'Black Affinity Coalition' suspends strike after realizing there will be consequences

Swarthmore College students ended a strike against the university after being academically punished for not attending classes or doing classwork.

The president of the college called it a "false equivalency" for students to suggest that those who do not fully subscribe to their views do not support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Students who went on strike with the Black Affinity Coalition ended their strike, noting that they were being punished for not doing classwork or attending classes.

On November 25, the Black Affinity Coalition at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, released a statement on Instagram that it was suspending its strike, which began on November 11 as an “outcry against decades of violence which BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled and neurodivergent students have suffered.”

Concerned about “institutional anti-blackness at Swarthmore College,” the BAC sent a list of demands to President Valerie Smith, which included that the college “recognize, credit, and financially compensate the Black and Brown, gender-oppressed and FLI people involved in the creation” of the letter. 

[RELATED: Hundreds of Haverford College students strike following admin’s response to Walter Wallace death]

A select few of the many other demands included the creation of an Indigenous students scholarship fund, that Swarthmore “hold a first-year orientation solely dedicated to Undocumented/DACA students,” that Swarthmore faculty “incorporate and center the work of Black, Indigenous, Disabled, and Queer writers, scientists, and activists,” and that Black faculty be “properly credited and compensated in times of injustice.” 

The BAC concluded its list of demands with a deadline to comply by November 16. The students who were striking also demanded that “there be no punitive actions and/or repercussions for the students involved,” which includes a “guarantee that no student will fail this semester, fail to receive credit.” 

President Smith then responded to the group and stated, “I agree with the underlying sentiment of your note and many of the specific points you’ve raised.”

The BAC began its strike on November 16, meaning that students did not attend class or complete any assignments, and in an open letter to faculty and staff, suggested to faculty members that “teach-ins” may be a valuable way to share how their “field and research is connected to social justice.” 

Professor Lisa Smulyan, for example, was noted in a “BAC Strike Timeline and Updates” article published by Swarthmore Voices for opening her “Intro to Education class as a part of a teach-in for the movement.” 

[RELATED: Columbia students go on strike, say Ivy League is ‘vampirically sucking every drop of blood’]

Campus Reform reached out to the professor for comment and although she stated in an email, “I support some aspects of the BAC,” she did not feel comfortable speaking about the group’s work while she has not been in contact with them.

BAC, however, suspended the strike because its attempts to enact change have instead “ended at conversation.” It stated on Instagram, “Failing students, giving them grade penalties, or granting incompletes as a direct result of striking ignores the power dynamics at play within the institution.”

Prior to the suspension, President Smith stated in a letter to the BAC “it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I see further engagement with an anonymous group and a set of demands that do not reflect the serious and ongoing efforts of those in our community.” 

This decision was made after acknowledging the root of the group’s demands: “I know that many of you are experiencing genuine pain — pain emanating from the relentless racial, ethnic, and xenophobic hatred and violence across the country.”

Smith continued: “There is an undercurrent emerging that those who do not fully subscribe to your demands or your approach somehow fail to support the Black Lives Matter movement, which would be, of course, a false equivalency.” 

To conclude, Smith did pledge to “continue working with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others” to strengthen the college’s “commitment to equity, racial justice, and service to the common good.”

Campus Reform contacted the BAC, which said that, “unfortunately, the Swarthmore administration was entirely dismissive of the strike and did not meet any of our demands.”