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Live Updates: Students Occupy Parrish Lawn in Support of Palestine

This is a live story, check back for updates. Older posts may not reflect current information. Read the main article here.
Updated as of 4:51 p.m. 5/5/2024.


⟡Live 4:50 p.m. 5/5/2024

I’ve received reports that Worthstock’s second act was canceled due to the ongoing demonstration. Students could be seen marching back towards the encampment.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 4:23 p.m. 5/5/2024

Protesters have moved from the encampment to disrupt “Worthstock” events, chanting over the music and displaying flags. Members of Public Safety, private security Swarthmore has hired, as well as at least one member of Swarthmore Police are observing the ongoing demonstration but have yet to intervene.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 9:34 p.m. 5/4/2024

I’ve received a statement from the college regarding the presence of police on campus last night. 

“Sometime around 11:30 p.m. last night, about seven to ten vehicles drove onto campus with flashing lights and honking horns. Around the same time, Public Safety received several calls from students about the disruption, along with reports of a group of individuals walking toward the encampment from Bond Hall. We then received a report that individuals were attempting to start either an open-air grill or some sort of campfire on Parrish Beach.

In reaction to the calls, the noise, and the sudden influx of vehicles, and in the interest of the safety of the entire campus community — Public Safety notified the Division of Student Affairs on-call staff and the Swarthmore Police Department. Swarthmore PD responded to help assess the situation. Working with Public Safety, they were able to determine that the individuals in the vehicles were invited to campus by students at the encampment. The individuals involved were informed that they couldn’t have an open-air fire or grill on Parrish Beach without coordinating with the Division of Student Affairs and other departments ahead of time, and anyone bringing a vehicle to campus must park in legal spaces and avoid blocking roadways, but otherwise, the situation ended without further incident.”

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 12:59 a.m. 5/4/2024

Police were called to campus earlier tonight and engaged with members of the encampment, but ultimately left without apparent incident. Encampment organizers I spoke to said the call was placed by Public Safety after cars with attendees to a dinner event hosted tonight at the encampment arrived near Clothier, arguing that the guests’ Palestinian identity made them appear more threatening to Pub-Safe. The Phoenix cannot currently independently verify who placed the call. It was not immediately clear what caused the police to leave.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 5:11 p.m. 5/2/2024

Today, during a planned “Garnet Day” event, protestors from the encampment marched to tents near Pearson Hall to protest the ongoing war in Gaza and the administration’s response. As students chanted with banners carried from the encampment, the DJ hired for the event turned the Madonna track up, which mixed with the chants and drumming in a surreal cacophony. The protest suggested that organizers had little intention of allowing traditional end of the year festivities to go on uninterrupted. Protesters stayed in the main tent for a brief period of time before circling the area and returning to the encampment.

The protest comes during a week of violent administration and police repression of pro-Palestine encampments across U.S. campuses. The Swarthmore administration has increased their security, but there has not been a noticeably increased police presence on campus. However, they are yet to notably engage in discussion on demands as the semester comes to a close.

—Lucy Tobier


⟡Live 3:53 p.m. 5/2/2024

An email sent out early this afternoon announced parts of the Worthstock music festival have been moved to the NPPR courtyard. While the majority of Worthstock takes place in Worth Courtyard, the events moved were previously going to be held on Parrish Beach, the site of Swarthmore’s encampment. There have been no public announcements regarding commencement, which is still planned to take place on Parrish Beach.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 1:42 p.m. 5/2/2024

Information on the affinity group lockout has been provided to The Phoenix in a statement from Andy Hirsch.

“At no time were any affinity groups ‘banned.’ During the College’s investigation into the vandalism that occurred the past few days (which is ongoing), we learned that supplies used in the acts were possibly located in several rooms in the Intercultural Center student organization spaces. Access to the spaces was temporarily limited so we could look into the matter further. Access was fully restored this morning, and the IC shared that information with the affinity groups.”

Hirsch declined to comment on who was responsible for the decision or provide other details.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 10:14 p.m. 5/1/2024

In an email to The Phoenix, Vice President for Communications Andy Hirsch confirmed that the college switched Parrish Hall to One-Card access “in response to recent vandalism and damage to campus facilities.” He declined to give specific details about when the decision was made, who was responsible for the decision, or why no communication was made to the campus community about the change. He also noted that “the College didn’t request any additional police presence this morning, and Swarthmore’s police chief confirmed that none of his officers were on campus today.”

