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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?

Legacy of namesakes more complicated than they appear

in Around Campus/News by

In recent years, students at several colleges and universities across the country have petitioned for the renaming of campus buildings bearing names of racist individuals. Swarthmore itself has never been the subject of such controversies, although larger universities such as Princeton and Yale have.

In early February, Yale University responded to student protests to remove the name of a residence hall honoring John C. Calhoun, the former U.S. vice president who was an avid supporter of slavery. According to BBC, the residential college will be renamed in honor of Grace Hopper, an alumna of the university who is well known for her work in computer science during World War II.

Princeton University was also the subject of recent controversy as it refused to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from campus iconography in spite of Wilson’s known support of racial segregation, according to The Daily Princetonian.

Christopher Densmore, curator of the Swarthmore Friends Historical Society, summarized the nature of Swarthmore’s own campus building names in light of the controversies at universities like Princeton and Yale.

“We just don’t have anybody like that,” Densmore said.

Densmore explained that many of Swarthmore’s buildings are named after founders of the college or philanthropists and donors, several of whom were Quakers and anti-slavery activists. For instance, Samuel Willets was a member of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of New York and was involved in the anti-slavery movement. He was also the speaker at both the college’s opening ceremony and the first graduation, according to the college’s website. Members of the Clothier family were Hicksite Quakers who supported the college for a long time. Joseph Wharton, also a Hicksite Quaker, served on the board of managers for over thirty-five years and dedicated a sum of his earnings as a businessman to establishing the college. Beardsley was a professor of engineering who helped gather financial supports to establish Swarthmore. Edward Parrish was the first president of the college after its founding.

Vice President of Advancement Karl Clauss stated that there is no specific process for naming buildings.

Although many of the campus’s buildings are named for philanthropists who have contributed large donations to the college, Swarthmore rejected a substantial endowment from Anna T. Jeanes in 1907 because, according to authors Patricia C. O’Donnell and Susanna K. Morikawa of the Swarthmore Borough, it came with the requirement that the college suspend intercollegiate sports.

“The college decided it didn’t want to be dictated by outside money,” said Densmore.

Swarthmore’s campus names have never been the source of major controversy themselves, but a small number belong to individuals with controversial pasts.

Alice Paul, who has a residence hall named in her honor, is a Swarthmore alum and has been championed as a leader in the women’s rights movement of the early 1900s. However, Paul’s views on race have been controversial both at the time of the historic 1913 women’s suffrage parade and in recent years. An article in the Richmond, Virginia newspaper The Times-Dispatch, published Mar. 2, 1913, just one day before the march, documents Paul’s opposition to the participation of black women in the demonstration.

According to the article: “Miss Paul informed some negro suffragists who wish to march that while the National [American Woman Suffrage] Association recognizes equal rights for colored women … the people of the South might take unkindly to their presence in the parade.”

Paul believed the “negro question” threatened her vision for a women’s suffrage movement.

“As far as I can see we must have a white procession, or a negro procession, or no procession at all. [The best solution is to] say nothing whatever about the question, to keep it out of the newspapers, to try to make this a purely Suffrage demonstration entirely uncomplicated by any other problems such as racial ones,” wrote Paul, whose words are documented in the 2014 book Alice Paul: Claiming Power by authors J.D. Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry.

Paul’s views were not unique in the women’s suffrage movement. Suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony also shared the opinion that pro-black activism would undermine the road to the women’s vote. Anthony famously said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”

Mary Lyon, after whom the Mary Lyon residence hall is named, is believed to have held similarly unfavorable views. Lyon was a pioneer in women’s education and established the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, which was the first women’s college and is now known as Mount Holyoke College.

According to Mount Holyoke’s website: “Mary Lyon proved that women were as intellectually capable as men, and that an institution for women offering a college curriculum could survive financially.”

According to associate professor of history Mary Renda at Mount Holyoke College, Lyon was possibly opposed to the abolitionist movement, and also believed in the assimilation of all people into Anglo-Saxon cultural standards.

