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Students dissatisfied with CAPS as demand rises

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Last semester, a psychiatrist at Worth Health Center prescribed Calla Bush St. George ’20 SSRI inhibitors to help cope with anxiety. She began taking the medication on Jan 28.  A week into the course, she awoke to intense nausea and depression.

“I just wanted a therapist, a professional, to give me their opinion on what I was doing [considering dropping the medication]. I was spending 16 to 18 hours per day sleeping and still feeling exhausted. It was absolutely insane,” Bush said.

By chance, Bush had an appointment scheduled at CAPS the next day. But the appointment she had scheduled with her normal psychiatrist was canceled due to a family emergency. So, Bush scheduled a walk-in appointment at 4 p.m. for that coming Thursday.

Upon arriving at her walk-in appointment, Bush was juggled between psychiatrists and psychologists, only getting 10 to 15 minutes with each before having to wait in the hallway when their scheduled appointments would disrupt her session. According to Bush, there was no additional staff to meet with her.

“They didn’t have anyone to see me between the times of their other appointments,” she said.

At nearly 6 p.m., Bush was told to go over to Worth Health Center and talk to the staff there.

“I had probably been at the Worth-CAPS building for two hours,” she said.

A nurse at Worth took her blood pressure and other vital signs—which was the extent of the examination.

“I wanted to be reassured by somebody that it would be okay,” Bush said. “I was thoroughly disappointed by the whole experience.”

For some students, like Bush, access to mental health services on campus has been a continual source of frustration. Why this is the case is not entirely clear, although according to CAPS, there has been a recent spike in student demand. At this point in the semester, student demand for CAPS services has increased by approximately 30 percent compared to all of the last academic year, according to CAPS director Dr. David Ramirez.  Ramirez listed several reasons why he believes student demand for CAPS has risen, including the threat of economic disenfranchisement and deportation.

“People are upset, families are living in fear. There was a thing in the news last night about how students from Latino families who were U.S. citizens and under no threat of being thrown out of the country are more fearful and more depressed on NBC News. There was a study … [that] showed just having connections to vulnerable populations makes you more vulnerable, makes you more fearful,” he said.

While CAPS has seen a steady uptick in student demand over the last couple of years, the magnitude of this year’s increase may indicate something more dramatic taking place. Ramirez said that CAPS keeps tabs on how many students in the graduating class have been to CAPS by the time they reach graduation.

“We track at graduation the number of students who have been to CAPS … that number was a stable one-third of the graduates. Then a couple of years ago it jumped to half,” Ramirez said.

The number of groups and administrators that refer students to CAPS has gone up, according to Ramirez.

“We are on a lot more people’s radar… There are more entities in the college community that are looking out for students, and looking out for students who have concerns, who are using CAPS as their go-to referral source,” he said.

Ramirez also believes it is becoming more acceptable to use CAPS at the college.

“Where we used to worry about barriers to utilization, about people feeling afraid or ashamed, and I think for some students that is still problematic,” he said. What we see now is students telling each other ‘I am going to CAPS, you should go!’ They are encouraging one another.”

CAPS saw 476 students last academic year. As of last Friday, CAPS has scheduled 492 students for this academic year. Ramirez predicts that CAPS will see as many as 600 students by the semester’s end.

CAPS employs 13 clinicians but has only nine offices, one of which is occupied by CAPS administrative assistant Terry McGrath. In 2004, the Worth-CAPS complex underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation. The number of CAPS clinical rooms went from four to eight. Director Ramirez says he regularly gives up his office space so other staff members can use it meet with students.

CAPS hired an additional three clinicians last semester on a part-time basis and switched to a digital scheduling system to better meet student demand. It is their mission to provide an “unlimited amount of psychological support for students,” according to Ramirez.  In keeping with that philosophy, last semester CAPS implemented a 24 hour CAPS On Call system, so that students in crisis can talk to a therapist at any time. The college pays for the system, and even students studying abroad make use of it, Ramirez mentioned. Another priority this year has been making sure students can walk into CAPS without an appointment.

However,  it is unclear whether  CAPS has adopted a policy of offering students weekly or bi-monthly appointments. Ramirez said that CAPS instituted a new policy the fourth week of last semester: incoming students would start out meeting with a therapist bi-monthly.

