M O R
APRIL 2018 | ISSUE 20
FIXING A BROKEN TITLE IX FEATURE BY ISABEL CRISTO
ALSO Whoâ€™s who in Atlanta When Yik Yak reigned Where I walk Why Shape of Water sucked
Céline Aziza Kaldas Anderson is a junior sociologyanthropology major with a history minor. She is in a band with Willa Glickman. Isabel Cristo hopes they will still let her graduate after this article is published. Hope-Elizabeth Darris is a first year from New York City. She’s an avid lover of The Office, Bob’s Burgers and mac and cheese. Jade Dong enjoys gaining access to other people’s inner lives, taking weekly walks in the Crum, and napping so hard that she wakes up with lines on her face and briefly forgets her name. Leo Elliot is a Political Science major, for sure, this time. Ilana Epstein ’21 is a Film and Media studies major originally from Boston, MA. Her plans for the future include taking the film industry by storm and telling everyone she ever meets that she’s from Boston. Colette Gerstmann is a senior from Brooklyn, New York. She sets a high bar for empathy and a low bar for beer. Willa Glickman ‘18 is an English major from Brooklyn, NY. A personality test told her she’s prone to relying on a “philosophy of life” to smooth over problems—now just trying to make sure she picks the right one. Emma Haviland-Blunk is a senior English major from Crompond, New York. She loves making lists, reading books, and making lists of books. Samantha Herron would jump off a bridge if all her friends were doing it. Azikiwea Green is a senior. Ariana Hoshino ‘20 is a Film Production (and CS) major. Her likes include Ilana Epstein ‘21, the color green, Christopher Nolan’s 2014 classic “Interstellar,” King Charles Cavalier Spaniels, and blackmailing people into attending Cinema Club.
Letter policy Letters are welcome from all readers. We will not ever publish letters anonymously and we reserve the right to edit all letters for length and clarity without contacting the letter writer. Letters generally should run no longer than 1,000 words. They should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
How to contribute Submissions of longform reporting, personal, argumentative and photo essays, book and media reviews, short stories, poems, and anything else that seems suitable can be e-mailed to Samantha Herron, editor-in chief. Submissions will be considered from Swarthmore students, alumni, faculty, and staff, and will be considered anonymously, though will will not, except in rare cases, publish anonymously. Submissions should generally not go longer than 10,000 words. Contact: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org EDITORS-IN-CHIEF SAMANTHA HERRON COLETTE GERSTMANN
Heidi Kalloo is a graduating senior majoring in English Literature and minoring in Japanese. She is currently working on a directed creative writing program in fiction.
FEATURES ISABEL CRISTO PERSONAL ESSAYS WILLA GLICKMAN
Andrew Kim ’18 enjoys making music with others and writing poetry by himself. He would like to dedicate his poem to his late grandmother, who saw beauty and passion as the most important pursuits of life.
PHOTO ESSAYS KYUNGCHAN MIN
Vanessa Levy is a freshman from Phoenix. She kinda likes crying to music.
FICTION & POETRY COLETTE GERSTMANN
Evie Lutz ‘20 is a sophomore from Oregon who enjoys spending her free time exploring and photographing the Pacific North West.
BOOKS LEO ELLIOT JOE MARIANI
Daria Mateescu is a sophomore studying Philosophy and Interpretation Theory. Her primary topics of conversation are abortion rights and western interference in Eastern Europe. Gabriel Meyer-Lee ‘19 writes about internet cultures because he’s terrified of the internet. Samira Saunders is a senior from Dubai/Papua New Guinea. She feels very enthusiastic about nicely packaged soap and long flights. Ariana Soriano (she/her/hers) is a Mexican-American writer who still struggles with identifying as a “writer.” When she’s not too busy having a quarter-life crisis, she likes experimenting with language to address familial/ intergenerational trauma and healing. Abhinav Tiku is a senior studying History and Film & Media Studies. Look for Julian Turner as one of the artist managers in the next season of Jermaine Dupri’s “The Rap Game.” 2
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MOVIES & TV JONATHAN KAY MUSIC GABRIEL MEYER-LEE Design © 2017 the Swarthmore Phoenix. All content © 2017 by its listed author unless otherwise noted. The “R” logo is based on the font Layer Cake by Luzia Prado. The “Review” logo is based on the font Soraya by Pactrice Scott. Printed at Bartash Printing, Philadelphia, PA. Please recycle this magazine. Published by the Swarthmore Phoenix swarthmorephoenix.com
“A man who is in a room with a cat - whatever else we might say about that man - is not alone. ” Tim Kreider
Arts January 2018
A Book About Eruption 42
Anatomy of a Broken System On Title IX at Swarthmore by Isabel Cristo
A Night on the Town
“Her Body and Other Parties” 44
by Samira Saunders
The Life of Yik Yak Students remember the app in its heydey by Gabriel Meyer-Lee
On Machado’s artful new story collection by Emma Haviland-Blunk
photo essay by Evie Lutz
Seeing ghosts in “Trick” by Leo Elliot
MUSIC The New New Atlanta 45 The city’s most exciting upcoming artists by Azikiwea Green and Julian Turner
PERSONAL ESSAYS The Walk 20 by Samantha Herron
FICTION & POETRY Confidential 35 by Heidi Kalloo
Against Introspection 22 by Willa Glickman
The Vertigo of the Modern Woman 24 by Jade Dong
Jumbled Thoughts of a Sunflower Kid 25 by Hope-Elizabeth Darris
Cyborg / Silence Song 38 by Colette Gerstmann
bitter 39 by Ariana Soriano
mobius love 40 by Abhinav Tiku
Reptaliens makes you doubt your selfhood by Vanessa Levy
MOVIES Failures in Magical Realism 48 Why The Shape of Water sucked by Ilana Epstein and Ariana Hoshino
“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” 50 Nostalgia and nationalism in Puiu’s film by Daria Mateescu
First Matcha 41 by Andrew Kim
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"WE CAN DO THIS WELL": ANATOMY OF A BROKEN SYSTEM by Isabel Cristo, with help from Abha Lal
t has been a month since Lydia Koku ’18, Barbara Taylor ’18, Priya Dieterich ’18, Morgin Goldberg ‘19, Gretchen Trupp ’18, Makayla Portley ’18, and Gabriela Key ’18 publicly introduced us to Organizing for Survivors. On Monday March 19th, in front of students, faculty, and staff, O4S articulated a list of demands that seek to radically alter the ways that the college addresses sexual violence on campus. The demands were drafted with input from survivors and allies across campus, as well as alumni, and on the steps in Parrish Parlors the core of O4S shared them with the community at large. O4S is seeking the hiring of a CAPS staff person that is specifically trained in trauma-informed support, as well as a CAPS staff that is more representative of the student body it serves. They are looking
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for changes to the adjudication process for those survivors who choose it, from a model that resembles a court hearing to an investigative model. They are demanding that clearance through the Title IX office is required for all student leadership positions on campus, such as Resident Peer Advisors and Teaching Assistants. The are asking for the abolition of fraternity housing, external accountability mechanisms in the Public Safety Office, and an end to the practice of hiring retired judges not specially informed on issues of consent, assault, trauma, and identity, as external adjudicators. O4S is calling, furthermore, for the resignation of three key administrators—Dean of Students H. Elizabeth Braun, Judicial Affairs Coordinator and Senior Class Dean Nathan Miller, and Associate Director for Investigations Beth
Pitts. O4S’s demands are neither entirely new nor entirely comprehensive. They echo similar demands issued by students over the years at Swarthmore and beyond, and they undoubtedly contain gaps that deserve careful examination and thoughtful input by anyone who might have a stake in this work. But what is different about this movement this time—or at least, this is how it feels in the thick of it—is the vision that has come a little more into focus, of a better alternative. For O4S, the work of identifying the brokenness of the system is inextricable from the work of imagining and implementing a new one in its place. The push to dismantle has been accompanied by an equally concerted effort to be generative. In this spirit, from the most narrow to the most far-reaching, each of
the demands exists in service of a broader project. O4S is looking for specific reforms to the process as it exists, but their goals are deeper and more radical. They are asking, in the end, for a transformation of the way that we think about harm.
✳✳✳ Lydia Koku ’18 knows violence. Since she was three years old, Lydia has experienced repeated sexual, emotional, and physical violations, to varying degrees of severity and in different forms. But before she got to Swarthmore, Lydia never considered reporting what had happened to her. She knew that to do so would put the people who had harmed her, often Black men, at great risk. These people were her family members and close friends. She wanted them to realize the ways in which what they were doing was wrong. She did not want expose them to criminalization. On a the last really wintry day in April, Lydia recounted this impossible calculation. “It’s a really simple concept. If you report, something bad happens to the person that you love, and if you don’t report then bad things will continue to happen to you. But as Black women would you rather bear the horrible things that continue to happen to you? Or do you want to contribute to a system that is perpetuating all of these violences against human beings who you know, even though they hurt you, are redeemable?” So Lydia arrived at Swarthmore familiar with the principles of restorative justice—how it is an alternative to the kinds of punitive justice that victimizes Black and Brown communities including her own, and how it can restore healing and accountability to survivors. When she experienced assault here, at the hands of a friend who himself had had adverse encounters with the police earlier that year, she knew she wanted to avoid adjudication. She didn’t want to jeopardize his future at Swarthmore or beyond. Again, she just wanted him to know that what he had done to her was wrong. Of the options presented to her in the wake of her reporting, she chose to work with Intimate Partners for Peace, an educational program in Philadelphia, believing that it was a more restorative option. However, her friend took over one year to complete 2 of the 3 recommended educational sessions and Lydia was never updated by the Title IX Office about whether or not he had successfully completed the program. In the aftermath of a later case of inti-
mate partner violence with another partner, Lydia chose adjudication. Lydia’s process took five months, well beyond the sixty days she was initially promised. In the midst of the investigation into her assault, her advocate, Nina Harris, abruptly left the college, and Lydia was left without any communication from the investigator of her case for weeks. When the outcome of her Title IX process finally ended in academic probation for her perpetrator, Lydia once again found herself in a position of double jeopardy. On the one hand, she believed in non-punitive measures. On the other hand, she felt as though the consequences for her perpetrator were light given what he had done, and she suspected, based on what she knew about other survivors’ outcomes, that this disparity was not unconnected to the fact that she is Black and queer. “I was pretty upset at the outcome of my process. I was like, why didn’t he get suspended? And then I felt awful for even feeling like he should be getting punished...They [the adjudicators] are framing it as, ‘You’re going to get an outcome that’s proportionate to what you experienced.’ This intimate partner violence destroyed me emotionally. I healed from the physical wounds in a couple of weeks but the emotional scars were still there. What is proportional to that?” It was this experience that prompted Lydia to start thinking hard about the ways that the Title IX process at Swarthmore was set up to fail survivors. What we have, she realized, is a system that frames sexual violence as an interpersonal failure. What we need is a system that names and addresses violence at its systemic roots. Lydia told me, “There’s a chalkboard in the Title IX office and on it, there’s a quote that says ‘We can do this well’. So every time I’ve been in the Title IX office, and I’ve probably been in there something like 50 times over the course of my Swarthmore career, I think to myself, well what are we doing well? If the ‘this’ is justice, we’re not doing that well. But we can. We really can. We can do this well.”