“[Among Lyon’s comments were] words to encourage full assimilation to Anglo-Saxon New England norms, spoken to a student body that included two Cherokee sisters who attended Mount Holyoke in the 1840s; [and] words of remonstrance heard by the young abolitionist Lucy Stone, then a Seminary student, who placed unauthorized anti-slavery literature in the reading room,” wrote Renda in a 2012 piece in the Alumnae Quarterly of Mount Holyoke College.

In her piece, Renda also claimed that Lyon expressed heavily anti-Catholic sentiments.

“[Lyon held] derogatory views of Irish immigrant servant girls whom the Seminary was able to exclude from its ‘household,’” wrote Renda.

Author Amanda Porterfield of the book Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries explained that Lyon’s lack of exposure to ethnic diversity limited her perceptions of other religious denominations, and that this may have undermined her revolutionary vision.

“[Lyon] probably did not think much about how her intolerance for non-Protestant religions conflicted with her ability to help the women of other cultures. She had little firsthand experience of ethnic diversity herself, and she did not anticipate any of the ways in which the ethnocentrism of her religious vision would undermine its credibility,” Porterfield wrote.

Eugene M. Lang, who graduated from Swarthmore in 1938, has been honored for his philanthropy through the establishment of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and the Lang Performing Arts Center. In 2012, he donated the largest gift that Swarthmore has received to date, an amount totaling 50 million dollars.

Lang rose to fame when he promised a group of Harlem students that he would cover their college expenses if they graduated high school. President Bill Clinton recounted this story when he awarded Lang the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1996.

“Hardly anyone has ever done more personally to give people who didn’t have it, opportunity, than Eugene Lang … His I Have a Dream Foundation has opened the doors of college for thousands of young people who seize the opportunity he offered. He has helped to make the most of their God-given abilities,” Clinton said.

Even so, Lang’s business practices have come under scrutiny. A 1990 article in the Washington Post affirmed that Lang’s company, Refac Technology Development Corporation, was accused of practicing legal extortion, making millions of dollars through suing manufacturers for alleged patent infringement.

Bernard E. Appel, the president of the Tandy Corporation Radio Shack chain at the time and a target of at least one Refac lawsuit (there were more than a thousand), shared his belief that Lang’s company was guilty of “patent blackmail.”

”They are trying to live off industry by using fear and intimidation. It’s a disgrace of the legal system,” said Appel to the Post.

Vice President of Advancement Karl Clauss believes that Lang’s lifetime of achievements and role as a visionary who sought to make college education accessible make him a representative individual of the Quaker values and emphasis on philanthropy on which the college is built.

“Eugene Lang’s example serves as a testament to the Quaker adage of ‘letting your life speak’ and has inspired countless others to engage in meaningful philanthropy,” Clauss said.

The use of Papazian Hall has been questionable in the past. Before it was used as an academic building, Papazian was a research site occupied by the Bartol Foundation between 1927 and 1977. According to The Swarthmorean, days after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was revealed that the foundation had been involved in atomic research.

After the Bartol Foundation turned over Papazian to the college to be used as an academic building, there was concern that there might be nuclear residue on the former research site. According to a 2013 article in The Phoenix, the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program investigated the site for possible remnants of uranium in December of 1987, and determined that the site was clear.

Overall, the controversies in the histories of Swarthmore’s buildings do not significantly undermine the college’s liberal arts purpose. The individuals who make up Swarthmore’s campus names are not without flaws, but as a whole they represent the college’s vision of innovation, philanthropy, and social justice.

The BCC: a hard-earned space for everyone

in Campus Journal by
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Photo by Ian Holloway

It is an ordinary Sunday night in Robinson House, also known as the Black Cultural Center, on the corner of College Avenue and Cedar Lane. Overlooking Cunningham House and the rest of campus from its hilltop perch, the BCC appears quiet in the winter darkness. Inside, the Swarthmore African-American Student Society is holding its weekly meeting, all of its members gathered around to discuss issues within the SASS community.

