Journalism at its Finest: Groundbreaking Reporting in This Week’s Issue of the Phoenix

Here’s an excerpt from this week’s Phoenix on Stuco’s decision to elect Toby Levy as SBC chair:

SBC is not just about allocating money, its about changing the dynamics of groups across campus,” Mendoza said. “Its been said in the SBC that Hillel gets special privileges. It’s not unknown that Toby and Jacob are both Jewish. The BCC chose me as the candidate to support. They don’t see Toby as being qualified other than for racial reasons and the fact that he is Lanie’s boyfriend.

Jews in the SBC!?!? This hard hitting quote shows why the Phoenix is Swarthmore’s premier student publication.

Read more about Swarthmore’s Jewish conspiracy here.

Brandeis Administration Capitulates to Thought Police

In an episode eerily similar to last year’s Robert Zoellick meltdown at Swarthmore, Brandeis University this week withdrew its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Harvard scholar and critic of Islam, following an all-too familiar outcry of “Oppression!” from incensed students and faculty. It’s a sad day for a university that takes its name from one of history’s greatest defenders of free speech. -1

Hirsi Ali is a native Somalian who underwent forced genital mutilation at the age of five. After fleeing the Middle East, she renounced her Muslim faith and became an atheist in 2002. Following that, she wrote and narrated the film “Submission,” which aimed to depict the plight of women in the Islamic world. After seeing her director murdered and receiving death threats herself, she moved to the United States and founded the AHA Foundation, a women’s-rights organization.

In its official statement, Brandeis repeats a tired argument used so often nowadays to justify trampling on free expression: “[W]e cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.”

If universities snubbed every individual whose views or statements violated some nebulous set of “values,” there would be little room left for any sort of productive discussion. It’s shameful that Brandeis would see it fit to censor someone whose views, while arguably extreme in some regards, have directly challenged the status quo in many parts of the world, and whose experiences are a wake-up call to anyone concerned with the state of human rights abroad.

The Boston Globe reports on Hirsi Ali’s response to Brandeis’ decision.

I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin,’ Hirsi Ali wrote. ‘For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honor killings, and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices.’

Hirsi Ali rejected the university’s invitation to discuss such issues on campus, saying she did not wish to participate in ‘one-sided dialogue.’

‘Sadly, in words and deeds, the university has already spoken its piece,” she wrote. “I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck—and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater.’

We can only hope, as Ms. Hirsi Ali surely does, that the American higher education system will eventually realize that building a better society requires respect for freedom of expression. Being made uncomfortable, perhaps even by views that contradict our most deeply held values, is a central part of any learning experience. Ms. Hirsi Ali is fighting for basic liberties in Somalia. Let’s be sure to protect the ones we’re so fortunate to have in America.

Martinez offers guest response on Fat Justice

Marina Martinez ’16 requested the opportunity to write a guest response to Paige Willey’s article, “Fat Justice Workshop Degrades Women, Stretches Truth” (March 24). The Independent welcomes letters to the editor and guest responses from all political perspectives. 

When I read Paige Willey’s article, I was appalled. Having been inspired by the workshop to further educate myself, I couldn’t believe the way Willey took out of context nearly everything that she quoted from the speakers. Ironically, while Willey attacks many of the points at the workshop as lacking evidence—and as using heavily implicating “leftist” keywords to elicit emotional reactions—she employs the exact same strategy in her critique. In fact, many of the conclusions Willey draws about the “point” of the workshop are simply wrong. They were neither said nor implied. I’ll address each of her points separately:

1. The speakers did not, as Willey suggests, rant about Adolphe Quetelet’s “evilness,” nor did they classify BMI as a “white supremacist, patriarchal, colonizing, exploitative force.” First, it is widely accepted in the scientific world that BMI falls far short as an accurate classification of obesity and health. BMI fails to account for bone proportions and muscle density, meaning BMI often misclassifies athletes as overweight. The use of BMI often results in higher insurance premiums for many healthy adults because of the inaccuracy of BMI calculations.

Secondly, the “white supremacist, patriarchal, colonizing, exploitative force” mentioned is not, as Willey makes it appear, an unreasonable statement. In the workshop, this force was actually defined in the context of phrenology and eugenics, not BMI. Phrenology is the “science” of making judgments on someone’s character based on their physical attributes. These practices have existed for centuries, in many cultures and time periods. However, during periods of colonization, the standard for good character was a white male European body. Visual depictions of black or indigenous peoples not native to Europe during this time were often heavily stereotyped, drawing from references to animals in order to dehumanize these populations of people and assert white moral and intellectual dominance. As British sociologist Dr. Richard Twine states, phrenology was used over centuries to “buttress scientific racism and the misogynistic focus on prostitution.”

Therefore, when Quetelet wrote The Average Man, in which he determined that weight increased as the square of height, his ‘average man’ was white and obviously male, and this man was used as the standard for bodies. This is by nature patriarchal and oppressive, because when one standard is used as the ideal, anyone who does not fit the ideal is seen as wrong. Nonwhite people, and indeed women, could not fit into the established norm, and this was used for the next several centuries to dehumanize, oppress, marginalize, mistreat, and murder people who did not fit the standard. I would argue that BMI decidedly derives from “white supremacist, patriarchal, colonizing, exploitative forces.”

The speakers did fail to state that Quetelet was a mathematician. According to most sources I found, Quetelet was a pioneer in mathematics and statistics. However, many sources that lauded Quetelet also embraced BMI as an accurate, indispensable tool—yet there is widespread scientific consensus that BMI is an inaccurate tool to measure obesity and health.

2. Not once did the speakers suggest that we should stop celebrating the heroes of women’s suffrage, nor was it suggested that flappers intentionally adopted a style that “de-emphasized” their “feminine attributes.” White feminists did many incredibly courageous things, none of which Segal and Sullivan condemned. What they did condemn was that white feminists did, in fact, “[throw] everyone else under the bus” because they realized that in order to gain the vote, they could not include women of color. Historically, to gain more status and freedom, oppressed groups have themselves furthered the oppression of other, more oppressed groups (for example, white ethnic immigrants such as Irish, Italians, and Jews in the US were some of the loudest anti-black racists during industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th century, because by racializing blacks, they could obtain classification as white Americans and secure jobs for themselves in factories while excluding blacks). As the speakers stated, the feminism of the early 20th century excluded women of color in order to gain limited power in the world they lived in, an unfortunate and shameful part of feminist history that nevertheless must be acknowledged.

Additionally, Willey suggests that it was the purposeful intent of flapper women to de-emphasize their feminine attributes and antagonize women with larger breasts. While prominent flappers who were societally accepted may not have intended to look the way they did, they were afforded such social acceptance because they looked this way. It can hardly be ignored that women who gained fame as flappers in that time were of a certain body type and skin color—and this is still a pertinent issue in media representations of women today. At no point did the speakers suggest that the flappers “ought to be chided” as opposed to respected as courageous young women. They were courageous young women. But they did not provide an accurate representation of the female population, and the standards they imposed were damaging to many.

3. For Segal and Sullivan, the 1960s and 1970s were notable for the mobilization of young people who were dissatisfied with their government and had the hope of something better. They did consider “communism and socialism as viable alternatives to capitalism and exploitation” because in our capitalist society today, as at that time, huge numbers of people are exploited, marginalized, and otherwise oppressed. The country being discussed is the United States. No mention was made of the Soviet Union and China during these times because they were not relevant to oppression in the United States. Additionally, it must be noted that China and the Soviet Union were communist in name only; a ruling class existed in both cases to oppress and in fact destroy the livelihoods of the less powerful. The “large-scale human exploitation” was a result of enormous power concentrated in the hands of very few people. Communism and socialism as concepts are antithetical to these values, and protesters in the 1960s and 1970s were not advocating for this type of system.

4. The reference to Ronald Reagan ‘fuck[ing] everything up’ was not directed toward obese people, as Willey leads us to believe. It was directed at the silencing of movements towards civil rights, greater equity, and democracy that had previously been gaining ground in the country. Obese people were not explicitly mentioned in regards to Ronald Reagan; the focus was on Reagan’s policies, which included enormous tax cuts, reduced government regulation in terms of businesses and corporations, and heavily increased government regulation in terms of drugs and prison.

5. For evidence of the “medical-industrial complex” creating the obesity “crisis,” look no further than the 1997 FDA trial, dominated by health experts with direct ties to the pharmaceutical lobby, who successfully lowered the “overweight” BMI classification to 25. A Seattle Times investigation found that this change was a direct result of the pharmaceutical industry’s pressure on the government to increase the number of overweight people, and about 30 million people became categorized as “overweight” or “obese” overnight. Drug companies, hospitals and doctors collaborated to administer weight loss drugs and campaigned for obesity to be treated as a public health crisis.

One of the most dangerous drug combinations, prescribed to millions of people before its side effects were known, was a combination of the drugs fenfluramine and phentermine. It turned out that these drugs, with brand names Pondimin and Redux, caused side effects like heart valve malformation requiring open-heart surgery and chronic pulmonary hypertension, a thickening of capillaries in lungs that hinders breathing. These side effects were measured in a 1997 Mayo clinic study to affect 30 percent of patients who took the drug. By the time the Pondimin and Redux were taken off the shelf, the company selling them had made a profit of 200 million dollars. So actually, there is strong evidence that the “medical-industrial complex” had everything to do with the labeling of obesity as a health crisis.

5. Like Willey, I disagree with the claim that “there is no scientific consensus…that fat is unhealthy.” To the extent of my research, I found there is evidence for health problems correlated with extreme obesity, namely hypertension, coronary-artery disease, and other cardiovascular problems. However, correlation is not necessarily causation, and the data for this is inconclusive if obesity is the root cause of any of these problems. The problem with Willey’s blind acceptance of “virtually any reputable medical source” as sufficient to debunk the speakers’ claims is that these are exactly the sources that the speakers cite as being influenced by pharmaceutical lobbies. An investigation into pharmaceutical lobbying in government reveals that pharmaceutical and health product companies, like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, spent a total of $225,715,937 dollars in government lobbying in 2013.

What we can say is that many factors affect body fat: socioeconomic class, age, race and ethnicity are all shown to play a role. Lifestyle alone is not a significant way of predicting weight or body fat. The health benefits of exercise are not something I’ll get into here. I’m a huge proponent of exercise. But in most cases, judging by scientific models and by various studies, exercise alone can make people healthier, but does not help people lose significant weight. The speakers’ point there is no consensus that fat people need to exercise more is true, because many fat people exercise just as much as thin people, and many thin people don’t exercise at all.

6. Controlling for external lifestyle factors, such as smoking, eating habits, and exercise habits, overweight people actually tend to live longer than “normal-weight” people. Grade 1 obesity (BMI from 30 to 35) was not associated with higher all-cause mortality, but it was not associated with longer life either. Grades 2 and 3 obesity, classified with a BMI over 35, were associated with higher all-cause mortality. So Willey is correct in pointing out that the speakers skirted the fact that not all overweight people live longer; however, even most obese people do not have any increased mortality rate than “normal-weight” people. This also goes back to the point that there is no scientific evidence that fat people need to exercise more—apparently, there isn’t.

7. Side effects of bariatric surgery include death (1 in 300 patients), pulmonary embolism (1% of patients), bowel leakage and subsequent infection requiring secondary surgery (1% of patients), bowel obstruction requiring emergency surgery (3% of patients) and bleeding requiring medication or surgery (2% of patients). Additionally, excessive scar tissue formation between the stomach and bowel occurs in 2% of patients, resulting in chronic vomiting and decreased tolerance to food. Ulcers occur in about 2% of patients, and can be brought on by such painkillers as ibuprofen and Aleve—medication many people take for headaches, muscle aches, or menstrual cramps. Another serious side effect is chronic nutritional deficiency in protein and essential vitamins and minerals.

These symptoms uphold the statement by the speakers that many who go through gastric bypass are “reduced to involuntary anorexia and bulimia.”The point of the surgery is to reduce the body’s ability to digest food. This is literally what anorexia is—chronic reduced food intake. The number of complications that cause vomiting alone are sufficient to describe involuntary bulimia.

