Images of Students of Color Defaced from French Department Poster

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.

Last Monday while walking through Kohlberg third, Jacob Malin ’18 noticed something off about one of the posters in the French Department:

“The display of last year’s seniors on the French department board had been damaged somehow, and when I looked closer I realized that the faces of the three students of color looked like they had been intentionally ripped out.”

The poster, with new printouts taped over the holes where the original faces have been cut out, now looks like this:

Photo by Keton Kakkar ’19/The Daily Gazette.

After Malin contacted Public Safety and the French department, members of the newly formed Bias Incident, Harassment and Hate Crime Response group (which includes Dean of Students Liz Braun, Public Safety Directory Mike Hill, and Director of Equal Opportunity and Engagement Zenobia Hargust) met to discuss how to respond.

After consulting with the Chair of the French Department, the group decided to alert the community of the incident by asking President Valerie Smith to reference it in an email she was already preparing. Further, wrote Braun in an email, they decided that the department would post a written response to the incident on the board itself:

Photo by Keton Kakkar ’19/The Daily Gazette.

Some students feel frustrated with what they perceive as the administration’s lack of attention to the vandalism. The only community-wide acknowledgement of the incident came in a single sentence in the second paragraph of Smith’s recent email inviting the campus to attend a community dialogue to discuss issues about racism.

“I just want to know what happened,” said Tiye Pulley ‘19. “Who did this? When did it happen? What exactly occurred? Who found out? And why hasn’t the student population been informed in a mass e-mail or something? Why did I have to read about this in the second paragraph of an e-mail, slipped in there like it was nothing?”

“Over the time that I’ve been at the College we’ve responded to this type of bias-related anonymous graffiti and vandalism in a variety of ways including sending an all campus email, holding a campus wide discussion, providing an educational response in the space where the vandalism took place or some combination of all three,” wrote Braun in an email. “These are new protocols and we welcome community feedback as we continue to implement them.”

Both Smith and Braun noted that the defacement of students of color from the poster occurred in the wake of racially charged and racist events taking place at college campuses all across the country. It is particularly similar to the defacement of the portraits of Black professors at Harvard Law School earlier in November.

The incident was addressed at the campus collection held this Monday, which was intended to allow members of our community to discuss their thoughts on issues concerning racism.

“I am hopeful that last night did provide [the opportunity to discuss this incident], and that we will all consider this but one of a number of much needed conversations,” wrote Smith in an email.


***Update: December 3rd, the day following the publication of this article, Dean Braun sent a campus-wide email directly addressing this matter and saying, “The incident–the literal defacing of the pictures of three recent alumni of color on a French Departmental poster congratulating 2015 graduates–is totally unacceptable on this campus.”***

Keton Kakkar ’20

Keton entered Swarthmore with the class of 2019 and graduated with the class of 2020. He double majored in English literature and computer science and was awarded Honors at commencement. A former editor of this newspaper, he was responsible for merging The Daily Gazette with The Phoenix, among other initiatives. He grew up in Sands Point, New York, completed the last two years of his secondary schooling at Phillips Academy in Andover Massachusetts, and is a member of the class of 2025 at the NYU School of Law.

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