I am frustrated and saddened at the level of disrespect the Swarthmore community showed alum Robert Zoellick ’75, resulting in his withdrawing from speaking at Commencement.
To my mind, the issue at stake here has nothing to do with Zoellick’s politics. Whether or not he had anything to do with starting the Iraq war, whether or not he did a good job as President of the World Bank, however you feel about Goldman Sachs — it doesn’t matter.
When I say it doesn’t matter — of course it matters that Swarthmore students, like people everywhere, have opinions. It is admirable to voice one’s opinions and it is good to stand up for what you believe in. It’s like we were taught in Kindergarten, though: You might think Jimmy is a jerk, but shouting at him across the playground makes you a jerk as well.
The Swarthmore community made one of our members so uncomfortable that he would rather not be a part of one of our most important celebrations. I love Swarthmore, and I am ashamed that we made that mistake. To deny a basic level of cordiality and respect to anyone is disgusting. To deny it to an alum weakens our entire community.
The Swarthmore College website boasts that a “diversity of perspectives represented by Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff –– including different viewpoints, identities, and histories – contributes to the community’s strong sense of open dialogue and engagement with ideas and issues.” Where is that diversity of perspective? Where is the willingness to listen respectfully to people we disagree with?
In the future, I hope that we can find it in ourselves to open our arms to anyone who turns towards us — whatever their race, gender, religion, profession, or political affiliation.
Jeannette Leopold ’13