On May 16, one week after the close of our sit-in, Swarthmore Dean of Students Liz Braun announced her resignation.
Though the announcement neglected to mention the student protest that precipitated her departure (it read simply, “After many years of leadership positions in higher education, I am planning to launch my own consulting firm specializing in higher education”), Swarthmore students and community members know the truth. On the morning of May 1, 30 students entered Braun’s office and occupied it for nine days, demanding recourse for what they charged was the school’s failure to protect its students from sexual violence and for its unacceptable treatment of survivors—recourse that included her immediate resignation.
Whether or not Swarthmore’s leadership will acknowledge it, Braun’s resignation sets a new precedent on our campus: It has communicated to students that even when administrators try their hardest not to listen, we can make ourselves heard. It validates our statements against administrative harm and negligence, proves that such things warrant attention and real action, and is an implicit recognition of the harm she and other administrators have caused.
Roughly two months before the sit-in began, the Organizing for Survivors collective (O4S) formed to mobilize against the Swarthmore administration’s mistreatment of sexual-violence survivors and other concerned students. About 100 students attended community forums, where we identified the shared frustrations and pain that arose from the college’s insufficient policies and practices: its re-traumatizing formal response procedures and informal engagements with survivors; its flawed Title IX policy and broader institutional protocols; and its continued refusal of accountability. We presented Swarthmore’s president, Valerie Smith, with a list of demands that could guide the school toward comprehensive change. Among those demands: changes to our existing Title IX policies, procedures, and practices; an external review of our Public Safety department; improvements and changes to our campus psychological services staffing and training; the end of fraternity housing on campus; the resignation of three administrators; and a formal and public apology from the college to all students harmed through Title IX mishandling.
A week later President Smith released her formal response, which addressed only some of the demands without fully committing to meet any. In the weeks that followed, we held community forums, spoke with concerned faculty and staff, met with both Smith and Braun, and papered the hallways with information about our demands and the belief in transformative justice that undergirds them. Though our movement gained more traction with the student body and Swarthmore faculty and local press, we remained unconvinced that the college would meet the demands of their own volition.