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.
The student-initiated Consortium for Constructive Dialog started this September with a discussion on sexual assault policies. This live blog covers another discussion, which took place on Friday, November 1–mere days before the arrival of federal investigators–and which focused on Swarthmore’s transparency.
From the Reserved Students Digest:
Come talk about your thoughts on Swarthmore’s transparency: where it is now, how it has improved, and how it can improve in the future. We would like to hear as many viewpoints as possible on this matter, so please come out! Administrators and staff are all invited to attend.
12:35 People are slowly congregating in Science Center 183. Attendance is low. Two administrators are present: Special Assistant to the President Ed Rowe and Vice-President Maurice G. Eldridge ’61. The meeting’s initiators are now going over some logistics.
12:40 Meeting opened, one of the initiators notes that it comes at an appropriate time considering the recent Halloween party.
12:40 Another student says that this discussion should serve to mitigate the antagonism between the administration and students.
12:41 What would a more transparent Swarthmore look like?
12:41 A freshman asks what events happened in the previous year that are relevant to transparency.
12:42 Eldridge asks what transparency is.
12:42 The freshman answers that transparency means the administration explaining why and what it is doing, as well as involving much of the community in decision-making.
12:43 Another student: Many students feel that they are not being represented, yet there is very little enthusiasm for running for student council. How do we resolve this discrepancy?
12:44 A different student says that the divestment decision was an example of too little transparency. He does cite Rebecca Chopp’s email as a step in the right direction.
12:45 He thinks that student participation in committees has little influence on actual decision-making.
12:46 Another student: Are students entitled to participate in decision-making just because they’re part of the campus community? Where do we draw the line between students having more say and remaining within what they’re entitled to.
12:48 Eldridge: It is impractical to put policies up for review every year. There has been a lot of change in past months. The sexual assault review process is an example of change where the administration considered student input. He says he was heartened that The Daily Gazette‘s article about Halloween talked about a balance of responsibility between the administration and students. Each member of the community, he says, should consider their own responsibility.
12:51 Another student: This is where transparency is most important. He says transparency speaks both to why decisions are made and how they are made, the latter of which has been lacking.
12:53 Rowe: Transparency has been increased. The website shows many of the relationships in the college’s power hierarchy. Much still needs to be done, he adds.
12:55 A student asks if the lack of interest in student government shows a lack of political engagement.
12:56 A student who has attended a StuCo meeting says that the council does try to work effectively within its power. She does get the sense that many activists feel disempowered.
12:59 Another student refers to the recent “A Call to Student Power” letter. He gets the sense that the writers of the letter wanted change, but only on their own terms. This might explain, he suggests, activists’ low interest in student government.
1:00 Another student: Single, controversial issues cannot be resolved by student government. The kind of change that activists want to achieve cannot be effected by StuCo.
1:02 Another student: Getting differently-minded groups to talk to each other is important. Institutional change is unlikely, but we can change students’ mentality.
1:04 A different student asks what it means to change students’ mentality.
1:04 Answer: There should be a culture of talking to the administration with less animosity.
1:05 Eldridge: Many people are motivated to change very specific issues that they care about. There have been concerns that the College is more concerned about liability than safety. These aren’t mutually exclusive: Less liability can lead to more safety. He understands that people are angry, but we should find points to agree on.
1:09 A freshman who was in high school student government for all four years feels that student government is widely perceived as powerless. Another student adds that few people know what StuCo is doing.
1:12 Another student: Americans are expected to have political awareness, but this is less true for college. People are vocal about the problems they see, but few of them take action to change things.
1:13 Eldridge: Civic responsibility is not taught well in modern education. Many Swarthmore students were not effectively taught social responsibility in school. Student voices will be heard better when the conversation is constructive, not belligerent.
1:17 A student asks why discourse on civic responsibility has changed.
1:17 Eldridge: Teachers are trained badly, and society does not respect them enough. The vital role of education is often disparaged.
1:19 Another student: Many people feel “glee” in being upset. Getting upset is something Swatties do well, and it’s easier to be upset than work towards a solution. He asks if the anger can be redirected towards effecting actual change.
1:22 Another student: There is value in being angry and pointing out wrongs, even if no solutions are proposed.
1:24 Another student: My issue with aggressive activism is that it’s ineffective.
1:25 Another student: Focused anger is good; unfocused rage is not.
1:26 Another student: Recent activism has led to change, largely because of the intensity of last semester’s anger.
1:28 People are now talking about the best time for the next meeting. Monday evening is proposed as a better time, because more students would be able to come. Monday, Nov. 11 has been tentatively chosen.