LIVE BLOG: Critical Examinations of Community at Swarthmore

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.

4:45 The opening speaker stated the goals of these community talksone of which is to help provide momentum, solutions and actions to address the concerns of students who were calling for action and protest last spring, such as acts of vandalism against the IC. Another goal is to discuss a broad array of topics that affect our everyday campus life and move beyond discussions that exclude, and alienate towards collective reflection

4:48  “I can’t talk about community without talking about conflict.” said Sarah Willie-LeBreton, Sociology and Anthropology Professor. In her opening remarks, she spoke about how the college as an institution came to be the community that it is, with roots in many individual identities and how we can push our present community forward “with very careful listening. That’s not easy to do when you have a five-course load. That’s not easy to do when you are worrying about getting tenure.”

5:00 Vince Formica, Biology Professor, gave opening remarks about how there is a long way to go before we reach any type of utopia, and thus we need to discuss which steps this community needs to take to move forwards. He spoke about why diversity is important, and used the cavendish cultivar, or the banana, to explain how diversity, or variance in a population, matters.

5:03 We find the reason the banana matters is because a diversity of people means we wind up with a diversity of thought, which we need because we do not know what is coming, so if we want the intellectual community at Swarthmore to survive, we need to have a diversity of opinion. Because we don’t want to be the banana because all bananas are clones of each other. The banana is an evolutionary dead end.

5:06 Sunka Simon, Modern Languages and Literatures and Film Media Studies professor, gave her opening remarks on living in post World War II Germany, and how hard it was for Germans to feel a sense of community. Like that community, Swarthmore College is a transitional and imagined community, defined by rituals and legacies, so there is an illusion of a continuous identity.

5:16 George Lakey, Peace and Conflict Studies professor, gives his opening remarks about the definition of community.He defined community as a place where individuals consider safety to be authentic, and that tolerates passionate discourse about ideas. Middle class politeness and civil discourse is generally “all civility and no discourse.” He spoke about the class war and the difference between the margins that we saw expressed in May are building up with other factors to build the “perfect storm” that is coming between environmental degradation and class war. These are already happening and will be expressed in extreme ways.

5:20 He continued on to say the 1% is pooling up an “adaptation industry,” which they are unwilling to pay for, despite the fact that is was caused by the 1% in the first place. Swarthmore is dominated by “middle-classness” which puts us at a disadvantage at waging the type of conversation our solutions need, so we need to quickly develop the skills and courage to struggle over these issues we face today.

5:24  The moderator, Cheryl Jones-Walker, professor in Educational Studies and Black Studies, spoke about the norms of this dialogue, which involve really listening to others and instead of just debating to win, trying to reach an understanding of others, and realizing we will likely be offended but that taking offense is not necessarily a bad thing.

5:27 The first audience member who spoke talked about how her dad is a laborer from Mexico, and that she is constantly drawn in by class struggle and environmental struggle. Pat, a Mountain Justice member, corroborated with the first speaker, and spoke of class struggle in the context of environmental degradation.

5:31 Moderator comment: How do we think about who is most impacted by these challenging conversations and how we protect the people who are particularly vulnerable

5:34 Tim Burke spoke about how one of the divisions the professors of the community feel is they have a distinct sense of a professional identity that makes traversing the institution as a professional but also as a person difficult. The professional sense inhibits the urge to conflict with others, and how professors feel may be at odds with a professional obligation that they feel as educators. They are thus induced to leave personal space, resulting in a paralysis and an incapacity to speak frankly, as they would like to speak. But, he pointed out, to be silent is not to engage in a teaching mission, and this division speaks well to the dilemma we are all facing, because students want to learn and hear from their teachers as people, but as professionals, professors feel that they are “tripping all over these lines all the time.”

5:40 Katherine Crouch pointed out that trust needs to be earned, and sensitive issues can easily be misunderstood, so she stressed the importance of taking enough time to listen to one another and build trust and hear one another out on complex issues like the ones that we are trying to figure out now.

5:44 One student said he saw more fruitfulness in conversations about coalition-building and student empowerment rather than community-building because this is a term which has been co-opted. Willie-leBreton responded by saying that talking about student power only might not be appropriate, because there are faculty and staff being affected by the same things the students are.

5:49 Heather, a student, said that a community may not necessarily provide for all of one person’s needs. And we can’t expect it to. She mentioned that Swarthmore can’t provide everything, and brought up the questions of: What do we expect Swarthmore to do for us? What are reasonable expectations and limitations of this community?

5:53 One faculty member responded by saying one thing we can expect from out community is a sense of security and belongingness. Kenneson Chen, another student, spoke about the types of words we think of when we hear “college” and “community.” The words for “college” and “collection” are related etymologically, both stemming from the word “to choose” in latin. “Community” means “shared walls”. We are all given the opportunity to choose, and those things define what our community is.

 5:56 Moderator comment: There are different communities within this community, and we imagine community as a flat organization, but we need to be honest with ourselves and realize there is a hierarchy and we each have roles and responsibilities to each other as community members.

5:58 Simon spoke about how when she first arrived at Swarthmore, she did think there was something constructed about the community we live in, and we should not feel conscripted into this community. Lakey spoke about a conversation with EVS staff members who were very excited about the things going on on the Swarthmore campus this year, because it’s about more than just Swarthmore’s future, it is about the future of the country and the world. We need to engage people who normally just go about their business.

6:00 The discussion ended with an invitation to November’s session and of course, more questions to contemplate.

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