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 Friday night, Associate Dean of Students Nathan Miller notified four members of Mountain Justice (MJ) via email that they might receive sanctions for participating in MJ’s sit-in of Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz’s office on February 24th. If found responsible, the students could face penalties ranging from a warning to probation.
MJ held the sit-in in response to an announcement from President Valerie Smith and Board of Managers Chair Tom Spock ‘78 that the College wouldn’t consider partially divesting from fossil fuels, despite students overwhelmingly approving the proposal in an SGO referendum.
Accounts of what exactly transpired at the sit-in differ between Public Safety and MJ.
According to Public Safety Director Mike Hill, MJ members occupied Amstutz’s office with the knowledge that they were violating the student code of conduct.
“I let the students know that they were in violation of the student conduct policy which supports our students’ right to protest, but not when it disrupts college business or the ability of a person to do their job,” Hill wrote in an email. “Several students left when they heard they were in violation of the policy, and five remained for several hours.”
However, MJ members said that although Hill did warn them that they were violating the student code, he later indicated that they would not be cited. Furthermore, they helped Amstutz with his office work, including sorting and shredding papers.
“Mike Hill took IDs from students and told some students that there could be citations as a result of them remaining in the office,” wrote MJ member Stephen O’Hanlon ‘18, one of the students facing citations, in an email. “However, when I and others were talking about how dismaying it was that they would cite students trying to get a meeting with the Board, Mike Hill walked back his threats saying, ‘that [citations] isn’t what I am saying.’”
However, Hill said that he told the students there could be sanctions, but avoided using the word “citation.”
“I told the students that there could be sanctions for violating the student code of conduct but I did not know the specifics. As I recall one of the students used the phrase citation and I told them there was no citation process because we don’t issue citations and reiterated that I didn’t know what the conduct sanctions might be.”
O’Hanlon added that the charges seem arbitrary, as the four MJ members charged with violating the code were only a few of the students who occupied Amstutz’s office.
Since the possible consequences for the charges against them don’t include suspension or expulsion, the students won’t get a hearing with the College Judiciary Committee (CJC). Instead, the four students are scheduled to meet separately with Miller today for an administrative review, where they will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations. Afterward, Miller will decide if they violated the student code of conduct and, if so, what their sanctions will be. The process is outlined in the student handbook.
In response, Mountain Justice is circulating a petition urging the College President, Valerie Smith, and Miller to “affirm our community’s right to peaceful protest.”
Furthermore, MJ members emphasized that, in spite of the threat of sanctions, the protest was successful in getting the Board of Managers to discuss the topic of divestment in their meeting that weekend, despite Smith and Spock’s announcement.
“I think we went in knowing that there might be consequences. We were fully aware of that. And I don’t regret taking steps to bring them to the table, which were in this case somewhat effective, because they did put it on the agenda,” said Will Marchese ‘20, one of the four MJ members accused of violating the student code. “Do I regret fighting for climate justice? Of course not. We were aware of the possibility of this. But I don’t think that makes it any less shocking or disturbing that they’re silencing dissent in this way.”
Update 3/22, 2017 9:33 a.m: This article was updated to include further comments from Public Safety Director Mike Hill.
CORRECTION 3/23,1:02 p.m.: References to “academic probation” were removed as it appears that students are being threatened with generic probation, not specifically academic.
Featured image courtesy of Siddharth Srivatsan ’20