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In support of academic freedom

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

One of our community members, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan, has recently come to local and national attention. In brief, Atshan had months ago been invited to give a talk at Friends’ Central School — an elite Quaker college-preparatory school in Greater Philadelphia — at the request of teachers and students who expressed interest in learning about peaceful activism in the Middle East. However, Atshan never received the chance to share his wisdom. Just two days before the scheduled event date of Feb. 10, he was informed that his invitation had been rescinded. We at the Phoenix stand with our professor and support Atshan in sharing his work and extensive knowledge on the Middle East. We condemn the decision of the Friend’s Central School in thwarting a possibility for the valuable discourse sought by their students and faculty members, and in joining a sweepingly large conglomerate of American institutions that silences peace-activist speech.

Some parents complained to the FSC administration about Atshan, who is a queer Palestinian Quaker, simplistically referring to him as “anti-Israel.” Those of us who have taken courses with Professor Atshan know that he explicitly problematizes and rejects such labels. He reminds us that it is important to affirm the fundamental dignity of Palestinians and Israelis. Atshan’s scholarship and activism emphasize the need for equality, coexistence, and peace for all the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine.

A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article also referenced the Pro-Israeli websites who refer to Atshan as a “leader in the Boycott, Divest, Sanction” (BDS) movement against the state of Israel. While he does support nonviolent activism to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, Atshan is not actually a leader in the peaceful BDS movement. Professor Atshan did not even plan to talk about BDS at CFS. He had prepared a hopeful and autobiographical reflection aimed at a teenage audience on the power of pacifism, justice, and love.  Guided by a desire to pacify emotions and ensure sustained donations, the Head of the School, Craig A. Sellers, ultimately called off the talk.

We at the Phoenix, in recognition of the democratic value of free speech, ethical conduct, and proactive dialogue, support Atshan at a time when he is on the receiving end of misinformation and silencing. However, we also want to shine light on the paradox of repression that is occurring in the form of mass support. We stand firmly in solidarity with the 65 students of Friends’ Central School who walked out of a school-wide meeting last Wednesday to protest the talk cancellation. Other students bravely stood and read a statement, and 40 students organized a facilitated conversation to discuss their concerns as a community. FCS has also received countless emails and phone calls from FCS alumni, groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Quakers from around the world, and many others, to express their opposition to the cancellation of Atshan’s talk.

Two school teachers involved in initially inviting Atshan to campus — English Teacher Ariel Eure and History Teacher Layla Helwa  — were suspended and put on administrative leave when they supported the students in protest. We find it important to note that both teachers are queer women of color, and have so easily been dismissed and silenced for their peaceful actions. They are banned from school premises, their email accounts have been disabled, and the locks on their doors have been changed. A member of our editorial board witnessed firsthand that students have covered their classroom doors from top to bottom with fluorescent sticky notes with words of encouragement, love, and support.

With the same integrity that we encourage open dialogue, we also acknowledge and respect the decision of both Atshan and these teachers for refusing comment at this moment. Mainstream  media in the United States indeed has the capacity to twist the intentions of words, and for those who embody historically marginalized identities,  fear of speaking on issues that are politically contentious or whose conversations are steered by powerful lobbying and political groups is grounded in the very real possibility of unlawful retribution and violence.

As members of a Quaker institution, we are particularly disappointed in Friends’ Central School for choosing potential monetary support over the Quaker value of tolerance and collaborative decision-making. In a recent email to the CFS community, Sellers acknowledged that, “There was a fundamental breakdown in process. We simply did not approach this very sensitive topic with adequate community dialogue.”

After incidents at UPenn, we stand in solidarity

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

This past week, following the presidential election, a surge in hate-based crimes and intimidation tactics against people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQIA+ individuals have plagued the nation following President-elect Donald Trump’s clinching of the presidential nomination. These discriminatory actions have impacted communities across the United States in a number of ways. We at the Phoenix are shocked and disappointed by the fact that these acts of violence are increasing in frequency, and we are particularly disheartened to hear of incidents of hate occurring so near to our campus.

In light of these events, we applaud members of the Swarthmore community who are choosing to be civically engaged. We support students that are choosing to have their voices heard in the face of adversity and students that choose to take action rather than act as passive bystanders in the wake of drastic political change.

According to an article written by Caroline Simon and Will Snow of the Daily Pennsylvanian, a daily college newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, a group of black freshmen found themselves added against their will to a GroupMe labeled “Mud Men,” rife with racially and sexually explicit messages last week. The university notified all UPenn undergraduates via email of the incident on Saturday morning, and said that a student at the University of Oklahoma would be temporarily suspended in connection to the messages.
The Phoenix is disappointed to read how much pain this event has brought upon the community at UPenn, and it extends its embrace in support of members of the community that is the UPenn campus at large. We stand in solidarity with the students of the UPenn, as well as the Daily Pennsylvanian. We want the student body of UPenn to know that members of the Phoenix will support those affected by injustices in whatever ways the UPenn community deems fit and necessary. If UPenn students need someone to talk to or someone to listen to their voices, know that the staff of the Phoenix will heed their call.

The Phoenix recognizes that the culture of higher education institutions may often take on characteristics of being unsafe and inhospitable places. The Phoenix recognizes that it is vital for an institution of higher education to be safe, welcoming, and interested in activating the potential of all students. We hope schools throughout the greater Philadelphia area will work toward fostering a culture that values the security, wellness, and identity of all students, as we know students thrive best when these demands are met.