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 6:40 p.m. 5/1/2024

The post regarding access is back up on Voices and links to an Instagram post from Swarthmore’s SJP. Organizers described students being in contact with a staff member about the lockout who initially assumed that the student’s inability to access the space was a technical error, the staff member then clarified with the email now posted on SJP’s Instagram. This account suggests that not only were students not sent notice of the changes to campus access that occurred this morning, staff members, including those involved with affinity groups affected by the changes, were also not made aware until late in the day.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 4:05 p.m. 5/1/2024

The report of affinity groups not being able to access their rooms is no longer on Voices. It is not immediately clear why.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 2:27 p.m. 5/1/2024

Three affinity groups report through Voices they have been denied access to club spaces without notice or warning, leaving student property and supplies locked in the rooms. The clubs, Swarthmore Queer Union (SQU), ENLACE, a Latinx affinity group, and Organizing to Redefine Asian Activism (ORAA), describe the lockout as the “profiling of minority students.”

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 1:17 p.m. 5/1/2024

I’ve been sitting on Parrish porch for the past fifteen minutes watching waves of students struggle to open the front doors to their school. It appears the One-Card reader is only unlocking the left door, and only after a significant delay, which is causing a lot of confusion.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 12:58 p.m. 5/1/2024

Parrish Hall is locked as of this morning and requires a One-Card scan to enter, even during regular hours.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 12:13 p.m. 5/1/2024

Despite the acting Co-Presidents announcement that they will not be attending the meeting today at noon, a large group of students have gathered in the encampment. At a table in the center of the encampment a table has been laid out with two nameplates, each bearing the name of a Co-President, and calling attention to their absence. The energy is more intense than I’ve felt any other day, after a long night of police raids on other camps.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 10:30 a.m. 5/1/2024

This morning, spray painted Pro-Palestine messages – such as “Student Intifada” and “Let Gaza Live” – were found around campus, including at the Science Center around 8:30 a.m, on the college’s entrance marker, and on posters directing visitors to buildings. 

At 9:50 a.m., co-presidents Tomoko Sakomura and Robert Goldberg sent a community-wide email addressing the painted messages. In it, they said they “believe a small group of students is responsible” and would bring immediate disciplinary action, including suspension. They also declined protestors’ request for a conversation today at noon at the encampment saying, “We’ve shared with them that we do not believe a conversation of that nature at the encampment will be productive, and we’ve suggested that we meet with a smaller group of encampment organizers and faculty members in a venue more conducive to a constructive discussion. We hope we can have meaningful conversations that set us on a path forward.”

The email does not mention plans by the administration to disperse the encampment, but comes the morning after mass arrests at Columbia University and threats of arrest at University of California Los Angeles. 

Sakomura and Goldberg reiterated concerns they have received from Jewish community members about harassment and antisemitic discrimination, naming school support resources available. 

“We continue to support the ability to protest peacefully at Swarthmore, but we cannot accept conduct that infringes on the rights of others to live, work, and learn in an environment free of harassment and intimidation,” the email said. “These incidents of vandalism are destructive to our community and derail opportunities for substantive dialogue.”

—Lucy Tobier


⟡Live 10:45 p.m. 4/30/2024

In Kohlberg courtyard, members of facilities can be seen removing a painted message from the stone. Per an Instagram story post from Swarthmore’s SJP, which acknowledged but did not take credit for the painting, the paint read “Long Live the Intifada.”

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 7:09 p.m. 4/29/2024

CBS’s new clip on Swarthmore’s encampment includes the moment when student protesters entered Parrish Hall today to present a letter to the acting Co-Presidents of the college. The letter reiterated the encampment’s demands and also included an invitation to the Co-Presidents to meet this Wednesday at noon at the encampment. There’s no indication as of the current moment if the college will take students up the offer, organizers told me they also reached out via email and have yet to hear back.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 5:11 p.m. 4/29/2024

New coverage from WHYY has been released, which includes coverage of Swarthmore’s removal of the wooden structure early this morning.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 4:25 p.m. 4/29/2024

This morning, at 6:38 a.m. as students were asleep and just waking up in tents, Public Safety disassembled and removed the student art installation at the encampment. The installation, a wooden house meant to symbolize the childhood home of the artist and dedicated to SPC and the People’s College, was found on the ground outside Whittier Hall where it was originally moved from. 