This week’s meeting was on the issues of gender dynamics and sexism within the Black community and was facilitated by Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate Nina Harris and the BCC’s Director Dion Lewis. The meeting was tense as SASS members anonymously discussed the ways in which they had felt marginalized or victimized on the basis of their genders within the SASS community. The conversation lasted almost two hours as members conversed about the complexities and intersections of gender and race in the Black community both at Swarthmore and the world at large. Yet, when the meeting adjourned, members congregated, hugged, and chatted, laughing and smiling as a united community.

“For me, the BCC is a place where people who identify as Black can express themselves fully,” said Aaron Jackson ’15, a member of SASS. “I find it to be a place where you can bring the best out of each other whether it be socially or for academics or just come up with new ideas on how to make the community better. I’ve heard the word ‘community’ raised 50 million times, as has every Swattie at this point, and I’ve had a hard time trying to figure out what that means. To be here and to be able to have a smaller space, to actually be around people who identify in the same relations as you, it just feels… closer.”

This idea of the BCC serving as a safe haven for Black students has persisted for nearly 40 years. Negotiations between SASS and the Office of the President go back as far as 1968, when SASS members met with President Courtney Smith to discuss the implementation of a program in Black Studies. In 1970, as Robert Cross assumed the role of president after the passing of President Smith, SASS leaders opened further discussions for Black empowerment on campus through the creation of a unique, designated space for Black students. Originally given access to Lodge 4 as a temporary space, President Cross then suggested that Lodges 5 and 6 be allotted to Black students, but this was rejected by SASS, which claimed that the Lodges were not sufficient enough to house the growing number of Black students on campus, nor was the center well-zoned for its intended uses.

As the correspondence between SASS and President Cross continued into the spring of 1970, SASS demanded a tangible solution towards the creation of a Black Cultural Center capable of meeting all the expected needs of Black students on campus. SASS would use the Phoenix as a platform to discuss its interests in creating the BCC and to rally fellow students to its cause. However, it would take the occupation of the President’s Office on March 13, 1970 to eventually push the hand of President Cross and secure Robinson House, a former stop on the Underground Railroad, as the current BCC.

Since September 1970, the BCC has become the home of many student organizations such as the Gospel Choir, SASS, and the Students of Caribbean Ancestry. Equipped with a kitchen, library, two computer rooms, and a classroom, the BCC is currently used as both an administrative space, holding the office of the Director of the BCC and Dean of the Junior Class Dion Lewis and his administrative assistant Bonnie Lytle, as well as a space where courses are taught. In the evenings, the BCC remains open and student groups use its space for their scheduled programming.

Nonetheless, the house itself is not what draws people to the BCC. Rather, it is the sense of community and togetherness which it has come to represent in Swarthmore’s Black community. For Ariel Parker ’15, the BCC has become an escape from the hardships that come with attending a liberal arts college as a marked minority.

“I didn’t know it from that first SASS meeting, but the BCC would come to be a retreat for me,” she said. “I love Swarthmore, but there are spaces on campus where I don’t always feel welcome because of my identity as a Black woman. Certain spaces just don’t ring “home” for me. So if I had a bad day or if something was frustrating me, I knew I could always go to the BCC and find a friendly face or watch TV or play pool. So it served as a retreat for me.”

Serving as a space for Black students to feel welcomed and appreciated, as well as to demonstrate the rich history of the Black experience in America, the BCC, to many of its frequent visitors, has become a second home.

“What does the BCC mean to me? I’d say it’s a safe space, it’s a home away from home,” said Leanna Browne ’15. “It’s a space where I can connect with other Black members of the community and just feel like I’m surrounded by people who can support me and share in the same things that we may be going through. I always knew that I wanted to be a part of the ‘Black’ community at Swat so the BCC felt like a central place to start that.”

The legacy of the BCC is apparent to the students, faculty, and staff who walk its halls and occupy its spaces for their programming. While the center remains open to the entire campus community, members find it difficult to convince their friends outside of the Black community to visit the BCC, mostly because the space is believed to be “off-limits” to non-Black students.  While the history behind the BCC is connected to the establishment of a space of Black empowerment, the center is in no way discriminatory in its space reservation policy, nor is it limited to the uses of select student groups.