✳✳✳ Nina Harris served as Swarthmore’s survivor advocate and violence prevention educator from 2013 to December of 2017. Her departure was met with sadness—many students felt that Nina was a vital source of support, particularly as one of the only women of color in the Title IX office. Since leaving Swarthmore, Nina has continued to do work around sexual
violence prevention programming and restorative justice, but she has also continued to reflect on the ways that Title IX operates at Swarthmore and the boundaries of its application. In a conversation with Abha Lal ’18, Nina articulated one such boundary. “Part of the problem is that Title IX doesn’t solve everything. I think there’s an aspect of it, that even though it’s part of addressing community climate, the processes that are in place are focused on individuals. And particularly in an intimate community like Swarthmore, that doesn’t address the reverberating impact of interpersonal violence. It’s not one person, it’s the friends around them, it’s the people that care for them, it’s the collective community that becomes engaged in this process.” For all the ways in which Swarthmore is not insulated from our broader national politics, it is true that to encounter violence here is something of a unique experience. At a place as small as Swarthmore you will inevitably, at some point in your four years, interact with someone who has committed violence. You will maybe inadvertently become friends, or friends of friends with someone who has been violent. You will be lab partners or hallmates or teammates or you will fall in love with someone who has caused someone else harm. The close proximity on this campus creates a unique set of problems around sexual violence, but it also generates a unique opportunity. As Lydia put it, “We all have a stake in this because we all have the potential to cause harm. You have to think about how you would want to be treated, how you would want to be re-integrated into the community after you’ve caused harm, because inevitably you have caused harm. Or you will.” The problem is that the current Title IX process relies heavily on a model of crime and punishment that flies directly in the face of the tenets of transformative justice. As it stands, there is no incentive to take responsibility for the harm you may have caused someone. Why would you, if the consequences are necessarily punitive? The question then becomes how can we as a community honor the experiences of the people who have been harmed? How can we together hold someone responsible for their actions? These are the questions that guide O4S, and they are ones that have troubled students and the college at large for years. SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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HOW WE GOT HERE ✳✳✳
t is well known among Swarthmore students that the accumulation of institutional social knowledge is disrupted every four years, and every four years, students must work to preserve a memory of what they witnessed. The 2017-2018 academic year marks the first generation of Swarthmore students who were entirely absent from the spring of 2013, known familiarly as the “Spring of Discontent.” Nevertheless, we all have some sense, however abstract, that the events of 2013 have had a lasting impact on the college. We know, for example, that 2013 marked one of the biggest overhauls of administrative staff in recent Swarthmore history. Only six of the eleven Title IX liasons that were employed in 2013 remain, and a stunning thirteen high-level administrators have left their positions in that same period. Besides the staff changes,we know that the events of 2013 changed the tenor of campus politics in such a way as to become something of a starting point for the student activists that have come after it. You cannot work for fossil fuel divestment, racial justice on campus, queer representation, or Title IX reform at Swarthmore in 2018 without some reference to the spring of 2013, and O4S is no exception. They’ve publicly stated that they intend to follow in the tradition of student activism in 2013 and learn from the challenges faced by the students that came before them, while still orienting themselves towards new solutions. In many ways then, understanding what happened in 2013 with regards to Title IX is critical for appreciating exactly how and why O4S came about.
✳✳✳ Wait, I thought the sorority thing was shot down pretty definitely last year. Why is this happening? Are we happy this is happening? The first rumblings of discontent were in the works before students returned to class in the summer of 2012. Maya Marzouk, a member of the Swarthmore Queer Union (SQU) had gotten wind that the student group Not Yet Sisters was planning on officializing their status as a sorority, and sent a message to the SQU Board in dismay. Maya’s message served as the impetus for the first petition of that year to abolish 6
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Greek life on campus. The petition garnered 155 signatures (technically enough to mandate an official student referendum as per the Swarthmore Student Code of Conduct) but was quickly quashed by the administration, ironically in the name of equity under Title IX. This, in effect, ended the first wave of student activism specifically regarding Greek life, but a general wariness and decisive mistrust of the administration would remain. Months later, on February 13th of 2013, the Phoenix editorial board published a piece that again called for a referendum on Greek life, and by the next day, yet another petition to go along with the editorial circulated among the student body. Four days later, the petition had 197 signatories, again more than the 10% of the student body needed to start the process for a student referendum, and the Swat Vote Yes campaign was born. What followed was a maelstrom of meetings, correspondence, and public displays of either support or opposition to the campaign that deeply polarized campus. For the next month, posters emblazoned with an emphatic “VOTE YES” would materialize overnight and then just as quickly be removed. A series of community discussions meant to be mediated by staff on the topic of the Greek system quickly fell apart, as Greek life leaders insisted that the very existence of the petition precluded dialogue. Student Government meetings and other public forums became sites of contention that ranged from spirited debates to shouting matches. As Jodie Goodman ’16 put it to the Phoenix in an article in March, “Campus was divided in three: those passionately for reform, those passionately against reform, and those who thought the entire thing had gotten entirely out of hand and had opinions somewhere in the middle.” Then there were the chalkings. The first night of chalkings, the messages largely revolved around causes to vote “yes” on the referendum. They said things like, “I never felt mistreated as a woman until I entered the frats. Think it’s a coincidence? It’s a culture,” and “If I had known about frat culture on campus, I wouldn’t even have applied.” The next morning, most of the chalkings had been washed away by student council co-president Victor Brady ’13, who claimed that the chalkings were
targeted and anonymous, and that they would make visitors uncomfortable. President Chopp sent an email condemning the chalkings. Organizers, on the other hand, insisted that they had been well within the chalking guidelines as outlined by the student handbook, and the next night, they returned with fresh outrage. This time, the chalkings took on a decidedly different tone. Mia Ferguson ’16 and Hope Brinn ’16 wrote explicitly and powerfully about their assaults and the administrators who had failed them. They wrote, among other things, “You can erase my chalk but you can’t erase my rape.” In one of the more cinematic moments of that spring, Brinn stood outside of McCabe and proselytized about violence in the fraternities to a growing number of students leaving their late night study sessions. In her own words, she admonished the administration: “They care about the word ‘rape’ but they don’t care about real rape.” From April 8th to 9th, the referendum was open on Moodle, with six questions regarding Greek life on campus: Do you support ceasing Delta Upsilon’s and Kappa Alpha Theta’s affiliations to their national chapters? Do you support admitting students of all genders to sororities and fraternities? Do you support making fraternities into substance-free spaces? Do you support merging all sororities and fraternities into one campus building? Do you support having no campus buildings expressly for the purpose of housing Greek organizations? Do you support the abolition of sororities and fraternities at Swarthmore College?
A total of 1,268 people, over 80% of enrolled students at the college, submitted responses. Of the six measures, only the one asking that fraternities and sororities be gender-inclusive received majority support. Despite this, organizers of Swat Vote Yes still saw the results as a kind of victory. They had good reason; while not a majority, about a third of all respondents had voted to abolish fraternity housing, and almost the same number had voted to ban the organizations altogether.
Two days later, on April 11th, President Chopp sent an email that would infamously give name to the spring of 2013, lodging it firmly and notoriously in the college’s legacy. She began: This is the spring of our discontent. Acrimony, hurtful accusations, and distrust have been expressed all around the campus. We are all tired. The community we love, at least most of the time, is fraying at its edges.
By this time in the semester, friction around the referendum was compounded by three separate incidents of urination on the front door of the Intercultural Center, an escalating Mountain Justice campaign to divest the college from fossil fuels, several public incidents of homophobia, and outrage over the invitation of Robert Zoellick, a vocal proponent of the Iraq War, as commencement speaker. With tensions at their zenith, it was at this point that Mia Ferguson and Hope Brinn filed complaints against the college for mishandling their cases and failing to comply with the Clery Act and Title IX. In doing so, they joined students at Occidental College, Amherst College, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Yale University, among others, in bringing federal cases against their schools. The complaint included testimonies from ten students, and alleged that the college persistently underreported and underpub-
licized incidents of assault and battery, as well as intimidated and discriminated against complainants. As of April 2018, these complaints remain pending. With the Department of Education now under the leadership of Betsy DeVos, who has expressed that current Title IX policy is on the whole too harsh to defendants, it is unclear whether they will ever be resolved.