“If this home is to be destroyed by the college it will not, by any measure, be the first,” said the artist in a statement two days before the removal when administration first asked SPC to remove the structure. In a post to their Instagram with videos of the structure being removed, SJP wrote, “This latest assault on nonviolent student protestors only confirms that Swarthmore College would rather interfere with peaceful protest than take any meaningful action to pursue its mission “to contribute to a better world”. Shame!”

—Lucy Tobier


⟡Live 2:31 p.m. 4/29/2024

In a letter published in The Phoenix as well as in Voices, Swarthmore faculty and staff express support for student’s freedom of expression.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 11:47 a.m. 4/29/2024

According to Michael Hill, Director of Public Safety, the college has “augmented” security around Parrish Hall, adding a new designated officer from sunset to sunrise. The new officer, hired from a security firm, is responsible for reporting safety concerns to Public Safety. 

Hill declined to comment on the investigation into Officer Duke due to it being a specific personnel matter, but discussed Public Safety’s hiring practices which have come into question with the Duke allegations.

“We have long involved our campus partners, including students, with evaluating candidates for public safety positions. Our effort to ensure that the community has an opportunity to meet candidates is and has been a cornerstone of our hiring program,” Hill said. “Additionally, we have always worked with human resources to ensure that our recruitment and retention processes are in line with best and promising practices.”

Hill also clarified that Public Safety does not own or use drones, an issue brought forth by students after a drone was spotted on campus.

—Lucy Tobier


⟡Live 6:20 p.m. 4/28/2024

ABC-6 is here at the Seder, along with other press. Turnout is easily over one hundred. I’ve been informed attendees were invited from across the Tri-Co. Organizers are walking around distributing food, wearing black shirts that read “Not In Our Name.”

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 5:31 p.m. 4/28/2024

A vigil at the edge of the encampment has concluded and preparations are underway for a Seder at 6:00 tonight. The message of the ceremony, which included reading names of those killed in Gaza, was clear; “We are here to proclaim to the world that there is a genocide in Gaza,” one speaker said.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 3:10 p.m. 4/27/2024

At least seven Swarthmore professors have signed a letter, along with hundreds of other faculty at other institutions, indicating their participation in an academic boycott of Columbia University and Barnard College in protest of the schools’ crackdown on student antiwar protesters. The letter reads in part “At the time of the arrest, NYPD representatives stated that ‘students were peaceful, offered no resistance whatsoever’ and that the assessment of ‘danger’ was the University’s alone. We are appalled by the decision to summarily suspend these students at both Barnard and Columbia, and further, to evict Barnard students from their student housing.”

The letter indicates that signatories will not participate in academic events or conferences held at Barnard or Columbia and will not “collaborate with Columbia or Barnard faculty who hold positions within the university administration in addition to their academic appointments.”

The Swarthmore faculty whose names appear on the letter are Professor of Anthropology Farha Ghannam, Associate Professor of History Ahmad Shokr, Associate Professor of Sociology Nina Johnson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Alejandra Azuero-Quijano, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Sabeen Ahmed, Assistant Professor of Sociology Salvador Rangel and Associate Professor of History Farid Azfar. 

At this time, none of the professors had responded to requests for comment, but live coverage will be updated if I hear anything.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 8:31 p.m. 4/26/2024

Two interesting visitors to the encampment today:

Members of the “Abandon Biden” campaign, including one of its co-founders, left a few hours ago after sitting and speaking with protesters. One member spoke at length about his experience as a researcher conducting work in the West Bank. He recalled being flagged by a security system due to his nonviolent organizing with Palestinian youth, leading to security guards handcuffing and arresting him. He described harrowing conditions during his imprisonment, and wondering from his cell if his arrest had sparked outrage, asking “is the world turning upside down for us?” Upon his release, he realized few had even noticed. Now, he emphasized to Swarthmore students, the level of awareness has changed: “The difference is that you are here,” his voice growing thick with tears.

