Swarthmore College Alumni Open Letter

To the Swarthmore College administration:

We write to you as a collective of alumni who are deeply devastated and outraged by Israel’s ongoing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, as well as the escalation of state-sanctioned violence against Palestinians living in the rest of the Occupied Territories. This includes the systematic annihilation of the educational sector in Gaza.

As of this writing, since October, Israeli forces have killed over 33,000 Palestinians (including 14,500 children) in Gaza and displaced over 1.7 million Gazan residents. These horrifying figures fail to capture the full magnitude of death and destruction. Thousands remain trapped under the rubble, presumed dead. At least 17,000 children in Gaza are unaccompanied, meaning their parents have been killed or they have been separated from them. Israel has targeted and killed aid workers, like those from the Palestinian Red Crescent and World Central Kitchen, even after aid workers shared their coordinates with Israeli forces. Israel continues to prevent necessary levels of critical aid from entering the Gaza Strip, and allied governments like the United States have defunded the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the largest humanitarian agency in Gaza. Israeli forces have decimated the Gazan health sector, further limiting access to life saving healthcare and even forcing bombing survivors to undergo amputations without anesthesia. The list goes on and on. 

The sheer scale of loss and trauma is unfathomable. As Gaza-based journalist Ahmed H. Dremly wrote in Mondoweiss in 2022, “In Gaza, there is no post-traumatic stress disorder because war is never over.”

As alumni of conscience, we stand in solidarity with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, and demand that the College divest all of its finances, including its endowment, from companies that profit off of Israeli apartheid and occupation, in accordance with the SGO-approved Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) resolution of 2019. 

Further, we demand that the Swarthmore administration issue an official statement recognizing and denouncing scholasticide in Gaza and the rest of historic Palestine. The intentional destruction of Palestinian education systems and cultural heritage sites is a core part of Israel’s systematic attempts to annihilate Palestinian society. As an institution of higher education, Swarthmore has a moral and humanitarian obligation to oppose and take steps to end this scholasticide. In the words of Guardian columnist Arwa Mahdawi, “What’s left out of these nonstop discussions of campus safety is this: there isn’t a single safe campus left in Gaza. You should not be able to talk about campus safety without mentioning the fact that, thanks to U.S.-backed Israeli air strikes, every campus in Gaza is now a graveyard.”

Swarthmore has long prided itself on its commitment to “peace, equity, and social responsibility.” Many of us were drawn to Swarthmore for these very reasons. To prospective students and donors, the College boasts of this commitment. During the 2020 uprising for racial justice following the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Swarthmore tweeted

“Prospective students, Swarthmore College has supported the right to peaceful assembly for more than 150 years. Your participation in nonviolent demonstrations has no negative impact on your application or admission to #Swarthmore”

Yet the reality on campus tells a different story. Student activists are now being threatened with disciplinary action for demanding that the College live up to its stated values. For five years, a majority of students — including a broad coalition of Queer, Indigenous, Black, Jewish, Asian, and Muslim students, as well as the Student Government — has called on the college to cut its financial ties with Israel. Instead of engaging with this broad-based call from the campus community, the college chooses to target the very students who demand better of their institution. 

This is not a new story. In the 1980s, when students disrupted a Board meeting to demand the college divest from South African apartheid, the college responded by prosecuting and fining them. In 2017, the college threatened to fine students who sat-in for fossil fuel divestment. In 2018, Swarthmore College again threatened student activists protesting sexual violence from campus fraternities. Ultimately, after sustained student, faculty, and alumni pressure, Swarthmore did divest from South African apartheid, partially divested from fossil fuels, and banned Greek life.  

Israel is only able to continue to carry out its genocidal campaign in Gaza because of the military aid and diplomatic cover provided by the United States. Similarly, Israel relies on the financial support and normalization provided by respected institutions like Swarthmore College. At Swarthmore, students are taught about the long history of everyday people organizing for change and forcing those in power to take action for justice. Today’s generation of students follow in the footsteps of those who came before them: the Black student movement of 1969, the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, the fossil fuel divestment campaign of the 2010s, recent survivor-led campaigns against sexual violence, and more. 

Yet again, Swarthmore is on the wrong side of history, and the students represent the moral leadership the college is sorely lacking. We are outraged that the college would choose to threaten students exercising their first amendment rights. In the interest of upholding Swarthmore’s commitment to the right to peacefully protest, we urge the following:

  1. The college will cease all investigations against students who have received disciplinary warnings for participating in pro-Palestinian organizing and protests. 
  1. Students, faculty, and staff who advocate and organize in support of Palestine will not be threatened with financial, disciplinary, or academic consequences due to their advocacy. The college will protect the rights of faculty and staff to organize and speak out in support of Palestine, both inside and outside of Swarthmore’s campus. Similarly, the Student Employment Office will ensure that students employed by the college will not have their employment threatened due to their support of Palestine. Additionally, students on athletic teams who advocate for Palestine will not be suspended or expelled from their teams due to their support of Palestine.
  1. The college will not suspend or defund student groups that advocate in support of Palestine. Examples of such groups include, but are not limited to, Swarthmore Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Swarthmore Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
  1. Public Safety and administrative members will not call the police on peaceful political protests conducted on or near college property.
  1. Swarthmore’s student handbook and code of conduct will be amended to protect students’ rights to peaceful assembly and association.
    1. Swarthmore will recognize the right to peaceful assembly and association in accordance with the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. This entails a commitment to the “rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, which are essential components of democracy. The right of peaceful assembly includes the right to hold meetings, sit-ins, strikes, rallies, events or protests, both offline and online.” The college will recognize the right of students to protest in classrooms, offices, libraries, dining halls, residence halls, and lecture halls. 
    2. Peaceful protests which interfere with “normal college business” will not be treated as disciplinary infractions. The college will recognize that disruption is not the same as violence, and peaceful protests can include disruptive elements without sacrificing their peaceful nature. In accordance with this recognition, the college will widen its definition of peaceful protests to include protests with disruptive elements. These peaceful protests will occur without disciplinary pushback. Such disruption includes demonstrations at college events, political flyering and stickering, and the use of speakers and bullhorns.
  1. There will be a standard juridical process for any class of disciplinary action, or reported violation of the Code of Conduct, that can be applied to a student. These processes will be transparent and clearly communicated to every student upon entering Swarthmore College. 

If the college fails to respond to these demands and moves forward in taking disciplinary action against nonviolent student protesters, we will have no choice but to take further action. 


Swarthmore Alumni


  1. In the absence of signatures, “anonymous” is more accurate than “alumni”. Why was the letter allowed to be published with no attribution?

  2. Jay Kaplan — if you had clicked on “Swarthmore Alumni” atyou would have found ample attribution –493 alumni and counting

  3. If one believes that Israel is so fully dependent on U.S. support that “only” with such aid is it “able to carry out its genocidal campaign in Gaza”, would not the depth of responsibility of Swarthmore alums for the ongoing disaster warrant more than a set of petitional demands to their college’s administration? In that case, I would think that options like refusing to pay taxes or resigning national citizenship would more appropriately present themselves for serious consideration.

    As for communicating with the remarkably mute Swarthmore administration, I don’t see anything working better than a flurry of messages indicating the withdrawal of future financial contributions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading