Punishment is punishment

With her October 21 response letter, President Chopp made it clear that the college would not be pushed by FIRE to change its policies or reconsider its actions with regards to Phi Psi. While we commend her decision to defend Swarthmore’s policies, we believe that her administration could do so more clearly and more emphatically.

The administration has been sending mixed messages to students. In her October 8 letter to Phi Psi Members, Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development Liliana Rodriguez made it quite clear that the administration has elected to punish Phi Psi for various reasons.

Despite this, Dean Rodriguez, in an interview with the Phoenix, says that “we are not seeing this as punishment.” Regardless of how it is spun, suspension of privileges is a form of punishment. Any claim to the contrary is false.

This punishment is also explicitly linked to educational workshops. Phi Psi may only regain its lost privileges once it has attended these sessions, which are mandatory. Making education a condition of ending punishment makes it a part of the punishment. In denying that, the administration is, at the very least, sending mixed messages to the student body, and at worst lying outright.

We are not arguing that what the administration has done in punishing Phi Psi is wrong. But it is unclear what rule, exactly, they are accusing the fraternity of breaking. Did their actions break standing anti-harrassment policies, which require that harrassment be “directed at individuals or groups?” Or was Phi Psi’s punishment warranted by the catchall hidden at the end of the student handbook, which says that an “unreasonably offensive behavior does not need to be expressly prohibited in this policy” to be punishable? The administration should be up-front with the student body about its policies. These policies should be clearly articulated. Actions taken by the administration, such as punishments, should also be made clear.

We think the administration is doing basically the right thing, but we worry that they have been insufficiently transparent. It is deceptive to reprimand an organization and claim that it is not punishment.

College policy can shape our community only if our community understands college policy.   If the administration wants to punish organizations, if it wants to mandate educational workshops, it is fully within its rights to do so. But its reasons for taking these actions should be clear. The administration should solidify its policies, and stand by them.