Around the same time, participants and audience members from a symposium held today, “Resisting Extraction and Building Resilience on the Navajo Nation,” stopped by to tour the camp. I spoke with Chili Yazzie, a member of the Diné (Navajo) Nation, about why he felt it important to visit. 

“As an indigenous people we understand the dynamics of the struggle of the Palestinians because our people have been going through settler colonial pressure for centuries. We understand encroachment, land theft, discrimination, and genocide, and we are in solidarity with any people who suffer those atrocities,” Yazzie said.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 6:19 p.m. 4/26/2024

The FOX-29 segment is out.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 6:13 p.m. 4/26/2024

In some Tri-Co news, the Inquirer is reporting an encampment at Haverford was assembled this morning.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 5:51 p.m. 4/26/2024

I’ve been provided a statement from Swarthmore regarding their response to the encampment. The Phoenix asked about President Val Smith’s email at the beginning of the semester which read in part, “we cannot permit any similar events to take place this spring.” Vice President for Communications Andy Hirsch responded: 

“In keeping with the College’s longstanding values around peaceful protest and free expression, we have not interfered with the encampment. We believe our approach aligns with President Smith’s January message that you referenced, as this protest differs from the sit-in and, as such, it impacts the campus differently. We do understand that the encampment is making some members of the community uncomfortable in different ways, and we are working to support those individuals who have reached out with those concerns.

We look forward to meeting with the encampment’s organizers to try to bring the protest to a peaceful conclusion. The groups have only just shared the names of the liaisons willing to speak with members of the senior leadership team, so we hope to arrange a time to meet very soon.”

Hirsch declined to comment on whether or not any aspects of the protester’s demands, which include divestment “from companies that profit off of the Israeli apartheid regime” and the termination of Public Safety Officer Brendan Duke, would be on the table for ending the encampment.

Organizers from SPC who I spoke to seemed unconvinced, noting that the acting Co-Presidents had only reached out to protesters indirectly and had yet to visit the encampment. 

A large wooden structure appeared early today at the northwest corner of the encampment. I talked with Kya Butterfield, a junior at Swarthmore who built the piece for an installation art class, and donated it to the encampment for community use. He’s been working on repairing and decorating the structure, and was excited to see how the encampment uses the piece, they emphasized “letting it be communal, inviting, and responsive.” 

Another note about previous coverage, on April 24th when I wrote that “emails” to the Swarthmore administration had gone unanswered, only one email, sent April 22nd to Vice President Stephanie Ives, had been sent. This was the result of a miscommunication on my part and I regret the error. 

The College has asked The Phoenix to share the resources found in Tuesday’s email from the acting Co-Presidents. I’ve linked them below.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Interfaith Center, the Student Deans, Carebridge, a resource for faculty and staff, and the College’s Bias Response Team.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 1:26 p.m. 4/26/2024

The Swarthmore Palestine Coalition (SPC), who organized the encampment, have reported that FOX News was on campus filming earlier today. I’ll be on the lookout for that coverage later in the day.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 8:24 p.m. 4/25/2024

Per weather.gov temperatures in Swarthmore are supposed to drop to around 36 degrees tonight. Not a fun night to be camped out, standing guard from Parrish porch, or reporting on it all.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 6:00 p.m. 4/25/2024

Tents are currently being re-staked and reorganized to create a large open space in the center of the encampment. More coverage of the encampment is now out, including an ABC-6 news segment and the encampment’s inclusion on a map and list of active protests by the New York Times.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 3:59 p.m. 4/25/2024

A few members of some part of ABC news were here about an hour ago, I’m not sure on the details. The afternoon has mostly involved participants making additional banners and signs in a large art build. A tour group composed of the parents of prospective student athletes led by an adult tour guide conspicuously veered off of Magill walk towards McCabe Library before it would have passed in front of the encampment. As advertised on Instagram, a planned rally is about to start. An encampment soccer game is at 6:30, and a film screening is at 10:00. It’s worth mentioning how much of what has gone on at the encampment thus far is essentially standard fare for a liberal arts college, just amidst rows of tents rather than inside old halls.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 2:56 p.m. 4/25/2024

A tour group led by a group of high school teachers from Maryland was just gathered around the “People’s Library,” enthusiastically discussing the encampment with participating Swarthmore students. I talked with one of the teachers, who contrasted the encampment at Swarthmore with media depictions of student protesters as violent, and found the atmosphere reassuring. “This seems like the most welcoming place on campus,” he said. He also noted that the other three colleges his group had visited thus far on their trip apparently had few signs of dissent apart from scattered posters. 