✳✳✳ The events of 2013 resulted in an external review of the college’s policies surrounding sexual assault, the creation of the Title IX Coordinator position, and, notably, the departure of Tom Elverson, the college’s Drug and Alcohol specialist whose simultaneous position as Greek Life Liaison and alumnus of Delta Upsilon proved to be a blatant conflict of interest. Another change to emerge out of 2013 was a formal modification of the college’s alcohol policies, including the elimination of the “DJ fund,” the loophole that allowed any student who registered a party to acquire school funding for alcohol. The 2014 changes to the alcohol policy are perhaps better known among the current student body, as any information regarding college students’ access to alcohol is wont to be. At the time the new policies were put into effect in fall 2014, campus would undergo what many alumni see as a historic change in the social scene at the college—with the DJ fund gone, suddenly the only spaces that could afford to purchase alcohol for
all-campus parties were the dues-paying fraternities. The problems with this arrangement seemed glaring, and prompted Priya Dieterich ’18 to seek out her first meeting with the administration. She met with Lili Rodriguez, then-Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, and they discussed the unintended consequences of the new policy. Priya continued to speak with the administration intermittently about issues related to social life, fraternities, and, later, sexual violence and Title IX for the next two years, with increasing frustration about the lack of responsive action. By 2016, Morgin Goldberg ’19 was also meeting with admin, most regularly Assistant Director of the Dean’s Office Andrew Barclay, about the lack of inclusive social spaces on campus. In November 2016, a group of about twenty students met with Dean Braun, Dean Rachel Head, and Andrew Barclay to testify about their own experiences in the fraternities. They told countless stories of unwanted touching and groping, stories of being followed, and patterns of intimidation, coercion, and a culture of bystanding, as well as recounted incidents of homophobia, racism, and misogyny. They spoke at length about racial and homophobic slurs they overheard, aggressive behavior they witnessed, and a sense of insecurity they felt in those spaces. One student shared how, when she tried to intervene in what she interpreted as a coercive incident between a fraternity member and a partygoer, she was verbally accosted. A month later in December, a smaller subset of those students met with Kaaren Williamson at Dean Braun’s request to reiterate the concerns expressed in the first meeting. Finally, in February, at the start of the spring semester, the same group of twenty students met with President Smith. After listening to students, President Smith announced the formation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Well-Being, Belonging, and Social Life, which ostensibly would address the issues raised by students regarding fraternities, equity, and social spaces. Importantly however, no one who was present in that initial meeting was selected to be on the committee, although several applied. Furthermore, Professor Bruce Dorsey, co-chair of the ad-hoc committee, revealed that the committee has not in fact tackled the problems of the fraternities, and that this item has been marginal to the goals of the committee. As of yet, the committee has not released any recommendations or plans
Image from Swat Overlaps SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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regarding the initial set of concerns raised by students over a year before. In December of this year, Barbara Taylor ’18, Gabriela Key ’18, and Gretchen Trupp ’18 met with President Smith. Barbara says that this meeting largely revolved around issues peripheral to Title IX, such as CAPS staff being better trained in trauma-informed care and diversity among CAPS staff. A month later, in January, Lydia Koku and Makayla Portley ’18 joined in a second meeting with President Smith that was more narrowly focused on the problems with Title IX at Swarthmore. Lydia had undergone complications with her own adjudication process at this point; although he had been found re-
sponsible for violating Title IX policy, her perpetrator had nevertheless been hired to be a Residential Peer Leader in the spring of 2017, and was applying to become Resident Advisor, a mandated reporter position. Despite her contact restriction, Lydia was still placed in training groups with her perpetrator during orientation in the fall of 2018. And when she showed up at the Office of Student Engagement for a meeting with an employer, her perpetrator was there, working at the front desk. Makayla too, was seeking accountability for her process. Her advisor and case manager had, without warning, taken an indefinite leave of absence in the middle of her investigation, leaving Makayla without
an advocate. What’s more, no one from the Title IX office ever contacted Makayla about this sudden change. Makayla only realized that her advisor had disappeared when she continued to receive “out of office” auto-reply emails. At this point it became clear to Barbara, Gretchen, Gabriela, Lydia, and Makayla that Priya and Morgin were doing parallel work to generate solidarity with survivors among select students and faculty. “We basically realized that we’ve been working on similar issues and that we have the same goals, and we felt like, ok, we should link up.” said Barbara. O4S was born.
HOW WE ARE STILL HERE ✳✳✳
f one were to chart the history of student activism at Swarthmore it would look helical, looping back on itself at different points and all circling the same epicenters. This is to say that our activism has been deeply cyclical, although each cycle has been made distinct by the political and social backgrounds of its time. Campus-wide debates around the abolition of fraternities or fraternity housing arose in 1933, 1949, 1956, and 1968, with more sustained campaigns mounted in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and then 2013. Activism surrounding Title IX and the Clery Act has sprung up reliably every five to ten years since those laws were enacted in the 1960’s and 70’s. Students of color have been asking the college for a more robust apparatus of support since Swarthmore admitted its first Black student in 1943. In fact, perhaps the most troublesome part of O4S’s demands is just how much they resemble previous demands, how much their grievances mirror the same ones that have been aired before. Over the phone, Phoebe Cooke ’15 laughed ruefully when I asked her whether there was anything surprising in O4S’s letters to the administration. “I was not surprised at all by the content of the letters [to the Deans of the college] and I think that’s the problem.” An alumnus of the class of 2013 who wished to remain anonymous, says that O4S is up against a bureaucracy whose practices and priorities are deeply entrenched.
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“I saw so many student movements rise and fall. They wait them out. Whatever their asks are, they give them crumbs or they give them nothing at all, or they wait for them to collapse from the inside. Or the one person who was listening and making things happen ends up leaving the school.” A Phoenix editorial in February of 2018 stressed that the adverse effects of this kind of high turnover in the administration are felt most keenly by those communities who are already most wanting for advocates. “What frustrates many in the Swarthmore community is this: the administrators who most actively support the student body often spend less time here than us students, making both growth and continuity for both roles a challenge. This is particularly well-known to students of color and those of historically marginalized identities. Over the past five years, the Intercultural Center has seen enthusiastic administrative leaders circle quickly through their doors (Rafael Zapata, Alina Wong, Amer Ahmed, Jason Rivera, Mo Lotif, to name a few). This comes at a particularly poignant time—the IC intends to celebrate its 25th Anniversary this year.” Nina Harris herself drew attention to this same problem: “I think there are a lot opportunities for us to think more collectively about how we carry one another’s work...And when you kind of get bumped around, that doesn’t feel as supportive or as connecting, you know. I think there are ways the administrative structures can be
reviewed that better accommodate staff capacity and community.” Regardless of whether these patterns are incidental or not, the results are that disparate generations of Swarthmore students are connected by the shared experience of demanding more from their institution. In 2013, alumni of the college published a letter to survivors and student activists in which they wrote: “When we first heard about the experiences of current student survivors who sought help from the administration, we were filled with sadness because these stories are so familiar: they sound like the stories of survivors from our time at Swarthmore. When we were students, we discussed these same issues with a variety of deans; apparently, little corrective action was taken.” The letter went on: “This failure has resulted in repetition of the same mistakes for over ten years. The depth and pervasiveness of these problems is symptomatic of a culture of complacency within the administration: these issues were not taken seriously because of a lack of accountability.” This letter echoes almost word for word a similar letter that Phoebe Cooke, an alumnus of the class of 2013 wrote to faculty this year. The failures cited are precisely the same. Part of this failure of accountability stems from the fact that the responsibilities, chains of command, and purviews of individuals in top administrative positions are incredibly opaque. Who does
one speak to if you have a complaint about the Dean of Students? The Head of Investigations? Public Safety? Who has the power to make which decisions about student spaces? Changes to school policy? But this ambiguity starts at the very top with perhaps the most fundamental oversight: to this day, the college still does not have a mission statement. The only thing resembling a mission statement appears in the introduction Swarthmore College Bulletin, which reads, “Swarthmore seeks to help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.” For Priya Dieterich, this gap in the college’s foundational premise is not only symbolic; it has real consequences for what students are able to ask from their institution. “In the course of discussing [the demands], so many people (students, faculty, admin) have invoked what many of us understand to be the shared values of the college. But when those values aren’t written down anywhere and there is no explicit commitment by the school to honor them, it becomes difficult to hold any individuals within the administration accountable to those same values.” These values, and those of Quakerism—of social justice, ethical concern, consensus-building, tolerance, and civic responsibility—have been marshalled by the administration and student organizers alike in the service of their own agendas. For O4S and many others however, the administration’s invocation of communitarianism rings hollow. This is because in many ways, the conversations that O4S has generated have been rooted in and oriented around the community at large. Starting with a statement from the Indigenous Students Association, at least fifteen student organizations on campus have released letters of support for the demands, including Student Government, and representatives from Athletics and the Resident Peer Leaders program. The community forums hosted by O4S have been markedly well attended, with anywhere from 50 to 150 students packing into classrooms on a given Tuesday night. Alumni have sent messages of encouragement, testimonies about their own experiences with Title IX, and in some cases, money. Privately and in formal meetings, faculty and staff too have expressed their support to key members of O4S. Phoebe Cook sees important distinctions between what is happening now and what she herself witnessed in her time at
Swarthmore, and she too is hopeful. “There’s great faculty support and engagement that we did not have in 2013. That has been really important and I think it’s going to get us really far in terms of pushing for actually meaningful dialogue in which student demands are taken seriously,” she says. Dialogue is an exemplary quality, but the college has arguably become expert at stretching the limits of dialogue beyond recognition. The need for “more research” or “more information” regarding a student demand ends up feeling like a stalling tactic. The call for consensus often translates into a pattern of inertia. And what does it mean, even, to have consensus in an institution in which there are considerable imbalances in who has the power to change things? In many ways then, the same values that have the potential to be emancipatory and empowering for students at this college instead can transform movements for radical institutional change into a kind of political theater. This pattern is so ingrained in the administrative practices of this college that in 2013, Sociology Major William Lawrence wrote his thesis about it. He calls the phenomenon “capture by dialogue”. It is also true that these values are without a doubt a marketing tool for the college. Tour guides and student philanthropy council tout the merits of a campus inundated in social justice and student activism to prospective students and potential donors. The college’s promotional material is plastered with stories about civic responsibility and community service. In a moment of deep irony, at the end of the meeting that took place in November of 2016, Dean Braun thanked the students who had shared their stories by saying that she was proud that they were “continuing in the tradition of concern for the community at large.” “There is obvious hypocrisy in Swarthmore celebrating student activism as an abstract ideal when it is unwilling to listen to student activists when they direct that activism at the school or the administration itself. To turn students into activists by harming their friends and putting them in a position where they have to act out of what feels like desperation, is not something we should be celebrating,” Dieterich says. Activism at Swarthmore is shaped by the reality that interpersonal violence of any kind is often occurring in deeply private spaces, and that many of us have been socialized one way or another to internalize this harm. For all these reasons, we
know that underreporting is endemic to all institutions, educational or otherwise. It is particularly vexing for organizers such as Dieterich therefore, to be told that the administration is unable to act without official student reports, “As if they don’t have the power to make decisions that they know are in students’ best interests”, Dieterich says. According to the anonymous alumni ’13, for an institution that has vested interests in being regarded as safe and fair, this underreporting works in Swarthmore’s favor. “It’s always like this. They don’t notice that none of the Black kids are going to CAPS or reporting their assaults. That should be enough to tell them that something is wrong. They have always relied on this strategy of purposefully not seeing and not asking. And when you have communities on campus who we know because of statistics are not bringing their pain to anyone—they [administrators] rely on their silence.” Even when violent experiences are brought to the attention of the college, they are still often treated as though they are insufficient to warrant significant reform. Nikhita Luthra ’17 was one of the twenty students involved the in the 2016 meetings with administrators regarding fraternity housing. “I cynically learned last year that personal narratives of oppression and structural violence are simply not taken as legitimate cause for institutional change at Swarthmore. I wish they had told us that earlier, because it would have saved me a lot of breath, Friday afternoons, and tears,” she said. President Smith’s response to O4S’s demands, which she outlined in an all-campus email sent a week after the demands were publicly released, exemplifies Swarthmore’s most time-honored administrative maneuver when it comes to calls for institutional reform and perhaps another vestige of its Quaker past: the formation of committees. The solution to the matter of fraternity housing? The Ad-Hoc Committee will begin to address the question next academic year. Staffing changes? Nothing can be done until the results of an external committee to review the dean’s division are released. Committees are a smart way to channel student indignation into spaces where the administration again has the upper hand. They cast student concerns into a language and a tone that is more amenable, once again, to bureaucracy and officialdom - again, a kind of political theater. SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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Other patterns in the way the college interacts with students have emerged. Priya says that in the course of her many meetings, a familiar line from administrators is that “change can’t happen overnight.” She has been met with this phrase for at least four years. Finally, organizers report that it is common, when they approach administrators with concerns or problems that they have
identified, for those administrators to ask the students to themselves to take the lead on solving the problem. Early this semester, a group of students met with Andrew Barclay to once again raise the issue of the single student occupant in each of the fraternities. They articulated how it might be dangerous in a party environment for there to be a bedroom in which the brothers alone decide
who can or cannot be there. Andrew Barclay’s solution was to add an addendum to the fraternity’s Events Management Plan that that there can only be 10 people in the bedroom at a time at the discretion of the room’s occupant. As Priya put it, “He took the problem and codified it.”
