Open Letter to President Chopp: Quakerism in the Tri-Co

Dear President Chopp,

I am looking forward to attending your talk this Thursday on liberal arts in the 21st century. I continue to be interested in the relationship between religion, social and environmental justice, and the liberal arts, and I am excited that you are providing leadership at Swarthmore and in the wider academic community on these issues. In the spirit of your upcoming talk, as well as the discussion we had last month, I would like to offer some experiences I have recently had with Quakerism in the Tri-Co and further extend my appreciation and support for your project.

This past month I have made several trips to Haverford and Bryn Mawr to meet with students and faculty interested in Quaker traditions and practice. Our Swarthmore Quakers on Campus student group has especially been seeking closer ties with Quaker-interested students in the Bi-Co. Haverford has an active Quaker student group, as well as a permanent Quaker residence cooperative, where eleven students live this year. At Bryn Mawr, Quaker influence is most prominent among environmental activist groups. Three students on the “Environmental Board” (similar to the “Swat Ecosphere”) are also members of the Philadelphia-based Earth Quaker Action Team, which has co-sponsored a number of events and action campaigns with groups at both Haverford and Bryn Mawr. In addition, I am told that there is rising interest in Quakerism within the Bryn Mawr campus community. Some faculty members have begun trying to connect with Quaker students and have recently held a campus-wide “Quaker Tea.”

I am particularly excited to tell you about a Tri-Co Fall Break trip which I was able to attend this past week to learn about and protest Mountain Top Removal coal mining in West Virginia. The trip was co-sponsored by two environmental justice and and two Quaker groups from Haverford, Swarthmore, and Bryn Mawr, as well as by the Earth Quaker Action Team. Eighteen of us, with strong representation from all three colleges, spent the week meeting activists and locals in the coal fields of southern West Virginia. We witnessed the devastation of Mountain Top Removal sites; we saw streams that ran red with heavy metals; we saw coal black sludge water taken from local wells and kitchen sinks; we visited an elementary school located 250 feet away from a coal refinery, where eighty percent of students surveyed have respiratory illnesses; we talked with people who had lost children, friends, and relatives to health effects directly related to Mountain Top Removal.

Our trip was a time to see and to listen, and it also provided opportunity for action. In southern West Virginia, we volunteered our time with the Coal River Mountain Watch activist organization, the Good Samaritan thrift store, and on a local organic farm where a man named Sid and his daughter Wendy share a vision for an agriculturally-based post-coal West Virginia. When we returned to Philadelphia last Friday, many of us attended a three day training hosted by the Earth Quaker Action Team at the Merion Friends Meeting. There we discussed the theory and practice of nonviolent direct action and protested extractive industries investment at a PNC Bank.

This trip was a fabulous example of the value-based service learning possible within the liberal arts framework. I continue to believe that the mission of Swarthmore and the Tri-Co is to lead the way among our peer institutions on issues of environmental and social justice. By taking ownership of our Quaker past, values, and connections, we can push the boundaries of higher education, both maintaining our high academic excellence and pursuing innovative commitments to peace. The Quakers on Campus group has been working on a series of proposals for the further integration of Quakerism into Swarthmore life, and we hope to share these proposals with you in the coming days. We believe that by drawing on the visions of our founders and on the incredible resources available to us through their legacy–notably the Swarthmore College Peace Collection and the Friends Historical Library–we can strengthen both the Swarthmore community and our support for social and environmental justice beyond the borders of our campus. We look forward to working with you on these initiatives.

In Peace,
Ben Goossen

Quakers on Campus
Swarthmore College


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