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.
Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20 is active in many different roles on campus. An accomplished member of the volleyball team, Morgan-Bennett was awarded Academic All-Centennial, AVCA Division III All-Region, and AVCA Division III All-America Honorable Mention in 2018. She is also involved in Athletics for Diversity and Inclusion. As an artist, she is active in theatre, lead singer of student band Funk the Patriarchy, and started The Revolution Must Go On or RevFest two years ago. Morgan-Bennett also engages in activism related to reproductive justice through academics and as co-head of Swat Doulas.
In these different areas where she divides her time, Morgan-Bennett has brought to the table a sense of social engagement and conscious attention to diversity. As a student-athlete, for instance, she is involved in the athletics department and ADI to promote diversity and inclusion for athletes at the college.
“Within the [athletics] department, I do a lot of work about diversity and inclusion and also work with Title IX office to make a little bit more space for identity,” said Morgan-Bennett.
According to Morgan-Bennett, it is important to help athletes to find a balance between being a part of a team and an individual with a different background than the other people involved with the team.
“[Athletes] can be part of a community project of winning a sport, but then my lived experience is very different from my coaches, from my teammates, or from my athletic director,” Morgan-Bennett said.
Morgan-Bennett finds that the work of ADI helps to bring the topic of identity to the forefront to help athletes find that balance. In this way, she integrates inclusion and activism into athletics. As an example, she mentioned an upcoming Cooper Series event co-sponsored by ADI, “Beyond the Field: Activism, Athletics, and Empowerment in the Modern Political Era”, that will bring the safety of Philadelphia Eagles, Malcolm Jenkins, to discuss his experience with activism within the NFL, to campus in February.
As an artist, Morgan-Bennett is involved in music and theatre on campus and has incorporated her commitment to inclusion by creating RevFest.
“RevFest is one of my favorite projects that I’ve been a part of. It created a space which just highlights the beautiful talent that we can find within the POC community at Swat,” said Morgan-Bennett. “[The event] really showcases original pieces and pieces that just celebrate identity.”
Additionally, Morgan-Bennett’s activism and passion for reproductive justice has taken shape in her studies and practice as a doula.
“In terms of my more traditional activist side, I’m involved in Swat Doulas which is a really huge part of my reproductive justice life,” said Morgan-Bennett. “I fundamentally subscribe to the fact that all women and people should be able to decide if and when and how they want to have children, and then also have the resources to provide for their family when they’re ready.”
Morgan-Bennett’s activism in this regard focuses on the intersection of race and reproduction.
“The reproductive rights movement is really focused around the issue of choice. Reproductive justice is predominantly led by women of color — mostly Black women actually — who recognize the pain and the trauma that’s involved in America’s history as a country that sterilized and stilted the reproduction of Black women for hundreds of years,” said Morgan-Bennett.
According to Morgan-Bennett, her time at Swarthmore has allowed her to pursue her interest in activism and inclusion in these various forms because of its collaborative environment and access to resources.
“[At the college] there’s a lot of solidarity work which teaches the importance of collaboration and solidarity,” Morgan-Bennett said. “For instance, I don’t know the biology or chemistry that really goes behind the birthing process. But I am an expert in terms of birth and its intersections of race and reproduction from a theoretical standpoint and a sociological/anthropological perspective… I think that academic collaboration and not staying in our own lanes can change the conversation and create more inclusive communities.”
In her experience, the college has been able to not only support her work but also get her involved in using resources to help neighboring communities and existing projects.
“The fact that Swat has so many resources is fundamental to the work that I’ve been able to do,” said Morgan-Bennet. “There’s also been organizing, work, and community building that’s been happening for decades in Chester, Philly, and the local Swarthmore area. And so utilizing Swarthmore as a resource to get support to those communities and following their leadership is something that I’ve really been subscribing to.”
To Morgan-Bennett, Black excellence includes intentionality to help grow a community.
“I mean, for me, that’s Black excellence: having people who are invested in not only just participating in a conversation, but changing a conversation about how we think about community, love, care, and healing from trauma,” said Morgan-Bennett
In the campus community, Morgan-Bennett observes the expression of Black excellence in the people who surround her.
“I am joyous every day for the Black excellence that I’m surrounded with on this campus and that’s something that gives me so much just happiness and fulfillment,” said Morgan-Bennet. “I am able to see my friends and people who I consider my family, really be people who are growing into leaders who I completely trust they’re going to be changing the world.”
According to Morgan-Bennett, being at a small, predominantly white institution adds pressure to express Blackness in a certain way. In her time at the college, however, she feels as though she has been able to learn that Blackness can take many forms.
“I think that that’s something that I had to grow up into during my time at Swarthmore. I’ve seen this from a lot of my Black friends also, which is that we should take comfort and delight in the fact that there are so many ways of being Black and expressing one’s Blackness within Swarthmore and the world at large,” Morgan-Bennett said.
“That’s something that really does take a level of confidence and level of Black Love which is something that I think is so central and always needs to be built on,” said Morgan-Bennett. “You have to love yourself and you have to love your people in order to have the confidence to be able to say, ‘maybe I don’t fit this certain expectation of Blackness, but I’m never running away from that Blackness and in fact, I’m only running towards it’.”