Students, faculty, and staff gathered at the Swarthmore Friends Meeting House on Thursday, September 7th to discuss the violence in Charlottesville, VA. An August 12th white-nationalist rally turned deadly when an alt-right sympathizer plowed into a crowd of counter protesters with his car, leaving one person dead and several wounded.
At Thursday’s Collection, Swarthmore community members grappled with these violent events and the bigotry that brought them on.
Michael Nafziger ‘18 began the Collection by sharing how these events affected him. Nafziger, a Quaker student from Charlottesville, was not in the city at the time, though many of his family members protested the alt-right rally with their Quaker Meeting. As more and more alt-right rally-goers arrived at the park, “it became clear,” Nafziger said, that “what [the rallygoers] were uniting was hate. They showed up in riot gear.” Luckily, Nafziger’s family members were unharmed during the ensuing violence.
In reflecting on these experiences, Nafziger encouraged Collection attendees to contemplate the Quaker tenet of equality. “There is an amount of God in everyone,” he said. “There’s inherent worth in every individual.” In a community, Nafziger explained, everyone must respect each other’s worth, rather than lash out in bigotry as the alt-right rally-goers did.
In his parting remarks, Nafziger encouraged attendees to contemplate “what it [means] to be part of [the] Swarthmore community,” and how members of this community might “fight the hate.”
The second half of Collection was conducted in the traditional Quaker style. Attendees were asked to reflect in silence but were also encouraged to speak when moved.
Some students pondered aloud Nafziger’s comments about equality and how they might think of the alt-right protesters with equality in mind. Maria Andrade ‘21 spoke of her personal connection to the events, from living in a conflict zone, and what she has learned from that experience.
“When it comes to these alt-right groups, we have to see the people there individually,” said Andrade. “We can change their minds […] we can make them see that evil should not be present, that we are all capable of compassion.”
During the period of reflection, Professor of English Literature Peter Schmidt expressed admiration for the University of Virginia student who staged a counterprotest. “Let’s remember the role that 19, 20, and 21 year olds played,” Schmidt said. “I draw on them when I think of what I should do.”
Likewise, Alex Jin ‘19 stressed the role that college students can play in combatting hate. “It’s our duty to affect our immediate surroundings, especially when we’re in a place of privilege,” Jin said, urging fellow students to discuss sensitive issues like race and bigotry with their peers so as to increase other’s awareness.
After the discussion came to a close, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan ’06 reflected on the Collection favorably. “I think it went very well,” Atshan said. “People shared really profound reflections.”