In Love, Power, and Solidarity
We, the Students for Transformative Justice, Abolition, and Reform (STAR), stand in love, in power, and in solidarity with Organizing for Survivors (O4S) and the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence.
We acknowledge those before us—those who have paved pathways of abolition and rooted energies of persistence and hope that remain grounded in Swarthmore’s campus to this day. We recognize the individuals in January 1969 whose sit-in lasted a week in order to raise the percentages of Black student enrollment and Black administrators; the individuals in March 1970 whose sit-in lasted a weekend to create a student centered Black Cultural Center on campus; the individuals in December 1985 whose sit-in lasted 9 days in order to increase Black enrollment and divestment from firms doing business in South Africa; the individuals from April 1994 whose sit-in lasted a day to create programs that deter hate speech; the individuals in April 2015 who sat-in for 32 days in order to divest fossil fuels from Swarthmore’s endowment portfolio; the individuals that publicly raised awareness to sexual violence occuring on Swarthmore Campus during the Spring of Discontent in 2013; the individuals who created Organizing for Survivors in Spring 2018 who led a sit-in that lasted nine days to implement new sexual-assault reporting policies, a fraternity ban, and the resignation of administrators. Swarthmore students are no strangers to speaking truth to power and are comfortable dreaming freedom dreams (information from The Inquirer).
We acknowledge the hypocrisy of Swarthmore College. For an institution that claims “peaceful protest and free speech have always been central to [its] ethos, history, and identity”, calling the police within minutes of the sit-in is hypocritical and wrong. More hypocrisy follows when our professors teach us one thing and the administration practices another. As long as Swarthmore is unable to rectify their hypocrisies, the college will never serve as a community.
We acknowledge that the college is not divorced from larger society and cannot claim moral superiority. We will fight injustice anywhere it may manifest itself. There is much to be done on our campus, this problem does not end here. We must push on and remember those who have done the work and continue to do the work here and beyond.
We acknowledge that fraternity violence is rooted in racism, homophobia, misogyny, and sexual violence and that the recent termination of fraternities will not erase this violence. We know that eliminating the frats will disrupt a nexus of harm, but there are many more disruptions that need to be made.
We acknowledge that the frats have disbanded, but we are not ignorant to the fact that their legacy will live on if we are content with this small step. Within hours after the official disbandment of the frats, social media posts of newly former brothers demonstrate a complete disregard for the cycles of harm these institutions perpetuate and an undeniable disinvestment in structural change and necessary restorative practices. With elated faces and captions such as “Live Ever Die Never,” “You can take the boys out of phi, but… YOU CANT TAKE THE PHI OUT OF THE BOYS,” and “The boys. First and always,” it is obvious that growth and transformative justice has not occurred and cannot occur until accountability has been taken. Phi Psi posted that “We cannot in good conscious be members of an organization with such a painful history,” but the initial act of dissolving the fraternity organization does not absolve any former fraternity member (alum or current student) of the harm and violence caused by the organization, and quite frankly, for the harm and violence individual members of both Phi Psi and DU have enacted or complicitly allowed. We cannot be satisfied with a simple title removal, we must push Swarthmore College to dismantle the existence of racist, homophobic, sexist, classist ideologies on our campus to ensure the creation of a community where we are all safe. It is imperative that we continue to fight to eliminate any and all proliferation of violence on our campus and it is further imperative to mend, create, and redistribute.
We condemn the use of Public Safety and the Swarthmore Borough Police Department in their inherently violent act of policing and silencing student protestors—protestors who are fighting to transform and create a safer, more just Swarthmore College.
We condemn the students who called the Swarthmore Borough Police Department on their own peers. You all should be ashamed. Your actions continually illustrate a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be in community with others and indicate just how much work there is to be done. To be in community means to be aware of everyone’s needs. Part of the process of building community has to include realizing that not everyone has positive experiences with the Police and Public Safety. Public Safety has systematically harmed students of color. Further, Public Safety is staffed by former police, another carceral system that harms marginalized identities. In addition to the violence that your racist, homophobic, and misogynistic institution, that you willingly participated in, perpetuates, you caused even more violence by calling the police.
We denounce the authoritative powers and bureaucratic processes that perpetuate systems of harm and prolong the need and want for transformative creation. We do not want a task force. We do not want an ad-hoc committee. We do not want “to the best of our ability,” “insufficient evidence”, nor “we are reviewing the document and will take action as appropriate.” Your time is up. How many more stories, how many more sit-ins, and how many more instances of violence need to transpire in order for you, Swarthmore College, to fight, love, and stand in solidarity with your students? We recognize the termination of the frats, but we also recognize that you, the administration, have still neglected to take any action despite student protests transpiring since 2013.
