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.
This past Friday, all 5 MJ students targeted by the administration were found guilty for their participation in the sit-in to protest the Board’s refusal to engage with the student divestment referendum simply because it would use the endowment for a social purpose. After an incredible show of support from our campus community, however, the administration backed down from their previous threats of probation and fines, and only gave the 5 students warnings. But, especially in this political climate, we are still greatly disappointed that the administration would try to discourage peaceful and respectful student activism.
While these students may have broken the Code of Conduct, they have upheld a moral code, joining a long tradition of Swarthmore students taking moral acts of conscience on this campus and beyond. We are particularly concerned because the administration targeted and found guilty a student leader who was in the hallway, not the office, and because students made every effort to be courteous, even assisting Mr. Amstutz with shredding papers, which he said was his main task for the day.
Over the past months, the Board and the administration have repeatedly betrayed Swarthmore’s core values: they ignored an overwhelming student referendum vote, completely refused to engage in dialogue on divestment, and cracked down on peaceful student activists.
We were very disappointed by President Smith’s op-ed last Thursday not only because it judged students as guilty before the Dean’s Office made its decision (and based this judgement off false information), but because we had hoped that given her past praise of student activism, she would stand with us. In an interview before her inauguration, she cited the importance of student activism in forcing older generations to take action on pressing moral issues:
“Historically, students in colleges and universities across the globe have risen to the challenge of calling to the attention of their institutions matters of social and political urgency. I think each generation first of all needs to be grateful to students for asking us to pay attention to areas we may not have attended to sufficiently.”
Actions like those she has taken over the past weeks are incompatible with these sentiments.
Over the coming weeks, President Smith has a choice: whether to continue to support the Board, or whether to stand up for Swarthmore’s values, our students, and the millions of people around the world imperiled by climate change. We know divestment cannot happen overnight, but it is unconscionable for us not to take simple steps to begin partially divesting.
Given the Trump administration’s policies, we find this decision particularly egregious. This is the moment to protect peaceful protest, not condemn it; this is the moment to show leadership for climate justice, not invest in the industry driving the crisis. This is the time to affirm our values and divest.