted how Serenity Soular has partnered with groups beyond Swarthmore students, including “people-funded renewable energy” nonprofit RE-volv and a renewable energy systems supplier Solar States.

“Serenity Soular’s connections to RE-volv and Solar States are important for the communities of North Philadelphia not only in that they provide the platforms and support for Serenity Soular to succeed, but in that these organizations are committed, and have been committed, to supporting the project in the long term,” Naganuma said. “Our collaboration with Solar States has lasted for two years now, and they have committed to the project for much longer into the future to help us realize our goals. We are also currently in our second year of working with RE-volv, with a third year anticipated, and so we see these stable collaborations as beneficial to working towards our success and our goals of promoting environmental justice in North Philadelphia.”

Di Chiro expanded this point by noting the green economy Sustainable Serenity hopes to bring to North Philadelphia.

“Collaborating with a national solar-financing organization such as RE-volv and with a successful solar installation business such as Solar States, encourages communities in North Philadelphia to see themselves as being part of the growing ‘solar energy revolution,’” she said. “The opportunity to gain skills, training, and living-wage jobs in the solar industry means that residents of North Philly can imagine what ‘sustainability’ can look like in their communities.”

By developing a green economy, Serenity Soular hopes to “launch a triple bottom line worker-owned solar installation company” and combat issues from food deserts and gentrification to climate change. This effort, although running along each level of society, is rooted in the local community and the growth of North Philadelphia. Anderson stated some proximate goals as those long-term ones come into view.

“Some of the current and upcoming projects in addition to helping support apprenticeships are the RE-volv solar installation projects at Morris Chapel and hopefully New Visions, as well as our continued collaboration with the People’s Garden, located a couple streets down from Serenity House,” she said. “The People’s Garden is a neighborhood garden that is managed and maintained by members of the North Philadelphia community, and the Serenity Soular team partly overlaps with the team managing the garden. By the end of this summer there is the goal of installing a more permanent structure with a solar feature that would be coordinated with help of Serenity Soular.”

Naganuma went on to describe the major milestone that Serenity Soular wants to reach: growing Philadelphia into a place of innovation for green energy and the protection and advancement of workers’ rights.

“If the installations and our other collaborations prove successful, then we anticipate that our goals won’t exactly change, but instead get broader and more grand in scope. Serenity Soular sees its ultimate goal as creating a worker-owned solar installation co-op that would train and hire members of the North Philadelphia community and also serve North Philadelphia by installing solar panels,” Naganuma said. “We see the installations and collaborations we are involved in currently and in the near future as important stepping stones to promoting environmental justice and making North Philadelphia into a ‘Solar Hub’ to eventually see our goal of a solar co-op become a reality.”

The establishment of these programs was through partnerships and community participation throughout the region. Di Chiro listed how Swarthmore students have participated in the program.

“[Students] have applied for and been selected as Solar Ambassadors from RE-volv and successfully crowdfunded one solar array on Serenity House and one current project on Morris Chapel Baptist Church to support local nonprofits to go solar. They have helped a block of 20 longtime, low-income, African American homeowners in North Philly to enter and win the city’s ‘coolest block’ contest, which provided homeowners with a host of home retrofits and energy saving benefits — weatherization, insulation, windows, white roofs, energy star appliances,” Di Chiro said. “They have applied for and received grants and awards to support local sustainability projects including a three-year Lang Center Pericles Grant, and a Penn State EnergyPath Award for building the People’s Garden and designing a solar-powered gazebo to provide lighting for community events and gatherings in the new garden. Students are now working with community members to envision a local food and community arts co-op to support ‘place-making’ activities in North Philadelphia neighborhoods to challenge ongoing displacement and gentrification in the city. There are many ways that students can contribute to these important efforts to advance social, racial, and environmental justice in North Philadelphia.”

Naganuma emphasized that Swatties were not the center of the project and that members of communities in North Philadelphia that are the drivers of Serenity Soular.

“As a recent Swarthmore alum and current Soular Serenity member has said, ‘Serenity Soular has been a partnership of really diverse individuals coming together at a table. There have been students, faculty, and staff from Swarthmore, and now from University of Pennsylvania, sitting alongside residents from North Philadelphia, seeing each other as equally valuable, and co-creating an alternative vision of the future,’” Naganuma cited. “We think this speaks to student involvement in its purest sense: we have acted as collaborators and community members first and foremost.”

