Calling on the College to Prioritize Black, Indigenous Studies

For a college that markets itself as oriented towards social justice and the Quaker value of equality, Swarthmore consistently fails to allocate enough resources for ethnic studies programs, especially for Black and Indigenous studies. Throughout the years, students have pointed out the dearth of resources for these marginalized student groups. People in positions of power at Swarthmore, however, continue to do nothing about the lack of support for these programs and the students who depend on them.  

Swarthmore administration may make efforts to appear socially aware and to recognize its role in injustices through land acknowledgement at the beginning of tours. 

The Swarthmore administration is not unaware of these issues. Many activists have released demands and offered ideas for how to provide more support to the most marginalized populations on campus. These proposals include focusing on recruiting more Black and Indigenous students and faculty in all departments and providing more resources towards academic programs.

However, there are few concrete ways in which the college has illustrated its support for Indigenous students on campus by committing to Indigenous education and scholarship. Fewer than 1% of Swarthmore students identify as Indigenous people of the Americas, and Swarthmore does not currently have an Indigenous studies department or a single Indigenous faculty member, according to demands laid out by SISA. Only recently has the college made efforts to increase faculty diversity; the college posted a tenure-track associate professor position in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous studies. The college does not publicly disclose the racial breakdown of its teaching staff. 

In the 2019-2020 academic year, only 7% of Swarthmore students were Black, compared to a national average of Black students making up 13% of student populations at four-year private institutions. For the class of 2024, Black students make up 8% of the class.

Swarthmore also dedicated the 2019-2020 academic year, the 50th anniversaries of the BCC and Black Studies program, to celebrating Black Excellence. In 1970, as Black students fought to establish a Black Studies program with formalized curricula, they led their own courses. Today, despite dedicated student efforts to establish a full Black Studies department, the program only offers a minor and an interdisciplinary special major. Because students must design their own special majors and have them approved through several channels, unlike with formalized majors, the onus of creating a curriculum still falls on students. Additionally, since the major is fully interdisciplinary, there are no full-time, tenured Black studies professors.

The college has continued to offer platitudes to its students over actions. The college’s portrayal of itself as a liberal beacon is a façade when resources aren’t invested into the programs that support Black and Indigenous students, which should start by establishing Black studies and Indigenous studies as independent departments. In addition, in order to ensure that the education of the entire Swarthmore community regarding Black and Indigenous issues does not unduly burden members of these communities or is confined within Black and Indigenous departments, the college should also implement critical race theory as a graduation requirement. It is time that Swarthmore take action not only by providing material resources through increased funding for Black and Indigenous studies departments but also by working to recruit more Black and Indigenous students and faculty while providing them with institutional support. It is also time that Swarthmore foster and normalize the consistent, genuine practice of anti-racism for its general population. 

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