One of the biggest questions to consider here is why we are so comfortable condemning people to massive discomfort, lifestyle change, and poor quality of life in the name of treating them. Many believe that fat people should stop at nothing to lose weight in the name of their health, and yet many fat people sentenced to such drastic changes are not experiencing adverse health conditions, and the measures taken to lose weight actually worsen their quality of life. We arrive at the question of whether people should have the autonomy to decide their own lifestyle, especially considering that fatness is not often tied to lifestyle.

Segal and Sullivan did not claim that “anesthesiologists lack the expertise to calculate anesthesia doses for larger patients.” In fact, they said the opposite: that high rates of bariatric surgery indicate that anesthesiologists know exactly how to calculate anesthesia doses for larger patients. However, it is a well-documented fact that the majority of hospitals do not have adequate equipment to treat fat patients; few ambulances are equipped to handle fat patients; and in many facilities, fat women are denied access to procedures such as late-term abortions that their thin peers are granted.

Willey heavily criticizes the blame game she assumes Segal and Sullivan engaged in. It is an unfortunate fact that whenever oppression is pointed out, those with more privilege take it as an attack on their privilege and in fact as an example of ‘reverse discrimination.’ All the self-flagellation in the world isn’t a productive way to fix an oppressive structure. What people who have more privilege can do just as a first step, however, is actually listen to the perspectives of those who are oppressed, rather than—as Willey does—writing them off without considering any idea beyond what their privileged experience has given them.

I am confused by Willey’s statement that Segal and Sullivan’s “blam[ing] supermarkets for urban ‘gentrification’” was antithetical to saying that healthy food should be affordable and accessible. What Segal and Sullivan explicitly said was, “Everybody should have access to healthy food.” What they also said was that currently, supermarkets that sell healthy food and fresh produce tend to be too expensive for underprivileged neighborhoods lacking such food. The correlation between being poor and being fat in this country is too great to ignore, but it cannot be solved with lifestyle advice if the environment makes this lifestyle impossible for so many people. An illuminating point that Sullivan made was that in the hospital where she works, all the professionals are thin, and all the service workers are fat. This points at a structural problem and at the possibility that fatness is a salient category used for discrimination as well as social class, gender/sex, and race. Thus, rather than try to force people who can’t afford it to change their lifestyles because we want them to stop being fat, we might work on making those lifestyles financially accessible in the first place. But that would require more money for welfare and food stamps, better public housing, and that catch-22: eliminating systemic discrimination and exploitation in the workforce.

As I have already made clear, the speakers emphatically stated that everyone should have access to healthy food. With this comes the example Willey makes of Michelle Obama. Just because Michelle Obama is neither white nor a man does not mean her policies and ideas can’t stem from a patriarchal or white supremacist paradigm. These ideologies are deeply entrenched in our society. Policies such as the “war on obesity” endorse the same ideology that fat people are responsible and indeed obligated to make every possible effort to change how they look despite usually having little to no control over their genetics, environment, and subsequent weight. If we admit, as scientific evidence pushes us to, that genetics and early environment have by far the biggest influence on weight before lifestyle comes into the picture, then it is incredibly oppressive to ask a group of people to change their lifestyle beyond what is reasonable and often beyond what is possible for little to no results, just so that they can fit into our society. In fact, doing this justifies the oppression of fat people, because it spins the problem into an issue of personal responsibility when as we have seen, personal choices rarely account significantly for a person’s weight.

This oppressive ideology is self-evident in Willey’s own perspective. There is nothing empowering about the hundreds of diet products that can harm a person’s body, about doctors refusing to treat actual symptoms because of what they see in front of them, about qualified fat people being passed over for a job because of superficial and inaccurate judgments on their character made because of their weight. What would be empowering would be to recognize that health is not always correlated with what we see in front of us and moreover, that a person cannot be treated as a lesser human being just because of subjective speculations on their lifestyle.