Also, a few notes and corrections on previous coverage. I misheard descriptions of the “Freedom Flotilla” as part of a deal to end the Houthi blockade on shipping routes. These were separate parts of the speech referring to unrelated groups and I regret the error. The Freedom Flotilla is a large group of ships who hope to break Israel’s blockade by delivering more than 5,000 tons of aid to Gaza. The Houthi rebels who have disrupted trade in the Red Sea include an end to Israel’s blockade as a condition for ending their attacks, along with an end to bombing in Gaza.

Additionally, it was clarified to me that a moment of silence previously reported on was intended to draw attention specifically to recent reports of mass graves at hospitals in Gaza besieged by the Israeli military. Organizer’s also stressed that describing them as making reference to the dead in Gaza without indicating their description of those responsible obfuscates their position. I will endeavor to be more precise when describing the words of speakers in the future.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 12:26 a.m. 4/25/2024

I’ve received a statement from Swarthmore’s Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in support of the ongoing encampment. It reads in part:

“Our encampment is part of a national liberation movement calling on universities, companies and governments to divest and boycott the corporations and products that legitimize and provide the financial capital for Israel’s genocide and starvation of Gaza. The United Nations is warning that everyone in Gaza –– 2.2 million people –– faces acute food insecurity with the imminent threat of famine. Over 300 bodies have recently been retrieved from mass graves in Gaza’s hospitals. Israel is threatening to move ahead with a ground invasion in Rafah, where 1.5 million people are currently sheltering. The Swarthmore College must take urgent and necessary action by meeting our demands for divestment. History will remember Swarthmore’s complicity. 

We recognize in our own story of freedom the just aspiration of Palestinian liberation. We affirm that it is our Judaism that drives us to condemn the Israeli government’s indiscriminate bombing and deliberate starvation of civilians in Gaza. The Swarthmore People’s College for The Liberation of Palestine on Parrish Beach represents our complete and unconditional solidarity with the Palestinian people and their rights to freedom and self-determination.”

Kehilah, a pluralistic Jewish affinity group at Swarthmore has declined to comment on the protest or the administration’s response to it. Swarthmore’s chapter of Chabad, an Orthodox Hasidic organization, has yet to respond to a request for comment.

In some news about the news, the anticipated NBC 10 segment is out, you can read or watch it here

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 6:38 p.m. 4/24/2024

The news team is here, looks to be a camera operator from NBC 10.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 6:33 p.m. 4/24/2024

The announcement of news teams potentially arriving has kicked off another round of chanting. What was likely a news helicopter circled overhead a few times about twenty minutes ago before flying off. While one would probably not imagine that clashes with police and mass arrests have become commonplace at campus protests from the peaceful tableau on Parrish Beach, the good mood is nonetheless fragile. Undeterred, international students and their friends have set up a cricket game on the paved paths, professors sit in the shade and chat with students, and the collection of books, now labeled the “People’s Library,” has continued to grow. In a circle on the grass, organizers talk in hushed tones. I’ve committed not to sit in on strategic meetings as part of an agreement that has allowed for this exclusive live coverage, and so far emails to Swarthmore administrators have gone unanswered, so at the moment I cannot provide information on any potential dialogue alluded to by the email from Acting Co-Presidents Tomoko Sakomura and Rob Goldberg.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 4:27 p.m. 4/24/2024

Students have assembled for a round of chanting and speeches, as well as a moment of silence for the dead in Gaza. Just now, cheers for the continuing Houthi blockade and the possibility of a deal to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza. Speakers address the gathered crowd from the “Big Chair” in the center of the encampment. Prospective students and their parents stop briefly to look on from the steps of Parrish. I’m watching from near the assembled library, which has grown exponentially since my last visit and now includes children’s books and printed zines. 