“I would like to see the idea of the BCC being more present and more on people’s mind,” said Browne, “because, going into senior year, people ask me, ‘Where is the BCC? What’s that?’ That’s still a problem, that we’re still sort of off the radar.”

 

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A queer history of Swarthmore

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Swarthmore College is universally described as a socially liberal school, especially in regard to LGBTQ representation and support on campus. However, thirty years ago, Swarthmore was known as a place where the queer community was isolated and hidden. In true Swarthmorean tradition, the actions of queer students determined to have a voice created a multitude of changes within the college. It is to them that we owe many current forms of support for LGBTQ students. Organizations such as the Swarthmore Queer Union (SQU), the Swarthmore Queer and Trans Conference (QTC), and the Intercultural Center (IC) all stem directly from the dedicated efforts of queer students and alumni before us.

The first recorded LGBTQ group at Swarthmore in the 1970s existed primarily for private support of its mostly-closeted community; activism and “reaching out” were apparently not feasible goals at that time. For students who were questioning their sexuality or coming out, there were virtually no signs of a queer community at the College. Richard Sager ’74 recalls that flyers would sporadically appear advertising ‘a gay student meeting off campus at somebody’s house’ on behalf of Gay Liberation, the queer student group at the time. However, Sager didn’t know of a single person who actually attended. There did exist a tight-knit feminist group on campus that provided support for women who identified as lesbian or bisexual. Evidently, they caused a considerable amount of social disturbance simply because they were a feminist group: even at Swarthmore, gender was not then seen as a valid topic for discussion.

After the silent ‘70s, the attitudes of many Swarthmore students — and of the administration — dramatically shifted. Student ideas about queer culture may still have been conservative; however, for the first time, some students began to speak out. In the early ’80s, two new student groups formed: the Gay and Lesbian Union and the Bisexual and Questioning Circle. These groups did not hold secret candle-lit meetings miles off campus — they advertised and were accessible to any student who identified as gay/lesbian or bisexual/questioning. They quickly grew in numbers and in influence. In 1986 the groups merged under the name Gay and Lesbian Union.

1986 was a big year for Swarthmore. A student petition started a year before had asked the administration to add a clause to the College’s Statement on Non-Discrimination Equal Opportunity to protect the “sexual orientation and affectional preference” of its students. However, backlash from other students was swift. One student worried, at a question-and-answer panel, that “affectional preference” referred to pedophilia and bestiality. The college didn’t have the same worry, however, and oversaw the addition of the clause into its Statement.

Chalkings, now a well-known tradition utilized by a variety of groups to advertise or make a political statement, appeared first in a specifically queer context in 1968. The graffiti included female symbols making smiley faces and peace signs along with slogans such as “I like dykes.” Unfortunately, the chalkings prompted hugely negative responses by some students: hostile and offensive messages were written in soap on the windows of prominent school buildings. These were reported, in the November 14, 1986 issue of the Phoenix, to involve “penises penetrating sheep” along with phrases including “I Hate Lesbos” and “I Do Beasts.” The offensive graffiti came to the attention of the Dean, who issued a statement that whoever created it was “guilty of a transgression of the most serious nature.”

More chalkings supporting the initial pro-lesbian chalkings appeared on Sharples patio, with phrases such as “Make love, don’t worry about how.” However, these were met with even more threatening messages: “Kill the f*gs” and a KKK logo were left on the door of the Gay and Lesbian Union meeting room. Instances of threatening anti-gay messages continued throughout the year, and most of the offenders were never identified. Phi Sigma Kappa, a fraternity that no longer exists on campus today, was ultimately linked to the bestiality chalkings. Anonymous anti-GLU vandalism continued for several years.

During the same period, AIDS became a crushing reality, at that time inextricably linked by cultural hysteria with homosexuality. Swarthmore began bringing in speakers and providing information about the disease through Worth Health Center, and some students wrote progressive editorials attempting to remove the stigma surrounding AIDS.

