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.
On the afternoon of April 17th, 2017, student admissions worker Jordan Reyes ‘19 attended a meeting with Swarthmore College Vice President and Admissions Dean Jim Bock to discuss an incident that had occurred at Reyes’s work shift on April 6th.
Reyes, who has worked as an Admissions Tour Guide and also worked as a General Information Session Presenter (GISP), was substituting in for another GISP who was not able to make their shift that day. Reyes happened to be wearing a t-shirt that read “I <3 Female Orgasm.”
The shirt Reyes wore came from the “I <3 Female Orgasm” event held on February 16 by the Title IX House, the Women’s Resource Center for Gender Equity, and Sexual Health Advocates.
Reyes told The Daily Gazette that he was asked to cover up the shirt by Senior Assistant Dean of Admissions Emily Almas, and that at first, he begrudgingly agreed. However, after some contemplation, Reyes decided that it was not in his interest to do so.
“Swatties are the type of students that will stand up for what they believe in, even if they think it’ll get them in trouble,” Reyes said. “I’m covering up my own shirt, which means a lot to me, because I was asked to, and if I unzip my jacket I’m going to get in trouble.”
“That’s just not what I should be doing,” he said.
The Tour Guide Handbook, which is provided to all new tour guides at the onset of each semester, contains only this line regarding dress: “Wear comfortable shoes. Avoid sandals and open-toed shoes. Clothing should not be revealing or have offensive messages. Don’t wear anything you wouldn’t wear to grandma’s house.”
Dean Bock, that day, received a complaint about the shirt from the family of a prospective student, and Reyes was later called in for a meeting.
When asked about the incident, Dean Bock provided email comment. “We do expect all of our employees to honor our written policies of employment and to follow verbal instructions about appropriate workplace attire,” Bock wrote. “This is no different from any other job, be it a full-time job after graduation, or a part-time student job.”
During their meeting, Reyes told Dean Bock that it was not clear whether Almas was asking him to cover the shirt up as a favor or if it was a formal request have it covered.
“If that’s something that you want to avoid in the future, then you need to make that clear in training,” Reyes said.
“We do expect our student employees to be sensitive to, and put the needs of our guests before their own,” Bock wrote in his statement. He explained that no student was suspended or fired. “And if an employee feels they wish to resign, we of course honor their wish,” he said.
“He essentially presented me with an ultimatum,” Reyes said.
Reyes has since resigned from the position. However, working in Admissions was his only source of income as a student on the Federal Work-Study program.
“The only money I have is the money I get from working Admissions,” Reyes said.
When contacted to provide comment regarding the “I <3 Orgasm” t-shirt incident, Swarthmore’s Violence Prevention Educator Nina Harris noted the difficulty of balancing personal style and professional attire in the workplace.
“I don’t believe that the intention is to silence anyone’s voice,” Harris wrote in an email. “I can see how, without proper context or framing, the shirt’s messaging can be easily misconstrued or missed altogether by visiting parents and families.”
Title IX Coordinator, Kaaren Williamsen, echoed Harris’s sentiment.
“It makes sense to me that there would be guidelines about what is appropriate in the workplace so that admissions can live out its mission and goals,” Williamsen said. “Navigating expectations in the workplace is often complicated, and I think this is starting an important conversation.”
However, fellow Tour Guide and Admissions worker, Nathalie Baer-Chan ‘19, did not see the college’s response as benign.
“I think the treatment and ultimatum given to Jordan was pretty infuriating and frankly hypocritical,” Baer-Chan wrote in a statement to The Daily Gazette. “If the school wants to continue to capitalize off of the radical energy of its students, it cannot in good conscience continue to punish students for exhibiting that same quality when it’s no longer convenient or exploitable.”
Reyes hopes to begin a job in the Biology Department in the fall, but for the remaining weeks and final pay period of the semester, he is not employed by the college.
Image Courtesy of sexualityeducation.com and The Daily Gazette
Jordan, your boss was being very nice and politically correct, but I want you to think about this. You were wearing a shirt, in public, which proclaims that you ” <3 " sexually pleasuring women. That's not exactly a professional outfit for a tour guide to have! You didn't get in trouble because of "the heterosexist patriarchy" or whatever, shirts that have sexual references are NOT appropriate business attire, even a middle schooler could tell you that!
I agree that the shirt could easily be misunderstood and perceived as inappropriately sexual and even threatening–without context. However, Jordan was an INFORMATION PRESENTER. It’s puzzling that Dean Bock would see no other options for Jordan than for him to stop wearing the shirt or resign, rather than discuss how Jordan might provide information about his work as a Sexual Health Advocate on healthy sexuality programming. I <3 the Female Orgasm was, after all, a school-sponsored program which Jordan, as a SHA, was involved with. (The shirts were sold at this college-sponsored event.) Why not have Jordan discuss and promote Swat's great healthy sex and relationships programming, much as an information presenter wearing a Swat Swing shirt would refer to their shirt and talk about our great swing dance group?