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 4:49 p.m. 4/23/2024

Despite the ongoing potential for disciplinary action, and the administrative shadow of Parrish Hall looming over the hill, the atmosphere today has felt joyous for the most part. Students set up additional tents, listen to a speaker playing out bossa nova, and enjoy the fleeting sunlight. Neighborhood residents with their dogs stop by to chat and offer words of encouragement. An ice cream truck reportedly gives discounts for those wearing keffiyehs. A table with supplies has also become a library of sorts (this is still Swarthmore after all), and on it books on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are strewn amidst works by David Graeber and Eldrige Cleaver.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 3:22 p.m. 4/23/2024

I’ve just returned from a trek down to Swarthmore-Rutledge School, the polling place for the vast majority of Swarthmore students. Students walked up and down the road alone or in small groups, some wearing keffiyehs. One student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, discussed the “Uncommitted” write-in movement and their reasons for voting; the explanation was short but unwavering, a microcosm of a nation-wide movement.

“I don’t feel comfortable voting for a candidate that supports genocide,” they said.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 2:18 p.m. 4/23/2024

A highly anticipated message has been sent to the Swarthmore community from acting presidents Tomoko Sakomura and Rob Goldberg at 1:45 p.m., laying out the administration’s immediate response to the protest. The email noted Public Safety presence will be increased on campus due to the “encampment’s potential to attract attention beyond campus,” but did not directly call for the encampment to disband or threaten police action, as has occurred at protests elsewhere in the nation. However, the email harkened back to the widely condemned investigations into student activism which began last semester.

“The encampment on Parrish is deeply concerning and will be included in our ongoing investigations into possible policy violations related to activism throughout the past several months.”

The email seemed acutely aware of reports from Jewish students and politicians, describing similar campus encampments as hostile and antisemitic. Jewish participants and organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and If Not Now have fiercely contested depictions of the protests as antisemitic.

“We also recognize that, until we bring this protest to a conclusion, it may cause some students, faculty, and staff members to feel uncomfortable or even intimidated…In addition, we urge anyone who feels they’ve witnessed or are the victim of bias to immediately report the incident to the College’s Bias Response Team,” the email said. 

—Lucy Tobier and Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 1:18 p.m. 4/23/2024

Pennsylvania’s primary is today, and members of the encampment have set up a booth along Magill Walk urging students to write-in “Uncommitted” to protest President Biden’s support for Israel as the Gaza war drags on. The movement has turned out impressive numbers, exceeding ten percent in almost every state where primaries have been held. In Minnesota, votes not for Biden surpassed a quarter of votes cast. 

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 12:31 a.m. 4/23/2024

The clock has ticked past midnight. Nothing but the low murmur of voices and the rustle of tent fabric and sleeping bags can be heard. Barring anything extraordinary, I’ll be wrapping up my live coverage here for the night.

—Melanie Zelle


⟡Live 10:29 p.m. 4/22/2024

The sun now has set on the encampment’s first night, and lights from inside tents cast shadows of students huddled together for warmth. It seems for now that Swarthmore is playing the waiting game as similar scenes play out on campuses across the country.

—Melanie Zelle


Swarthmore’s Second Sit-In This Year

On Monday, April 22, the Swarthmore Palestine Coalition started an encampment on Parrish Lawn in protest of the ongoing Israel occupation of Palestine and the Swarthmore administration’s response to violence in the Middle East. The campout, dubbed “The People’s College for the Liberation of Palestine,” was launched in a wave of similar protests across U.S. college campuses, including at Columbia, the University of Michigan, and Yale. 

“Swarthmore students have wielded the power to divest from apartheid before and we will do it again,” said a student speaker standing on the Parrish porch on the first day of the encampment. 

Students set up tents, flags, and a library of books about Palestine and social theory. They are pledging to continue the encampment until the school met the demands of divestment from Israel, the recognition of Israel’s scholasticide, and the immediate termination of Swarthmore Public Safety Officer Brendan Duke.