Other students, however, did not display the same open-mindedness: In 1985, a student asked in a question-and-answer panel whether AIDS could be contracted from “beating up gay people.” Shortly after this episode, on July 15, 1986, German professor Eugene Weber died from complications due to AIDS. His death had a lasting and profound effect on the Swarthmore community, whose members had greatly respected him. AIDS awareness on campus increased substantially, and with it came more acceptance of the queer community. There was a long way to go, but Swarthmore’s support for LBGTQ rights was just taking off.

In 1988, Richard Sager ’74 decided to create an unprecedented fund to support queer students on campus and spark discussion regarding queer rights both at Swarthmore and in the wider world. With his donation, the school created the Sager Committee, and the Sager Symposium was born: a week of events, outside speakers, and discussions, all with the purpose of combating homophobia and supporting queer activism. The theme of the first Symposium was “Revealing the Unspoken: Gay and Lesbian Studies in Academia.” Other themes since the Symposium’s inception have included AIDS (in 1991), queer presence in media (1992), and queer people of color (2002).

In 1989, a new group for queer students called Alternative Sexualities Integrated at Swarthmore (AS IS) was founded. This group’s name changed first to Action Lesbigay (Les-B-Gay) in 1991, then to the Lesbian Bisexual Gay Alliance (LBGA) in 1992, and finally to the Swarthmore Queer Union (SQU), as it remains today. The term queer was chosen as an all-encompassing term for those identifying as non-cisgender and/or non heterosexual or questioning, in order to be fully inclusive as an organization.

In 1991, Action Lesbigay, the Organization for Latino Awareness, and the Swarthmore Asian Organization together founded the Intercultural Center (IC). The purpose was to open a space where those identifying as queer, Latino and Asian could receive support and advice. Career planning became a large part of the discussion: students wanted to know, for example, if it could hurt their job prospects to come out on their resume. The IC was also a place where queer students who were not out to the outside community could speak openly.

In 1992, during National Coming Out Week, an anonymous editorial appeared in the Phoenix called “Coming Out: A Gay/Lesbian Guide” which detailed the growing invisibility of “Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual students” and urged students to take advantage of resources such as the Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Alliance, the IC, and the Sager Symposium. The same year, a senior wrote in a Tarble bathroom stall in response to homophobic graffiti on campus, “Your hatred only makes me more angry; your bigotry only makes me more proud of who I love.” Clearly the school could still be a hostile environment for anyone who identified as queer, but resources, both on an institutional and student level, were tentatively in place to combat homophobia and create safe spaces for queer students.

Beginning in 1993, chalkings spread across campus once again. Messages such as “queers study science here” and “queers eat out here” were met with, unoriginally, explicit pro-bestiality chalkings. Editorials largely reflected the view that either party had the right to express themselves using the anonymity and visibility of chalk, but that extremely explicit messages were not productive to the discussion. Incredibly, there was no condemnation of the pro-bestiality messages.

In the fall of 1995, Swarthmore celebrated Coming Out Week on campus for the first time. It was a relatively low-key event compared to what it is today; the only mention in the 1995 Phoenix says that students handed out stickers and ribbons to passers-by. Coming Out week continued yearly, marked by pro-queer chalkings that received anonymous and threatening homophobic messages in response. Ultimately, the school became more committed to combating homophobia in all its forms; student opinion was strongly in favor of the queer-positive chalkings, and the Dean at the time condemned the homophobic messages. Homophobic responses to chalkings receded in 2002, when the pro-queer chalkings seemed finally to have gained acceptance as a legitimate form of expression and a positive element of Coming Out Week.

The Sager Symposium was replaced in 2008 by the Swarthmore Queer and Trans Conference (QTC), a weeklong meeting in March that continues the traditions of the original symposium. The Intercultural Center, too, has grown as an organization dedicated to promoting social justice by fostering systemic change across all cultures. Coming Out week has continued to be hosted by SQU each year; this year, it was changed to Pride Month: Month, to give more time to the celebrations; Pride, to better portray the event not as a time to necessarily come out or feel pressured to do so but as a time to celebrate queer identity.

