MJ Response to Guilty Verdict on Citations

mountain justice

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.



  1. Replying as a supportive alum (class of 1966):
    First, my support and congratulations to all the activists who are promoting divestment from fossil fuel. The hows and wheres are a separate issue, and can certainly be developed through joint effort with wise investors and people of strong moral principles.
    Second, I want to mention that from what I have heard, investing in fossil fuel is not particularly likely to be even a financially wise decision.
    Third, refusing to talk and cooperate in discussions, if that is the case, is really really a mistake: a politically wrong step, and educationally wrong step, and definitely outside the tradition and values of the Society of Friends.
    Fourth: to the students, I urge you to remember that Speaking Truth to Power is never without risk that the powerful will try to punish and silence the outspoken and morally correct. One does not “break a rule” without assuming, and being prepared, for punishment. Being punished does not make the action wrong. Expecting to break laws without consequences has never been part of non-violent resistance. It is the willingness to face consequences.
    Finally: do not let the experience of these consequences (of being found in violation of a rule of conduct, or even, at some point, in peaceful violation of a law) , divert the discussion away from the importance of working for the Board’s decision to divest from fossil fuel. Conscientious investment has long been part of the Quaker principles; as far as I know, the Society of Friends has not abandoned the notion of conscientious resistance.
    During my time at S’more, we pushed for divestment from South Africa. I don’t recall the outcome. I do recall that the investment policy forbade investing in cosmetics industry, so the concept of conscientious investment was not far fetched; and most, I remember that visiting the office of President Courtney Smith, just to have a conversation with him about divestment, made both him and us very uncomfortable. Confrontation is uncomfortable. Keep your eyes on the “prize”: which is divestment and protection of the earth. Comfort is not the goal. And if managing the money “responsibly” is the argument, check out the projections for the future of fossil fuel industries!
    “Keep on keeping on!” – with confidence, and with mutual respect, and with hope.

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