“CAPS is a community resource, and so there is only one of us, and there is this large community, and so we’ve made changes. We’ve had to ask students to be thoughtful about their use of CAPS and be prepared to share CAPS with one another,” he said. “Because there is only so much of an increase that you can impose upon … an essentially limited resource, with a certain number of offices and hours.”

The quality of CAPS and the appropriation of resources has elicited debate among students. The Daily Gazette article titled “Dean Braun’s Wellbeing Committee Unfocused on CAPS and Worth, Buys Soundproof Chairs” drove students to ask why the committee was spending funds on what students have begun to call “cocoon chairs” rather than on improving CAPS. The Ad Hoc Committee on Wellbeing, Belonging, and Social Life does not, however, have any say over CAPS spending, although they are both overseen by Dean of Students Liz Braun.

However, Ramirez feels that CAPS does not lack funding and that Dean Braun has always been receptive to CAPS budget requests.

“Dean Braun has always supported spending the money provided, that [I], the director, has thought the college [needed it].  I have had tremendous support … the constraint is really how to operationalize that,” he said.

Cassandra Stone ’20, a student representative of the Ad Hoc committee, wrote in the comment section of the Daily Gazette article, “I find that the title of this article, as well as its contents (primarily by way of omission), are misleading.”

When asked if the Ad Hoc Committee should be more focused on CAPS, Director Ramirez said that expansion of mental health services on campus has a physical limit.

“When deans say there isn’t a constraint [on providing unlimited support to students], it’s true, but there is also reality. A reality of limits,” Ramirez said.

For at least one student, CAPS policy changes came as an unwanted surprise. Abby* was told by her psychiatrist last semester that they might have to stop their weekly visits this semester, and switch to every other week.

“I was seeing my CAPS therapist, and she mentioned that next semester—so this semester—I might need to change my weekly appointments to every other week instead. And she said that they wouldn’t necessarily force me to change my hours, but because there were more students trying to meet with therapists that … it would help other students,” Abby said.

After hearing this information, Abby voiced her discontent.

“At the time I really didn’t want to do that. So I just told her point blank I really, really would like to keep coming every week because it’s been really helpful. And she said for my situation that that would probably be acceptable if she was able to talk to the person who organizes all the appointments.”

Questions arise whether it was clear to students who actively use CAPS that the visitation policy was changed.

“[My therapist] said that she technically wasn’t supposed to be spreading that sort of information to students because she didn’t want to freak people out. When I asked about CAPS capacity to take on students, she said that I should talk to the person above her and express that to them,” Abby said.

However, there are students like Natasha Markov-Riss ’20 who have had positive experiences with the current state of Worth and CAPS.

“Worth has always done everything I needed it to do for me. I got a great flu shot, very competent nurses, and the CAPS person I saw [was] very personable, very helpful. I felt heard and I felt helped although I cannot speak for other people,”  Markov-Riss said.

CAPS plans on expanding next semester to two additional rooms on campus, which would provide an additional 50 hours per week of counseling services. This would be in addition to the 225 hours of face-to-face counseling CAPS currently provides each week, according to Ramirez.

The answer to why there has been a 30 percent increase in student demand this semester remains mostly opaque. In the meantime, students continue to ask for improvements in mental health facilities and administrators continue to promise to meet those demands. It appears that supply has not yet to have caught up with that demand.

*Names were changed to preserve the identity of the people involved.

Edit: A psychiatrist’s name was removed.

Thank you to those who keep Swarthmore going

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

In the past week we’ve experienced more snow than Swarthmore has seen in the past three months. As we all began to mentally prepare ourselves for spring break, it managed to get the coldest it has been all year. Friday’s winter storm damaged power lines, cutting off the power to the college and the majority of homes and business in the Swarthmore area. Massive trees fell near Willets, in front of PPR, and many other trees went down campus. Power was not restored to campus until around 9 p.m. on Friday, powered by a generator. PECO power was partially restored on Wednesday.

Yet Winter Storm Riley was a powerful reminder of the amazing and supportive community which we are a part of here at Swarthmore. As students gathered in Sharples, the only building with power on Friday evening, the atmosphere was not one of dread, but of liveliness and fun. Students were taking advantage of the power outage by coming together through playing cards, enjoying games, and engaging in light-hearted conversation. The outage became a cause for unity rather than frustration. We at the Phoenix are honored to be a part of such a compassionate, encouraging community.

