Uncovering the details of student activism

Historically, student activism has played a key role in shaping the Swarthmore of today, and must continue if student concerns and interests are to be advanced. It is the role of Student Council to support and promote student interests — and a historical perspective on student activism is among these.

Students of the future need to have access to information about how activism of the past has shaped Swarthmore of the present. Understanding which campaigns have succeeded and failed — and why — would go a long way towards correcting for the natural lack of institutional memory, given the rapid turnover of the student body. A history of Swarthmore activism could also help students to gain a better sense of “self” and why our campus quirks and cultures have evolved in the directions they have.

Furthermore, a failure to acknowledge the efforts of generations of students represents a whitewashing of history and erases the experiences of students who have been oppressed based on their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious identity, socioeconomic status or ability. By failing to acknowledge the work that was done by students, we simultaneously ignore the very real institutional barriers that existed previously (and continue to exist) while also devaluing the efforts of the students who have made change possible. Moreover, by failing to acknowledge this information publicly, we deprive alumni of the opportunity to learn about and support current initiatives that may be of importance to them. As a consequence, alumni who may be willing to provide a support and guidance system for current activists may not be cognizant of the need for their support.

Details of student activism at Swarthmore are by and large conspicuously absent from the “official” timeline presented on the sesquicentennial website. Given Swarthmore’s commitment to social justice in its publications, we find it consistent with the mission of the College for this information to be included. We support student publications working to develop such historical perspectives, and applaud the efforts of Swat Overlaps in helping to preserve important and underrepresented parts of Swarthmore history. We would like to encourage other campus publications to work on similar historical investigations. The Phoenix and the Daily Gazette have pursued small-scale projects of this type in past years, and we encourage them to prioritize these projects as they search for subjects for long-form pieces. We also resolve to begin the project of utilizing Swarthmore’s extensive collection of archives to compile a timeline of activism at the college.

Student Council’s Chair of Academic Affairs Marian Firke ’14, Chair of Internal Affairs Salman Safir ’16 and Co-Presidents Jason Heo ’15 and Elena Schlessinger ’15 sign this resolution on behalf of Student Council. 

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