Many seniors are soon approaching the scariest part of college: the end. Each class leaves, a new one replaces it, and the campus seems to change a bit. Leaving with this senior class is a very important piece of institutional memory from only three years ago: the Spring of our Discontent. Although many current seniors were not involved in the actions, their hazy memory of the anger, the actions and the coalition of students coming together is really all we have left. Students coming onto campus have no idea what the Spring of Discontent even means, let alone its lasting impact on the school as a whole. It seems almost purposeful to let it remain that way. Because once these seniors graduate, who will tell the story? With no students who experienced the emotion and turmoil of the spring, how will the narratives change?
The Spring of our Discontent, which refers to the spring of 2013, was defined by actions regarding a number of different subjects. Mountain Justice was advocating for divestment, the IC and BCC were responding to underfunding and consistent incidents of urination on the door to the IC, and frustration toward the frats and the administration due to sexual assault misconduct. All the issues represented interests of oppressed students on campus and frustration at the lack of institutional support they received. The first action students pushed as part of this movement was a petition to have a referendum about Greek life on campus, which received 172 signatures, and was presented to the Student Council (now SGO). The referendum proposed six modifications to Greek life, on which students could vote yes or no: separating DU and Kappa Alpha Theta from the national chapters, making all genders eligible for both fraternities and sororities, making frat houses substance free, pushing both frats into one house, having no designated houses for either frat, or the abolition of Greek life all together.
The referendum was released on Moodle. 53% of students voted ‘Yes’ on making Greek life gender-inclusive, but all other amendments to Greek life failed to pass. Substance free frat houses received 65% ‘No’, 19% ‘Yes’ and 12% no preference and 3% with no answer. Pushing both frats into one house received 54% ‘No’ and 30% ‘Yes’, while having no designated houses for either frat received ‘No’ 52% and ‘Yes’ 36%. Abolition of Greek life altogether received 61% ‘No’, and 29% ‘Yes’. With the frats still intact, the focus shifted from Greek like to problems within the administration
Students filed complaints with twelve testimonies through Title IX and the Clery Act, charging that the administration had mishandled their cases and had not adequately addressed their reports of sexual assault. Reported failures included discouraging victims from coming forward, underreporting incidents of sexual assault, intimidating victims of sexual assault, and other failures to publicly report to the government or local community. This resulted in a dramatic change within the administration. Several members of the administration left the school or changed positions. Margolis Healy and Associates, a firm aimed to create safe campuses for colleges and universities, did an assessment on the sexual assault policy which resulted in a new policy that included the creation of a Title IX coordinator position that reports directly to the president. This also resulted in the creation of positions in departments such as the dean’s office, the athletic office, and the office of human resources to specifically support the Title IX office, among many other revisions to consent education and alcohol and other drugs policies. The final revision, and probably the most talked about change on campus, was the new alcohol policy and the death of the DJ fund.
In response to the actions and emotions on campus, the school offered several sessions for students to process the campus climate fully. “The activists concluded, ‘we’re not here to process feelings, we’re here to make change’” said Nathan Graf ’16, a member of Mountain Justice and an active participant in many of the actions during the spring of 2013. The focus of the actions turned a bright light on the administration and the many incidents they had mishandled, which allowed students to see the connections between the issues and demand a greater level of accountability from the administration in the areas they had neglected.
Mountain Justice voiced frustration at how the board of managers rejected movements to divest from fossil fuels, and the IC groups shared in frustration of feeling isolated and neglected on campus overall. The collective frustration led MJ activists to plan the board of managers takeover. The plan was for students who were negatively affected by the school to voice their concerns to the board of managers directly. The meeting was in Sci 101, and students came into the room from both sides and sat along the sides and in the middle, some holding signs expressing the issues they were representing. One by one, students stood at the podium and told of their experiences and expressed the need for change to the board of managers. Survivors of sexual assault, MJ members, and members of IC groups like SQU spoke honestly about their concerns and changes they wanted for the institution. This action had the most lasting impact on campus and is often thought of when addressing the spring of 2013.
Obviously, the activists who were at the forefront of these actions still had academics to worry about, and the looming finals season slowed the momentum of action for the spring. Then the senior class that had spearheaded the movements all graduated, and by the time the fall of 2013 came about, the movement had lost steam. The same emotions and frustrations with the school were still present, but the collective movement for action had faded. MJ has continued to fight the board of managers for divestment from fossil fuels, as over hundreds of other colleges and universities have divested as Swarthmore still lags behind.
Former College President Rebecca Chopp described the spring of 2013 as the community ‘frayed at its edges’. But what was so “frayed” about students coming together to make their institution better? Was their anger not handled peacefully through protest?
The general message sent from the administration through their actions of the spring of 2013 is that students need to settle for ‘good enough’. But I don’t think any Swarthmore student has ever really settled for good enough. Swarthmore students exceed expectations. It’s why we’re here, it’s what we do. They ask us to exceed; why can we not ask them the same?
The students involved in the spring of 2013 loved this institution. They loved it so much, they did everything in their power to fix its gaping faults. There’s so much left that wasn’t accomplished in 2013 that still affects students on campus today. The spring of 2013 has ended, but The Spring of Our Discontent is not over. The issues of the discontented have not been rectified. Students at Swarthmore today, tomorrow, and for as long as this college exists, need to continue to push and fight and love this institution until it’s the amazing place we know it can be.