Swarthmore’s tradition of queer activism is vibrant today, thanks to the actions of many brave students, past and present, determined to voice the concerns of the queer community despite at times overwhelming oppression and hostility from fellow students. The history is now left open for the current generation of Swatties to continue the legacy of activism and social justice that has become a part of Swarthmore’s identity. Happy Pride Month, Swarthmore!

A brief history of Halloween at Swarthmore

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

We just had that weekend again — the weekend of last-minute Target and Goodwill runs to put together an ironic Swarthmorean Halloween costume that nobody back home would understand — in short, we’ve had the weekend of the Halloween party. This year’s Halloween party was held in Sharples, as it has been for the past few years; however, it has certainly not always been located in our daytime dining space. The Halloween party’s locale has changed more times than a Swattie’s costume ideas, but it all started — perhaps unsurprisingly — with the Swarthmore Warders of Imaginative Literature (SWIL). That’s right — the same now-extinct sci-fi club that made the ’Dactyl Hunt such a success was also the club that gave us the Halloween party.

In 1981, Sherry Hartenstine, a brave freshman member of SWIL, suggested that the science fiction organization should have a Halloween party. Called the ‘Halloween Masquerades’ or ‘SWILloween,’ the party was a success and became an annual event. Memorable costumes from the early SWIL years included a ‘remove-your-own-spleen’ costume; a ‘human photocopy’; a Kate Bush album cover; and a sledgehammer accompanied by destroyed computer equipment. Needless to say, the creativity of the costumes brought a little-noticed group some well-deserved fame.

The annual party was held in Bond, the WRC, or wherever SWIL could secure a party space until 1990, when it was permanently moved to Mary Lyons dormitory. When SWIL declined in the late ’90s, the dedicated RAs of ML took over organization of the party to keep it alive, and for a while longer, ML-ers were more than happy to host hundreds of students dressed as sundry monsters. However, ML’s off-campus status posed a safety concern for intoxicated students who were cited by the police on their way back home; additionally, not all residents were thrilled to have a school-wide party in their living room. In 2006, residents protested, and Mary Lyons’ RAs decided they could no longer organize the party. To save the popular event, the Student Activities Committee took over Halloween and began searching for an on-campus location.

Once moved on campus, however, the party’s game of musical chairs was far from over. In 2006, after considering erecting a tent in the LPAC parking lot, SAC decided to host the party in crowded Paces, with an additional dancing space in Upper Tarble. Upper Tarble, usually a dry space, was controversially made wet just for the night (though the decision was reversed the next year). Confusingly splitting the party between two locations introduced the added danger of steep staircases between Paces, restrooms, and Upper Tarble. This issue became glaringly apparent when a student tripped down the stairs in 2007 and sustained minor injuries to his head. PAs called the police, and the student was taken to the Crozer-Chester Medical center and cited for underage drinking.

In response to this incident, the next year the party was held in Sharples (perhaps with the assumption that Sharples’ staircase was somehow safer) — but it was far from smooth sailing. In fact, a coffee table was thrown off the balcony and injured a student, and several students, apparently hungry enough to crave Sharples food, attempted to sneak into the kitchen. A ‘cereal fight’ and several incidents of vomiting rendered Sharples a disaster by the end of the night, although some dedicated students stayed until 5:00 AM to clean up the space. Due to the utter failure of the event in Sharples, the Halloween party had to go elsewhere — but where?

The brilliant but ambitious idea to hold the Halloween party in a large tent on Mertz field was received with enthusiasm, despite the small issue that the only available bathrooms would be in Mertz itself. Mertz residents, not wishing to brush their teeth with intoxicated zombies, protested; tent planning ground to a halt. With no other options, SAC was forced to move the party back to Paces. This time, although nobody fell down the stairs, the fact remained that there was simply not enough space in Paces to accommodate all the students who wanted to attend. Therefore, SAC took a leap and moved the Halloween party back to Sharples, where it has stayed put since 2010. Nary a coffee table has been thrown from the balcony since the move, and this writer highly cautions against it: let’s not risk the poor party’s stability yet again. We may not have had a ‘remove-your-own-spleen’ costume this year, but turnout at Sharples proved that Halloween is one Swarthmore tradition that is going strong. Happy SWILloween!