WHAT HAPPENS HERE ✳✳✳
ut first, what happens elsewhere. On April 19th, 2013, fifteen students at Dartmouth College interrupted a performance for prospective students called “Dimensions,” an annual tradition. They stormed the dining commons where the show was taking place, shouting “Dartmouth has a problem” until they reached the rows of seated prospective students. There, they recited: Three years, fifteen reported sexual assaults. But 95% of assaults unreported. Only two rapists expelled in twenty years: Dartmouth has a problem. November 2011, homophobic and sexist graffitti: Dartmouth has a problem. May 2012, Racist threats against students: Dartmouth has a problem. May 2012, homophobic verbal attacks on students: Dartmouth has a problem. November 2013, Another rape unpunished: Dartmouth has a problem.
The fallout from this direct action, soon to be known as the Dimensions Protest, was enormous. The interim president cancelled class the next day, and the protesters received innumerable threats of death and rape on anonymous message boards in the weeks to come (the pages and pages of which are documented on Real Talk’s website). But the biggest shock came a month later when ten of the students involved in the protest received notification from the school administration that they faced adjudications for possible violations of the school’s code of conduct. Their offense: failing to follow college officials’ instructions during the protest. Dartmouth sought to punish the protesters. Nina Rojas ’15, one of the students who received the notification told the Dartmouth, the college paper, “I don’t understand it at all because not following di10
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rections seems like something incredibly benign” Nina pointed out that none of the individuals who had threatened protesters online were facing similar disciplinary action. The Dartmouth reported that the protesters received the letter despite being told by Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson and Interim President Carol Folt that they would not face disciplinary action for their participation in the protests. The incident received national press attention, with news outlets from The Nation, to Jezebel, to Huffington Post commenting on what they saw as a gross double standard of disciplinary measures taken against students protesting sexual assault on their campus, who were now being threatened in a letter from the school. This letter, the one that all ten students received, was sent by Dartmouth’s then-Undergraduate Judicial Affairs director, Nathan Miller. Two months later, Nathan Miller was hired as Swarthmore’s Judicial Affairs Coordinator.
✳✳✳ On February 7th of this year, here at Swarthmore, Dean Braun sent an email to the student body outlining some updates to the Title IX policy. These changes included a commitment that the investigation report, not the hearing, would be the “main fact-finding tool” so as to limit the risks of retriggering or retraumatizing survivors in the adjudication process. They also contained a revised protocol for Public Safety to enforce contact restrictions. But according to the college’s sexual violence policy as it is outlined on the SHARE (Sexual Harassment and Assault Resourc-
es and Education) website, the investigation process was always meant to be “the main fact-finding tool.” And the effective implementation of contact restrictions should have always been part of interim measures to ensure the safety of complainants. At the heart of O4S’s critique is not only that the policies themselves have failed, but that administrators and officials involved in the adjudication process have failed to uphold and implement the policies in their current form. This is a movement about procedure and practices as much as it about formal policy. Dean Braun’s email, while it described an important set of changes to college protocol that are most certainly positive, did not mention the Title IX cases that that provoked these changes, the ones that were marred by institutional failure. Morgin Goldberg’s was one such case. Problems with Morgin’s case began even before her adjudication process formally got underway. In the interim period after her assault but before her hearing, Morgin had a contact restriction against her perpetrator, which, among other requirements, stated that in small spaces on campus it was his responsibility to leave if she had arrived there first. One night, Morgin was at Pub Nite when she saw her perpetrator walk into Paces and stay there. She alerted Swat Team, who called Public Safety. But when Public Safety arrived and Morgin explained that she had a contact restriction against someone in the room, they told her that Paces was an open party space and he could be there if he wanted. They told her that there was no way to know who had arrived at Paces first. Morgin tried to explain to explain that no, there was a clause specifically in her order about small spaces, and clearly this counted as a small space. She
pulled up a picture of her perpetrator on her phone so that they could identify him. The officers were unwavering. “So I started to leave, and I was really upset, and my friend said to Public Safety, ‘You know, it’s not fair that she’s the one who has to leave.’ And the PubSafe officer said, ‘She doesn’t have to leave, she’s choosing to leave.’” The next day, Morgin went to Beth Pitts, Associate Director of Investigations, expecting an apology for the way her office had mishandled her contact order. Instead she found that Beth Pitts had checked in with officers who were called to the scene, and that it was her understanding that the officers had tried to remove Morgin’s perpetrator, but that Morgin had been so upset that she had obstructed that process. The following investigation of these conflicting stories was brief. “Beth’s way of investigating the mishandling was not to speak to my friends, was not to speak to anyone who was there [at Pub Nite] who saw what happened, was not to check the scans of when I swiped into Pub Nite versus when he did to find out who got there first. All she did was ask the officer who had mishandled the situation if he had mishandled it. And that was deemed sufficient as an ‘investigation.’ That was it.” This is another one of the issues O4S seeks to address: as of now, there are no external accountability mechanisms in place for the Public Safety office when investigating complaints against one of its own. In short, Public Safety is only accountable to Public Safety. In an email, Beth Pitts confirmed that all investigations are handled internally, writing, “Anyone who has interacted with a Public Safety officer may receive an email with a link to an anonymous survey where they can submit feedback about their interaction/experience. If a complaint is made against an officer, I or my colleagues, Director Hill and Associate Director Sam Smemo, will conduct an internal investigation and work with Human Resources and/or the Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown to address any discipline or corrective measures that may be needed.” Other students report similar discomfiting and distressing interactions with the PubSafe Office. In Lindsey Norward’s excellent piece for Voices, Bria Dinkins ’21 described the kinds of questions that Beth Pitts asked in the wake of her report of assault: Among these questions: Do you like to wear lingerie? Have you done drugs be-
fore? How many times have you given him oral sex? Did you swallow? On what days? He told me you take medication for bipolar disorder; is that true? Bria does not have bipolar disorder. Each question had a preface: “I know this is an uncomfortable question.” “She read me a paragraph he had written about how he would make me orgasm,” Bria said. “He gave her a list of our text messages, many of them sexual, and I had to ‘clarify annotations’ for her.” Bria said she had never felt more exposed or emotional before. She would leave Beth Pitts’ office that day lightheaded. Beth Pitts and Public Safety are often the first point of contact for students reporting assault. But the hearing, in which an external adjudicator reviews the investigation report and questions both the complainant and the defendant, has historically been the time in which a case is laid out in full. It is also another crucial juncture where survivors say their cases are vulnerable to mishandling. Swarthmore’s Sexual Assault & Harassment policy includes a definition of consent that is more or less based on a model of affirmative consent. That is, for Swarthmore, non-consent is not defined by the presence of a “no.” The definition reads: Consent should not be inferred solely from silence, passivity, lack of resistance, or lack of an active response alone. A person who does not physically resist or verbally refuse sexual activity is not necessarily giving consent. According to Swarthmore’s own policy, a lack of active resistance is not sufficient to prove non-consent. Morgin’s case in fact did involve active resistance. Still, during her hearing, the adjudicator pursued a long line of questioning in which she asked Morgin repeatedly to prove that she had actively resisted her perpetrator. For Morgin, this was a blatant contradiction of the policy’s own premises. “It was non-consensual because I didn’t consent to violence. But the onus was on me to prove that I had resisted in an adequate way instead of on him to prove that he wasn’t violent. That doesn’t make sense.” Jodie Goodman ’16 experienced a similar line of questioning. “The outside adjudicator did not conduct questioning for Title IX hearings in an impartial, professional, or trauma-informed manner. She made me feel stupid and ashamed for being assaulted. She asked why I couldn’t just verbally say no to my boyfriend. Why I changed into my pajamas and got into bed at all that night. If
I’d known from the beginning that the adjudicator was going to be working off her own framework, citing ideas that weren’t anything like the Swarthmore handbook, I would not have pursued a Title IX hearing at all.” After her hearing, Jodie sought help from Dean Braun. She wanted another hearing because her first had been so troubling. “I told Dean Braun how retraumatizing and humiliating the hearing had been. I outlined the ways the adjudicator ignored the handbook and highlighted verbatim inappropriate lines of questioning. I even pointed out several times when my rapist confessed in writing, and how that evidence was improperly considered. Lastly, I asked Dean Braun if she wanted Swarthmore to be a place where it is permissible to rape your significant other if you claim to just not notice them crying underneath you, which was precisely the verdict rendered in my case. “I didn’t ask for the verdict to be reversed, just for another hearing, ideally with an adjudicator who had more training dealing with intimate partner violence and ideally with the confessions considered as evidence. I was denied in full, and told there were no further means of recourse. “I asked Dean Braun why she spent so much time saying she cared about me and cared about reducing violence on campus if she was going to make choices like this regarding what I thought was a clear case of improper, unethical proceedings. She answered vaguely that the Title IX process had gone through a lot of changes and the system was still relatively new, essentially in trial phases. She said she felt sorry this had happened, as if she didn’t have the sole authority to correct it. I felt like a guinea pig being run through paces, a financial liability and not a person. I don’t think the Dean of Students should make a student feel like that.” Dean Braun declined to comment on this case in particular in the name of privacy. In an interview with the Phoenix in a piece on April 13, 2017, Jodie maintained that in the midst of her hearing, she had to do the work of proving her credibility and of advocating for herself. “I received no proactive help or advice in arguing my case, and my assigned advocate was frequently unable to answer my questions because she was unfamiliar with the college’s new procedures.” Morgin found that she too had to keep track of whether her hearing was proceedSWARTHMORE REVIEW
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ing according to school policy, an unexpected and taxing responsibility in the middle of an already stressful situation. “At the time I actually had to re-read the policy and be like, ‘this is explicitly what the policy states and he has failed to do any of this’. And only then was she [the adjudicator] like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right.’ So the burden was very much on me to know the policy intimately, at the seven-hour mark. At that point I had been trudged through all this stuff, and I also had to be articulate, convincing, and knowledgeable.” Morgin went on: “Also for me, part of the whole trauma was watching Dean Miller watch all this happen. So Dean Miller’s in there, he’s watching everything, and he never once steps in. Even though he is familiar with the policy and he would know that something was going wrong. And that’s actually why he’s there, that’s his job, is to oversee the process and make sure that the policy is being followed. And he was not doing that.” Nathan Miller’s responsibility, according to the student handbook, is to “be present during the hearing to serve as a resource for the CJC on issues of policy and procedure, and to see that policy and procedure are appropriately followed throughout the adjudication meeting.” For Morgin, these duties were not met. Morgin’s case was one of the few that resulted in suspension for her perpetrator. He has been suspended for two years, meaning that he will never be on campus while Morgin is still at Swarthmore. But while she reports feeling relieved at her outcome, particularly after her grueling hearing, Morgin, like Lydia, is underwhelmed by what she sees as provisional, rather than transformative consequences. “I’m not clear under which circumstances he’s allowed to return, whether he has to do anything, whether there are any therapeutic intervention measures, or if it’s just essentially waiting for me to leave. And that’s not going to change his behavior.” What’s more, Morgin worries about the cases that don’t come to light. “Administrative failure takes a lot of forms. Not everyone has access to the process, the fact that I did and others don’t is one of the problems.”