Serenity Soular works to create a greener North Philadelphia while fighting systemic and interpersonal problems in the region, and their newest projects aim to build a green economy with the workers with whom they partner. Swarthmore community members have been a part of this initiative since its inception, and the group is collaborating with the people of North Philadelphia and partners across the operation to work against systems of oppression and to work towards the generation of new opportunities in the green economy. If you are interested in getting involved, contact kzavez1@swarthmore.edu, and to contribution to the Morris Chapel project, the crowdfunding campaign can be found through RE-volv at https://re-volv.org/project/morrischapel/.

Revisiting the Social Justice Requirement Debate

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

As a former debater, I am keenly aware of how manipulation of language can shape our perception of arguments. It was Aristotle who identified the three modes of persuasion that are still taught and used in academic debate: ethos, pathos, and logos, or appeal to authority, appeal to emotion, and appeal to logic. The first two, used well, can bolster the credibility of strong arguments. Without logos, however, ethos and pathos alone can sometimes be intellectually dishonest and can even backfire. To demonstrate this point, here I revisit last year’s campus debate on the controversial proposal of a social justice requirement.

Here is my view on the SJR: even though familiarity with social justice issues is really important, the SJR does not necessarily promote its stated goals, and, compared to other options, it restricts our freedom of choice with respect to academic decisions. The SJR is a paternalistic requirement because it forces students, for their own benefit, to take courses that they would not take otherwise. I do not deny that learning about important social issues is a compelling interest both for the school and for students. However, as Gilbert Guerra argues in “Why A Social Justice Requirement Isn’t Right for Swarthmore,” social justice is a “politically charged topic,” and graded social justice courses forced on unwilling students could be “tantamount to indoctrination.” Furthermore, initiatives that attempt to encourage students to take social justice-related courses, such as volunteer programs like Chester Youth Courts and Dare 2 Soar, or participate in protests and political campaigns, may have better outcomes since participation would be voluntary. Even posting on Facebook about your favorite professors is better than requiring anyone to take classes with these same professors.

Many counterarguments can be made. For example, one could question whether students have or should have any freedom of choice with academic decisions. Moreover, one could challenge Guerra’s comparison of the SJR with indoctrination or argue that the SJR is a worthwhile last resort to reach “recalcitrant” students who cannot otherwise be motivated to care about social justice. All of these arguments are worth considering. However, my point is this: even those who care about progressive causes can still make reasonable and valid points against “orthodox” views, and their arguments deserve to be considered in a constructive and analytical fashion.

Consider one op-ed, “The Price of Privilege: Swarthmore and the Social Justice Requirement,” published in the Daily Gazette last year. The author, first affirming the importance to “acknowledge one’s privilege,” goes on to assert that opponents of the SJR are only trying to “make life easier and convenient for people;” they are not defending the students’ freedom of choice over their own academic decisions. The author then states to be “insulted by the argument that we should not inconvenience people …I am insulted by the argument that professors will determine grades based on someone’s opinions or only scheme to indoctrinate people … I am insulted by the argument ‘people who are ignorant of X will be resentful and will dislike being informed [of x].’ ”

Insulted how? Either he feels personally offended by these arguments, or he is intellectually insulted by the arguments’ sheer stupidity. However, as I have demonstrated above, arguments against SJR are not necessarily grounded in offensive or prejudicial assumptions. Nor can these arguments against the SJR be so easily dismissed. Sure, if anyone actually claims the SJR is bad solely because it is “inconvenient” or “rude,” then the author may have reason to feel insulted. However, in three sweeping statements that the author is offended by the ideas that the arguments should not inconvenience people, professors will determine grades based on someone’s opinions, and ignorant people will be resentful,  and plenty of platitudes, the author creates a straw man argument to dismiss the core arguments by opponents of SJR. This is done without offering any cogent counterarguments.

The article also employs jargon that can be inaccessible and confusing for many. For example, one paragraph acknowledging that there are “real concerns and critiques of a social justice requirement,” employs terms that are inaccessible and confusing for many, including “cultural appropriation,” “privilege policing,” and monolithic indoctrination.” These terms would have been utterly incomprehensible for me to read when I first came to Swarthmore.

Jargon, when used indiscriminately, can seem intimidating and insincere for many. Especially outside of academic discourse, it is often used as a shortcut that sacrifices clarity, or even meaning, for mere expediency, and, sometimes, an unearned sense of authority. As Fredrik deBoer of Brooklyn College argues, few people who use the phrase “cultural appropriation” know what it means. Consider the following rewrite of a paragraph that conveys more or less the same message:

“Swatties often respect cultural differences and refrain from making stereotypical judgments. We respect history, and we celebrate diversity. But we need more. A social justice requirement does not dictate what to believe or what to do; it gives us the tools to challenge inequality and deprivations of individual freedom in our society.”