From Pholk to Psi Phi: Evolution of the ‘Dactyl

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

The Swarthmore pterodactyl hunt is a tradition like no other. Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, is almost certainly the only place in the world where in early October, pterodactyls take over campus, and a grueling battle for freedom ensues. A whole host of other monsters — specially sought out and trained in advance by the Psi Phi club, the events’ sponsor —act as the pterodactyls’ protectors. Students choosing to be hunters rise up to save themselves and the college from the monsters and the pterodactyls.

Before it was Psi Phi (a tongue-in-cheek reference to Swarthmore’s Phi Psi fraternity), the science fiction club on campus was the Swarthmore Warders of Imaginative Literature (SWIL), founded by Jim Huang in 1978. Upon founding the club, Huang served as its Fearless and Charismatic leader for his remaining three years at Swarthmore. Under his leadership, the club expanded in membership and recognition, but took on no projects of the size or magnitude of the now-annual hunt.

In 1983, the Dactyl Hunt was introduced as a joke by, of all clubs, the folk dance club. As part of Swat’s Oktoberfest tradition, the proposed pterodactyl hunt was, shockingly, not getting much support. Luckily, the Swarthmore Warders of Imaginative Literature stepped in to save the pterodactyl hunt, believing it to be a good way for them to advertise their existence while taking on an event consistent with their philosophy. Swarthmore Alum and SWIL member Sherry Levi writes on SWIL’s history page:

“At that point, one of the issues in SWIL was, how do we have a higher profile on campus? How do we let those people who don’t attend SWIL know that we exist? How do we show the campus that we are useful and therefore deserve to be funded? The Pterodactyl Hunt seemed the appropriate sort of even for a SWIL service project — so I volunteered to organize it that year with support from the group. We didn’t necessarily plan to run the P.H. forevermore at that point. The next year, as Oktoberfest approached, people began to say, ‘Are we going to organize the P.H. again this year?’ and there were eager volunteers once they found out what a Pterodactyl Hunt was… And if a group does something twice in 2 years at college, it’s a tradition.”

When Psi Phi replaced SWIL, the new club took over the Pterodactyl Hunt, which became its most famous tradition.

Complex rules for ‘dactyl hunting have evolved over time, just as the Pterodactyl did, but unlike the pterodactyl, this game is anything but extinct. Some elements of the hunt have never changed: hunters, wearing white trash bags, defend themselves with swords or foam bats against monsters, who wear black trash bags. Types of monsters have ranged from, historically, the Vampire and its Shadow, to the current array of “goblins, orcs, kobolds, the jabberwock, the lonely troll, and dactyl guards,” according to Psi Phi’s page about the hunt. SWIL’s more antiquated archives contain a rule manual, with regulations ranging from sword protocol (a dead hunter’s sword must be relinquished to the monster) to fight protocol (no more than six hunters fighting a monster at one time). According to the manual, a hunter cannot even attack the pterodactyl prior to obtaining ’dactyl hunting license, bought with money from a slain monster. Upon killing the pterodactyl, the licensed hunter must carry its heart back to Hunt Central, but if the hunter is killed along the way, the heart is returned to the pterodactyl, and the game continues.

Whether or not these rules are strictly followed to this day, the spirit of the Pterodactyl Hunt is undoubtedly stronger than ever. Today, foam bats replace swords, but the live action role-play is as intense and creative as it ever was. Students paint their faces and dress the part fully, complete with wings and claws, and hundreds of Swatties turn out to either participate or watch the lethal battles unfold. We can only hope the loyal hunters manage to defend our campus from the unearthly monsters for one more year.

Happy hunting!

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