✳✳✳ At every community forum, members of O4S have reiterated that their push to reform the Title IX process should not discourage anyone who has experienced 12
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violence from seeking out any course of action that might be healing. Lydia says that part of this movement is about expanding the options for survivors. “That for me is what transformative justice is all about. It starts with presenting alternative options and making sure that you’re learning enough about your community that you know that people need different types of support and you can provide them with that.” Nina Harris also acknowledges that the routes available to survivors are shortchanging them, saying,“Taking those options [that are available] is a very singular and individual path that isn’t necessarily embedded in helping the person feel re-connected to the community that they’ve been harmed in.” Kira Simpson ’18 didn’t even consider reporting hir experience of assault, which happened off campus while ze was abroad. Kira had witnessed firsthand how arduous the process was after serving as a witness in hir friend’s adjudication hearing. “I realized that if something like that happened to me at Swarthmore, I could not trust the administration to handle it, and I definitely don’t trust them to handle a case for someone like me who is nonbinary and was assaulted by someone who wasn’t a cis man.” Another survivor, who wished to remain anonymous, says that she also didn’t report her assault in part because she’d heard rumors about the adjudication process that discouraged her from also seeking that route. “As a woman of color, you’re already fielding so much from all sides at this place. I felt like I didn’t have the energy or the strength to go through something that—from what I’ve heard—is just awful and hard and in the end, it’s not really worth it.” That the choice to turn to the Title IX office or other forms of institutional support breaks down along racial lines is well-documented. A Harris poll conducted in 2016 shows that, despite being more likely to suffer from mental health issues, Black and Hispanic students are less likely to seek out mental health services on campus. When it comes to sexual violence, the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management estimates that the reporting rate for white women is about ten times that of women of color. Here at Swarthmore, that reality is felt. As of right now, there is no support group specifically for survivors of color, although Lydia Koku is working hard to create such a group.
“Swarthmore College does not acknowledge the fact that Black women experience assault different than white women, and that we might need an alternative support group, an alternative route. We might need alternative options.” Lydia went on: “There are so many different socialization processes that black people go through, that Asian people go through, that indigenous people go through—how do we get comprehensive support that really underscores differences in the way that people in these groups experience violence? How do we make sure that we’re really addressing specific group’s needs?” For Lydia, one such way is to address these needs is to implement an intersectional practice of restorative justice, different from mediation in the way it generates reconciliation among all people involved in an injustice. “What would happen is that people who have caused harm—administrators, students, student organizations—would come together with the people they’ve harmed and the larger community and address the specific issue and all of the reasons why that harm took place. So what are the specific forms of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia that have contributed to this violence? Let’s affirm those realities.” Those realities pervade students’ relationships with the college, with violence, and even with their own identities as “survivor.” The same anonymous student ‘13 said, “It took me a really long time to think of myself as a survivor. I still don’t really call myself that. Only to my friends who know me and know what happened. And I think that also comes with being a person of color at a PWI [Predominantly White Institution]. None of the narratives have people that look like you, that you can connect to.” Even the story of 2013 as it has been memorialized in campus publications and oral histories, was mostly one about white women. These women were courageous, but it was their whiteness that allowed them to be heard and facilitated their access to legal measures when the school failed them. But we know that this is not everyone’s story. When I asked whether she felt that O4S has made space for students like her in their movement, this anonymous student was silent and thoughtful for a few moments. Eventually she slowly nodded. “I’m not sure yet. I think, at Swarthmore, it’s always easier to be part of some-
thing when it’s your friends. A lot of the stuff that happens—you get involved because you know people. So I’m not totally sure yet, because I’m not close with people who are doing the organizing.” She was quiet for a few more moments before she went on. “But I do think anytime there’s lots of noise about an issue on campus, it’s a good thing for everyone because it creates a sense of—we need better. We deserve better.”
✳✳✳ In 2013, much of the activism was focused inward; the chalkings, the flyers, even the referendum itself represented a hearts-and-minds campaign targeted at students themselves. Today instead, O4S’s demands are almost entirely aimed at the administration, a far more palatable opponent. The demands were addressed and delivered directly to campus officials, as were the posters that appeared on campus. In this way, O4S has been profoundly savvy. Finding a student on this campus that doesn’t harbor some gripe about the administration is as likely as finding a Kohlberg classroom to study in on a Sunday night, that is, virtually impossible. But while the call for resignations may have been the most ambitious of the ten demands, for the student body, the most contentious issue still remains that of the fraternities. To be clear, O4S has called for the abolition of fraternity houses and the termination of the college’s leases with the fraternities, not the dissolution of the organizations themselves. Still, this has been a sticking point for many. As a varsity athlete told me anonymously, the demand about the frats was what stopped him from signing the athlete’s letter of support for O4S’s demands. In December 1931, then-President of the college, Dr. Aydelotte, gave a speech to the undergraduate body in which he commended students who had raised concerns about the presence of greek life on campus. He said, “What you are trying to do at Swarthmore is to create a more democratic and a more delightful social life. The task is an important one. It seems to me that in an educational institution it ought to be part of the training of character that you should learn to think that no distinction is really important which is not based upon merit. It is for this reason that I believe you ought to so contrive it as to prevent fraternity memberships from bulking too
large in undergraduate life and too near to the center of the stage.” Almost a century later in 2018, the fraternities are still, somehow, too near the “center of the stage”. To understand why the fraternities are such a point of focus in a campaign that is primarily about sexual violence, it is useful to start with the data. Fraternities are far from the only source of violence on campus, and anyone looking to support all survivors would be remiss to focus only or even primarily on these organizations. Nevertheless, a number of studies, most recently one conducted at Columbia University by SHIFT (the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation) have demonstrated that members of fraternities both perpetrate and experience sexual violence at higher rates than their non-Greek-affiliated counterparts. In July 2007, a meta-study of research linking fraternity membership and sexual aggression called “Athletic Participation, Fraternity Membership, and Sexual Aggression Among College Men: A Meta-analytic Review” found similar results. Second (and here I will submit to a kind of Swarthmore exceptionalism that is usually anathema) as institutions that are gender exclusive, premised on elitism, and mired in historical legacies of racism and sexism, the fraternities stand out as antithetical to the purported convictions of this particular college. This was one of the central issues raised in the 2016 meetings with the deans division, and Nikhita Luthra was especially adamant on this point: “How it is in line with our broader cultural values of equal opportunity and tolerance to have organizations on campus that are exclusive to a particular gender and ask students to pay for access? I have yet to see a compelling defense of how fraternities are in line with Swarthmore’s values.” There are layers of exclusion to these spaces. As became clear in the 2016 student meetings with the deans division on the topic of the fraternities, even those who have had adverse experiences in the fraternities still - broadly speaking - tend to be part of a relatively privileged part of campus. The anonymous alumni of the class of 2013 told me, “If they [the administration] thought to ask, they would see that none of the Black kids ever go to the frats in the first place. That should be enough to tell them that something is wrong.” Then there is simply the fact that full and exclusive access to college property
is a privilege granted to no other student group on campus. This issue of equity is one that students have brought to the college’s attention over and over again. Noting that the fraternities have, at different times, been suspended or put on probation multiple times her own four years here, Dieterich has asked the college on multiple occasions to release the terms of the housing leases with the fraternities. The college has so far refused to publicize this information. In conversations between Priya and Dean Braun about the conditions and length of the lease, Dean Braun repeatedly used the words “in perpetuity” to describe the agreement made by the college about the fraternities use of these spaces. Dean Braun wrote to me in an email, “The fraternity lease is a legal document between two parties (the College and the fraternity) and the College does not share these documents more broadly.” Dean Braun then went on to say that the lease includes agreements about annual fee and payment terms, facilities maintenance, capital renewal, operational costs; housekeeping, vandalism, extraordinary wear and tear, and termination. She wrote, “In addition to meeting the terms of the lease, the fraternities are responsible for adhering to the College’s Student Handbook.” This begs the question of what, if anything, would ever prompt the fraternity houses to be removed. In the last five years alone, Delta Upsilon has been put on social probation and Phi Psi has been suspended twice, one time after they disseminated bid cards that features pictures of naked women. “If they’ve been found to violate school rules over and over again, why do they continue to have this privilege that they keep abusing?” Priya asked during an informational session about O4S’s demands. When Priya voiced to Dean Braun that the fraternities’ access to non-residential housing was unparalleled among student groups and that this arrangement was fundamentally unfair, Dean Braun replied that the same could be said of the Black Cultural Center. For Priya and others, the privileges that come with exclusive housing is one that spawns a whole other set of benefits and entitlements for fraternity members. It means, in part, that every weekend, control of party spaces is handed to a group of mostly white men who dominate the space and everyone in it. For Morgin Goldberg, this power asymSWARTHMORE REVIEW
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metry is at the center of her experience of sexual violence. According to Morgin, on the night of the semesterly Formal, her perpetrator was not supposed to be in the fraternity at all. As she found out after the fact, he had a pattern of violent behavior that resulted in both formal and informal proceedings. Consequently, he was not allowed to be in the fraternity house that night. Morgin says that that directive was contradicted by the President of the fraternity, who— with no real authority—told her perpetrator that he in fact could come to the party on this particular night, since the Formal was a special occasion. That night was the night of Morgin’s assault. For Morgin, this pattern of flouting the rules is partly what created the conditions for her experience of non-consent. It is a pattern that has been ingrained by years of administrative negligence when it comes to the fraternities, and it is one that has shaped expectations and habits in the ways the those organizations operate with a sense of invincibility. “For me, my understanding was that the administration’s inability to make sure that discipline occurs in those spaces, directly led to him feeling not just able, but empowered and entitled to perpetrate violence and break other kinds of rules without any repercussions.” Administrative laxity around the fraternities is precipitated by a lack of oversight in those spaces. In the fall of 2016 for example, when students met with Dean
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Braun, Dean Rachel Head, and Andrew Barclay to discuss the issue of fraternity housing, it became clear that many of the administrators in the room had stunningly little knowledge of what goes on in the fraternities. Upon hearing that there are bedrooms in each fraternity house where one brother lives every year, the general response from the Deans in the room was shock. One of the students who was present in that meeting put it this way: “There is no other space on campus that is as under-regulated as the frats are. There are literally cameras on all the dorms, but they didn’t know that someone was living in the frats? Come on.” O4S’s position paper claims that the dynamics in the fraternities “ reverberate across campus”. But for some students, the ways in which fraternity culture leaks into other kinds of spaces is not only theoretical. As Olivia Smith ’21 tells it, her assault began in a frat. Her perpetrator made his first move at a party in Phi Psi, repeatedly touching Olivia in a way that made her uncomfortable, and making moves to “dominate” her and her friend, in Olivia’s own words. When they tried to leave the party, he was there waiting for them. “I didn’t actually report the incident in the frat, I reported what happened to me in his dorm room. But everything started in the frat,” Olivia says. Olivia’s assailant was not a fraternity member, but someone associated with the
men’s soccer team. But as she sees it, the predation and entitlement exhibited in the frats has become a standard for other spaces dominated by men: “What happened to me is a direct example of the way that the frat environment translates to other places on campus. Because not a lot of the soccer guys are in frats. But they’re mimicking that behavior in their own space in their dorm.” It’s not just that the fraternities set dangerous norms for behavior across campus. The culture of male peer influence is powerful. The very structure of the organization—or team culture for that matter—means that the mental calculus for both perpetrators and survivors is fundamentally different in these cases; there is built-in protection in the conceit of “brotherhood,” and for those who have experienced violence, reporting an incident can make you vulnerable to a whole other set of unwanted social consequences. “If you’re assaulted by anyone in a frat or on a sports team, you’re not just facing them, you’re facing their whole community,” says Olivia. “Swarthmore is a redeemable community”, she went on, “But it starts by the College sending a message to those groups that they don’t condone bad behavior and they don’t condone the power that they inevitably have. They won’t keep giving institutional support to that. It’s not a personal attack on any one individual.” Olivia still goes to the frats on weekends, and she remains close with several freshman fraternity brothers. For her, as counterintuitive as it may seem to some, the underlying goals O4S’s demands will actually serve fraternity members. The democratization of the fraternities, she hopes, will work to integrate fraternity members into the broader community, not alienate them. She firmly believes that it will enrich their own experiences at Swarthmore, and help normalize sexual relationships that are healthier for everyone. “It’s not about how we want to take away something that is traditional and is a source of connection for people. We’re trying to take away the power imbalance.” With this interpretation, Olivia, maybe by accident, described the concept at the very core of transformative justice just as Lydia had described it to me: “In terms of reintegrating people back into the community, I actually think that that’s what people want. That’s what we want. People don’t want to ostracize other people. They just want to forgive other people and move forward with their lives.”
