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.
One of the questions at the second presidential forum asked the candidates to identify the biggest issues they believed the and IC/BCC struggled with. The candidate’s answers were vague. For many members of the IC/BCC groups, this lack of knowledge on the part of the candidates and the community at large is one of the greatest issues that the IC/BCC struggles with. This article was born out of a desire to investigate those frustrations and bring them to light so that the campus community can engage with them.
An underlying theme in many of the interviews with members from the IC/BCC communities is the difficulty in getting funding for and putting on events. Students are frustrated by miscommunication and misunderstanding that has occurred between members of the SBC, its focus-funding committees, the Social Affairs Committee (SAC) and the Forum For Free Speech (FFS), and members of the IC/BCC.
Tatiana Cozzarelli ’08 shared a story regarding funding for an Enlace party last semester, sponsored by the Intercultural Center (IC). “We wanted to have an open party in the IC, have the event catered by Baja Fresh, and just let people come listen to music and hang out.” she explained. According to Cozzarelli, a member from SAC sent an e-mail denying full funding. “In the email, SAC told us that Baja Fresh wasn’t ‘authentic’ enough and that maybe we should make our own tacos. We should get lettuce and tomatoes from Sharples and make our own tacos, and maybe that would be more authentic,” she claimed. “Um, no, we are Swarthmore students we don’t have time to make tacos for the entire campus.”
Luis Rodriguez ’09 explained that Enlace later received an e-mail from SAC explaining that the first e-mail was a mistake, and that the person did not speak for the entire group. “But that doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t give us the funding. They also did not give us any other reason for why we didn’t get the funding,” says Cozzarelli. “We appealed the decision, but didn’t hear anything back from them,” added Rodriguez.
In an e-mail to the Daily Gazette, SAC co-director Emily Nolte claimed that the reason the group was denied full funding was because the event was too expensive, asking for half of SAC’s weekly budget for food that would feed only 112 students. SAC was also concerned with how many students would attend the event, “given that it was during a week many dorms were having cookouts.” Nolte could not comment on whether this clarification was sent to Enlace members. However, she did state that “we suggested that it might be advisable for the students to collect meal numbers, obtain supplies from Sharples, and cook food in the IC kitchen. This is what many groups who are serving food that is representative of their culture on campus do.”
Nolte said that “SAC never received a request for an appeal to the funding decision, nor did Student Council… we never even got an email questioning how the appeal process works.” According to Dubajova, the appeal Enlace made was not considered because it was sent to the SBC, instead of SAC, and that it was after the 48 hour deadline. SAC did fund the event for 1/3rd of what it asked for.
Nolte also pointed out that SAC it has done much to help cultural groups. She claimed, “we frequently fund [cultural group sponsored] parties extra so that they can bring in an outside DJ that they feel has a better amount of appropriate cultural music, and this semester, when we have not had enough funds to cover such events, we have referred groups to the FunFund. In addition, for this year’s Sager party, we even transferred funds away from other large scale events which we regularly fund due to what we saw as an extremely impressive proposal for what turned out to be an excellent, well-attended event.”
Ailya Vajid ’09, outgoing president of Deshi, described difficulties in getting necessary forms and information from FFS for reimbursing a speaker. “I helped bring Professor Ali Abunimah to campus a few weeks ago, and FFS agreed to fund it which I was thrilled with,” she began. “But I have had so many problems getting the forms. I emailed FFS four times, finally recieved the forms after the speaker arrived, but found out one of the forms was missing.” Vajid was told those forms weren’t necessary by a friend on FFS, but her speaker e-mailed her saying he did need them. “I still haven’t received anything, and now I’m worried that I won’t get any funds reimbursed because of FFS’s deadlines. That’s thousands of dollars that I don’t have to give him.”
Cozarelli described an incident in which FFS did not fully fund a screening of a film about the way hip-hop has evolved in Cuba. According to her, one of several reasons that FFS gave was that Danny Hoch, who was on campus in the Fall as part of a Cooper event, had already addressed hip-hop in his speech. “First of all, he talked for 15 minutes about AMERICANS going to Cuba to talk about AMERICAN hip hop. Second of all, FFS did not even fund Danny Hoch!”
Toby Wu ’09 related a similar story. “Last Spring, I wanted to bring transgendered rights advocate Pauline Park to talk about legislation regarding gender-neutral housing. I was on Housing Committee at the time, and we were pushing for increased gender-neutral housing.” FFS gave only half as much as Wu had requested, and he claimed that “A member of FFS later told me in confidence that one of reasons was that FFS had already funded many queer events for Sager.” Park’s speaking engagement was to take place only days after the Sager Symposium. “The theme of the symposium that year was sex, as in the actual act of it. Her talk was not even in the same vein as Sager!”
In a statement e-mailed to The Daily Gazette, the FFS committee says that “though sometimes we do consider the differences and similarities in topics between speaking events, it was not the deciding factor in either of these cases in question. We also dialogued with both groups and increased the funding for both events after our concerns were addressed.” The statement also reiterates FFS’s commitment to representing all student groups equally, and cites the fact that over 50% of their funding this year went to events primarily or secondarily sponsored by IC groups.
Lim says that one of the difficulties in getting funding for events put on by the IC/BCC groups is that “everyone is essentially going to the same departments and sources for money–we end up competing against each other, different parts of our identity. It doesn’t make sense since we are working towards the same goal.”
“It’s really crazy to box people by identity, to decide this is a queer event, or this is an Asian event,” says Wu. “People need to really consider what the event itself is actually about.” Wu eventually appealed the decision and received some more funding. He also applied to join FFS that spring, but was rejected “because I had biases–presumably because I am so involved with the IC groups. I mean, I applied so that I could change decisions made superfically like that, but I was rejected precisely because of my background as an organizer, assuming that I could not control my biases.”