We also recognize that this compassionate, encouraging community is not just created by the students. The gathering in Sharples on Friday night, the quick restoration of power, and the vibrant energy on campus wouldn’t have been possible without the staff and faculty that devoted themselves to ensuring a positive experience for students.

We want to express our appreciation for all of the staff and faculty who kept the campus running for us despite the lack of power at their homes, the icy roads, and the fallen trees and power lines.

Thank you to all of the Sharples staff who continued to provide us with food and a welcoming place to sit, charge our phones and computers, and spend time as a community despite the crazy weather. They came in and had the same upbeat attitude they always have while greeting students each and every day.

Thank you to facilities for working tirelessly to connect campus back to power in only five hours on Friday night, while nearly everywhere else in the area remained without power. It is impossible to express enough gratitude for keeping us connected to the generators throughout the weekend, even switching out the generators over the weekend to ensure campus remained provided with electricity. We are grateful for Ralph Thayer, director of facilities, for keeping students updated on the process through email chains and for making the switch to generator power as seamless as possible.

We are immensely grateful to the facilities staff and arboretum workers who gave their time to shovel snow and clear paths in the storm so that we students could safely navigate campus. We are aware that these workers have even more work ahead of them as they clean up fallen trees and other damage from the storm. They are extraordinary for the effort they exert every day just to keep campus functioning and beautiful.

Finally, thank you to all the professors, living in and out of the town of Swarthmore, that have powered through the damage brought by Riley, coming on to the campus to continue to teach despite the rough conditions and lack of power.

We at The Phoenix have written many articles which criticize and hold various divisions of the college accountable. However, we also recognize the importance of showing gratitude for the people and services we take for granted everyday both those classified as “essential” in the emails, and those who simply improve the lives of students everyday. In the context of this storm, we cannot express how much we appreciate and recognize the hard work that came from all the staff that keep the college running. Swarthmore has room for a lot of improvement but this storm has demonstrated and made us ever more grateful for the staff who work tirelessly to make Swarthmore a place where students, faculty, and staff can find a dedicated and hardworking community of people.

Mo Lotif and Moving On

in Campus Journal by

Yesterday afternoon, Parrish Parlors felt whole with heartfelt good luck’s, goodbye’s, and recounting of memories, all as a part of the farewell celebration for Mohammed “Mo” Lotif — (now former? wow) Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center. A Detroit native and Williams graduate, Lotif joined the College in Fall 2014, where he embraced the liberal arts community and larger world of Philadelphia. His influence over the past few years was evident in the sheer mass of students, faculty, and staff from all corners of campus who made their way to the hour-long festivities. We enjoyed dining services’s gracious catering and passed out copies of VISIBILITY Issue 02, the arts publication Mo and I created to highlight marginalized voices on campus.

As a dear friend and mentor, Lotif has played an important role in my time here as a student intern working at the IC, along with countless other community members. Now he is travelling back out West, where he’s accepted a position at the University of Denver working in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. He’s also got a pretty badass apartment lined up, with views of colorful mountains and an endearing city skyline. He might even get a dog. He has no complaints.

Former IC intern, Vivek Ramanan ’18, is currently abroad, but chimed in from seas away to talk about Lotif’s impact.

“Since I met him, Mo has been beyond inspiring in his dedication to his work and the students that work with him,” Vivek explained.

“[He] has supported events that have ranged from seeming simple to completely impossible, allowing students to make their thoughts and plans a reality through the IC.”

Lotif did what many other staff members of the college instinctively hesitate to do: trust students. He established student team structures that emphasized individualized skills and passions, while focusing on our productivity as a collective.

He could be heard reassuring his team “I got y’all” and encouraging each and every member to be creative in their visions and shoot high with ambition. Student workers were allowed agency in decision-making, and his thoughtful leadership style meant that he served as a supporter rather than an assigner.

“Mo really knows how to bring out the best in people he interacts with,” added Zain Talukdar ’19, a current IC intern.

“He’s lifted me up when I was down just through the way he talks to you. He really makes you dig deep into the philosophies behind your motives and actions, and he empowers you through his love for the arts and his love for beautiful existence,” Talukdar said.“Mo has made my Swarthmore experience as formative and introspective as it’s been for me.”

If you’ve ever walked into Lotif’s office, you’ve seen his manic whiteboard walls covered in ideas, his desktop computer open to tabs of Trello event plans, and books of revolutionaries, like his mentor Grace Lee Boggs, stacked up high and proud. There would also often be students hanging out on his welcoming couches, doing work or making big plans for their student groups.

