Celebrating Black Excellence in the Many Forms It Takes: Tyler White ’22

In honor of the anniversaries on campus — the 50th anniversary of the BCC, 50th anniversary of the Black Studies Program, and 25th anniversary of the Chester Children’s Chorus — the college is Celebrating Black Excellence through programming for this year. The Phoenix, in addition to event coverage, will be publishing features of students on campus who embody Black Excellence in the many forms it takes.

Tyler White ’22 from Portland, Oregon has found his place on campus as an advocate and activist for social issues, environmental justice, and their intersections. On campus, White is involved with the Campus Coalition Concerning Chester, the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship program, the Student Government Organization, and is the outreach coordinator for Swarthmore African-American Student Society. 

Coming to Swarthmore, White began to think more about the connections between social justice and environmental justice and he found ways at the college to think more critically about race and environmental issues.

“I think that, for me, it’s really hard to convey to marginalized communities or even the most impacted by climate change the urgency and importance of being involved in [issues like climate change advocacy] because you’re already so inundated with so many salient things. But I think that Swarthmore has given me more language and knowledge on how to think about these things,” said White.

In the campus community, White has found people, classes, and experiences to further his engagement in activist spaces concerning social issues and the environment.

“There are so many different people that I have been in conversation with who’ve helped me think more critically and I’m super thankful for them,” said White. “I think just being in a community of people who are concerned about this [intersection], learning from it in classes, but also just having like real-world experiences, where you have to step back and be like what does that really mean? And, how do I continue to think about it?” 

The Black Excellence programming by the college this year has encouraged White to continue to think about campus engagement — especially for Black students and students from marginalized groups. White, as co-president of the McCabe Scholars, was one of the people to introduce the Thomas B. McCabe Lecture by Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell ’69. According to White, the lecture prompted him to think more about activism at Swarthmore — in the past and present — after hearing the experiences of Black students leading up to the creation of the Black Cultural Center 50 years ago.

“I think that after hearing the stories of what [Campbell] went through, it’s hard for me to reconcile why more Black people and more people of color are not constantly in a struggle for more. I know that the point a lot of time in America is to constantly bring yourself closer to the middle so you feel more distance from the ways you’re being oppressed,” said White. “And I think that’s not everyone’s agenda for going to Swarthmore; you’re here for your education and there’s nothing selfish about wanting to do that. But I’m really interested in how do we across the board — not just as Black people — engage in more deep, intentional, goal-oriented activism.”

In White’s experience on campus, he has also found a strong sense of community amongst Black students and has felt comfortable expressing his identity.  

“I think that my Blackness has never been questioned and I’ve never felt uncomfortable in the way that I decide to show or perform my Blackness. And I’ve never felt like that from other Black people or people who are non-Black,” White said.

While White enjoys the sense of community amongst Black students on campus, he also wants that camaraderie to extend into advocacy for those who want to participate.

“I love seeing other Black folks and talking to them, even if it’s for a couple seconds. There’s just nothing like having that little reprieve from constantly being a student and existing in a white supremacist society,” said White. “Even just in a quick interaction — a head nod, a dap, or a cool conversation — that’s so amazing to me. But how do we extend that more into political advocacy and stuff for folks who want to do that?”

This intentionally engaged activism that acknowledges a history of struggle at Swarthmore is what White hopes to encourage more of on campus as the outreach coordinator for SASS.

“I’m hoping to more directly bring in that element of organizing and political advocacy that I know is very makes a lot of people very vulnerable, uncomfortable, and can trigger them. But I think we owe that to the people who 50 years ago decided to sit in the president’s office and then create the BCC for even just 6 percent of us,” said White.

White believes that this acknowledgment of the past needs to be more present in the Black Excellence programming by the college.

“There is a feeling that we’re just celebrating all the cool stuff that’s happening now, but we’re not really talking about the history of what happened,” White said.

According to White, the celebration of Black Excellence could also include more student involvement in leading events.

“I would love to see more thoughtful conversations that are student-led and not filtered by the administration that allows us to have a conversation about not only what the past has been, but what can the future look like?” said White. “I’m not entirely content with just celebrating. I love celebrating as long as we are being completely true about the history of what we’re celebrating and how we got to this point.”

White is involved on campus in a variety of ways and appreciates the shared willingness to engage. 

“I love Swarthmore in so many ways, and I think in the same ways that I love it I have problems with it. The idea that we are here to be socially engaged is so profound to me,” said White. “I like that we’re in a space where we’re engaging to engage and taking that to actualize it into some kind of direct action, regardless of how much the administration doesn’t like it or how loud we sound, that’s so beautiful to me. And I just want more people to step into that in whatever capacity they feel comfortable.”

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