I disapproved of Willey using the ‘angry, man-hating lesbian’ quote to make Sullivan look irrational and thus discredit her arguments. When Sullivan threw that phrase out there, it was right after making the case that in order to be respected as an activist or a feminist, one must still be mainstream. Both speakers were describing how women are quick to acknowledge that although they are feminists, they are ‘normal’—they shave their legs, for example, or they’re straight. Sullivan challenged us to think about people who may make us uncomfortable because they don’t fit into a mainstream idea of normal. Can we claim they don’t deserve to be listened to? Politics in our country don’t leave a lot of room for people who don’t fit into the current picture of respectability—so to be angry, for example, is supposed to delegitimize someone’s opinions, as is to have emotions about something as opposed to having a “rational” viewpoint. Yet those who say they “hate feminists” or “hate black people” or “hate gay people” continue to enjoy significant mainstream support for their views.

I entirely disagree with Willey’s assessment that everyone in the room being thin and privileged somehow exemplified oppression. People who did not have a personal investment in the issue were still there listening, wanting to learn about the oppression of a group of people they did not belong to. I found the presence of many thin people in the room to be encouraging. It was not an example of “blind solidarity;” it was an example of privileged people making an effort to listen to those who are less privileged, and this is exactly what Willey refused to do. By insisting that she knows better than the people who actually suffer discrimination, marginalization and violence every day, she is refusing to give a legitimate voice to those with less power and privilege than she.

Willey had a big problem with the “emotionally-charged” nature of the talk, another symptom of her insistence on buying into our culture’s notion of objectivity as removed from passion. But how can we expect the speakers not be passionate about an issue that affects them every day? Passion does not necessarily translate to a lack of rigor or accuracy. Willey’s rejection of the speakers’ research is every bit as “eager and emotionally-charged” as the workshop was, because her agenda is to preserve her cherished opinion that fat justice is not worthy of consideration. If Willey had been willing to hear the facts before she eagerly picked irrelevant phrases out of context and spun them to fit her storyline, she, too, might have benefited from this workshop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carbon Tax Discussion Provides Refreshingly Reasonable Debate

   On April 2, Swarthmore kicked off Green Spring with a discussion of carbon taxes, hosted by Mountain Justice and The Citizens’ Climate Lobby Philadelphia. The discussion was aimed at educating about the tax, recruiting activists for policy reform, and was a much-welcomed reprieve from the divestment debate. The CCL’s representative, Sarah Davidson, urged discussion attendees to spread the good news about carbon taxes, press legislators for climate change legislation, and spark widespread political will for tax reform. Her attempts to engage students with the carbon tax issue and environmental activism were honest and reasonable. However, the discussion left many unanswered questions on the basics of carbon taxes.

The discussion was fruitful in its explanation of why many environmentalists consider a carbon tax preferable to cap-and-trade programs. Carbon taxes are more straightforward, more transparent, and can be implemented faster. Carbon taxes are not watered down, whereas cap-and-trade programs are subject to loopholes for certain industries. Because carbon taxes directly affect consumers at the gas pump or otherwise, they are more likely to change people’s mindsets regarding fossil fuel usage. But with a tax as broad as the carbon tax, what are the potential drawbacks?

At the heart of the debate lies the question of the cost that a carbon tax would place on the economy. Ms. Davidson made a commendable effort to answer several difficult questions about the negative effects of a carbon tax, but was hesitant to delve into the ramifications such a tax would have on America’s economy. Taxing fossil fuel emissions would cause energy prices to rise, which would increase the prices of consumable goods. With higher prices comes lower purchasing power in terms of real wages. Lower real wages would effectively lower the amount people work overall, which would negatively impact total output. Not to mention that the U.S. economy would become far less attractive for investors in comparison to developing countries such as India and China, which will continue to use fossil fuels and offer much lower prices on goods as a result.

Perhaps one of the most concerning impacts a carbon tax would have is its effects on low-income families. Low-income families spend proportionally more of their income on fossil fuel-created goods than middle class and wealthy families do, and as such, would bear a disproportionate burden. The CCL asserts that the tax would be revenue-neutral, meaning that some of the cost to lower-income families would be offset by returning 100% of tax revenue back to the people by providing an income tax credit.

But what about the number of jobs employing coal and oil workers, and jobs within other industries hit especially hard by the tax that would be lost as output declines? Ms. Davidson argued that some of the tax revenues could also go towards guiding people who have lost jobs in fossil fuel-dependent industries towards other jobs. Ms. Davidson said revenues could be used to“train people to retrofit houses, or learn new computer skills.” The problem here is the policy then faces a trade-off between using carbon tax revenues to alleviate the tax burden on low income families, or to minimize unpleasant effects of the tax on the economy as a whole.

