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.
Students are calling on the administration for a stronger response against hate speech and harrassment after a pair of unrelated incidents drew a single email from the College.
While Dean Braun’s message encouraged thoughtful reflection on both the homophobic slurs spray painted on David Kemp and last week’s Pub Nite, during which a student waved a confederate flag, some students want to see the administration act more quickly.
“Knowing how to respond to something quickly and intelligently is something that Swarthmore does not do well, and it can be offensive to the people involved,” said Kenneson Chen ’14, who appreciated the email, but would have liked to see more “acknowledgement and thoughts” about the Pub Nite incident.
“I’ve heard some criticism from students about me not sending an email out about the Pub Nite incident sooner. That’s challenging, because one of the things I’m trying to do is balance really being thoughtful about what I send out and making sure that I’ve got accurate information,” said Braun in an interview with The Daily Gazette, acknowledging that an update on that investigation earlier on would have be reassuring to students.
Last Pub Nite, a student’s guest stood on the benches surrounding the dance floor waving a confederate flag amid chants of “USA, USA.” Avery Davis ’12 confronted the person. Several of the Swarthmore students around him allegedly protected the guest, who later verbally harassed Davis’s friend when asked again to leave.
The Swarthmore student responsible has since faced a judicial hearing, said Braun in a follow-up email to the Gazette. She could not comment further but said that the student was remorseful and upset with his guest.
Chen, who interns for the Dean of Intercultural Affairs representing the Swarthmore Queer Union, and is a Virginia native, was shocked to hear about the flag waving at Swarthmore.
“For Southerners, when you’re traveling the South and you see the stars and bars, or the other confederate flag, you feel unsafe. Especially if you’re black, if you’re a person of color, or if you’re queer; [I had] a very visceral reaction. My space was invaded by hate symbology,” he said.
Davis went to see Braun Friday. Initially, she was encouraged by her conversation with Braun but then did not hear from the administration again until Monday, speaking with Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal. Westphal was similarly concerned but not proactive, said Davis.
“To me it seems to be part of a pattern. You go to the deans with an issue you feel is community-wide and they take really good personal care of you. They kind of placate you as the complainer, enough so that you’ll calm down and then [they] don’t ever have to really address the underlying problems,” she said.
Davis went to the administration on behalf of a group of about ten students who were disturbed by the Pub Nite incident. She said the one sentence on its investigation in Monday’s email “is not nearly enough.”
“We as an entire community, and the white community [of this campus], should be embarrassed that this happened and that more of us didn’t step up, and that now our legislative administrative body is tacitly condoning it by not coming out and saying this is what happened, this is how we dealt with it,” she said.
Both students see the Pub Nite incident as well as the weekend vandalism as symptoms of a larger problem that need to be addressed by both the administration and the campus community: the physical and mental safety of minority students of campus, be it students of color, ethnic minorities, or queer and transgender students.
Chen said the spray-paint incident in particular “reinforces something that queer students have known for a long time, which is that Swarthmore [is] not very safe for queer students.” He said the same holds true for students of color and women as well. He said cat-calls and verbal harassment are common in the Ville.
Over the weekend David Kemp was vandalized with homophobic slurs. The Swarthmore police believe the same non-student(s) spray-painted the SEPTA underpass as well as several cars and public spaces in the Ville late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
Both Director of Facilities Stu Hain and Swarthmore Chief of Police Brian Craig say the relationship between College and Ville authorities is “positive,” and includes monthly meetings as well as coordinated investigations of this weekend’s vandalism and other such problems.
Braun’s office is considering “Bystander Training” sessions to teach students how to intervene in situations such as the one at Pub Nite without putting themselves at risk.
But Davis said she was hoping for a stronger response from the administration.”Bystander training is great but its not addressing the root of the problem: why is this happening? Why are students thinking this is okay way to behave? Why is it not being shut down with more than a campus-wide email?”
Along with more discussion within the College and with residents of Swarthmore, Chen would like to see “systematic programming” on these issues enter the equation. He notes that students only undergo mandatory diversity and sexual misconduct prevention training once in their four years here, at orientation.
“The way it’s structured now doesn’t lend itself to a learning process. You don’t just learn a lesson once, do you? You reinforce it and reapply it.”