SASS Letter of Support for Hunger Strike
We, members of the board of the Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society, support those who are participating in the hunger strike and those who, throughout the past few weeks, have demonstrated their love of community by putting their time, energy and physical bodies into protest. Our ties to the concerns of this movement go beyond solidarity being that Black women, particularly queer and trans women, are especially at risk of sexual violence. We want to thank those who came before us and acknowledge those Black folk who began protesting in 1969. We remember their legacy, and also the legacy of our recent alum and inspiration, Lydia Koku ‘18 who started this movement. It is imperative that they be remembered as a core organizer and community figure in this fight, and that in their action, a focus on the most marginalized was imperative to their work.
The sit-in as a form of protest is particularly pertinent to the Black community in the U.S., and also at Swarthmore. When Black students sat in in President Courtney Smith’s office, they demanded, in part, a protection of Black students’ right to protest. As such, there is an eerie remnant present in the hunger strike currently as a call-out to administration for shaming protestors throughout the entirety of anti-fraternity violence demonstrations this semester. We are in solidarity with those 11 students who were treated inhumanely during their sit-in and were denied food, water and bathroom—basic human rights. When warrants of arrest are threatened, that is a violent denial of student’s right to protest because it relies on the unjust policed, carceral state in which we live. For Black students with a history of traumatic mistreatment by police officers, this threat combined with Public Safety’s aggression, is all too familiar. We will not accept the way our fellow students were treated by administrators, Public Safety and the Swarthmore police. The use of physical force and police presence in general, but especially in attempt to halt peaceful protest, is unacceptable.
We condemn the actions that those individuals, specifically Director Mike Hill and Officer Nicholas Borak, and the school took against our friends, our peers, our community. We recognize the use of police and force as both unquakerly but also particularly threatening to vulnerable students including and especially Black folks. We also recognize that this is not just the work of a few “bad apples,” which in often a large discourse used to discredit Black folks and movements like Black Lives Matter when they speak about the daily violence enacted by police officers and other police-proxy forces such as Public Safety. The structure of Public Safety is inherently anti-Black and works against all students as it employs often former police officers and military personnel for the protection of property, even and particularly at the expense of student safety.
We support the hunger strike because we understand that it is both a direct reaction to the treatment of these students, and a continuation of protest which in any other form has been met with escalating actions from the school. We understand that these folks are putting their bodies on the line for this cause. By doing so, they are also embodying the Quaker values which Swarthmore falsely claims to uphold. As a group that seeks to hold space for Black students, we feel it is our duty and our place to stand by the students on hunger strike because we know that if the College continues to get increasingly more violent and belligerent towards students, the brunt of that force will be used against Black students. Although some members of the administration have spoken and met with strikers, it took three full days of students begging the College, and still no apology has been granted for the harm that the administration and Public Safety has caused the protestors. We are disheartened by our administrations’ silence in the past weeks. The College is not only complicit in ongoing violence towards survivors, and particularly survivors of color and Black survivors, and protestors of any cause by extension, but is now a perpetrator of violence as well by allowing students to starve, both now and during the Parrish sit-in of this semester. The College has promised all of us safety, protection, and care, and has not lived up to its promise. It has instead silenced and further marginalized students, and has also participated in the erasure of student activism. We, once again, thank our community for holding this institution accountable and for the love and support it provides.