When you ask students about their favorite moments with him, you get a range of answers.
“It’s hard to pick out one moment with Mo that really sticks out,” Ramanan admitted. “I’ll never forget the stressful moments, where several hours would pass with the team working and his Spotify playlists would play in the background.”

“Every time I would go into his office and he would just play whatever music spoke to him at the moment,” Talukdar agreed. “Among the many memories I will have of Mo, I’ll always remember the magic he’s pulled on my Apple Music playlists for real. He really knows how to connect music with the spirit and I’ll always remember his energy whenever I would sit in his office and just absorb whatever new music he added to his playlist.”

Migos, and A Tribe Called Red, and Bangladeshi Baul folk rhythms are just a few of the space-filling sounds that can be identified on said Spotify playlists.

There were also lazy moments of genuine time spent.

“…none of us would move from the couch and keep chatting about random things,” Ramanan continued. “But I think the moment with Mo that I never forget is walking into his office, stressed about planning an event, and hearing him say ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.’ I’ll always appreciate that I’ve gotten to know Mo as both a leader and a friend, as someone who can be inspiring, reliable, and relatable at the same time.”

Hana Lehmann, Civic Engagement & Education Fellow from the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, added from a fellow staff perspective.

“I love working with Mo! He brought unbelievable energy and creativity to the table whenever we would collaborate on events and workshops.” Lehmann said.

Lehman’s favorite (and my favorite!) cross-community project was the recent theatre and social action workshop with “artivist” Kayhan Irani that Mo, Hana, and I planned together. I had the dream of bringing Irani, an Emmy-award winning artist and White House Champion of Change Recipient, to Swarthmore. Not only did Lotif make it happen, but it happened flawlessly and surpassed our expectations of a powerful community-run event.

“The planning leading up to the workshop day was great, but the day of was a blast! We were able to co-create a space for empathy, imagination, and powerful storytelling,” explained Lehmann.

As the Intercultural Center, we’ll undoubtedly be going through a lot of change with Lotif’s leave.

“I will forever be appreciative of Mo for helping me to acclimate to Swarthmore College and for the valuable contributions he made to and through the Intercultural Center,”  Director Jason Rivera explained in a message to the community. “It is no surprise that many students, faculty, and staff hold Mo in high regard and speak of him with gratitude, admiration, and respect”

There are big shoes to fill. But replacement doesn’t feel like the right word when you are working with someone as unique as Lotif.  However, students and community members have a clear idea of the non-negotiables resulting from Lotif setting the Assistant Director bar.

“In terms of the new IC Assistant Director, I believe that the aspect of Mo that made him so effective was that he was incredibly in touch with the students of the IC,” Ramanan explained. “He made an effort to connect with us constantly, and I hope that the next IC assistant director will do this as well.”

“My hopes for the next IC director are that they can maintain the level of energy that Mo channeled through all of his interactions with the IC collective,” added Talukdar.

“Mo also respected each person’s struggles and stresses when talking to them, and knew how to successfully balance his roles as a stellar boss and a trustworthy friend, and I hope the next assistant director can do the same.”

Lehman summed up Lotif’s determination to thrive and inspire others to live into their deepest possibility: “simply ‘existing’ is not in his vocabulary.”

Inspiring and unfaulting co-workers are hard to come by, and it particularly sucks to see a good boss leave. But there’s also something invigorating in witnessing someone you look up to start the next chapter of their journey and advance in their career.

Lotif had never imagined he would end up in Denver prior to the opportunity appearing. As we as students plan our futures, we must come to terms with the fact that we don’t know what the future holds for each of us.

However, one thing we all know — and probably have known — is for sure.

The University of Denver is one lucky bastard.

Evaluating the safety of our staff in a snowstorm

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

The snow piles up on the ground outside, finally beginning to slow, yet its remnants promise to keep the conditions for the day dangerous and uncertain. Branches and fallen trees block pathways in the borough, and some residential areas darken as a result of damaged power lines.

Meanwhile, on campus, students roam the college and desperately hope their classes will be cancelled. Some students walk up the path of Parrish Beach, trudging the path that the essential employees from the grounds crew worked to clear. As these Swatties entered Parrish, however, they may have been surprised to notice that, despite many essential staff members reporting to work, the administrative office hall was practically a ghost town. Many administrative members deemed the snowy conditions too severe to come to work, despite the fact that required staff, including many EVS workers, dining staff, and grounds workers, were required to report to work in spite of the storm.

