Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Wednesday evening, a group of Swarthmore students protested a CIA recruitment event on campus. Before the talk, students tabled at Sharples and handed out fliers speaking out against the CIA. At the talk, which took place in Cuniff Hall, protesters put up fliers that accused the CIA of overthrowing democratic regimes and supporting and engaging in torture. Other students wore black hoods over their heads, to symbolize prisoners who had been tortured, and stood in the back of the room during the talk.
“We’re here to protest the CIA coming to recruit because we believe the CIA is a morally reprehensible organization.” said Stephan Hoyer ’08. “We object to them coming here and we object to what they stand for.”
Gwen Snyder ’08, another protester, said “The CIA has a longstanding history of torturing prisoners without due process, and has began to ship them overseas. They’ve encouraged other militaries to engage in torture, and even to assassinate political enemies.” Though Snyder acknowledged that the CIA does serve legitimate purposes for the U.S. government, she said that “the morally reprehensible services that it renders negates the other services.”
Other students, such as David Pupkin ’09, disagreed. “I feel they do the best job they can given the situations.” he said “Not everything is black and white in the real world. People forget that in the Swarthmore bubble.”
Marc Engel ’09, who organized the protest when he saw fliers advertising the event at Career Services, said that he “Wouldn’t go so far to say that it is a completely reprehensible organization or that only thing I want for it is to be disbanded.” In fact, he acknowledged that, as an organization that offered many job opportunities Swatties are interested in, the CIA had every right to be on campus. “If I was working for the CIA, I’d be recruiting at Swarthmore, too.” he says. However, he felt it was important for students to voice their disapproval of the CIA and its practices. “I don’t want them to leave and think ‘Oh Swarthmore, great place to recruit.’ I want them to know that we want them to stop what they are doing.”
Director of Career Services Nancy Burkett explained in an e-mail interview that the college does not discriminate in whom they allow and do not allow to come to campus, and wants to let the students make up their own minds about the career options they wish to pursue. “There are students at Swarthmore who have expressed an interest in employment with the CIA, and so we agreed to host an information session from the CIA.” she says. “We respect the right of the protestors to express their concerns and they did so at the session Wednesday night in a very positive manner.”
The recruiter, operations officer Scott Young, prefaced his talk by acknowledging the protesters and their divergent opinions, but cautioned that he could only speak to issues related to recruitment and working for the CIA. In an interview after the talk, Young explained that though he was only here to talk about recruitment, “There is an office of Public Affairs at the CIA to field inquiries about any issue. In the future anyone who had concerns, that’s where I would direct them to.”
The audience was a mix between students who had come to get information about recruitment, and those who had come specifically to see the protestors. One conflicted student said “I can’t decide if I’m here to protest against [the CIA], or to get more information about working for them.”
Anne Marie Frassica ’09 admitted that she had come partially to see the protesters and was somewhat frustrated by their tactics.
“I think there is a lot of wisdom, a lot of truth in what [the protestors] have to say about the CIA.” she said. “But I also believe there are many ways to fix a problem, and one of them is by putting smart, ethical students in charge.” Frassica believed that the students wearing hoods were there for shock value. “I appreciated the literature outside, that helped, but I didn’t think their presence in the room was helpful, and I think the speaker handled it gracefully.”
Frassica suggested that the protesters could’ve engaged in more constructive activities, such as writing an editorial, holding their own information session, or even inviting an actual representative from the CIA who could talk about these issues. She also felt that their presence in the room was disrespectful to students who were interested in jobs with the CIA. “It assumes they don’t know what’s going on with the CIA, or that they don’t care, which is not true.” she says.
Engel acknowledged that some students may have perceived the protest as a disruption. “What I feel about that is, basically, we didn’t have a choice. The CIA came and we felt we there needed to be a response. I hoped to keep a balance– I didn’t want to shut down the talk or be disruptive.”
Though Engel was disappointed that there was no opportunity for discussion at the talk, he was happy to see that the protest had intrigued students. “There are students who came in today that otherwise would not have come. People are now talking about what’s going on, and we can use that to spark greater, constructive dialogue on campus.”
The first group, which included sophomores Marc Engel (quoted in the article) and Linda Wang, executed a several-day campus education campaign. This group also planned to ask the recruiter questions about the CIA’s human rights record, but this action was prevented when the recruiter said that he could only speak on issues related to recruitment. A second, collectively organized group (including Gwen Snyder ’08, who was quoted in the article) performed the tabling, hooded vigil, and event space flyering actions. Stephan Hoyer ’08, another one of the protesters quoted in the article, helped both of the groups.
The Gazette apologizes for the error.