Those unfamiliar with jargon would also feel respected and welcomed to join the discussion. I mention this article because it is symptomatic of a somewhat elitist culture that routinely alienates or intimidates dissenters, skeptics, or those with low level of information or knowledge about certain subjects. If I had read this article a year ago, I would not have had the courage to voice my opposition or ask for clarification since, as an international student who did not know how to use these “buzzwords,” I often felt my opinion would somehow be judged inferior (I still do sometimes). Alternatively, I could even have been tricked into agreeing with the author despite the article’s lack of strong arguments, a phenomenon jokingly known as “proof by intimidation” in mathematics.

What is published in the Phoenix or the Daily Gazette, or even a Facebook post, is read by many, both on campus and off campus, who have not made up their mind about a certain issue or who hold a different view. If the tone is derisive, or the argument is hidden behind too much high-sounding jargon and too many empty words, someone who is not used to terms such as “heteronormativity” or “intersectionality” may be discouraged from voicing their own opinion and having it fairly assessed by peers. Alternatively, miscommunication and distortion could cause people to “talk past each other.” Finally and most importantly, weak arguments may be left unchallenged simply because they “sound about right.” These consequences can be especially detrimental in a college setting where free and informed debate is supposed to be celebrated and promoted. We all need to be mindful of our use of language if we believe that honest and equal discussion among peers is important.

Voting registration causes difficulties, calls to action

in News by

Many Swarthmore students have reported problems with registering to vote in Delaware County before and after this year’s election on Nov. 8th. Some reported a lack of notice from the County Board of Elections that they had not properly registered. Student organizations Swatties for Hillary, College Democrats, and NextGen Climate organized efforts to register voters and to get out the vote, and the college’s Registrar’s Office provided important information regarding how to fill out registration forms accurately and to reach one’s polling location due to the complicated system of voting district lines running through the college.

Because of the distance between the main campus; the residence halls Mary Lyons, Palmer, Pittenger, and Roberts, and the Strath Haven condominiums, students could find themselves in the northern voting precinct if they lived on main campus or the western voting precinct if they lived elsewhere. For other students, though less common, their polling location was in the eastern precinct if they lived east of Route 320, according to the Registrar’s website.

Registrar Martin Warner, who has worked to make voting registration accessible to students under the 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.The act calls for institutions of higher education “to make a good faith effort to make voter registration forms … widely available to students in attendance.” Warner described the structure of the Borough’s precinct lines and the problems associated with them.

“I don’t know why the precinct structure of the Borough of Swarthmore is the way it is, but this has been true for all 20 years I have been at Swarthmore,” Warner said. “This structure has always presented challenges for Swarthmore students, and I wish students would seek to change it. As much as I and others have voiced dissatisfaction with how the precinct lines adversely affect Swarthmore student voter registration, I have never heard any plans to change the system.”

Warner described difficulties of voting at the college and pushed for students to reach out for change in concert with administrators.

In recent elections, Warner has aimed to provide as much information to students as possible.

“My voter information website grew out of that [reauthorization], and a desire to make plain the various matters that Swarthmore students routinely need to understand to register to vote,” said Warner. “I have focused my efforts to make it possible for students to register and to vote in spite of these inconveniences [of polling locations].”

Warner described his efforts to make registration information available to students.

Student efforts to register members of the campus community continued the fall semester. Student groups, some established like College Democrats, and others new like NextGen Climate, organized to register voters through actions like tabling at Sharples in the months preceding the registration deadline, and to mobilize voters through providing transportation to and from polling locations to increase turnout among students. President of Swatties for Hillary and a former Communications Fellow for the Clinton campaign in Columbus, Ohio, Emily Uhlmann ’19 noted the success of her organization and others on campus in engaging students and having them complete necessary forms to vote in Pennsylvania.

“I thought the system that Swatties for Hillary and the Swarthmore Democrats implemented to register voters was excellent. NextGen also worked on voter registration, which was great because it helped us register as many people as possible,” Uhlmann said. “We had tremendous success in getting students to fill out Voter Registration forms.”

Uhlmann did report problems with student voter registration following the submission of forms to the Delaware County Board of Elections.