We denounce the attempts to deflect from the movement. It is insulting to invalidate experiences and ignore the desires of the student body. It is irresponsible to ignore your students until there is extensive press coverage calling for your response. It is harmful to force individuals to relive their trauma and tell them their suffering is not enough. Swarthmore College has done and continues to do all of these things.
We denounce the blind praise given to previous, as of yesterday, fraternity members. It is obvious that many of you have not interrogated the deep-rooted violence perpetrated by your previous institutions. Without a serious questioning of each and every one of our own complacencies within a cycle of harm that exists in our community, we cannot and will not move forward. Our college will continue to be a space that harbors racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, violent ideology and behavior.
We call on President Smith to remember the words she spoke at the 15th annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women several months ago in accordance with her decades-long scholarship in African American literature and engagement with Black Feminist Thought. STAR, an organization that draws heavily from Black Radical Feminism and the Black Radical Tradition, calls attention to the ways in which “speaking up,” “showing up,” “[advancing] the cause of justice,” and “participating in the political process” (Smith) has historically involved peaceful processes such as protests and sit-ins utilized by The Coalition and O4S. How is it that you can advise young women to speak out against injustice, yet are complicit in Swarthmore College’s persistent silencing of survivors? How can you know the history of policing and its inherently violent nature, yet be grateful for the presence of Public Safety and the Swarthmore Borough Police at the sit-in? How can you uplift silenced narratives of rape and sexual violence in your scholarship, but not uplift the narratives of your own students? President Smith, you said in your email yesterday that “Still, as a community, we have much healing to do,” will you help? President Smith, you said in your email yesterday that “Genuine, systemic, and lasting change must be based upon a foundation of truth and facts,” but what about trust, love, and accountability? For what is the truth and what are the facts if us students cannot rely on and work with Swarthmore administration to create that foundation? The truth is, Swarthmore’s administration and Public Safety harm too many students without second thought.
We call for the administration to understand that the elimination of the fraternities does not mean the job is over and does not mean that we, the students, are content. You have continuously demonstrated your ignorance and your complacency in attempts and efforts to create safety at Swarthmore College. It does not mean you are suddenly not accountable for the harmful ways in which you have responded to student concerns (gaslighting, calling the police, taking years to address this problem that students have publicly fought since 2013 and years before that as well, etc). The fraternities are gone, but a deep rooted violent ideology in our community still exists. On Friday, how will Swarthmore administration demonstrate to the students that this will be addressed? How will Swarthmore administration demonstrate to the students that it is dedicated to creating a safe, healing social space? Or will you continue to let us, the students you claim to care so deeply about, down, again?
We call for the acknowledgment of further harm caused by the lack of action to immediately terminate fraternity leases after historical archives were released. It is irresponsible to not have terminated these leases given the sufficient evidence of classism, homophobia, racism, and misogyny documented in the release of the Phi Psi historical archives. Fraternities are a symptom of the violence inherent to systems of oppression. Therefore, again, the abolition of the fraternities is part of a larger process to be determined by a community focused on safety and justice, a community we need at Swarthmore.
We call for the active removal of institutions and organizations, such as Public Safety, and the removal of individuals, such as Dean Nathan Miller, that stand in the way of crafting a true communal sense of accountability. We should know who we can turn to if we have been harmed or if we have caused harm ourselves—these conversations need to occur. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to fight for a space that can hold and cherish these discussions.
We call on institutional memory that cannot be corroded or manipulated by those who would prefer to see us surrender our communal fight for justice. We further call on the history and narratives that have not been traced, acknowledged, and praised. We feel your energy and we thank you.
We call on the love that transformative justice is born out of. It is this love that empowers us to trace violence, disrupt violence, and create from the space that emerges when violence is disrupted. We are Swarthmore College, we are activists, and we are human. Let us not forget the individual and collective power we share that makes it possible to create from love, for love, with each other, and for each other.
We call on hope to guide us. Hope is the tangible acts and processes that we commit ourselves to in the pursuit of justice.
Your silence is violence. Do better.
Your silence does not protect anyone. Do better.
Your silence is loud, but we are louder. For the people doing the work right now, STAR knows that freedom will come. It is just a matter of how and when.
In love, in power, in solidarity
Lauren Savo ‘20
Lelosa Aimufua ‘20
Taylor Tucker ‘20
Alex Frost ‘20
Coleman Powell ‘20