We at the Phoenix find this unfair as it places an unequal burden on essential staff relative to the administration. While we recognize that many people could not make it to work due to the conditions and while we respect the need to practice safety precautions, it is absolutely unfair that many higher administrators did not have to report to work while many staff members were not given the same options to practice such precautions. These staff members were not allowed to follow these precautions despite the fact that they are not paid as high a salary as the deans, and many do not have as reliable winter transportation considering some depend on public transportation. We believe that it sends the wrong message to staff members in our community that that their safety is not as important as the safety of other employees. This is especially a problem in that it demonstrates a hierarchy of importance in the college that respects the decisions and safety of higher administration without equally respecting this integrity of other staff members.

Of course, we at the Phoenix recognize that some staff truly are essential to the maintenance of the college, and that it would have been nearly impossible to maintain the college without these employees. For example, some members of grounds crew were absolutely essential in ensuring that paths remained clear and, thanks tremendously to them, students were still able to roam the paths of campus and make it to their scheduled classes without trudging through inches of snow. Dining staff in Sharples, Essie’s, Kohlberg, and Science Center were needed so that students could still eat properly in spite of the storm. And to be fair, we at the Phoenix recognize that the college did not necessarily make all EVS staff report to work, but left it up to “relevant departments” to decide if all staff members were absolutely necessary.

However, we at the Phoenix believe this becomes an issue when all of these essential staff members are expected to report to work, yet many members of the administration and higher staff do not need to follow the same expectations. While some of the administration may work from home, it still does not change the fact that they are not standing in solidarity with the essential staff who have no choice but to report to work. Clearly, changes in college policy need to be made to ensure that these staff members are still respected and treated fairly amongst other members of the college community. As a result, we at the Phoenix call for Swarthmore to either increase their expectations of the administration and higher staff to report to work or that the required staff members who do report to work receive extra compensation and respect for their time.

 

College Raises Some Staff Wages Because of Federal Law

in Around Campus/News by

New provisions to the Fair Labor Standards Act qualify some college staff members for overtime pay. Announced by the U.S. Department of Labor in May, the new provision increases the threshold salary above which one is exempt from receiving overtime pay from $23,660 per year ($455 per week) to $47,476 per year ($913 per week). Now people will receive overtime pay if they make less than 47,476 instead of 23,660. This is to help more people get to a living wage. From December 16th, any staff member currently earning between $455 to $913 per week will qualify. The college expects to raise the wages of some employees to account for the new regulations.

“We have identified approximately 15 positions throughout student services, research, admissions, and advancement that are affected by the FLSA changes,” said Pamela Prescod-Caesar.

First passed in 1938, the FLSA introduced “time and a half” overtime pay, as well the forty hour work week and prohibitions of “oppressive child labor.” However, the threshold for who is eligible for overtime pay had not kept pace with inflation. The new provision not only raises this threshold, increasing salaries for an estimated 4.2 million workers, but also will automatically increase it every three years to keep pace with inflation.

As an institution that currently pays workers between $23,660 and $47,476 per year, Swarthmore College is required to adjust its current practices. In response to the new provision, the Human Resources Department has spearheaded the effort to make the appropriate adjustments. Vice President for Human Resources Pamela Prescod-Caesar notes that there are multiple ways for the college to come into accordance with the law.

“In consultation with senior staff and the relevant division supervisors, we will be making the appropriate adjustments to comply with the new [Department of Labor] requirements. We have until December First to make the required adjustments and are currently exploring all options,” she noted.

The college has two options: it can either choose to raise to the salaries of employees earning between $23,660 and $47,476 to the salary for which they would be exempt from overtime— $47,476 —or can maintain salaries and pay qualifying employees overtime when due. This may be decided on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s likely that for some exempt employees, salaries will be adjusted (i.e, increased) in order to meet the new threshold requirement. We are also considering implementing the tracking of hours as an option to ensure that employees are fully compensated for the hours they work,” said Prescod-Caesar.

These “adjustments” regard whether the college will choose to increase workers’ salaries or continue to pay them overtime. Vice President for Finance and Administration Gregory Brown says that this depends on the workers

“The change in the status is about whether their work is actually exempt … If they clearly are doing hourly functions that are classified as such, then we would continue to pay overtime. If you’re a dining services worker serving students, you’re paid by the hour.”