On April 22, students chanted phrases including “Disclose, Divest, We Will Not Stop, We Will Not Rest” and “The Students United Will Never Be Defeated” as they gathered in a ring on the lawn, pledging to not leave until the school meets demands. This is the second sit-in this year, after a second-floor sit-in in Parrish Hall that lasted three weeks until the end of the Fall semester. However, students felt the results from last semester’s sit-ins in negotiations were not followed through on and insufficient, and have decided to join a wave of encampments in solidarity with other colleges.

“In the winter, the admin said they would start making a committee and nothing came from it. We realized that the admin will play their little game to try to placate us and tell us that they need to do committees or a bureaucratic process and that divestment can only come super slowly but even the sit-ins demands were standing demands for the past half decade. We’re not here to play those games with admin anymore,” an anonymous student protestor said.

In an email sent to the school community at the start of this Spring semester, President Valerie Smith warned another sit-in would not be allowed.

“For a variety of reasons, we allowed the students to remain in Parrish until the semester ended. However, in the interest of transparency, let me state that we cannot permit any similar events to take place this spring,” Smith said. “It is simply unfair and unreasonable to expect the campus community to endure such a disruption.”

On April 23, the day after the encampment began, interim co-Presidents Tomoko Sakomura and Robert Goldberg sent a community-wide email addressing the protest. They noted Public Safety presence will be increased on campus due to the “encampment’s potential to attract attention beyond campus,” but did not directly call for the encampment to disband or threaten police action, as has occurred at protests elsewhere in the nation. However, they said the encampment will be involved in investigations from the fall semester’s sit-in and suggested individuals had reached out with concerns. 

“We also recognize that, until we bring this protest to a conclusion, it may cause some students, faculty, and staff members to feel uncomfortable or even intimidated…In addition, we urge anyone who feels they’ve witnessed or are the victim of bias to immediately report the incident to the College’s Bias Response Team,” the email said. 

When pressed for specifics, Public Safety refused to commit to any potential responses to a prolonged presence on the lawn, and stressed their first priority is the safety of students. Swarthmore Borough police cars have briefly appeared and left; However, Public Safety denied calling them and clarified that they are on a routine patrol. At least 15 schools with similar encampments across the country have called in police and the National Guard to arrest students and professors as of April 27, often using violent tactics. 

Despite concerns over potential arrests or suspensions, students have decided to continue with the encampment until the demands are met. Fliers with advice for dealing with police and Public Safety officers have been distributed, and a “Know Your Rights” info session was held.

“We’re not doing this because we want to be suspended. We’re not doing this because we want to face threats,” an anonymous student protester said. “What’s more important is for us to draw attention to the genocide in Gaza.”

In the week after the encampment began, students have hosted teach-ins, movie screenings, yoga classes, and met with supporters. As Worthstock and graduation – both planned to be hosted on the lawn – approach, they remain steadfast in their commitment to stay until demands are met.

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  1. The laws of war require that citizens of a city under siege must be given the opportunity to see refuge elsewhere. Neither Egypt nor Israel has made an attempt to give sanctuary to the innocent citizens of Gaza. Also the destruction and loss of life in Gaza are not balanced by either the good that can result or the damage that Hamas did in October. So Israel is in clear violation of the just rules of war that the U.S. endorses. So the US should work for an immediate cease fire and return of all captives. Any arms given to Israel should be for defense only; at least, so far as is possible.
    As one who served on the committee recommending divestment in South Africa, I will remind students that our actions had little to no effect on South Africa. Nor did it make SC ethically pure. So as I support the right to demonstrate, I also remind students that the Quaker tradition demands respect for those who disagree and that should be part of your education. “The hotheadness of youth causes no more discontent than the apathy of old age.” La Rochefoucald

    • Quaker tradition was just fine with Swarthmore College being racially segregated, a policy that did not end until shortly after its board was no longer entirely Quaker, 79 years after its founding. Yes, many Quakers were abolitionists (buildings on campus bear their names), but they were also segregationists.

      Ignoring that Swarthmore is no longer a Quaker institution, regarding the Quaker demand you cite, must people respect their oppressors? Or anyone’s oppressors, for that matter?

