This article was published in the March 7, 1996 edition of The Phoenix.
It was written by Elizabeth Weber.

The Crisis of 1969

With the recent talk on campus of sit-ins, student protest, and students' role in the decision making process on campus, it seems appropriate to remember what happened in January of 1969. A group of students took over the admissions office, sparking a week of canceled classes, lengthy daily meetings of the faculty and the student body, hunger strikes, and daily Phoenix supplements, and ended with the death of a college president.

The Fall of 1968 began with College President Courtney Smith's announcement that he would leave Swarthmore at the end of the year. Phoenixes from that era are full of the concerns the concerns of the era: reports from that summer's democratic convention in Chicago, debate over naval recruiters on campus, a report on SPAC's picketing of the local Acme Supermarket, "the sex rule" (it was prohibited), SAC's rulings on pets in college dorm rooms, and whether the admissions office should continue to bar students with beards from becoming tour guides. But the admissions office was also in the midst of far greater controversy. A working paper about recruiting and enrolling Black students had been released to the college community. Among other recommendations, the paper suggested admitting a few "risk" students each year to boost the number of black students on campus, and it included an appendix of statistics about the current black students. In October, SASS staged a walk-out of the Admissions Policy Committee, urging that the report be rewritten. Its members argued that they should have been involved in the writing of the report, that releasing the data attached to the report was a violation of their right to privacy, and that the report included a number of negative opinions about SASS, such as the phrase "military separatist inclinations", which were being treated as fact.

That November, Student Council endorsed four demands made by SASS: that the report be removed from circulation in McCabe, that a Black Interest Committee be formed to increase campus sensitivity, that a Black Assistant Dean of Admissions be hired, and that the SASS Recruitment Committee work with the college Admissions Committee on the issue of recruiting and enrolling Black Students. Dean of Admissions Frederick Hargadon questioned the role of SAS as a representative of all Black student on campus (not all belonged).

Tensions only increased as the semester continued. Clinton Eldridge, chairman of SASS, said that the lack of student input and any Black Administrators, the scarcity of Black teachers, and the lack of a Black Studies Program made some students question the college's commitment to Black student recruitment. Dean Hargadon sent letters to several SASS members implying that he wished they had never been admitted. On December 23, SASS sent President Smith a list of demands, stating that unless they were publicly accepted by Tuesday, January 7, "the black students and SASS will be forced to do whatever is necessary to obtain acceptance of same." These demands were that the college accept and enroll 10-20 "risk" Black students during the next year and provide support programs for them, a commitment to a Black enrollment of 100 students within 3 years and 150 in six years, the appointment of a Black Assistant Dean of Admission and a Black Administrator, and the replacement of Hargadon unless admissions policies were changed.

On January 7, the demands had not been accepted. However, Smith called a special faculty meeting, and announced that faculty meeting would be held weekly until the issue had been decided. Faculty members announced that they saw no great differences between these demands and the recommendation of the Admissions Committee, but that they would use the SASS demands as a framework for these meetings. The following day, SASS members burned the college in effigy on Sharples Patio, "symbolizing the destruction of part of the old Swarthmore to enable the future to be built on a better foundation," denounced the failure of the faculty and administration to accept their demands, and called for general student support.

At 12:15 pm on Thursday January 9, members of SASS occupied the Admissions Office. They taped black paper to the windows, locked the doors, and asked the admissions officials to leave. At 2:15, they called press conference in the College Commons (now the CRC). They presented their earlier demand again, adding the demands that Blacks be included in the process of implementing all relevant College policies, and that no disciplinary action be taken against them. Several hundred students met in a session in Clothier Hall that evening. They endorsed the SASS demands, and asked the faculty to postpone all academics for two days. About 100 students walked out of the meeting to plan more radical action, agreeing to endorse the SASS takeover of the Admissions Office. The faculty met in an emergency meeting in Martin, postponing all classes until Monday, and inviting SASS representatives to meet with them. Student and Faculty meetings continued throughout Friday and the weekend, while SASS members issued statements about the philosophy of education at Swarthmore, and its relation to the needs of the outside world. The Phoenix began publishing 6-10 page xeroxed Supplemental Issues covering these meetings. The faculty met until 3:30 am, passing resolutions about the hiring of a Black Admissions Officer, and Black counselor, how the college might help gifted Black high school students to become qualified for acceptance to Swarthmore, and the implementation of a Committee on Black Admissions. Meanwhile, student meetings dealt mostly with the relationship of the current crisis to the larger issue of student power on campus. The "radical students" started a fund to help supply SASS with food during the crisis.

Classes remained suspended on Monday, while SASs and the faculty clarified their statement. Four SASS members began a hunger strike in Parrish Parlors. The students meeting in Clothier voted to dedicate the students' College Bowl winnings to the implementation of the Black Admissions program.

On Tuesday, classes began again, with 50 to 75 % attendance. Meetings continued in the evenings, but by Wednesday night, only the power of the new Ad Hoc Committee on Black Admissions remained an issue. Students and Faculty began to make up lost sleep.

At 10 am Thursday morning, President Courtney Smith died in his office of a heart attack in his office. Members of the College Community were stunned. Hundreds of students gathered on Parrish Beach, standing quietly. SASS left Parrish Hall in cars, leaving the admissions office exactly as they had found it a week earlier.

Student Council President Ellen Schall issued the following Statement: "The entire College Community deeply mourns the death of our President, Courtney Smith. There is no question in our minds of blame or guilt; there is room only for sorrow, not for bitterness. The College will continue to build towards the common goals for which we have all been striving."

SASS issued a statement of its own: "In deference to the untimely death of the President, the Swarthmore Afro-American Students' Society is vacating the Admissions Office. We sincerely believe that the death of any human being, whether he be the good President of a college or a black person trapped in our country's ghettoes, is a tragedy. At this time we are calling for a moratorium of dialogue, in order that this unfortunate event be given the college's complete attention. However, we remain strong in our conviction that the legitimate grievances we have voiced to the college remain unresolved and we are dedicated to attaining a satisfactory resolution in the future."

The faculty announced that individual students could arrange to postpone or omit exams without penalty. The Phoenix closed down for the semester. Several faculty members and members of the administration left in the following years. Many others named in the Phoenix coverage of the Crisis, such as Professors Bradley, Hopkins, Pryor, and Schuldenfrei, are still here. The incoming Freshman class the following Fall contained 31 Black students. And the students of SASS went on to graduate from Swarthmore.

source: Phoenix back-issues

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