Multi group offers opportunity for self-exploration, solidarity

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

The Swarthmore Community does a wonderful job of creating safe spaces for students to explore, celebrate, and learn about their culture, race, and ethnicity. With so many mono-racial, monocultural, and mono-ethnic groups on campus, students who don’t quite fit into only one group are left feeling out of place or  wondering how they fit into these groups.

Multi is a group dedicated to giving students who identify as Multi a safe place to celebrate and share their mixed identities and experiences with other students. Multi includes students who identify as multicultural, multiracial, and multi-ethnic.

Multi isn’t new to Swarthmore’s community: the group existed about 4 years ago on campus but unfortunately its leadership dissolved after students graduated. Through his connections with alum in his work with Mountain Justice , Chris Malafronti ‘18 learned of the group’s previous existence and recognized his own passion for the community and need for its revival on campus. Chris felt very strongly about bringing Multi back to campus because of how he personally identifies and the prospect of having a safe space to explore what his own mixed identity means to him.

“It seemed like an amazing group and something that I would want to work on bringing back,” Chris recalled enthusiastically.

As he reached out to friends and other members of the community, he found that he was not alone in his desire to have a place to explore his own mixed identity. While working on Mountain justice before starting his work with Multi, pictures were taken saying “Another [blank] sitting in for Divestment”, Chris Malafronti wrote adoptee on his, which took Casey Simon-Plumb ‘18 by surprise.

“It was just this moment where I didn’t really think I would meet other adopted kids, or if I have, I haven’t noted it because it’s not something that’s super apparent, and so all of a sudden I was having this incredible conversation with someone who had similar experiences, something that wasn’t talked about, that’s not apparent and I think that’s what Multi is about,” Simon-Plumb said.

In order to make the group most closely fit the needs of the student body, Chris, Casey, and Diondra Straiton ‘16  came together to rebuild Multi on campus. They wanted to make it a safe space that also met the needs of all the students who identify as multi on campus. They hit the ground running during the first semester to get Multi back on its feet while incorporating community feedback.

“We really put our heads together at the beginning of last semester, we were like, let’s have an open meeting, let’s go over the Multi bill of rights, let’s think about having dinners, talk about doing buddy pairs, and think about the organization that we want and come up with a mission statement,” Malafronti said, elaborating on their activity during the fall semester.

During the fall semester the group wanted to reach out to the community and present a clear picture of Multi’s goals and intentions on campus as a group open to all students who identify as multi. On November 16th, with the help of Swarthmore professors and alumni, the group members of Multi created a panel whose aim was to discuss what it is like to be a member of the Swarthmore community who identifies as multi. Many students found the panel to be valuable and insightful.

“The multi panel was amazing. The panel was mostly faculty members and they were so open and casual yet so introspective and articulate about their multi experiences. I walk away from multi meetings and events like that just so satisfied and amped up about all these intertwining stories and human experiences,” Nathalie Baer Chan ‘19.

In addition to having a panel, Multi hosted a mixer to create a fun space for people to meet new friends and get to know each other and was open to students whether or not they belonged to the group.

Simon-Plumb also shared a list of things that members of the the club would like to do and is looking forward to working on them this coming semester.

“We want to do social events in terms of alumni dinners, we also want to bring speakers, we really want the club to be dynamic enough to serve whatever purpose that the people in the group want,” said Simon-Plumb.

As the group continues to grow during this coming semester there is a lot to look forward to. Multi will continue to work towards bringing students together in pursuit of solidarity, self-exploration and building a strong community that celebrates people’s differences as much as their commonalities.


Shows of solidarity important in any capacity

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Over the course of the past two-and-a-half weeks, a series of violent and saddening events have shaken the world and inundated news and social media feeds alike. From acts of racism and violence on college campuses like Yale and Mizzou, to the appallingly ruthless terror attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, and Garissa, the world seemed a little less safe this week, including Swarthmore’s campus. However, the student activism and allyship that has occurred in spite of these atrocities has made things seem just a little bit brighter in this dark time, and the Phoenix applauds the members of the community who chose to stand up and act in the face of injustice.

We must praise the rapid response of student and administrative leaders of the Black Cultural Center after the news of racial injustice at Yale and Mizzou broke. The organization of the “Solidarity: Swarthmore Stands with Mizzou” event was almost entirely a product of student leaders’ desire to act in light of these events. The creation of this event, along with the high levels of attendance by faculty, staff, and student allies, illuminates the sense of community that the college often discusses in Admissions materials but becomes much harder to pinpoint in the day-to-day life of Swarthmore.

In a similar vein, the organization of a candlelight vigil sponsored by the i20 club in response to the victims of terror attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad speaks to the thoughtfulness and wider empathy that oftentimes gets lost in the hustle and bustle of academic and extracurricular commitments at this time of year.

While it is easy to dismiss these demonstrations of solidarity and support as cursory at best and insincere at their worst, the Phoenix applauds the amount of support that community members are able to show during these troubling times. There will always be more work to do, or something else that could have been done in response to these tragedies, and it is right to call on members of the community to do as much as they can to support those affected by these events. However, it is also necessary to appreciate the time that people are taking by participating in these shows of solidarity and sympathy.

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