On November 17 at 12 p.m., dozens of Swarthmore students gathered in front of Clothier Hall to join the Black Affinity Coalition’s No Longer Minding the Light rally to hear receipts, or records of past student-led protests and the College’s responses in the past five decades.
After the traditional “Swat Seven” wait, a member of the Black Affinity Coalition stepped up onto the stage and introduced herself to the amassed crowd on Parrish Beach. She acknowledged the fear students may be feeling from the call to strike and continued to affirm that the Coalition’s demands are responses to the College’s deep and troubled institutional memory. She listed the Coalition’s demands one by one, and as she went on, the crowd’s cheers grew louder and stronger.
“Those are our demands. This is what we are fighting for. And it’s not the first time we’ve had to fight for it. They aren’t new demands — they’re things we’ve been fighting for since ’69. And things students were fighting for last year when I got here. There were things students were fighting for in 2017 and 2019. How often [should we] ask them to take care of us? Until they do it?” the BAC member projected out to the crowd.
The incidents the BAC member referred to in 2017 and 2019 were Swarthmore administrators’ invalidation of Indigenous’ students mourning on an anti-Columbus Day event in Fall 2017 and the protests to disband Swarthmore fraternities in Spring 2019. “Whatever you think of this institution, we all pay so we get a quality education. Yes?” the BAC member asked. A collective ‘yes’ shot out from the crowd.
“But should that education come at the expense of your wellness? At the expense of your life? At the expense of your livelihood?” the BAC member then asked. The crowd received each question with a collective ‘no’.
The BAC member emphasized that the strike is not meant to stop students from learning and continued to call for the student body to trust in the Coalition.
“I’m not saying not to learn, I’m not. I want you to learn. I just don’t think you have to learn this way … I don’t know any of your names [in the crowd], [but] I will still fight for you. And I’m not the only one, okay? I’m not the leader of anything right now. I’m just putting in the work to get it done because it needs to get done,” the BAC member said.
The BAC member then proceeded to read President Valerie Smith’s response to the Coalition demands and compared them to President Courtney Smith’s response to the Swarthmore African American Student Society’s protests in 1969.
“In addition to being incredibly belittling, it calls back to President Courtney Smith’s response to SASS’s 1969 protests that led to the creation of a concentration in Black studies, a Black Cultural Center, Gospel choir, two all-Black acapella groups, and the increase of diversity in both faculty and student body,” the BAC member said. “Courtney Smith would be proud to know that the college has consistently lived up to a tradition of ignoring the needs of students, specifically Black students. The truth is change has only ever come from demands and protests led by students.”
On December 23, 1968, SASS sent President Courtney Smith a list of demands for Swarthmore to allocate more resources to Black students and for Swarthmore to begin treating Black students equally.
On January 13, 1969, in response to SASS’ protest and demands, Courtney Smith wrote in a statement to students and faculty, “We have lost something precious at Swarthmore — the feeling that force and disruptiveness are just not our way … I would be saddened to see further acceptance of force as against those qualities of trust and tolerance and humility and anti-totalitarianism …”
On Nov. 16, President Valerie Smith sent an email to the Swarthmore campus community which included her response to the BAC’s statement, demands, and ongoing protest.
She wrote, “Our journey toward a better, more just Swarthmore will be reached not through anonymous demands and ultimatums that fail to recognize the contributions, commitment, and passion so many of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others have dedicated to these issues, but through creative and critical thinking, collaboration, and empathy.”
The BAC member followed by recounting receipts that display the College’s historical and consistent pattern of ignoring the views and wellbeing of BIPOC students from 1933 up to 2013. On Nov. 18, the BAC also published a document via Google Docs titled Institutional Memory: A Catalogue of Swarthmore’s Bureaucratic Failings and Student-led Successes.” The seven-page-long document catalogs the effectiveness of student-led organizing at the college compared to attempts to enact change through institutional channels.
In closing, the BAC member urged students in the audience to sign up for and participate in the strike, read the Coalition’s demands, trust the movement, and research the history of the college.