“Unfortunately, many students were denied registration after their forms were submitted, which was frustrating for the students involved and for us, but Swatties for Hillary and Swarthmore Democrats did everything we could to make it possible for students to vote in Pennsylvania,” said Uhlmann.

Uhlmann related issues of voting status confirmation and the following moves by campus organizations to mitigate those problems.

The source of these registration issues has been debated among students following the reception of letters from the Board of Elections asking for students to re-register on days following the final registration deadline. Many recipients of those letters were students that lived in the western precinct and had mislabeled their address of residence, referring to their residence hall instead of the college’s address. Other recipients had a hyphenated last name. Aru Shiney-Ajay ’20, a fellow with NextGen Climate for Swarthmore, who ran Get out the vote operations and helped with voter registration on campus, experienced each side of the registration issue as both an organizer and a student that suffered difficulties in confirming her voter registration status.

Initially, Shiney-Ajay explained how she rushed to reach out to students before fall break when she recognized students would leave campus not having registered.

“When it was the day before the deadline, I was panicking! It was only after the voter registration deadline that I realized how this was a structural problem, rather than individual,” Shiney-Ajay said.

Then, she revealed the severity of the problem stating, “Around five days before the deadline, I realized almost 60 people that NextGen had registered had written down their address wrong without the dorm, and I was frantically trying to call them all and re-registering people as they were going on break … I was really upset about it, and we tried to contact the local office to fix registrations.”

Shiney-Ajay pointed out the problems that NextGen faced in the days leading up to registration deadline.

Furthermore, Shiney-Ajay had difficulties discovering her own voter registration status, which many people with hyphenated last names experienced.

“I had to look myself up under three different names,” Shiney-Ajay said. “I know others who had to do the same thing, who had their address wrong. Many of them took provisional ballots, but most didn’t know about a provisional ballot as a possibility.”

Shiney-Ajay experienced obstacles learning her own voting status, and wished others knew of provisional ballots; provisional ballots offer a way to record one’s vote if one’s voting status is in question, and they are an option at polling locations.
The student organizations registering voters were not separated from these confirmation issues, and they actively sought to fix them through student-outreach efforts. Uhlmann responded to issues of registration confirmation.

“I was concerned that students had difficulty confirming their registration and wanted to be sure we helped them in any way possible, whether that was by providing them with the Secretary of State’s office’s phone number or helping them fill out a new form. I cannot speak to what caused any of the issues though, as there were not any difficulties or problems on our end,” Uhlmann said.

Uhlmann went further to delineate her frustrations over the impediments students had to face and the options Swatties for Hillary and others listed to students that could not become registered in Delaware County.

“It was frustrating that students were told that their registration had not been accepted after the deadline had passed. We encouraged people who were not registered in Pennsylvania to call the Secretary of State’s office to get further information and see if it was possible to fix the errors on their forms and otherwise to vote in their home states, so that their voices still would be heard,” she said.

One development in this election cycle was the employment of an online resource to check one’s voter registration status in Delaware County. Warner explained differences in the process of checking one’s status from previous years.

“This year was about the same as before, but somewhat improved because the online registration was, overall, more effective,” Warner said. “On the other hand, the familiar precinct problem, forcing students to record different mailing address and address of residence, was no better in the new online system.”

Warner emphasized that the Delaware County Voter Registration Office in Media works hard to ensure students have the opportunity to vote.

After Election Day, results for Delaware County showed 59.1 percent of voters cast ballots for Clinton and 37.2 percent for Trump in the U.S. presidential election. Uhlmann discussed the success of the candidate she supported and tied the efforts on Swarthmore’s campus to the victory.

“Delaware County voted overwhelmingly for Secretary Clinton, with a 22 percent margin of victory, just as it did four years earlier for President Obama,” she said. “We were excited that we were able to help maintain such a large margin of victory in our county, which validated the efforts of so many students at Swarthmore who turned out to vote and spent so many hours volunteering for the campaign.”

Uhlmann said efforts by campus groups helped cement Democratic victories in Delaware County, demonstrating how important campus action is to electoral politics in the Borough and the county as a whole.

While Democrats won the county and have made consistent gains in presidential elections since 1992, the Democratic Party supports simplified registration processes. As such, many have proposed ways to simplify the process of voting for Swarthmore students. Shiney-Ajay pushed for reforms to the on-campus registration effort to be more organized and data-driven to maximize registration and turnout.