Last, is there concrete data on how much fossil fuel emissions affect the earth’s temperature per year, and the exact level of emissions the U.S. would need to stay below? Ms. Davidson was unable to give me any data offhand, and admitted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still inconclusive on the numbers. She did, however, reference some generalized research on sea levels as evidence of global warming. If the carbon tax is supposed to safeguard against future environmental damage, it would be nice to know some numbers that could shed light on just how big the tax would need to be. An ideal carbon tax should rest at equilibrium between public benefit and public cost. If an optimal level cannot be calculated, the tax runs the risk of being inefficient and overly burdensome on the economy.

Although the libertarian in me recoils at the mention of “taxes,” a carbon tax is a comparatively efficient way to redirect resources without government intervention. It is far better for a government to tax harmful things, such as pollution, instead of positive things such as income, labor, and profits. In this sense, a carbon tax swap could prove to be a more favorable policy. Swapping out existing taxes that affect investment in exchange for taxes on energy could promote economic growth while keeping government growth in check.

Ms. Davidson was receptive to skeptical view points and approached the discussion of carbon taxes with a level of passion not uncommon in environmental activists. Surprisingly, Ms. Davidson was open to alternatives other than solar, wind, and hydropower, and expressed support of nuclear energy. At times it seemed as if Ms. Davidson came to Swarthmore expecting to preach to the choir, enlist hordes of supporters, and was therefore ill prepared to answer the tough questions. However, it was refreshing to see campus environmentalism veer from the rhetoric of divestment towards a more serious discussion about environmental problems.

 

College sidesteps due process concerns in motion against John Doe

The legal volleying between Swarthmore and an expelled student offers a disturbing case study in college Title IX hearings, which deviate sharply from American standards of justice. The former student, referred to as “John Doe,” filed a lawsuit against Swarthmore in January, alleging that the College Judiciary hearing (CJC) that found him guilty of sexual assault had discriminated against him. Thanks to some scrappy reporting from the Phoenix’s Razi Shaban, we know the College is fiercely objecting to John’s suit and, on March 21, filed its own motion for full dismissal.

imagesJohn Doe’s complaint, filed in the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania in January, alleges that John experienced a biased hearing and, moreover, was “a male accused of sexual misconduct at the wrong time and in the wrong place.”The College, however, insists there are “no facts at all showing discrimination,”and there are no“particular circumstances suggesting gender bias.”

Here at the Independent, we have repeatedly argued that Title IX’s “preponderance of the evidence” standard of guilt—mandated by the federal Department of Education for all internal hearings at universities receiving federal aid—makes a mockery of basic American due process rights. Still, we fault John for making gender politics an unnecessary issue in his case. His lawyers should have focused on his hearing’s procedural problems—of which there are several—rather than introducing the somewhat conspiratorial theory that John was made “the whipping boy that Swarthmore needed” to prove the administration was serious about sexual assault.     

Swarthmore’s lawyers, dismissing John’s theory of gender discrimination, say “this is a simple breach of contract case.” They are right. Though Swarthmore is a private college, its Handbook amounts to a contract with its students, and it must carry out policies consistent with that contract. Having reviewed the original lawsuit and the College’s response, we believe that Swarthmore breached its contract with John in several ways. 

First, the College argues John is mistaken for thinking his case was “shut” and then “reopened” in the midst of last spring’s polarizing protests.  According to Swarthmore, John has confused the “Title IX investigation process”—and its guarantee that investigations last no more than 60 days—with that of the “student judicial process.” Sharmaine LaMar, who was Title IX Coordinator at the time of John’s case and now heads the College’s legal affairs, told the Independent via email, “We don’t ‘open’ and ‘close’ cases as in the criminal process. Regarding any case under the College’s policies at the time, a complainant could choose to pursue a CJC process at any time.” In other words, anyone who assumes a College hearing would value the right to a fair and speedy trial is sorely misguided. The Sixth Amendment is only for criminal proceedings, not kangaroo courts.   