Regardless of the adjustments made, Brown does not foresee the FLSA placing a significant financial burden on the college. 

“I am working closely with Human Resources to review the budgetary impact of the proposed changes … [The office is] evaluating how any changes might affect our overall operations and budget.  At this time, we do not anticipate financial challenges implementing the changes.” “Relative to the college’s budget, it’s not a lot, and we did set aside money in preparation.”

Both administrators suggested the college had a strong commitment to fair working standards.

“The College has a long history of providing competitive and equitable salaries for staff,” added Brown.

Note that despite having the second-highest endowment per students among peer institutions, the college still does not provide childcare to staff members. Furthermore, it was only this July that the college introduced a shift differential for night staff, offering slightly higher wages for staff working evening shifts, far later than peer institutions like Bryn Mawr College, University of Pennsylvania, and Williams College.

Though it took a national provision from the Department of Labor for the college to increase salaries for its workers, the result is nevertheless in place. For around 15 employees, come December, they will be better compensated for their labor.

Editorial: Keeping college open unsafe, unfair

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Swarthmore, whether for reasons of maintaining course schedules, instilling toughness in students or simply keeping tradition essentially never cancels classes in the face of storms. This is, at best, inconvenient for students. At worst, it is downright dangerous, especially when the school neglects to salt pathways, as was the case twice last week. However, as bad as it is for students, the situation is even worse for faculty and staff. Although the college often allows all “nonessential staff” to stay home, the policy of not canceling class pressures professors to teach and forces much of the campus to remain open.

Think about it. What if rather than a student, you were a faculty or staff member? Perhaps even one with children? Given that the public school system operates on a saner cancellation policy than the college, it is very likely that in the above scenario, school would be cancelled. And so you’re faced with a dilemma: miss a day of work — in the case of some staff members, perhaps a day critical to keeping your job — or leave your kids at home alone.

We at the Phoenix believe that the college must offer a solution to this problem. Many of our peer institutions offer some form of childcare, and a staff-wide poll conducted last year revealed strong support for either on-campus facilities or subsidies.

If the college refuses to make changes to support families within its community during the regular year, then it must at least consider an emergency option for situations like the hypothetical blizzard. During a storm like the one we evaded this week, no sitters are available to come in at the last minute, and conditions are especially dangerous for young children at home alone. In a winter storm, power is likely to go out, help is hard to reach and the risk of mischief is heightened. How can parents be expected to leave their children home alone in these conditions?

The college might devise a program by which, in situations like these, essential staff members with young children may be excused from their obligations in order to care for their families. Reduced dining hall hours could allow the college to function with a smaller staff, bereft of those members who must stay at home. And as for faculty with young children at home, we advocate our favorite solution of all: cancel class.

The college’s draconian cancellation policy does not serve its students well. When evaluating weather-related cancellations in the future, however, Swarthmore must consider not only students, but the obligations and pressures that holding classes places on faculty and staff.

Drumming and dancing bring unique form of unity

in Arts by

This semester, Sedinam Worlanyo ’17 and Eileen Hou ’16 worked as interns for Intergenerational Drum and Dance Project, which involves about 28 participants, mostly from the Greater Philadelphia community. Every Saturday morning for  four weeks, the participants attended a class at the Lang Performing Arts Center to learn mainly West African dance and drumming techniques.

Ten years ago, Dance Department Head, Professor Sharon Friedler initiated the program.

Since the project began, community has been its central idea. The ultimate goal of the organizers of the project was to create a community with no barriers of age, race or background through dance and drumming. R. Jeannine Osayande, an associate in performance of African dance, explained, “We have brought together folks on a regular day who might not have that type of interactions in terms of race or age normally. We could have someone in their sixties next to someone five years old, and the five year old could also be teaching the sixty year old.” Such an environment is critical for all the participants, so that they can feel comfortable regardless of their age, race or previous experience.

Osayande said that they wanted to use culture through drumming and dance to foster a dialogue inside the community and get people thinking about the idea of community and related issues. “We just present what would you like to have a discussion on and then from that we incorporate the ideas into just the natural drumming and dancing,” explained Osayande.

