Hunger Strike Announcement
WHAT LED TO THIS MOMENT
We’d like to begin by recognizing that we are standing on stolen land. Specifically, this land belongs to the Lenni-Lenape, and was stolen by William Penn and other European settlers. Colonization is an ongoing process: all of us who are not native or descendants of enslaved people are not just complicit but active participants in the settler colonial project of the United States. This school is founded on settler colonial violence and functions as a part of it. The violent forces at Swarthmore that created legacies of inequality are the same violent forces comparatively underfunding the Intercultural Center and Black Cultural Center, refusing to provide adequate food options for low income students during breaks, refusing to provide adequate CAPS resources for our most marginalized students, and failing to hire Indigenous professors or establish programs of Indigenous Studies.
We would also like to acknowledge that the sit-in that began last Saturday, and all student activism that we engage with today, is only possible because of the Black students who protested in 1969 for higher Black enrollment and Black administrators. One of the turning points of sexual violence advocacy at Swarthmore, the Spring of Discontent in 2013, was also started by a Black woman. We must acknowledge the legacies of those who came before us and the fact that activist movements at Swarthmore and globally are built on the backs of Black and Indigenous women.
Last Saturday, The Coalition to End Fraternity Violence began a sit-in at Phi Psi Fraternity that ultimately led to the voluntary disbanding of both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon fraternities. This was a huge win for student activism – it showed that activism works and that we know how to reach a community decision, even when the administration will not facilitate one.
On Thursday, a group of students began a sit-in in President Smith’s office to ensure she made the right decision to permanently end fraternity violence and institutional neglect. She had made it clear that she would only make a decision after she read the Task Force On Student Social Events and Community Standards’ recommendations, and we were prepared to sit in until the recommendations were released and decision was made. This peaceful sit-in immediately became violent when administrators barred students from entering the space and called Public Safety to assist them. When one student tried to open the door to President Smith’s office to let others in, he was assaulted and thrown to the ground by Director of Public Safety Michael Hill, Associate Director Sam Smemo, and Officer Nicholas Borak. The Swarthmore Borough police were then called, a clear act of intimidation and violence, specifically for the students of color and low-income students who were in the office.
Early on in the protest, students were told they could not leave the office. Ultimately, students were allowed to leave but were given an ultimatum: end your protest or be deprived of food and a bathroom. The protest continued for nine hours under the surveillance of Public Safety and, shortly after, Police presence. These scare tactics and methods of confusion were a disproportionate response to the peaceful sit-in. We unequivocally condemn the actions of Swarthmore administrators - police presence and deprivation of basic human needs should never be used against students, especially to break a nonviolent, peaceful protest.
The events of Thursday’s sit-in proved that the College is aware of our organizing power and is scared. There is no precedent for the inhumane actions that were taken to stop student protest. Last year O4S held a sit-in at Dean Braun and Dean Miller’s offices. Two years ago Mountain Justice held a sit-in in the president’s office – the same office students attempted to hold a sit-in in this past Thursday – demanding divestment from fossil fuels. There have been many sit-ins before then, yet the police were never called, arrest was never threatened, and basic needs such as food and bathroom access were never denied.
The reason for this retaliation is clear: the College is punishing us for recognizing our own power. The College is punishing us for using the power of nonviolent direct action to make change. The College is punishing us for making progress on our own terms without the assistance of the administration. The College is intimidating all marginalized students to cease activism, only exempting those who are willing and able to risk arrest.
If allowed to continue, intimidation will result in a campus where the freedom to dissent only exists for our most privileged students.
WHY A HUNGER STRIKE
Students have been meeting with administrators to ban Phi Psi and DU fraternities for years to no avail. O4S and the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence have written letters, have held rallies, and now have held sit-ins, but the administration still refuses to take action. The college won’t listen to us and now the college is trying to scare us out of nonviolent direct action. We are here to say: we will not be intimidated out of peaceful protest. The College has made other forms of protest, like peaceful sit-ins, unsafe for those of us unwilling to risk arrest. So, just like the 11 students who sat in President Smith’s office on Thursday, we are putting our bodies on the line.