Under Swarthmore’s policies up until last fall, a victim’s report to the Title IX Coordinator would not necessarily prompt a judicial hearing. Except in extraordinary circumstances, a student needed to file an additional request for a hearing, and, in this case, John’s accuser waited several months between making a report on November 24, 2012 and requesting a hearing in May of 2013. The actual incident in question occurred in the spring of 2011. This lapse between the report-filing stage and the later hearing is emblematic of victims’frustration with Swarthmore’s administrative response to assault. Under the old policy, complainants bore the burden of navigating Swarthmore’s bureaucracy before a hearing was scheduled, if at all.  

The College argues that it’s in the clear because it completed the investigative process within 60 days, though the actual hearing occurred much later. But if John is guilty of sexual assault, as the CJC panel found, the administration was complicit in not pursuing swift justice. If John’s threat to campus safety was so severe as to necessitate expulsion, why did the College sit on its hands and force his accuser, “Jane Doe,” to drive the process? In the U.S. justice system, a district attorney who reviews police evidence and believes a crime has been committed orders an arrest as soon as possible. The DA doesn’t wait for victims to politely request a trial several months hence. Swarthmore’s overly bureaucratic approach is harmful to victims and the accused, both of whom deserve timely justice.   

Second, the Handbook assures students that “Hearings are scheduled when classes are in session and not during college breaks.” John alleges that his hearing, which did not take place until May 30, 2013, occurred over a break. Swarthmore, however, asserts that the spring semester had not ended because graduation was not until June 2, “before summer break began.” But Swarthmore’s graduation date is notoriously late, weeks after classes end, final exams conclude, and underclassmen go home. Last year’s official campus calendar reads, “all classes and seminars end” on May 3 and “course examinations end” on May 18, well before John’s hearing was scheduled. Both John and Jane had already returned home for the summer, which is why the administration initially suggested conducting the hearing over Skype. Indeed, in her correspondence with Jane, former Associate Dean of Student Life, Myrt Westphal, informs Jane about the “travel and room/board accommodations available for you” and tells her she can arrange support from the evening of May 27 to May 31. It’s obvious that Jane was not still living on campus at the time of the hearing. As juniors, both Jane and John would have needed to evacuate their dorm rooms by May 18, well before their hearing was scheduled.  

Of course, the reason that hearings are supposed to occur during the regular school year is so students have the opportunity to call peers, faculty, or administrators as witnesses. John and Jane’s cohort of classmates in the Class of 2014 were almost surely off-campus and unavailable as potential witnesses.

Third, John alleges that, during the hearing, part of an emailed statement by Jane was read into evidence, despite John not having seen the statement before the hearing or having been offered time to prepare a response. The Handbook clearly states, “Both the accused and the complainant(s) shall be shown a copy of the materials that will be present in the hearing in sufficient time before the hearing (normally 48 hours in advance) to prepare their cases.” 

Swarthmore counters, “Contrary to his allegations, the Student Handbook allows for questioning of the parties and does not mandate that question be limited to the written materials shared with the panel and the parties.” 

Certainly the questions that arise over a course of a hearing may vary, but if a question is in reference to a written material, that material needs to be shared with all parties, per Swarthmore’s own policies. If the College doesn’t feel limited to the written materials it shares with the accuser and the accused, why guarantee access to written materials at all?

Fourth, whether John had access to adequate information before the hearing took place is unclear. Under Swarthmore’s previous sexual assault policies—which were applied to John’s hearing and were in effect until August of 2013—hearings were overseen by a neutral Observer, who was tasked with meeting the accuser and accused beforehand to instruct them of the College’s policies and answer any questions. As former Associate Dean of Student Life, Dean Myrt Westphal was normally the Observer in CJC hearings, and fulfilled that role by meeting with both John and Jane. But Dean Westphal was unable to attend the actual hearing—which raises further questions about the hearing’s proper timing—and was replaced in her role as Observer by the Vice President of Facilities, C. Stuart Hain. 