Image courtesy of Friends Historical Library. SPA/201/F73
WHERE WE GO FROM HERE ✳✳✳
hen I imagine a perfect process, I imagine a world in which the idea of responding to “You violated me” with “No I did not” is unthinkable. I imagine a world in which the experience of the survivor is treated not as one of two sides in some objective, discoverable version of events, but as the organizing principle of everything that follows. Because the truth is that the idea of “due process,” while noble in intent, paints a picture of sexual assault that has done a disservice to survivors everywhere. It suggests that the knowledge that you have been harmed is not enough. I imagine a world in which the entire community is invested in justice in such a way as to validate our use of the word “community” to describe this place. I imagine that students will leave this place armed with better strategies to protect themselves and their peers, but also with the tools to connect themselves to broader struggles for systemic change. I understand that that world is not this world. In this world, Swarthmore must still abide by federal policy such as the Clery Act, and so it still must use, to some extent, the language of crime and punishment. In this world, the enormous protections that perpetrators have enjoyed thanks to underreporting, dysfunctional bureaucracy, and privileged access to material resources, may still be too fresh a reality to deny survivors a kind of legalistic recourse that relies on similar language. That being said, the vision of transformative justice that O4S is peddling is well within our reach, and there are real, concrete ways to move ourselves closer to that vision. None of the demands, in their specifics or in their underlying principles, are unprecedented or unfeasible. Schools like Wesleyan, Bowdoin, and Williams have banned fraternities on their campuses altogether, all without disastrous financial or social consequences. Their social scenes have not collapsed. Schools like Middlebury and Skidmore have explored restorative and transformative justice models as part of their Title IX procedures. Initiatives like Campus PRISM (Promoting Restorative Initiatives for Sexual Misconduct) are working to implement those models on a larger scale.
Area organizations like Menergy in Philadelphia already have templates for therapeutic behavioral intervention programs for people who have engaged in harmful behavior. They already have proven, workable frameworks for how to identify and disrupt patterns of violence by exploring the root causes of violence. The resignation of key administrators who have been found to be incompetent is not a punishment for their failures. It is about actualizing accountability and making room for people whose guiding principles are more aligned with the values of the institution. The calls for resignation have not resorted to personal attacks. They are confined to criticisms about the ways that individuals have been doing their jobs. It is not an extreme proposition to evaluate their job performance. It is an essential step in transforming the culture of the college. The hiring of more diverse staff at CAPS, Title IX, and in top-level administrative positions, the creation of support groups that address identity in a meaningful way, the possibility of therapeutic behavioral interventions, the timely and efficient enactment of school policy—all of these are measures that the school should want to execute, with or without prompting by groups like O4S. For all of their forcefulness and strength, O4S is ultimately hoping to work closely with the college to create more opportunities for support, collaboration, and healing. Almost all of the core members of O4S are seniors, and will graduate this coming May. They want to leave Swarthmore better than how they found it. Institutions are designed to be self-protecting, but the goals of the college and the goals of student activists do not have to be in conflict with one another. O4S is not perfect by any means. It has and will continue to make mistakes. It must continue to be reflexive, inclusive, and introspective. But something is happening here that feels different. What is especially compelling about transformative justice is its potential to be replicated in the spaces that the college does not have immediate jurisdiction in. In can provide training, intervention tactics, and means of empowerment that students can draw on when they
are experience conflict in their intimate relationships, their friendships, and their life beyond Swarthmore. It can be a practice for those who experience violence of all kinds, even those that don’t instigate adjudication. Transformative justice is not a means of circumventing accountability. It is a principle rooted in the traditions of communities that have never had access to the legal system, and who are therefore uniquely positioned to recognize its shortcomings. Lydia actually laughed when I asked how she would respond to people who claimed that an institution like Swarthmore College is not equipped, or perhaps not obligated to try to transform its notion of justice for survivors of violence. “Actually, I don’t think that dismantling systemic inequality is this impossible undertaking. Maybe not at an elite predominantly white institution, but this happens in the communities that I come from all the time. We do understand what alternative forms of justice look like. So to people who say that this vision is too big, I say this is what revolution necessitates. It necessitates creativity”, she said. Nina Harris echoes a call for creativity and imagination that is rooted, first and foremost, in the community. “I think it really comes down to our understanding of the concepts of justice and healing and what are people’s needs within those contexts. So I think one of the most challenging things particularly from my position as a VTE was that healing is so particular to an individual’s needs, so how do we create the multitude of resources that also don’t contribute to a person’s feelings of isolation. What does communal healing look like? What are resources that we can provide that are also innovative and non-traditional?” On the last really wintry day in April, Lydia and I sat on Parrish porch. We were both tired. We had been speaking at length about violence and harm, accountability and punishment. But as Lydia described her hope for what Swarthmore could be for its students, I was excited. “It all starts with a few key policy changes and a few new options, and from there just watch something that seems impossible become possible. It’s that simple.” ◆ SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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THE BRIEF ABSURD LIFE OF YIK YAK Trigger warning: Mention of death
by Gabriel Meyer-Lee
he social media app Yik Yak launched in 2013, became a nationwide phenomenon in 2014, and shut down in early 2017. The premise of the app was anonymous localized messaging—basically the app equivalent of a physical message board. By design, Yik Yak required a critical mass of users at any one location to be used as intended, and because the user base dropped dropped sharply in 2016, the app effectively only operated from September 2014 to May 2016. During this period, the app frequently drew negative press, typically for acting as a platform for bullying. As with many anonymous messaging services, the inability to hold users accountable for what they wrote meant that racism, sexism, spam, and trolling flowed freely. However, Yik Yak’s localized nature tied the messaging to particular communities—originally intended to be colleges—which meant that Yik Yak was the perfect platform for people who wanted to anonymously harass or threaten people they knew. The issue of high school bullying via Yik Yak started to gain media attention 16
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in early 2014. In response, the app’s development team placed geofences, or geographic blackout zones, around thousands of high schools and middle schools across the country (and the entire city of Chicago). Although this location-based restriction removed some of the worst of Yik Yak’s bullying problems, many issues persisted. Several college students were prosecuted for making shooting threats via the app, for example, and student governments and other groups at many colleges requested that their school be geofenced or the app otherwise be banned as a result of continuous targeted harassment. These issues likely spurred Yik Yak’s decision to mandate handles for users in mid2016, a decision that became the primary driver for the quick decline in users. However, due to the app’s localized nature, Yik Yak’s bullying issues varied significantly depending on location. Users could vote posts, called “yaks,” either up or down, and any post that reached a -5 vote differential was automatically deleted. This feature allowed college communities to self-police the content
of their school’s Yik Yak feed. Swarthmore College, like many schools, saw widespread use of Yik Yak during the app’s 2014-2016 heyday. Students rapidly adopted the app as both a platform for all-campus communication and personal venting, and Yik Yak became an integral part of campus life for many students. “Yik Yak was a great place to get campus news,” remembered Julia Barbano ’19. “People would post about parties and hangouts, info sessions, and just any rumors or gossip.” At Swarthmore, Yik Yak was personified by Mitch Maisel ’17, the app’s campus brand ambassador. This job, which seemed to primarily involve creatively giving away Yik Yak merch to other students, uniquely positioned Maisel as the only student to regularly identify themself in their yaks. “To me, I felt that Yik Yak provided a safe place for people to vent and be their weird Swattie selves,” explained Maisel. “It was a space where people could share their deepest, darkest secret, opinion, kink, or anything else they wanted to get Photo courtesy of Fortune
off their chest anonymously without the fear of being judged. It also provided a place for some great banter and memes.” To many students, Yik Yak at Swarthmore was a unique phenomenon, largely free of many of the negative connotations it held at other institutions. Swarthmore students saw the Yik Yak community on their campus as both more entertaining and closer-knit than those of other schools. “People were always wittier here than [at] other colleges, and I think the fact that Swarthmore is so small fostered those cleverer yaks,” said Barbano. “It was a great place for content, and now everyone’s shifted to the Facebook meme page, which is pretty good. However, Yik Yak was very accessible because anonymity afforded the opportunity to say whatever.” The size of the campus meant that essentially all Swarthmore students were within the app’s 1.5 mile radius of each other at all times. The small student body did restrict the rate at which new yaks were created, but it also meant that the app spread very quickly, and Swat students proved to be very active users, many of them highly driven to accrue the meaningless digital points awarded for being upvoted. “We’re Swatties, we’re especially weird. We made memes about organic chemistry and came up with our own inside jokes, [like] #FireMoose,” recounted Maisel. “You could also really feel the community vibe that comes from going to such a small school. At bigger universities or hometowns you just didn’t feel the camaraderie.” Yik Yak was also inherently more accessible than other social media. Using it only required downloading the app, not making a profile and finding people or groups you knew. “Yik Yak was just something campus did together, where everyone participated and it felt like a collaborative thing in a way Facebook groups don’t. There was a spontaneity to it and it built off of itself,” recalled Gilbert Orbea ’19. The app was viewed primarily as a source of entertainment, so the majority of yaks would fall within the bounds of topical humor, although non-humorous venting was also common. The anonymity of the platform, however, seemed to make it particularly apt for expressions of horniness or loneliness—students used yaks to hit on other students via their initials and class year, frequently made lewd jokes, and even attempted to
arrange hookups via the entirely anonymous app. A portion of Swarthmore’s Yik Yak activity has carried over to Swarthmore-specific Facebook groups, such as seeking advice on topics like classes, professors, and gay dating, or alerting fellow students to free food. The advice given on Facebook may be somewhat less frank given the lack of anonymity, but it is generally also less likely to be a joke. Although much of the Yik Yak content that has not been carried over to social media platforms was simply crass humor, there were several more serious types of Yik Yak content that have since disappeared. “I remember one time someone post-