Hailing from Ghana, Worlanyo enjoyed dancing in high school and performed cultural dances at her school. In the project at Swarthmore, however, she teaches primarily Azonto, a dance popular among mostly young people in Ghana. The dance involves a lot of energy and she incorporates  various daily actions and expressions in the dance, such as answering phone calls, and even dance expressions that involve picking up an imaginary school bag. “It is very exciting to be able to interact with the various community participants and I really have fun dancing with them” said Worlanyo.

Osayande taught neo-traditional African dance technique that dealt with girls’ rights of passage into adulthood. “We always have a coming of age moment, no matter what phase you are going through, there is something in your life where you are crossing over a threshold, or you are afraid about what you are afraid of, coming to something new. So in that spirit of community, in that collective energy, that we make it happen,” explained Osayande.

The drum part of the project is taught by Ira Bond from Dunya Dance and Drum Company, based in Swarthmore. Each Saturday morning, the drummer would drive almost an hour to the school and teach the participants how to drum.

Both of the students, Sedinam and Eileen, became the interns of the community project as part of their Arts and Social Change course. “With the class, we have the privilege of doing an internship. In my class we read about how people use arts to create social change. Instead of talking about it in class, I can actually see it happening through the intergenerational drum and dance,” said Worlanyo.

For Eileen, this project was a chance for her to apply what she learned in class to reality. “In class, we often discuss about setting up theater workshops in prison to bring a community together with arts. In this case, people from different areas come to Swarthmore to have a shared experience. We use arts as a way to bring people together,” she says. Eileen also expressed her wish that more Swarthmore students could be part of this project in the future.

Near the end of the interview, Osayande told me that this Saturday, Intergenerational Drum and Dance Project is going to participate in Kurema, a collaborative advocacy movement for peace in memory of the victims of the 1994 Tutsi Rwandan Genocide.

SLAP Lobbys for Employee Rights

in Around Campus/News by

The Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP) has hosted a myriad of events on campus during the past two semesters, with the ultimate aim of working establishing justice and dignity in the workplace.  According to the college’s website, SLAP has been working for “with mushroom workers from Kennett Square, supporting their campaign to fundraise for a new community center in which their union can meet.”  During the past two semesters, the organization held two staff appreciation events, as well as invited various notable activists to campus to speak to students about SLAP’s current campaign.

According to the mission statement, SLAP “envision[s] a society in which all people have empowering, fulfilling work and dignified material conditions.”  One of the upperclassmen in the organization, Ben Wolcott ’14 decided to become involved with the Swarthmore Labor Action Project when he realized that “its campaigns would be a great way to concretely work towards economic justice.”

A previous member of SLAP, Raisa Reyes ‘15, decided to get involved with the organization because she feels that “workers’ rights, at all levels, affect the entire work force.”  Reyes asserts that “joining in the effort to improve working conditions helps improve the conditions of individuals’ lives and the ethic and standard of how people should be treated as individuals and workers in the United States.”

According to Wolcott, the organization held a Staff Appreciation Pancake Breakfast in Shane Lounge in early March, as well as a Queer Homeless Transition into the Queer Workforce, which was held in the Scheuer Room towards the end of last month.  This lecture included talks by Jay Toole and Juliet Johnson on “the challenges that homeless people who identify as queer face while searching for jobs,” according to the event’s flyers.

Linda McDougall, director of dining services at the college, said that she, along with an extensive group of dining hall workers, attended the pancake breakfast.  McDougall said that the dining hall workers appreciated the gesture, as well as the greater cause of SLAP. At the start of the semester, SLAP also held a POWER petition (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild) in Sharples Dining Hall.

In addition to these various organized events on campus, Wolcott explained that SLAP have had students dress up as notable activists, including Upton Sinclair and Alice Paul, and pretend to give speeches from these characters’ points of views. These characters will visit campus again to talk to students during study breaks about SLAP’s most recent campaign: working with staff and faculty to try to get childcare benefits. SLAP will also be hosting a Chow & Chat About Childcare on Campus event in Science Center 105 on April 9th at 2:00 pm.

Wolcott is confident that the organization has “succeeded in making the college define which labor practices the operator should follow in the [proposed Swarthmore Inn] and will continue to advocate for workers’ rights if there are not adequate protections.”  Wolcott is optimistic about the future of the organization and the most recent campaign for childcare, expressing his confidence in SLAP’s ability to “win tangible benefits for [both] staff and faculty.”

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