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