ed a photo of a shirt taped to the ground in front of Parrish, addressed to [Dean of Students] Liz Braun saying something along the lines of her having not done enough to this person’s perpetrator,” said Barbano. “That kind of thing was rare. However, conversations about the administration definitely gained traction every once in a while, and it was always on Yik Yak. Anonymity in that regard was pretty nice.” One particular use of Yik Yak that has not since been replaced was its role in Swarthmore’s nightlife. Given the small number of students and their studious nature, the school isn’t really capable of sustaining more than one (maybe two on a good night) active party. With
Some typical content from the Swarthmore College Yik Yak feed SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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Yik Yak, everyone always knew exactly where the party was, which was an excellent complement to Swarthmore’s open party policy. “If for no other reason, Yik Yak was so great because it allowed people to get an idea of how parties were doing—if Paces was full, if Olde Club was empty, etc.,” Orbea remarked. “So you could advertise as well and let people know exactly what was happening if it sprang up spontaneously, like some random thing in Kitao. Now it’s a bit of a guessing game.” It was fairly common for small pregames to quickly grow large and get shut down, but this proved not to be a major
issue, as students also used Yik Yak to track the location of public safety officers. The app also helped inject some sorely needed variety into the locations of Swarthmore parties by organizing the party-to-party movement of Swarthmore students. “If you posted a time and location and said there was alcohol, more often than not more people would show up. Facebook is too formal for that sort of thing, so small hangouts can’t thrive in the same way they used to unless they rely on word of mouth,” said Barbano. Similarly, the instantaneous and college-wide nature of the app supported fast, collective organizing in the face
Students turned to Yik Yak to ask anonymously for help 18
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of power outages, campus WiFi issues, or weather emergencies. Students were quickly able to inventory the status of the campus’ resources and direct each other towards locations that still had power or WiFi or were open despite the weather. “Yik Yak was just where early information was spread before we got the official email. While sometimes there were inaccuracies, it was a lot more satisfying to have a glimmer of what was going on rather than receive some email from admin,” offered Barbano. Also, despite its typically unserious nature, students on Yik Yak adopted an appropriate gravity in the face of tragedies affecting the Swarthmore community, such as the death of a student. On those thankfully rare occasions, some students used the platform as a place to anonymously grieve or remember. “It was heavy with trolls but when really bad stuff happened the community really came together to support one another,” remembered Ethan Chapman ’19. What most Swarthmore students remember the most about the Yik Yak era, however, are likely its memes. Yik Yak memes were typically actual events that occurred on either the campus or the app and evolved to become joke references suitable for a variety of situations. Users nicknamed the loud siren in the town of Swarthmore “Fire Moose,” for example, and typically announced its presence with multiple Yaks. The phrase “graze the labia” emerged from a particularly bizarre Yik Yak thread and eventually became one of the most widely remembered Yik Yak memes. “Over a break, someone, who had to have been from the Ville, posted something about being sexually inexperienced. To resolve the matter, this original poster (throwback to ‘OP’) hooked up with their sister but then claimed it wasn’t a real hookup/wasn’t incest because they only ‘grazed her labia,’” explained Barbano. “Can’t say it’s my favorite lasting memory from Yik Yak but it certainly stood out because it was so twisted.” “I feel like Yik Yak really helped that kid get a weight off his shoulders. Like that’s not exactly the kinda information you wanna share with people who know you or your family,” added Maisel. The size and progressive slant of the student body meant that a set of social norms for behavior on the app could be enforced. To avoid some of the bullying
Typical troll behavior simmered down or was voted out during times of tragedy issues that plagued other schools, for example, Swat students only referred to specific students on Yik Yak using their first and last initial with their class year. Although this was sometimes enough information to allow anyone to discover the identity of the student through cyberstalking, it generally served to limit understanding of the reference to people who knew the referenced student personally. Yaks that violated this norm, or were sexist or racist, typically reached a score of -5 fairly quickly. Many students were themselves Yik Yak memes, having their initials and class year used in jokes by their friends on Yik Yak enough times to the point where their primary reputation on campus was as the subject of Yik Yak jokes. The jokes usually attempted to portray the students in a positive light, generally themed around hyperbolic references to sexual prowess. One such meme was Lanson Tang ‘18. Although he was typically referred to as “LT18” per custom, he was one of the handful of individuals whose initials were so widespread on the app they didn’t particularly offer any anonymity. “I’m probably most infamous for be-
ing the subject of a bunch of Yaks by my friends—usually tall tales extolling the prodigious size of my _____ (LT 18”) and various hypersexualizations. I don’t remember how it started, but it lasted a good while. It was always funny to me when people I didn’t know came up to me at parties and asked if I actually had an 18” dong,” he remembered. Some students did receive negative attention from Yik Yak. For the most part, however, Swarthmore students remember little of this activity on the app.
“Harmful things were rarely posted and usually very quickly taken down,” recounted Orbea. However, the reliance on self-censorship meant that hateful yaks could slip by if they either went unnoticed or students were unwilling to reject them when veiled by anonymity. “There were a few instances of egregious racism and sexism as well as specifically @ing certain people and low key bullying them,” remembered Chapman. Often mean-spirited yaks that stayed up were aimed at those who were perceived by some students as behaving inappropriately in public, such as a student who was known for singing aloud in public. “I don’t remember many personal attacks on people other than [the singing student]. I think I deleted the app after one such incident, where people were being unusually nasty to her and insinuating all sorts of things about her,” said Tang. The two years Yik Yak existed at Swarthmore constitute a tiny blip in the school’s 150-year history, yet for those two years the app had a tangible impact on campus life, uniting the students in a bizarrely entertaining digital cesspool. Although it may be remembered largely for the vulgar memes it spawned, for those two years Yik Yak represented an anonymous student community, with its own customs and culture. On the national scale, this app revealed the horrible extent to which young people will harass each other when anonymous. At Swarthmore, the app did reveal unspoken resentment existing between students, but also how anonymity could become a tool to unite a college community.
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PERSONAL ESSAYS The Walk by Samantha Herron
n Sundays, I walk. Six miles total, I think, so three miles in each direction, but I’m not quite sure how to check the math on it. Plus, there’s a mild altitude change to account for. In any event, the hike takes exactly, eerily, an hour each way. If I leave at 8:16 AM, I arrive at my destination at 9:16 AM, or within only a few minutes of that time stamp. My pace is sure, and I hardly ever stop except on rare occasions to take a picture, which I don’t do in the winter because my phone dies in the cold. Mostly, to be honest, I stare at my feet, stepping one in front of the other. This is to say, there’s not much to the walk, besides the walking. The walk is through the Crum woods, and then through suburban Media. The destination is Koffee Korner, a teeny breakfast diner off of State Street, the main drag in Media with the trolley line down the middle. The most obvious goal of the walk is to eat breakfast. But really, I don’t walk in order to eat breakfast at Koffee Korner. I eat breakfast at Koffee Korner in order to walk. I start out at the entrance to the woods from the patio beside Lang Music Building. It’s from this point that the walk takes an hour. I suppose, technically, the walk may begin somewhat prior to this point. Perhaps the walk starts when I wake up on Sunday morning at 7:30 AM, always alone, always exhausted, and get out of bed. I walk to the bathroom to put on my contacts, to the kitchen to feed my cat, to my closet to put on leggings, sneakers, and one less layer than I think I need—I warm up when I walk, because I’m moving and because the sun is rising. Or, maybe, the walk starts when I leave the Barn, where I live. To get to campus for any reason other than the walk, I amble along the sidewalk to the traffic light, then up to Parrish Circle. But on Sunday mornings, I take the off-road route: jaywalk across Chester Road, hike up the
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abutting hill—someone’s front lawn or back lawn, I’ve never thought hard about it—and cross the street into the cherry blossom garden by the President’s house. At 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning campus is empty and dew-foggy. This makes me feel like I’m trespassing, which I enjoy. The walk isn’t a secret, but it is private and
The Walk begins in earnest. a touch religious, so I relish in the solitary and the furtive. Then I walk to LPAC basement, where I drink water and pee. All of this is the walk, but the real occasion of the Walk begins in the Crum. Here’s how it’s done: Double knot your shoes and check the time. Do not listen to music or a podcast. This isn’t a commute for God’s sake, you’ll miss the whole thing! Start down the wooden, dirt-packed stairs and keep right, mostly. This part of the Crum is familiar: Science Center on your right, then Alligator Rock on your left. Walk past the house with the overhanging basketball court-patio, admire the creek, beware of mountain bikers. At Plush Mill Road—for you, a bridge to cross the creek—there’s no shoulder to escape to if a car speeds towards you, so I recommend a light jog. Turn back into the
Crum. Keep forward, hop on rocks across the rivulet (why does it smell like sewage just right here?), and now you are under Baltimore Pike. Despite the general beauty of your natural outdoor surroundings, feeling dwarfed by the highway is the first obvious moment of awe. Proceed behind the abandoned baseball backstop, and up the far hill towards a very charming community garden building. You’re in Smedley Park. Walk up the paved path towards the sheltered pavilion, look up to the superbly tall trees, and continue towards Underpass #2: you’re under US 476. This underpass is particularly glorious: sandy, expansive, densely graffitied and if you time it right, the trolley passes under the highway as well. Take the stairs down, and walk parallel to the trolley line. You’ll be spit out at Pine Ridge Station, where you can turn into Media proper. Cross the train tracks. Take Beechwood Road to Surrey Road. The adorable houses are as important to the walk as the Crum: there’s the house adjacent to the trolley station that erects an elaborate Christmas model train in their front lawn every winter, there’s the big Tudor revival-style house, the house with the blue door. There’s the house that clearly belongs to a talented carpenter (the lawn is littered with picnic tables, chairs, a large treehouse), the house with the iguana mailbox, the house with two golden retrievers who like to laze outside when it’s warm. In the spring, allow yourself to be astonished each week at how quickly flowers consume the better kept front lawns. Turn on
Do not listen to music or a podcast. This isn’t a commute for God’s sake, you’ll miss the whole thing! to State street. This street light is absurdly complicated, so be patient and alert. Do not go into the new Wawa; remember
Photos courtesy of Samantha Herron
your mission! At Barrall Park, take note of the Little League game. At the playground, note the old dudes with metal detectors. Turn right on Jasper street; Koffee Korner is at the end of the block. It’s been an hour.