“[Registering was] very haphazard for NextGen, though Swatties for Hillary was slightly more organized,” she said. “Tabling was one of the few ways to register people, which makes it easy to be dismissed. It would have been easier to track who is and isn’t registered and approaching them individually, but that would take a different approach to data analysis.”

Shiney-Ajay targeted tabling as an impersonal but direct way of engaging potential voters. She suggested a shift to a more personalized mode of approaching students for registration. She continued with an analysis of NextGen’s efforts specifically, picking out the messaging as a mixed success.

“I think NextGen’s impersonal, millennial-targeted drive may have worked in some places, but Swarthmore required more face-to-face interaction, not through tabling but through conversations, to convey the urgency we were and are facing,” she said. “I think I would also not work for an organization that doesn’t give me the freedom to modify their plans again because I realize that these plans are based on national averages about what is effective, but often, that doesn’t apply in a small community.”

Warner promoted student action to change the lines of the precincts, so all college dorms and Strath Haven can vote in one location.

“I wish Swarthmore student voters would try to change the precinct structure, so that students would need only one address to successfully complete the voter registration form,” Warner said.

Uhlmann closed by imploring students to not only engage as voters, but to work beyond election years to promote an inclusive and supportive society.  

“The closeness of the 2016 election demonstrates that every vote matters and that we need to participate in elections so that we have a say in the future of our country, as well as our state and local communities,” Uhlmann said. “While we lost the election, Swarthmore students must continue to advocate for an inclusive, tolerant society and support efforts to address climate change, income inequality, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, religious freedom, and so many issues that we care about.”

Uhlmann urged the campus to work continuously to act on justice issues even more vigorously with the incoming Trump administration and Congress.

Voter registration at Swarthmore is complicated by issues of our campus being split by voting precinct lines and other clerical issues despite minor accessibility improvements this past cycle, but efforts to increase student participation in local politics, with an eye towards to bureaucratic workings and justice issues,  beyond of election years are supported by student leaders and administration officials.

Bryn Mawr, Haverford have already tried social justice requirement

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As the debate about introducing a social justice requirement at the college continues, a comparison of the course offerings within the Tri-College consortium reveals that Byrn Mawr and Haverford offer more social justice related courses and programs than Swarthmore does. In addition, the current debate at Swarthmore echoes discussions from the late 2000s at Byrn Mawr and Haverford as Haverford ended its social justice requirement and Byrn Mawr introduced one.

Each college in the tri-co emphasizes social justice in their admissions materials and curriculums, reflecting the schools’ common Quaker heritage of social concern. Byrn Mawr women go on to become “positive, powerful agents of change in communities all over the world,” according to their college website. Our website says that Swarthmore gives students “the knowledge, insight, skills, and experience to become leaders for the common good. ”From 1990 to 2008 Haverford had a social justice graduation requirement. All the schools in the tri-co offer a Peace And Conflict Studies program. Despite these similarities, many more social justice courses and programs are offered at Byrn Mawr and Haverford than at Swarthmore.

Differences in course offerings within certain departments show the disparity in social justice course offerings. While Swarthmore’s Philosophy department only offers about one ethics class a year, Byrn Mawr’s offers several a semester, including a general ethics class, which Swarthmore does not offer, and classes like Science and Morality in Modernity, Global Ethical Issues, and Environmental Ethics. Bryn Mawr offered 20 Gender and Sexuality courses this semester, while Swarthmore offered 14, excluding seminars only open to a small number of students. This difference is despite the fact that the three schools have about an equal number of students pursuing a minor or concentration in that field. Byrn Marw and Haverford offered 20 Black Studies classes, while Swarthmore offered 17.

Beyond course offerings Byrn Mawr has several social justice related programs that Swarthmore does not. Byrn Mawr offers an International Studies program with a “global social justice” track. The track has a stated purpose of allowing “students to explore issues of social and political change in the context of economic and political transition in the globalized world. In addition, Byrn Mawr requires students to take a class that fulfills a “cross cultural analysis” requirement, which is meant to “encourage the student’s engagement with communities and cultures removed from her own.”

Though opportunities to take courses related to social justice appear to be greater at Bryn Mawr and Haverford than at Swarthmore, some bi-co students still feel discontent with these course offerings.

Isabella Nugent, BMC ’18, says she feels Byrn Marw’s degree requirements actually do not emphasize social justice enough.

“I really wouldn’t consider the Cross-Cultural Requirement a social justice requirement at all. It seems like a stretch as many classes (such as anthropology and archaeology) compare cultures but do not focus on social justice issues.”

Nugen also feels there should be more classes related to social justice.