Swarthmore argues that there is nothing in the Handbook that assures the Observer will be the same person. But this doesn’t change the fact that John claims he was never informed he could enter a written statement into evidence. He believes his failure to do so hindered the outcome of his case. To this, the College says “he was repeatedly told to review the Student Handbook policies.” While John obviously should have read the Handbook more closely, nowhere does the College affirm that Dean Westphal or her replacement explained these policies to John, further calling into question what the purpose of the “Observer” was, if not to inform the involved parties of their rights. 

Fifth, the College permitted testimony on John’s past sexual history, which the Handbook explicitly forbids. Swarthmore’s lawyers take a postmodern view of this rule, arguing that the “policy is speaking to excluding past sexual history offered to show promiscuity, not evidence that is relevant on the basis of the charge at issue.” But nowhere does the Handbook say that sexual history is fair game if it helps establish the victim’s “state of mind.” This is the equivalent of biasing a jury against a rape victim by talking about her long string of boyfriends and then saying that such testimony is permissible because it gets at a “state of mind”and has nothing to do with her “promiscuity.”

Sixth, the College’s key evidence against John appears to rest on his distressed email exchange with Jane Doe’s long-distance boyfriend. Jane’s boyfriend threatened John with his gun and wrote that John should be thankful that Jane “has dissuaded me from killing you outright, something which I have very seriously considered.” To the boyfriend’s accusation that John’s behavior was “tantamount to rape,” John responded, “I read your message, and I agree with it.” It seems quite possible that John made that admission under duress, with his life quite literally threatened. The fact that the College rests its case on a statement elicited by such vigilante justice is alarming.  

In addition to these obvious shortcomings in the way Swarthmore handled John’s hearing, the College allowed its Title IX Coordinator to act as an unscheduled witness, revised its formal charges against John just 24 hours before the hearing took place, and demonstrated clear bias by allowing Jane to leave the hearing in the midst of John’s testimony, thereby depriving John of the right to confront his accuser. 

To this, Swarthmore’s lawyers blithely retort, the “appellant’s attempts to invoke due process concerns and questions of fundamental fairness are misplaced as our review is not guided by due process concerns.” 

That should send a chill down the spine of every American. Here at the Independent, we are agnostic as to John’s guilt but find it unnerving that Swarthmore has labeled John a rapist, while sidestepping the basic procedural safeguards of a legal trial or even its own Handbook policies. Sexual assault cases should be tried in criminal court, not overheated classrooms on an empty College campus. 

Swarthmore Conservative Society Announces Creation of Fund for a Profitable Swarthmore

Mmmm…profits

The Swarthmore Conservative Society and Swarthmore Independent (oh, to hell with it, we’re all the same people anyways) are proud to announce the debut of the Fund for a Profitable Swarthmore, a glorified savings account created with the intent to pressure Swarthmore College to adopt more profitable investment practices.

When our demands are met, the fund in its entirety will be transferred to the College to use however it pleases. We eagerly await the many new initiatives Swarthmore will be able to pursue with this fund, such as establishing an Office of InterMultiTransculturalism and enabling professors to take on a negative courseload.

Our demands are as follows:

  • Swarthmore must increase the share of the endowment held in fossil fuel stocks to 75%.
  • At least five new hydraulic fracturing wells must be drilled on campus by 2017. Preferably on the WRC.
  • Any and all sustainability initiatives on campus must be doused thoroughly with oil and set aflame. This includes the Crum Meander and the carwash it was taken from.

Until such time as Swarthmore fulfills these demands, we will hold the Fund for a Profitable Swarthmore in PNC Bank, where it will earn a highly profitable interest rate of 0.01% and support valuable projects such as the patriarchy.

Naturally, we don’t want to endorse the spawn of satanic institutions such as the Federal Reserve, so the fund will not accept donations made in U.S. dollars. We encourage free-market alternatives such as gold and Bitcoin.

For too long has Swarthmore neglected the profits it could accrue from greater investment in fossil fuels. We The Students, who collectively know more about how the world works than anyone who’s actually lived in it, have been oppressed long enough. It’s time for Swarthmore to wake up and realize that money isn’t going to make itself. Only love can do that.

“Money money money, need some money, so let’s invest in oil.” – ABBA

You can donate to the Fund for a Profitable Swarthmore here.