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.
At around 8:00pm last Friday, five members of Mountain Justice received emails from the Dean’s Office threatening fines and probation for their participation in the February 24th sit-in at the Finance and Investments Office in Parrish Hall. It is not yet clear why these five particular students were selected, as there were multiple other students in the office.
These students, and a total of over 80 others throughout the day joined the sit-in as part a long Swarthmore tradition of taking peaceful acts of conscience on this campus and beyond. In and out of classes, our experience at Swarthmore has inspired in us a deep commitment to social justice and made us feel a moral obligation to take action to promote these values on campus and beyond.
As we took this action, we were calling on the Board of Managers to act in line with these values of social responsibility and leadership for the common good. The fossil fuel industry threatens millions of lives and our collective future — with the Trump administration actively supporting this industry, it is unconscionable that Swarthmore continue to support and invest in fossil fuels. We had hoped to not need to take this kind of action. We decided to only after the Board completely dismissed the landslide mandate for partial divestment and refused to engage in dialogue.
The sit-in called on the Board to engage in dialogue on the student divestment referendum, which students passed by a landslide just days before, but that the Board had completely refused to discuss. However, only hours into the sit-in, this changed. President Smith and a Board member assured us it would be discussed at the Board meetings that evening and the following day.
All the students and faculty at the sit-in made every effort to be courteous and thoughtful to Mr. Amstutz and Public Safety. They made sure to limit the number of people in the office at any given time, rotating throughout the day to maximize space in the office. Students also made sure to leave the area around Mr. Amstutz’s desk free, and assisted Mr. Amstutz with shredding old papers, his primary task for the day. When Mr. Amstutz asked students to leave so he could lock his door, all students left the office and continued the sit-in in the hallway.
We find it shocking and disturbing that the administration would rather threaten students with fines and probation than meet and discuss the issue. The Board’s continuing refusal to engage on this issue only further shows that they know their blanket rejection of any divestment is indefensible. To refuse to engage simply because divestment would use the endowment for a social purpose goes against everything Swarthmore stands for.
We urge President Smith and Dean Miller to affirm our community’s right to peaceful protest, and ask that you join us and over 650 signatories by signing our petition to them: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/10gtKuAPk3nGVR8mp7vlrJT3XxkkLR1SDigmxvXd5zo8/edit
CORRECTION 3/23: References to “academic probation” were removed as it appears that students are being threatened with generic probation, not specifically academic.