One of the main frustrations with the candidates was that they had attended so few of the events put on by the BCC and IC. But this is not just a problem limited to presidential candidates–it’s a problem that afflicts a large portion of the student body. “We have a really difficult time getting people to come to our events,” says Lim.
Part of the problem is the fact that Swarthmore students are incredibly busy. “I understand that its hard to make it out to every event,” says Vajid. “There are so many things to be on top of and get done academically. I know that I don’t make nearly enough events as I should.”
But at the same time, the lack of attendance may reflect a greater issue at hand. “I think there is an idea here at Swarthmore, and probably other places as well, that because people don’t identify with certain groups, they don’t have a place to advocate for that group or have a place in it,” says Lim. According to Keith Benjamin ’09, BCC intern and co-founding member of ABLLE, many students who are not part of the IC group bring up the issue of closed group v. open group, assuming that because a group is closed, outside members are completely cut off from it. “But there are many open events put on by closed groups,” he claims. “There are panels, there are outings, there are lectures- there are events that will give you just as much information about a group of people as if you came to those meetings.”
“There are also many open groups like Multi, SASA and Deshi that are part of the IC/BCC. I don’t see a whole line of white upper class students coming to these meetings,” asserts Luis Rodriguez ’09, outgoing president of ENLACE.
The debate on closed groups versus open groups goes hand in hand with attempting to define the role of the IC/BCC on campus. According to Zapata, the mission of the IC is to “to educate the broader campus about diversity and multiculturalism, stemming from the belief that diversity impacts everyone.” For most students, however, the IC groups they belong to are primarily a place of support, with education of the campus community as a secondary goal.
“We struggle a lot with the internal politicization of our members, which takes a long time and a lot of effort,” explains Lim. “To add an education piece is so tiring because we are still trying to educate our own, starting our own dialogues on what it means to be Asian, Black or Latino or Queer.” However, Cozarelli says there are many specific forums that exist for students to educate themselves. “Winter Tri-Co is a great place to educate yourself, and often is made up of many white students. Things that get put on by the Office of Multiculural Affairs are especially for educating people. SQU and QSA put on an ally workshop earlier this year. We are a support group, but we also do want to reach out to campus.”
The importance of the IC/BCC serving as support groups is clear. “Members of the IC/BCC face problems of classism, sexism, homophobia and racism. But on a deeper level I think that the people whose identities are represented by these groups often face an institutional non-support. We’re not represented,” says Lim. She cites the fact that, though over 20% of the student population at Swarthmore is Asian, the faculty does not reflect this diversity. “We don’t study Eastern philosophers as much in philosophy classes– just things that would affirm our identities as Asian-Americans are not found here.” Lim believes that these factors marginalize in these groups more so then a political stance. “Political identity is part of your identity, but not to the same degree.”
Lim acknowledges that the college is making steps towards giving students of color and queer students more institutionalized support, citing the existence of the Intercultural Center and the position of Dean of Multicultural affairs as an example. Rafael Zapata, Assistant Dean and Director of the Intercultural Center, explained that the IC was created in 1992. When he came on board in 2002, there were only 4 groups represented by the IC – SAO, SQU, ENLACE, and NASA (a support group for Native Americans at Swarthmore). Now, there are 14. “Though the original IC groups were closed, this is not a pre-condition of the IC. I like the new direction that the IC has taken, I’m proud of it. I’m proud that students see the IC as a place of support.”
According to Jose Aleman ’09, “the next logical step in this conversation is bringing Ethnic Studies to Swat. Swarthmore needs to show that it is ready to make an academic commitment to discussing the realities of ethnic minorities around the world.” Lim finds the framework in which ethnic studies is discussed as problematic. “When people of color or woman want to study themselves, it’s looked at as a study of a very specific identity,” she says. “But it’s not compared to the fact that we’ve been studying a very specific identity all of our lives, and that is the identity of white maleness.” Cozzarelli says that the discussion of sexual orientation is missing in relevant academic settings. “I’ve been in classes where sexual orientation has not been addressed even once- Social Science or Humanities classes where it was relevant. I’d like to see professors who are here today learn how to educate themselves so that they can include those things in their classes.”
Zapata is also in support of Ethnic Studies at Swarthmore, and says that the administration is receptive to having conversations about it. He also says that there is room for growth for the IC as a physical space. “When the IC first began, there were only three groups, and the building served that purpose perfectly- we had three small rooms, and one big room.” But Zapata has says that the time to have conversations on the future of the IC as a physical space need to start happening. “You see Parrish being redecorated all the time, but the IC has had those same, old couches for so many years,” says Wu. “I want the administration and the Student Council to start engaging the IC/BCC on these issues, even if they are as small as redecorating the IC.”
Rodriguez also believes it’s important to re-evaluate the place the IC/BCC has on campus. “It’s so strange that when you see tour guides giving tours to prospective students, they never stop by the IC or BCC. What impression does that give to specs who are queer, or working class, or of color?” he asks. There is also the fact that BCC is in such a peripheral location on campus. “How can we get more students to come to the BCC when it is so far away? Do we want to move it?”
Aleman believes that the answers to these questions have to come out of a period of self-reflection. “This election, as well as other events going on outside of Swat, is a great context for these conversations to happen,” he says. “We now have to have a period of self-reflection where we think about who we are, what our resources are, what we want from Swarthmore, and what we are missing.”
Disclosure: The reporter is a member of MSA and Deshi, two IC groups.