“As an international studies major with a global social justice track, I believe that courses focused specifically on social movements are relatively limited at Bryn Mawr. I have taken the majority of my social justice courses for my concentration through Haverford’s Peace, Justice, and Human Rights department.”

Although students and faculty have recently organized to talk about instituting a social justice requirement because of dissatisfaction with the course offerings, some students at Swarthmore feel that such a requirement would be unworkable and unnecessary.

“There are a lot of courses in humanities and social sciences that deal with social justice and I would be fine with the college organizing an interdisciplinary social justice program to bring them all together, but to force students to take these classes against their will just seems un-swarthmore,” said Evan Shoaf ’18.

Shoaf felt such a requirement would change little about the student body.

“I’m against it because I think the effect will be minimal at best. Swarthmore forces you to be in contact with social justice constantly (orientation, all campus events, etc) – we don’t need to force people to take certain classes to hammer in details.”

Other members of the campus community felt that introducing a social justice requirement could be easily implemented and that it would be very beneficial to the college.

“Last February, some of the students organizing for the Social Justice requirement invited me to a meeting with students, faculty, and staff. It was heartwarming to see the Intercultural Center full with students from all walks of life, the overwhelming majority of whom expressed their commitment to such an addition to our curriculum. As an alum and faculty member, I agree with them that this would be a wise move for the College,” said Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan ’06.

Atshan cited similar changes nationally, specifically Georgetown University’s recent decision to add a social justice requirement, as further reason he believed Swarthmore should also introduce such a requirement. He felt a social justice requirement would enhance Swarthmore’s existing curriculum.

“We have the capacity here at Swarthmore to build upon existing resources so that students could fulfill the Social Justice requirement as a distributional one, where they select from already developed courses. I think that it is essential for Swatties to take one course before graduation that exposes them to social justices issues (taking power and inequality into account) from a rigorous analytical and academic vantage point,” said Atshan ’06.

Student and faculty opinion about introducing a social justice requirement reflect debate that occurred in the bi-co in the late 2000s. In 2008, Haverford eliminated its social justice requirement. During the same period, Byrn Mawr was considering introducing one, but instead in 2010 introduced its cross-cultural analysis requirement.

Some at Haverford felt the requirement insufficiently addressed the issue of social justice while at the same time imposing an onerous requirement on students.

Former professor of Political Science at Haverford Cristina Beltran, quoted in a story run by the Bi-College news in 2008, said “It never made any intellectual sense. It felt like a one-size-fits-all solution to a richer question. The people who were most unhappy with the requirement were the ones who taught the requirement.”

The Bi-Co news article continued to note that some at Haverford felt that the social justice requirement was vital to maintaining the school’s identity as an institution.

Dean of Multicultural Affairs Sunni Tolbert  was quoted as saying “Social justice is one of those things that reflects the values of the institution.” “The one way for us to send a message [about Haverford’s commitment to social justice] is to say, ‘There is an academic foundation to the learning about multiculturalism and diversity.’

Haverford student Isabel Clarke about a social justice requirement in a 2007 article for the Bi-Co news concluded that many students felt the requirement had lost its meaning.

“Concerns that the Social Justice Requirement is losing its focus and purpose are expressed by many students on campus who say they don’t mind having to fulfill the requirement, but also do not appreciate the class for the “social justice” aspect, rather as just another class needed to graduate,” she said.

As the college continues to debate whether to introduce a social justice requirement it seems important to consider if Swarthmore offers enough relevant courses and programs to support and sustain such a requirement.

 

Students, faculty meet to discuss social justice requirement

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On Monday night, advocates for the requirement, representatives from student groups, and interested parties met in the Intercultural Center to continue discussions concerning the potential new academic requirement in social justice and diversity.

Killian McGinnis ’19, one of the organizers, asserted that this proposal is still in its early stages of development, and the purpose of the meeting was to allow students to voice concerns and exchange ideas regarding the requirement, as well as to interface with representatives from the college’s Council on Educational Policy. The Council on Educational Policy is a committee headed by the provost, and composed of faculty, students, and the president, and, according to the college’s website, it is “concerned with long-range, broad matters of curriculum, curricular change, and introduction of new programs.” A new academic requirement would likely be formulated and set forth by the CEP, making the committee an important point of contact for students hoping to see such a requirement implemented.