It's obviously well within the rights of Jordan's employers to require him to adhere to this dress code. But it certainly speaks poorly of the college that Dean Bock would punish a student for wearing and discussing a shirt that–in context–is part of the school's healthy sex and relationships programming, while the administration remains disturbingly silent on its mishandling of sexual assaults on campus. That is the hypocrisy I think people are rightly pointing out.
Oops, did not mean to post this twice.
No no no no. The shirt is inappropriately sexual and even threatening, period. No context is needed. No person should ever wear that shirt in any work environment ever. Period. It is sad to hear that this shirt is somehow related to a school sponsored program. I can’t imagine any sane parent being happy their $63K a year is going to pay for programs encouraging female orgasms. Is this really what is taught in colleges these days? No wonder nobody wants to hire recent college graduates anymore.
I agree that the shirt can easily be misunderstood and perceived as innapropriately sexual and even threatening–without context. However, Jordan was a GISP, a General INFORMATION Session Presenter, and as such it’s puzzling that Dean Bock wouldn’t encourage him to provide information on Swat’s great programming on healthy sexuality, including “I <3 the Female Orgasm." After all, Jordan is a SHA and Title IX Liaison and was involved in coordinating "Female Orgasm." Why not allow Jordan to use his shirt as a launching point for a discussion of ways to be involved in campus life, just as a GISP wearing a Swat Swing t-shirt would refer to their t-shirt and talk about our great swing dance club? (As a side note, it's odd that this article doesn't mention the fact that Jordan DID discuss his sexual health advocacy in his presentation while wearing the shirt–the shirt was not a stand-alone message.)
Of course, it is clearly within the rights of the employer to dictate what the employee wears. But for Dean Bock to punish a student for wearing and talking about a shirt that supports Swat's own programming on healthy sexuality and relationships certainly undermines the college's claim of supporting students, not to mention its own Title IX Office. And when the administration maintains a disturbing silence on its mishandling of sexual assault reports, banning a shirt that is a symbol of the work being done to amend Swat's rape culture is ugly. This is the hypocrisy that I think a lot of us are troubled by, and that we see as representative of, yes, "the heterosexist patriarchy or whatever" as manifest at Swat.
He wasn’t punished! He literally just asked him to stop wearing the shirt
He was FIRED. What else did you want?
he wasn’t fired:
““This is all off memory, so I don’t remember exactly how it went down, but he was like, he didn’t explicitly say, it seemed like he was suggesting, heading towards that, because he was like well, if you can’t, he said something to the effect of I’d really rather you just didn’t wear the shirt to any more information sessions and if you can’t do that, and then just giving me almost like a shrug and a shaking his head look. So essentially stop wearing the shirt, or just stop working,” Reyes said.”
he chose to resign. you can’t say he’s a hero for resigning and a victim for being fired at the same time. and if he were to be fired for refusing to wear a shirt that made people uncomfortable then im okay with that
I don’t see any problem in administration’s action. Swat usually teaches students to stand up for what they believe in, but fails to teach how and when to speak out. I really feel sorry for you, Jordan. Please be grateful, at least not mad at, what the admin tells you to do. You are far better off to learn this lesson while at college, than to learn it after you graduate.
I would be super uncomfortable by this shirt in a tour by a cis man! And he chose to quit his job because he refused to stop wearing this super sexualized shirt. Like that is totally acceptable for an employer to ask u not to wear that. But he had to make a free speech point and chose to quit his job vs not wearing the shirt in an act of publicized martyrdom? Idk dude
When you get out into the world, you will find that there are rules that simply will NEVER permit a shirt like that in a caring workplace. You will be held to respectful standards. Every company has codes of conduct, none of which are open to discussion. You will be paid to do a job and held to caring and sensitive standards in your actions and appearance. Anything less will be unacceptable. That’s how life really is.
Go back to your job. Just wear a different shirt, that’s all. Those of you who conduct College tours really care about the College, or you wouldn’t do it. Besides, you’re the only group who can walk backwards without falling down. The rest of us have a tough time walking forward!
Of course the university should have fired him for wearing that shirt while giving a tour, that is a no-brainer. What I question is how stupid was this kid to think it was ok to wear a stupid t shirt like that while giving a tour? Did his parents forget to teach him to respect others? Or were they more concerned about his self esteem? Where did this kid get the idea it was ok to wear offensive t shirts while working?
It is poor judgment on the student’s part on two counts. First, he should have known that shirt without context (or even with it) could be offensive to other people. As a tour guide he knows it is his job to present the school in the best possible light. Second, he was told by a supervisor to cover the shirt up. Failure to follow the direction of your supervisor on its face was sufficient to fire him. If I would have been there with my wife and high school senior son to take a tour, I would have refused to accompany him. As it was he was given the option of continuing his job without wearing the shirt or resign. He made his choice.