In the context of recent activism and student action regarding Swarthmore’s divestment from fossil fuels, I thought I’d take a look at past and ongoing activism both campus and related to the institution. Here’s a (brief) history of some historical progresses and moments of activism at Swat:
1869 – Nov. 10, the College opens with a tree-planting ceremony to honor the College founders Lucretia and James Mott, who were well known for their activism in the women’s rights and anti-slavery movements. At the ceremony, President Edward Parrish said “A peculiarity of this organization, as contrasted with most others for like purposes is the association of women equally with men in its origin and management.”
1905 – Swarthmore football player Robert “Tiny” Maxwell is photographed in a bloodied and battered state after a game against University of Pennsylvania. President Theodore Roosevelt saw this image of Maxwell, and declared that the sport had to be reformed or he would ban it. The legalization of the forward pass and the doubling of the yardage required for a first down were elements of the sport that came out of the reforms this spurred.
1907 – The Jeanes Bequest. Wealthy Quaker Anna T. Jeanes offered to bequeath her land to Swarthmore one on condition: the college permanently give up intercollegiate sports. The college refused.
1917 – Jesse Holmes, a philosophy professor helped found the American Friends Service Committee, providing conscientious objectors an opportunity to perform community service rather than fight.
1930 – The college organized and funded former area mill workers to clear paths, open trails, cut dead trees, and haul out trash from the woods. According to the Arboretum’s first director, after conducting this work from 1930-1932, they “literally transformed the dilapidated areas into a pleasant woodland park with attractive paths”
1933 – Sororities Abolished due to Jewish students being excluded from Chi Omega and Kappa Alpha Theta. The ban was repealed in 2012.
1943 – Student Body integrated, although some black students were already black students already attending the College as members of the U.S. Navy’s V-12 unit stationed on campus.
1967 – Superweek. President Courtney Smith initiated the publication of “Critique of a College,” which was a review of the college. During the week in December, classes were canceled and instead students and faculty held meetings and discussion panels about the school and its policies. For the week, there was a daily student newspaper titled “The Egg,” which detailed topics covered. These topics included the creation of an engineering department, installing pass/fail courses, counting social/field work for course credit, the Quaker tradition, the College’s relationship with students, and the role of women in academics and education.
1969 – The black protest movement, led by the Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society (SASS) sat in the Admissions Office to demand increased black enrollment after there was dwindling numbers of black students and lack of administrative support for black students. The sit-in was eight days long, and the next year saw a large increase in the number of black students at the college.
1970 – students pushed for the Black Cultural Center and it was founded.
1971 – FBI files stolen from an office in Media reveal that Swarthmore’s Afro-American Student Society were under surveillance, and disclosed information on students and faculty
1974 – Inspired by the establishment of the Black Cultural Center and second wave feminism, members of Swarthmore Women’s Liberation pushed for their own center, which was established in Bond hall in 1974 and named after Alice Paul in 1975. (It no longer has that same purpose.)
1982 – Divestment from South Africa process begins when Student Council adopts a resolution calling the College to divest from all companies doing members in South Africa, and later members of the college’s Anti-Apartheid Committee interrupted a Board of Managers meeting by holding a demonstration outside their meeting room. Sit-ins and activism continued, and in 1986 the Board of Managers reached consensus to proceed toward total divestment, which was completed in 1990.
1983 – Swarthmore President David Fraser “mobilizes the College’s opposition” and testifies before Congress to oppose an amendment to withhold federal financial aid from students who failed to register for a military draft
1988 – First Sager Symposium. Richard Sager ‘73 created the Sager Fund to fund events exploring LGBTQ issues
1996 – Environmental Racism Conference – students organize a conference on environmental racism in Chester that leads to the formation of the Campus Coalition Concerning Chester
2002 – Shareholder Activism – Swarthmore became the first college or university to initiate a resolution against Lockhead Martin for discrimination against LGBTQ employes. Soon after, the company announced plans to add sexual orientation to their discrimination policy.
2003 – Swarthmore joins Amicus Brief along with other colleges to support affirmative action in college admissions. President at the time Alfred H. Bloom said “we believe that diversity is essential to our educational mission.”
2011 – Mountain Justice first meets with the board to discuss divestment from fossil fuels.
2014 Swarthmore gains an NGO observer status at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and sends a delegation of students, faculty, and staff.
2016 – In December, President Valerie Smith affirms Swarthmore as a sanctuary campus.
2017 – Mountain Justice spearheads a referendum, subsequent sit-ins, and a joint forum with president Valerie Smith, SGO, and members of the board to push forward the policy of divestment from fossil fuels, despite the college’s official policy since 1991 of not divesting for social purposes.
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