Professor Sarah Willie-LeBreton, who serves as a member of the CEP, spearheaded the conversation on Monday, saying that the consideration of a new academic requirement is part of an ongoing effort by the CEP to reassess learning goals and requirements in general. “This is a really important time for the college. We are at a point where there’s a push to address these issues on an institutional level … There’s a feeling that, before graduating, everyone at Swarthmore should have had at least one class where they grapple with social justice issues.”

Professor Willie-LeBreton also stressed that the form that this requirement takes is central to its success or failure as an educational policy, saying “In our research into similar programs, we see that there’s often [a focus on] social justice without also looking at diversity, and then there’s looking at diversity worldwide without a focus on social justice. What we’re looking for is a simultaneous approach.”

Andrés Cordero ’17, another student organizer, similarly underscored that the requirement could potentially take a number of shapes. “I have considered, and continue to consider, different models that could hopefully achieve this, each with its distinct costs and benefits.”

Those present at the meeting offered a range of visions for how the requirement might be actualized. Proposed formats for the requirement included an extended first-year orientation program wherein incoming students would be able to engage with issues of social justice and diversity upon entering the college, mandatory monthly or semesterly workshops, and the introduction of required courses that specifically address these issues. Additional suggestions included labeling pre-existing courses that have a social justice focus, similar to the system in place for the writing course distribution requirement, or simply incentivizing those courses in some way. One student recommended adding a community-based learning component to the requirement as a way to ground and deepen an education in social justice outside of the classroom.

Professor Willie-LeBreton indicated that, as a way of making the additional requirement more palatable to the student body, the CEP might consider lessening other distribution requirements by requiring only two courses in each of the three academic divisions rather than three, for example.

However, she also admitted that this policy change may make the additional requirement even more unpopular amongst the faculty, a problem that she and the CEP are already working to address. “At the moment, I’d say about 50 percent of the faculty are on board. We want that number to be more like 70 to 75 percent.”

Faculty are not the only members of the Swarthmore community uneasy about a potential new requirement. Ben Termaat ’18 expressed concern that an institutionalized space for such discussions might discourage students with more conservative political orientations from voicing their viewpoints. “In theory, I have heard students and faculty express that they hope these courses would remain neutral spaces where students can openly engage in a purely academic dialogue, without imposing an openly liberal progressive view of the issue.”

Termaat continued, “I worry that students would feel pressured to think a certain way in fear of their grades in the course, would be attacked by their peers from a moral rather than academic point of view, and that these courses would become places in which a potentially dogmatic point of view is continually reinforced.”

Termaat suggested making such a course C/NC in order to lessen the pressure on students who might feel uncomfortable in the classroom because of their political opinions.

Professor Willie-LeBreton addressed this worry by calling on student advocates to engage their peers in a discourse surrounding the proposed requirement, “We want to decouple the idea of belonging to a particular political party from engaging deeply with social justice and social inequality. The more that there can be a conversation among students that this is not just about judgement but about widening the circle … and introducing students of every background and political stripe to the variety of problems that the world faces so that we can actually practice working collaboratively to engage with social problems.”

McGinnis echoed this sentiment, contending that a meaningful consideration of social justice issues is integral to a holistic higher educational experience. “The theoretical basis for this requirement is that all Swarthmore students should be educated about structural inequality and injustice before they graduate. With that as a baseline, we can now move forward with discussions about the practical details, including the structure, of such a requirement.”

Regardless of the logistics of the new requirement, many of those present at the meeting felt that it was a productive next step in the process of devising a formal proposal.

“I think there has been misinformation from multiple sources about the decided purpose and potential structure of a social justice academic requirement, and I think the meeting served as a way to dispel some of these misconceptions,” McGinnis said.

Termaat, who entered the meeting with reservations about the new requirement, says he left the meeting considerably more convinced by the idea.

While mindful of the lengthy amount of time it may take before a new requirement is in place, Professor Willie-LeBreton also reiterated that collaborative meetings, such as the one on Monday, are crucial in developing strategies for advancing the proposal. “Moving forward, it’s important that we all stay connected and keep talking to one another if we want to make this happen.”

Cordero agreed, saying “There is no point in adding a new academic component, even if the majority of the school desires to do so, if it will come at the cost of polarizing the community. For this requirement to be beneficial it first needs to be transformed through a general community input.”

Professor Ben Berger begins term as Lang Center director

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Photo by Simona Dwass
Photo by Simona Dwass ’19

Associate Professor of Political Science Ben Berger was named executive director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility on Thursday, March 31. Berger will hold this position for five years, starting this summer, and says that he is looking forward to expanding upon the Lang Center’s commitment to connecting Swarthmore’s curriculum with the broader community.