      • Ben, yes, you should respect the oppressors while opposing tneir actions. Swarthmore is not a Quaker institution and has not been since its founding (at least they is what Lucreta Mott said at the opening), but it seeks to have students operate on the lowest common denominator of Quakerism – ie. values of respect, tolerance, honesty etc. I remember a faculty member saying that Swarthmore was a place where a Conscientious Objector would not be considered a nut.
        My own role in the college on the committee discussing divestment was that we agreed that any action required a consensus of students, faculty, administration, and board. So we agreed on South Africa, but not on tobacco, alcohol, or the military industrial complex.
        I doubt whether any agreement is possible on stocks involving Israel. But Swarthmore students are smart enough to create statements signed by significant numbers that in an election year would serve notice on the Biden administration that policies must change.

        • OK we disagree about respecting oppressors. And on any kind of baseline acceptance of Quakerism.

          All that said, the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-founded social justice organization (which has been awarded a Nobel Peace prize), advocates the exact type of divestment being called for by the protestors at Swarthmore (https://investigate.afsc.org/divest).

          Your doubts are well founded. Swarthmore College admins have demonstrated a resistance toward divestment from anything profitable, be it oil or bombs (ironic, given all this Quaker talk). But when it comes to protest, long odds and small gains are better than nothing. No successful protest movement in human history ever resulted from not even trying.

          Serving notice to Biden is addressed in the updates to the article, with people voting “Uncommitted” in the primary. It’s not clear how seriously the Democratic Party is taking all of these uncommitted votes, but Michigan and Pennsylvania are must-win states, both on a razor’s edge.

  2. The linked demands seem reasonable. Here’s hoping the administration addresses them with courage and empathy in a way that doesn’t come across like a communiqué from a corporate PR firm.

    • Ben, since you feel so strongly about it, you should personally boycott all companies that do business with Israel, including Google, Dell computer, HP, Intel, air bnb, Expedia, just to name a few. You might as well trash your iPhone while you are at it. If you really want to put your money where your mouth is, become Luddite so that you are not supporting the Israeli regime

      • Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful suggestions. You’ll be pleased to know I do not use any of those companies that you listed. I don’t even use Google for searches anymore. Feel free to list any other companies you believe are particularly immoral and deserving of boycott.

        That said, I hope you understand the difference between boycotting and divestment. The demands the protestors have made are for institutional divestment.

  3. I support the student protest. I am not convinced that calling attention to starvation in Gaza, and the complicity of the College in its investments, is disruptive to learning or a danger to others. The protest is not against Jews but against the actions of the Israeli government which we support as taxpayers and members of the Swarthmore College community benefiting from investment in apartheid.
    As an alum in Austin I also support a similar protest at the University of Texas at Austin. Our Austin protest has the support of Jewish students and community members, many of us who are members of Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now. We are having seders in the streets and supporting antiwar protests like what is happening at Swarthmore. We are not antisemitic mobs.

  4. “Members of the “Abandon Biden” campaign, including one of its co-founders, left a few hours ago after sitting and speaking with protesters.”

    Oh great, these clowns – “Abandon Biden”.

    So these kids who pretend to care about Gaza are willing to sacrifice reproductive rights, the environment, labor laws, voting rights, and rule of law in the US to spite Biden- and then when Trump is back in office he will let Netanyahu do whatever he wants in Gaza.

  5. Swarthmore is a tough place to protest given the workload. I applaud the brave students for standing up against oppression and violence and living truly and freely–understanding the value of a conscience in a world where people seem heartless and we feel like we are surrounded by nihilistic zombies who are only about capitalism and the craven accumulation of wealth at the expense of others. Please feel free to let the alumni community know what you need. Some of us, even over 20 years out, are 100% with you in solidarity.

  6. Swarthmore administrators need to give a direct response to the demands of the Swarthmore Palestine Coalition and quit trying to wait this out, acting like when the semester ends this will all blow over.

    No it will be worse. You are making it worse. Graduation will be a fiasco. If the letter from 500 alumni is any indication, Alumni Weekend will be even more of a fiasco.

    People do not magically stop caring just because the calendar ticks over. Quit hiding. “Your silence will not save you.”

  7. Are you proud that you caused Worthstock to be shut down and ruin events for everyone else? Does that help your cause? Does that support the Gazans?

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