This semester, the Phoenix named as co-Editors in Chief two people who, it could be reasonably assumed, held some suspicions of each other. One was an Econ major, the other studied Education; one a man, the other, a woman; one a fraternity president, the other, a leader in the 2013 referendum against Greek life. In choosing this leadership combination, the Phoenix took a risk — even though these people were each qualified and deserving of the position, they appeared to be at opposite ends of what can at times feel like an unbridgeable divide at Swarthmore.
As co-Editors, we were excited by the prospect of working together to create a strong product, even as we were aware of these differences. We built a strong working relationship, but, perhaps out of fear of igniting between us the divisiveness that has pervaded this campus, we mostly avoided talking about them. In order to confront a particularly polarizing issue in the middle of the semester, however, the identities that we had been trying to leave out of the newsroom were brought to the fore as a certain article appeared to pit our distinctive interests against each other. The trust we had built quickly dissipated, and we stereotyped each other as uncompromising straw men that could not be reasoned with. As our communication broke down, we risked becoming proof that Swatties cannot, in fact, overcome their differences, or even discuss them.
Thankfully, we were given the chance to communicate — to be honest and confront our differences, rather than avoid them. We realized that neither of us had a lurking agenda, that we were wrong to presuppose each others’ character or intentions based on the organizations we belonged to. Our conversation brought nuance to a situation that both of us had looked at from opposite, and often inflexible, extremes. Acknowledging this nuance bridged our divide, for — we realized — we were not actually on opposite ends of the spectrum. Just as importantly, it allowed us to understand and respect the differences that remained between us. Ultimately, we each had good intentions, and were striving to achieve the same things.
As outgoing seniors reflecting on our time at Swarthmore, we hope that the groups that we represent, as well as the college as a whole, can learn from our mistakes and our subsequent successes. We need to be more generous when we bring up concerns about our community.
Criticism is a valid and important aspect of any conversation — but on its own, it will not build. It will only tear apart. Being critical is most effective when it assumes good intentions — when there is a shared goal to work for. As we found out, this kind of generous communication can open doors to a type of mutual understanding that Swarthmore currently lacks. It’s time we stop polarizing the campus and acknowledge that in each organization there are individuals with which we can communicate if we try. Rather than setting aside differences, it is important to acknowledge and learn from them.
We know that some things are non-negotiable — that not every Swattie has pure intentions. Likewise, this does not mean that every campus group belongs here, or that inexcusable behavior should not be met with outrage. What it does mean is that we should strive to give each other the benefit of the doubt a little more liberally. Though our actions may be misguided, only open, honest communication will allow us to be less defensive and therefore learn. We all deserve to be communicated with under the assumption that we are good people and that the groups we represent want the best for Swarthmore. Once we are able to acknowledge this, perhaps calling Swarthmore a “community” won’t ring quite so hollow.