Berger’s appointment comes after a year of his serving as interim director, and after Professor Joy Charlton of the sociology and anthropology department finished her eight year term last year as Executive Director of the Lang Center. Charlton, appointed in 2007, played a significant role in expanding the scope of the center. Charlton is now taking a sabbatical for the first time in 18 years, after which she will be returning to work in the department of sociology and anthropology.

“I’m really grateful to Joy,” said Berger. “I have worked with Lang every year since I first got here in 2002, and Joy [has been] a big part of my experience and put us on a path to being where we are today.”

The selection process for a new executive director lasted approximately three months, with calls for nominations going out in mid-December. This process was extensive, and involved a large part of the college community. A formal committee, headed by Professor and Provost Tom Stephenson, led the process, which encompassed interviews with faculty, students, Lang staff members, and other stakeholders.

“We were looking for someone with a broad knowledge of the academic program, and a commitment to integrating civic and social responsibility into teaching and research,” said Stephenson. “We felt that Ben Berger really personified those traits through his courses and his scholarly and professional work.”

Berger has been the interim director at the Lang Center since July 1, 2015. As the executive director, he will continue many of the same duties he performed while serving as interim director. The position of interim director ensured that Berger would be a good match for the center and its constituents.

“We were also looking for someone who can work with students and faculty with wide ranges of intellectual and personal interests, and found that Berger’s track record as interim executive director perfectly matched that criterion as well,” said Stephenson.

Professor and Chair of the Music and Dance Department Thomas Whitman, a member of the selection committee, also referenced Berger’s performance while interim director as a key factor in his appointment as executive director.

“I think that one thing he has been very active in doing during his time as interim director is reaching out to faculty who don’t really know about the Lang Center and trying to get it on the radar for faculty who don’t otherwise know about it,” said Whitman. “I think it’s very useful, especially for junior faculty to feel supported and feel the institution is behind them if they are interested in doing community-based work.”

Whitman was particularly struck by Berger’s ambition as a candidate. The committee was looking for a leader who could promote the Lang Center’s mission. According to Whitman, Berger is prepared to carry this out.

“He is a fountain of ideas and he is off the charts with so much energy and vision and passion for what he wants to do,” said Whitman. “It is a whirlwind to be in the room with him, he is a very impressive man and very impressive leader.”

The highly structured application process is part of a larger move by the Lang Center to be more centralized and intentional in achieving the goals set out by Eugene Lang, according to Berger.

“It was really thorough and it was best for Lang to have as many people as possible involved in the selection process because each candidate has a certain set of [visions for what] they think we might become, and the committee got to hear more than one vision,” said Berger.

Setting a five-year time frame on Berger’s term is another way the center is working to expand upon its initiatives in a structured way.

“The term needs to be long enough for the executive director to be able to make a substantial difference through the implementation of new programs and initiatives, and in general master the ‘learning curve’ of a new job,” said Stephenson. “On the other hand, it should not be open-ended. Five years seems like a good compromise.”

According to Stephenson, Berger’s performance will be reviewed at the end of four years with the option of reappointment.

As the Lang Center has grown on campus over the past years, Berger shared his enthusiasm for promoting participation throughout the campus and community, especially in connecting the academic curriculum with community outreach.

“Eugene Lang’s vision has always been for a center to connect the curriculum and the community,” said Berger. “From my perspective, that includes external communities in Chester, Philadelphia, and even overseas but it also includes the campus community and the community of scholars, who develop, exchange, and deploy knowledge that can promote societal betterment.”

Berger expressed his desire to increase the accessibility of the Lang center to all students on campus. He stressed the importance of offering resources and experiences to all people on campus to integrate the meaning of responsible citizenship. One main function of the Lang Center is giving back to the community and cultivating a community that will “put knowledge into action.”

 “Civic education isn’t just the problem of one discipline, but the liberal arts are fraught with questions of identity, power, equality, and improving the world through the acquisition of knowledge,” said Berger.

“Eugene Lang’s vision has always been for a center to connect the curriculum and the community. We can help students to find courses, campus groups, extracurricular opportunities, and summer experiences that connect their academic interests with their desire to improve the world, no matter what their major or minor,” said Berger. “And in doing those things, we can partner with community organizations to co-produce knowledge and achieve common goals.”

Although the center has been actively promoting the civic and social justice since its founding, Berger looks forward to expanding Eugene Lang’s vision in the coming years.

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