On Monday, students and staff gathered in Pearson Hall to reflect on the aftermath of last Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti. At the event, professors, a student, and President Chopp all spoke on what Chopp called a “cataclysmic event” in her online message to the Swarthmore community.
Darry Smaw, Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, helped to plan the event. “The tragedy in Haiti called out to us as a community,” said Smaw, describing the emails he received from students asking him to help to spread awareness of the earthquake on campus.
Smaw originally planned to hold a small discussion in Bond Hall regarding the Haitian earthquake, but the event gradually grew in scale as more and more students expressed their interest in attending. “We wanted to involve more of the community,” said Smaw, explaining that it is important for everybody to ask, “What do we do?” and “Where do we go next?”
The afternoon started with a moment of silence, during which the audience was told to speak if they felt moved. The fifteen minutes passed in silence; Allison Dorsey, Associate Professor of History and Black Studies Coordinator, later said that when asked to speak at the gathering, she “did not have words equal to the occasion.”
After the time for personal reflection, Cecily Bumbray ‘12 sang Amazing Grace, with Smaw accompanying her on piano. Micheline Rice-Maximin, Associate Professor of French, then spoke about a trip to Haiti she had planned over break, which was canceled following the earthquake. She explained that she had hoped to attend a conference in Port-au-Prince celebrating the ten major literary awards that had been won by Haitian authors during 2009. Rice-Maximin used this anecdote to show the vibrancy of Haitian culture, saying, “I can only hope…for the empowerment of your resilient people.”
Jacqueline Bailey-Ross ’12 was supposed to accompany Rice-Maximin on her trip to Haiti; she shared her feelings of shock about the earthquake with the audience. After spending two semesters studying Haitian culture and learning Creole, Bailey-Ross was “stunned and numb” when the news of the earthquake came. Bailey-Ross also read a poem she had written in Creole after hearing about the natural disaster.
Dorsey and President Rebecca Chopp also spoke, using the occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day to draw connections between King’s goals and Haiti relief. “We share King’s devotion to social justice,” said Chopp: “We can respond, we will respond, we must respond.”
Dorsey also drew from Haiti’s history as being the first “self-made black republic” in the world in her speech, and quoted from a lecture given by Frederick Douglass about Haiti in Chicago in 1893.
In addition to Monday’s gathering, a memorial is being planned for Friday, January 22nd to honor the people of Haiti. The memorial is currently scheduled to be held in Bond Hall at 5:00pm; however, the time and location are both tentative.
Many of Monday’s speakers recognized that healing in Haiti was not something that would occur immediately, but also voiced their belief that we must do whatever we can to respond to the needs of Haiti. In the last line of her poem, Bailey-Ross extended her support to the Haitian people, saying, “Take courage, Haiti, take courage.”