Arrangement request at Olde Club prompts strong reactions

At the beginning of his band’s set, Tiyé Pulley ’19 made an announcement to the crowd, asking members to arrange themselves in a particular manner. His band, GOODGOODNOTBAD, was performing in Olde Club last Friday as a part of a student band event entitled “Swarthmore Campus Limits,” a play on the name of an existing music festival, Austin City Limits. Over the next few days, Pulley faced both backlash and a wave of support in response to his announcement, likely because the particular arrangement requested was based on identity.
Pulley’s request to the audience was for students holding marginalized identities to move to the front of the venue and students who were not members of marginalized communities to move to the back.
“Tiyé said, ‘There are people outside waiting to get in. If you identify as a woman, a person of color, queer, or gender nonbinary, please come to the front. If you are a cis het straight male, please move to the back,’” said Harsha Sen ’19, who is also a member of GGNB, and was performing with Pulley.
Some white men in attendance responded to this request by leaving the venue.
“These people, instead of simply moving back a few feet, left the space altogether, laughing, jeering, looking completely unfazed, at least to me,” said Blake Oetting ’18, who was in the audience at the time, and is a member of the band which followed GGNB.
Pulley’s announcement was appreciated by many members of the audience who chose to remain. Students who were able to move up to the front of the venue as a result of Pulley’s request expressed gratitude, and had a sense that it improved the show by invoking a sense of shared community.
“GOODGOODNOTBAD’s set was incredible, and as someone invited to the front of the crowd, I can say there was a palpable sense of togetherness in Olde Club that night,” said Oetting.
“Like I said on stage, I hadn’t thought of saying it myself, but I am glad someone did. It just made the show that much better. While I don’t remember it myself, a member of the crowd later told me people cheered, and I could see people in the front ease up and really enjoy the show, celebrating their right to exist and demand space more visibly after that statement,” said Sen.
Oetting emphasized the context of Pulley’s statement, especially the historical relationship between the space Pulley was performing in and the groups he privileged.
“What has to be understood about Olde Club is that it is and has been a space dominated by straight, white, cis men, so Tiyé’s demands last Friday were not random in any way, but instead, I presume, a response to the very specific state of affairs that have served as that space’s status quo for as long as I can remember. So, in regards to that precedent, and the election last Tuesday, which placed already marginalized communities in a state of justified panic, Tiyé was taking on the significant task of creating a community of women, people of color, and queer students in a space where [such a community] has been continually disallowed,” said Oetting.
It is possible that Pulley’s statements were made in reaction to the arrangement of the crowd prior to taking the stage.
“Before he said that, a large group of baseball players had entered Olde Club during Caboose’s set, and were taking up a large amount of space. As testimonials sent to the deans will demonstrate, people were pushed around and made to feel uncomfortable,” said Sen.
Sen did mention, however, that the set was a positive experience for some of the white men who remained.
“The night was a cathartic one, and was made that much better by Tiyé saying what was really on a lot of our minds. I could see white men at the back really engage with us, too, and realized that, by articulating this sentiment the way he did, Tiyé sent a powerful message, and got people thinking hard about privilege,” said Sen.
There were also many students who were not supportive of Pulley’s request. In addition to the students who left, there were some white students who stayed and moved to the back. It’s possible that some of the students who stayed throughout the show may have done so in spite of Pulley’s announcement. This cannot be confirmed as every student who was opposed to Pulley’s actions who was reached by the Phoenix declined to comment.
Evidently, however, one student who was disturbed by the incident in Olde Club was sufficiently upset to register a complaint with the Dean’s Office as, on Sunday, it was revealed via Pulley’s Facebook that he had spoken to two deans regarding complaints about his actions. Due to the lack of testimony from students offended by Pulley’s comments, it cannot be assumed that the student who complained was a member of the Men’s Baseball team or even a cisgender, heterosexual, white man.
In response to his discussion with deans, Pulley began collecting testimony from those in attendance who supported his request. Many of the other acts who performed at Olde Club that night were active in soliciting testimony via Facebook, including Oetting and Henry Feinstein ’19, a member of Caboose. Caboose also issued a statement on its Facebook page in support of Pulley’s actions.
The deans Pulley spoke to, Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center Jason Rivera and Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development T. Shá Duncan Smith, both declined to comment on their discussions with Pulley, citing privacy concerns. However, Rivera did provide a statement offering insight into the general process of the Dean’s Office.
The Dean’s Office is frequently approached by students and other community members about a wide range of concerns.  Our approach to those concerns depends on the specifics of the situation and can include everything from referrals to support services that offer students an opportunity to reflect on the situation, to conversations to gather additional information and make sure we’ve heard all perspectives, to a full investigation if it is determined that there has been a violation of the student code of conduct,” said Rivera.
In Pulley’s case, evidently it was determined that a full investigation was not required as he announced the next day on Facebook that there would be no administrative action in response to his request at Olde Club.
It is possible that the conversations that occurred between the deans and Pulley simply represent the execution of an established process for responding to a complaint registered with the Dean’s Office. However, this does not negate the fact that several students who spoke out in support of Pulley were upset with the comprehensive response to Pulley’s incident in comparison to the response to instances of discrimination they had experienced.
“I will say that I and others have reported incidents of actually discriminatory behavior from certain factions of this campus in the past to delayed or no response at all,” said Oetting.
The lasting impact of this event is yet unclear. James Wallace-Lee ’17, who organized the student band showcase, expressed relief that there was no action taken against Pulley, and encouraged further discussion about diversity in the college music scene, pointing towards Loud and Underground, a new student group formed specifically to promote diversity and inclusion in the college music scene, as a space to continue the conversation.
“I don’t really have much to say other than I’m happy that the administration recognized this was a non-issue,” said Wallace-Lee.
Oetting described his hopes that the incident would result in a campus conversation about distribution of student spaces on campus and identity.
“I hope that this incident sparks conversations about the importance of recognizing the amount of space individuals occupy. It is not unreasonable — in fact, it is vital — for women, people of color, and queer students to claim or reclaim both physical space in places like Olde Club and space in academic discussions and more social contexts,” said Oetting.
The campus conversation surrounding such topics in the future is likely to involve, in some role, both Rivera and Duncan Smith. It is unlikely that either individual is responsible for most of the past delays or inaction in response to instances of discrimination, as both deans joined the Swarthmore community this past summer. This means that their rapid response in this situation, while troubling to some, may be a new precedent for student concerns regarding discrimination within the community. Rivera and Duncan Smith have the opportunity help cultivate a new cultural approach to diversity at Swarthmore, and they seem very open to student feedback.
“It is clear, we are all looking for ways to create spaces for a more inclusive and diverse community.  Moving forward, the Dean of Students Division wants to partner with all students to work to build our inclusive community and to identify ways that we can navigate this difficult time together. We look forward to connecting or collaborating with all students.  We hope students will continue to let us know how we can serve as a resource,” said Rivera.
Given the mistrust students expressed towards past administrative responses to cases of discrimination, and the fact that no one who was opposed to Pulley’s piece consented to be quoted in this piece, there are clearly rifts within the college community. However, the efforts of the new deans and new student efforts centered around inclusion offer a path forward.

1 Comment

  1. As an alum, I am troubled by the administration’s apparent lack of response to this incident. I’m embarrassed to be an alumnus today (and I’m not one of the categories of people who was asked to move to the back, just to be clear).

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