President Smith, you have left us no choice: we are starting a hunger strike. Four of us at Swarthmore, and two students abroad, will not eat until our demands are met.
We have supported the Coalition for a week, but the Coalition cannot continue its work indefinitely under the threat of arrest. We are here in the spirit of the Quaker values which are so often touted by the College, values which instruct us to dissent when we feel moved to. We are holding a hunger strike because we also want others to be able to dissent when they feel moved to. In addition to seeking to to protect the rights of students to peacefully protest, we are here in solidarity with the 11 students that went into President Smith’s office looking for a ban on fraternities, termination of the leases, and a commitment to the reallocation of the former fraternity buildings to students who have been the most marginalized by this institution.
While Thursday’s events were the physical manifestation of the lengths to which the Swarthmore administration will go to quell student dissent and freedoms, violence has been occurring on this campus every day. It is violent when a student is called a racial slur in McCabe Library. It is violent when a student is given an A on a senior paper that advocates for eugenics. It is violent when survivors seeking support from CAPS are interrogated about what they were wearing or how much they drank the night they were assaulted. We seek to address not only the physical harm done by the active policing of students, but also the many other invisible ways in which harm is done on this campus not only by administrators but by fellow students, faculty, staff, and other members of the campus community. Therefore, the things we hope to achieve through our hunger strike reach far beyond Thursday’s events. Our goal is to create a safer community for all students, especially the ones who never felt safe to protest in the first place.
We will be refusing food until Swarthmore College formally and publicly apologizes for:
Attempting to force students out of a peaceful protest by denying food and a bathroom;
Using physical force on students;
Spreading misinformation and mischaracterizations of student protesters, throughout the campus and between administrators, including the false presumption of goals and intentions; and
Repeatedly using the survivor status of some administrators to silence student survivors advocating for their own safety.
We will be refusing food until the college terminates the fraternity leases and issues a commitment to create a reallocation process led by queer and trans students of color, specifically Black and Indigenous students. We also request that student participation in Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi fraternities, on or off campus, is prohibited permanently given their harmful history, in alliance with the main demands of the sit-in, which have not yet been met by the administration.
We will be refusing food until the college formally commits to reimagining Public Safety, which includes:
The resignation of Director of Public Safety Michael Hill. On Thursday, Director Hill was videotaped intimidating protestors, grabbing students, and allowing for students under his care to be physically harmed. Director Hill is also on video denying students access to food and a bathroom;
The hiring of a director trained in Nonviolent Intervention following Director Hill’s resignation; and
An end to the practice of recruiting from pools of former law-enforcement, military personnel, private security agents, or prison guards as Public Safety officers or officials.
Public Safety’s interactions with students, fraternities, and the police over the last two weeks have revealed larger systemic problems with campus security forces that many students have been aware of long before this semester. As a Quaker school that allegedly respects students’ right to protest, a pseudo-police force that only works for a portion of the student body has no place here.
4. We will be refusing food until the College formally commits to protect the students’ right to protest, specifically by committing to:
No disciplinary consequences for nonviolent protest;
No force used on nonviolent protesters;
No police called on nonviolent protesters; and
No arrests requested for nonviolent protesters.
5. We will be refusing food until the College agrees to establish a Reconciliation Committee of students, faculty, and administrators to address the violence done to make marginalized students feel unsafe on this campus. This Committee must:
Establish a system of ethically disciplining students within a non-punitive framework of transformative justice;
Reallocate resources to the Black Cultural Center, Intercultural Center, and Women’s Resource Center;
Increase the number of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) staff who are queer, trans, and of color and ensure that all staff are trauma informed;
Allow space for students to comment on the goals and processes of the Committee; and
Establish a publicly-available timeline for all the above.
We recognize that there is violence perpetrated against students beyond the physical violence of Public Safety and Swarthmore policing.
We would also like to acknowledge that the month of Ramadan began last night. We would like to maintain a separation between our actions and people’s religious practices. A hunger strike is not a fast. We are not asking people to abandon their religious convictions for our movement, nor are we asking people to align those convictions with our movement.
If you are interested in getting more information, talk personally to one of us – we will be at Sharples at 5:30 every day.