On September 18, Organizing for Survivors, an advocacy group for survivors of sexual violence at the college, held a teach-in in Shane Lounge as part of their renewed activism for the fall semester. Mostly directed toward first years and other students who were not on campus last semester, the teach-in explained O4S’s core principles, history, accomplishments, demands, and goals. It also featured a video of the rally in Parrish Hall last spring. Most of the people in attendance were students, though there were some administrators present.
“We geared it toward people who didn’t really know anything about what had happened last semester, so my takeaway was mostly I still want freshmen and people who were abroad last semester to really know what happened so they can feel like they’re a part of it too because it matters. It’s important to everyone on campus,” Olivia Smith ’21, a core member of O4S, said.
At the beginning of the teach-in, another core member, Morgin Goldberg ’19 explained the basic principles of O4S to attendees. These principles place an emphasis on transformative justice, which is a survivor-focused process that doesn’t rely solely on punishment.
“Transformative justice is kind of the heart of our movement. It’s talking about how we don’t just see one act of harm as fully dependent on the person who caused the harm. It’s about the greater systemic, societal problem and where we target our movement to change and stop systemic rape culture and this culture of sexual violence,” Smith said after the teach-in.
Smith also described what transformative justice would look like in action at Swarthmore. “[It] includes removing perpetrators from power, keeping everything transparent so survivors can be in the know about what’s going on in their situation, and generally lifting up the support system of survivors, while also not making it so that survivors have to do all the work for themselves.”
Much of the work O4S has done centers around accountability from the college and the administration. Last spring, as reported in the Phoenix, O4S held a rally in Parrish Hall and later held an eight-day sit-in in former Dean of Students Liz Braun’s office during a period of increased student activism on campus. In mid-May, Braun resigned.
At the teach-in, O4S said that they consider Braun’s resignation a step forward, but they are still looking for accountability from other administrators.
One such administrator, Michelle Ray, attended the teach-in. This year, Ray was promoted to “a new and expanded role as Dean of the Senior Class and Director of Case Management” according to a June email from President Smith.
Regarding Ray’s presence at the teach-in, Goldberg wrote, “I think it’s important that deans and administrators do come hear from O4S and understand what our experiences of them have been … To me, more importantly than hearing O4S speak or being able to say you attended O4S events, for all administrators, is to show that commitment through changing policy and practice as well as enacting personal/institutional accountability measures.”
Another administrator who attended the teach-in was the new Title IX coordinator Bindu Jayne, who joined the college on July 1.
Her new role is viewed as a potentially positive change on the part of the college.
“She seems really dedicated to transformative justice,” said Smith. She said that O4S is also working on getting a new Title IX liaison.
In addition to Jayne’s hiring and Ray’s promotion, Beth Pitts was moved to the office of general counsel. O4S had previously called upon Pitts, formerly the Associate Director for Investigations, to resign.
O4S has spoken out against this promotion, and at the teach-in, core members said that this is part of what they consider to be a pattern of cover-up by the college.
“Swarthmore has done this in the past,” Smith said. “A similar instance happened in spring of 2013 … It takes [the administrator] out of the students’ general view and out of their general resources, but it puts them in a lot power and is kind of like a promotion. It kind of protects them from our scrutiny, and that’s really dangerous.”
While O4S has not hosted any other events since the teach-in, they are now looking for more ways to expand their core membership and create new priorities for the semester.
“Now we have some space and time to plan and not just be reactive,” Goldberg said. “I would say that [our goals are] getting the leadership down, as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, and also figuring out strategically what the priorities are for this semester.”
One priority that O4S has indicated is emphasizing diversity and inclusion. At the teach-in, they addressed challenging the mainstream image of a survivor who is a cisgender, straight, white female, and expressing the many identities of survivors.
“We’re trying to reach out to groups of students at the college who are marginalized in different ways, so that the decisions we make reflect the experiences of everyone who is thinking critically about sexual violence and the college’s responses,” Goldberg said.
We want to do outreach that is meaningful and avoids checking the boxes or tokenizing folks on the basis of their identities,” she added.
Despite changes on the part of the college that O4S views as favorable, they are still concerned with the accountability of the administration as well as effects on policy at the federal level.
“Swarthmore doesn’t exist in any kind of vacuum. I think we’re going to increasingly be realizing how Title IX policy here cannot exist in a vacuum when we’re thinking about Betsy DeVos and other changes to federal policy about sexual violence … Title IX is not outside of patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, homophobia,” Goldberg said.
Magda Werkmeister ’22 contributed to this article