Students gathered in the Intercultural Center (IC) building on Monday afternoon for an event titled “Toward Future Coalition Building: Revisit Spring 2013 Student Demands.” The room was packed, with students filling both seats and the floor. Several members of staff were also present.
Matthew Chen ‘17, one of the organizers, said the impetus of the event “was to revitalize the energy that was created from the Spring 2013.”
Laura Laderman ‘16 and Sanaa Ali-Virani ‘15 facilitated the event, which kicked off with a writing activity. Participants were to discuss with those next to them on what changes they wanted to see in Swarthmore, and whether the college is meeting their needs. After that, those present shared their thoughts in a large-group discussion.
Participants raised many issues they saw with the College—often met with snaps if the audience found a sentiment particular insightful. The first few grievances concerned the seeming lack of student’s ability to affect dynamic change in the College. People called for a change in the way the Board of Managers operated and are elected, while others called for more student input before the administration enacts policy.
People called on the Board to spend more money from the endowment, echoing calls from previous editorials. Some proposed improving the committee system so that the agenda is not set by just one staff member. Emphasis was put in distinguishing between listening to students versus actually allowing students in the decision-making process.
A large topic of discussion was to introduce a student calendar of events, which related to many in the room who came from a variety of cultural and activist groups. They wanted to ensure that events don’t clash between student groups, and if so, consider the possibility of holding joint events. A former attempt at this calendar by the Student Council was recalled, although the project is now taken up by the Office of Student Engagement (OSE).
One student said faculty should be more empathetic to students wanting to prioritize attending certain events over academic work. A staff member then raised the issue of how the existence of student events are not being relayed effectively to faculty and staff members. The staff member said communication was key to gain understanding and trust for all stakeholders.
During dinner, students divided into small group discussions. Further issues raised included the lack of a pro-Palestine, pan-Arab and Middle Eastern cultural group, wanting a low-income dental and healthcare plan for students, and urging for care for mental health. In particular, students called for more diverse staff and diverse therapy at CAPS, as well as for psychological needs be be taken into consideration when it comes to housing in addition to physical disabilities. The event wrapped up with a call for those who led small groups to meet further if possible.
Reflecting on the event Chen said “towards the end it got better because everyone started talking briefly about a wide range of interests and breadth, which is the purpose of this meeting, and in working groups after the big group is over.”
Participant Bryan Lin ‘17 said, “This event was eye-opening for me. I didn’t know there were so many problems.” He appreciated that both staff and students were present, saying “there were some students who complained about administration not adjusting their needs, and the administration countered that by saying ‘it’s more complicated than that’ and that’s a good way to see both sides of the story.”
Upperclassmen who were present for the Spring of 2013 noted the large presence of underclassmen and the diversity of the crowd. Daniel Orr ‘16 said, “First there was a lot of underclassmen there which was really cool, and then there were lots of people from different parts of campus community. Lots of people that I know don’t like each other so much were there, but everyone was really energized and ready.”