’m sure there are other ways to get to Koffee Korner, but I’m not interested in them. So far as I am concerned, there is one Walk, and it proceeds each Sunday morning, rain or snow, as I have detailed it here. It’s sacred, and therefore fixed. This is non-negotiable, though I don’t know why anyone would negotiate it. I admit a change of plans only when the Universe compels it: a downed powerline has rerouted me through an unfamiliar business plaza, a fallen tree has pushed me onto an adjacent trail. I’ve eaten breakfast at the nearby Seven Stones once when Koffee Korner was closed. If I’m sick, I’ll permit myself a missed week. This is rare and unpleasant. Koffee Korner is small and I often have to wait for a seat. I prefer the counter where I can watch the restaurant’s one short-order cook work the griddle. Rarely do you see anyone so competent at their work. The counter seats, if they aren’t broken, spin a little bit. The menu is mostly humble American breakfast shop fare; the singular “exotic” menu item is huevos rancheros. Everything is greasy and nothing is vegan. Like the walk, my breakfast order
is unchanging: A coffee and a water, two eggs over medium, homefries, rye toast. I salt and pepper the eggs, place each on a half-slice of toast, pop the yolk with a knife and cleverly maneuver the runny yolk back under the egg so the excess soaks into the bread. This a complicated, experts-only move. The meal costs $11.76, including tip. When I bring friends on the walk, they always get chocolate chip pancakes or complicated omelettes or syruped french toast. I allow this, because
The walk back to Swarthmore is easier. Just...go back the way you came. preventing it would be both rude and impossible, but I think this behavior is perverse and indulgent. The walk, and the breakfast it entails, is for mindful spiritual and physical refueling, and so I’m of the opinion that feasting is tactless. But I digress. I use the bathroom before I leave. It’s been an hour. The walk back to Swarthmore is easier. With a belly full of food and caffeine, and already with an hour of exercise under your belt for the day, the route back feels faster, sunnier, more athletic, less monas-
tic. Just...go back the way you came. Back through Media, back through the woods. You’ve seen this all before. In the winter, the Crum is still generally empty of hikers and bikers, so I often sing aloud on the return route. In the warmer months, I sweat and look for mushrooms I missed earlier. The hour passes more hazily.
ack at Swarthmore, I emerge squinting from the woods into the now-populated campus. People are eating muffins and walking to Cornell. This is familiar: you’d be eating a muffin and walking to Cornell too, if you hadn’t gone on the walk. But fresh from several hours in the woods, campus feels more like a fond memory and less like where I will spend the rest of the day doing homework. I’m beholden to no one but myself! I’m the captain of my fate! And therein lies the magic of the walk: It’s not so much that walking is pleasant (which it is) or that nature is restorative (also true), but that holding yourself accountable, week by week, to doing something pleasant and restorative is actually challenging. It’s gratifying to walk exactly because I’ve decided I must. The walk is a promise I make to myself, and it feels good to show up when I said I would, to encounter what I planned to encounter. Woods, houses, two eggs over medium. So I mean it: There’s not much to the walk, besides the walking. u
A moment of respect for the highway underpass. SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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Against Introspection by Willa Glickman
ecember 20 (Saturday!) 2014. What’s happening right now: I started by writing down my age, then drawing my face. I have just finished my first semester at Swarthmore College (in case you forgot what college I go to). It is winter break now. I drew a small map of campus. Looking back, I’m struck by the formality of it, by the strangeness of self-consciously addressing a journal to a self so far in the future that I would have forgotten what I looked like when I was young, where I went to school, how to get to the places I went everyday. Maybe I envisioned that it was for some future anthropologist, picking over the artifacts of our ruined civilization, eager to know where my dorm was. It didn’t seem to be for self-expression but for posterity. I think things all felt a little uncertain then. I think I was also stalling, sticking to the factual and easy-to-jot-down before having to communicate to myself why I had really begun. My dad is undergoing radiation for pancreatic cancer. He is supposed to have surgery in a month or so. It’s a little hard to know how to feel about this. I find all the early entries grating. The cheeriness bothers me, the empty phrases, the exclamation points. A pleasant if somewhat uneventful day! I try to be kind to my freshman-yearwinter-break self. I was young and unused to crises and we were all trying to be positive. My concern shows though here and there—drawing a picture of my mom rubbing my dad’s feet, numb from chemo, I noted with an arrow: Dad isn’t bedridden or anything, he was just in bed at the time. Wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, I guess. Part of me wonders who I was censoring myself for—a certain conception of myself as stalwart? My parents, who would never read it? Fate, who suddenly seemed to have a strong hand in arbitrating the balance between life and death that we were presented with? A deeper part of me worries that I wasn’t
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censoring myself all that much. Maybe, like all the people who lived before Shakespeare invented interiority, I just didn’t have particularly complex feelings, or if I did, I didn’t think much about them. Depth of expression equates to depth of experience, as the argument goes. Today was Mom’s birthday. She was a little sick and Dad was feeling a little chemo-y so it was a bit low-key, but nice! It is clearly not productive to evaluate old journals for literary merit, much less to take something scrawled twenty minutes before bed in an old high school notebook as representative of my entire psyche. But I think my evasive entries particularly bother me because of how graphically they display the limits of writing, or at least the limits of my ability to express myself in writing. A shy kid growing up, I have often experienced “quietness” as a breakdown in communication. In my mind I have a clear sense of what I mean, but I can’t pin down the edges of it enough to translate it into words, or it gets jumbled in the physical act of speaking. Writing has always appealed as an alternative, a slower mode of expression that provides enough time to get everything in order, proof that there was something there after all. But this can also make it feel high stakes, as if each time I sit down with a blank page I have to make up for the things I’ve left unsaid, and imperfect work isn’t just a temporary miscommunication but a mark of an internal lack. Who was I then? I feel unable to make contact with the version of myself that my dad would have last known. But I am grateful to that succinct stranger for what she did record, which was essentially a log of everyday life in an abnormal time. The mundane feels meaningful, something we were actively maintaining. In a journal that becomes largely defined by my dad’s absence, glimpses of him in the early entries are precious, if not necessarily satisfying. Me & Dad went to the gym and stayed there for 2 ½ hours because he chatted with every person there. Woke up, read Uncle Tom’s Cabin for class, Dad brought me back a muffin after getting his blood drawn. While Mom & Dad went to do some 3rd Eye Transcendental Meditation (Dad saw
‘The Vortex’ → a circle of lime green light) I went to visit Numen at his job. What I want to read most are his words, but I didn’t record those. Why would I have? Even when I knew he was going to die I couldn’t really believe that his voice was something that could be lost. I could barely hear it as anything out of the ordinary. Reading his writing later I come across the phrase: Faster than you could say the Birdman of Alcatraz wasn’t allowed to have birds on Alcatraz… I’ll leave him to speak for himself. After he died the entries immediately become less closed off. There is less to be in denial about, less to lose. I am less afraid of my own sadness. I become more aware of the limitations of my writing: I feel like when I write I am afraid of being honest and writing down my thoughts for several reasons:—It’s difficult.—I’m afraid to/embarrassed to.—The written down-ness of it. Sometimes I don’t want to be solidified in that way.—It seems impossible to capture everything rather than just a particular angle.—It feels self-indulgent/ self-centered/ungrateful.
ut looking back now, I find that I value the new introspection less than I thought I would. Maybe I still remember the outlines of how things felt at the time too well for the description to feel meaningful, or maybe I described too generally. What I really value are the details of how I spent each day, especially the bizarre ones immediately after my dad’s death. When I had thought about him dying I had been unable to imagine what we would do—not in a grand sense, but literally. How would we possibly act? In the absence of any religious rituals, mourning seemed very unstructured. While I remember the time he spent in the hospital fairly clearly, I have almost no recollection of the time after his death other than what I recorded, which was mostly of being introduced to the white-plush-carpeted world of the death industry (selecting a cremation box, an urn, planning a memorial service). It was in many ways a time of doing and organizing rather than of feeling, or rather, a time of feeling through organizing.
In the account of how I spent the rest of the summer, I notice things that I don’t remember being aware of at the time, like a growing restlessness. I developed a penchant for exploring faraway neighborhoods, sometimes with friends but often alone, finding myself taking the subway an hour and a half into Queens to the end of the line to eat lunch. Maybe it was simple escapism, maybe I was trying to assert my independence now that it was clear I could no longer be a kid in the same way I had been, maybe I was trying to immerse myself in the unfamiliar to recapture a sense of intensity that had been lost in the calm after his death. Conscious or unconscious, my actions served as a form of expression that was perhaps more true to my confusion than any way I could have articulated it. Who says we know ourselves best in the moment? Got off at Rego Park to go to Ben’s Best Kosher Deli. Matzo ball soup, ginger ale, side of potato salad. Kind of sad & lonely. Guy there asking his father and stepmother about Jews back in the day and how being kosher works. Maybe my initial impulse was right, and a diary is for posterity, at least for me— not an outlet but a record to look back on and find patterns in, a written memory. When I feel upset and inclined to write, I tend not to open my journal, but to write a poem—poetry being a medium that al-
lows you to remain a little mysterious to yourself. A journal demands clarity, a definitive account, dated and final.
hough I’ve kept the journal throughout the breaks and summers of all four years of college, I don’t write in it as much anymore—it was really about my dad, even though much of it was just describing things I did with my friends, summer jobs, eccentrics on the train, and though I think about him
often, his death no longer feels like an organizing principle of my emotional life. But when I do add to the journal, it is rarely very introspective—just a collection of things I’ve seen or done. Maybe that is the freest, least self-conscious form of writing I can do—a kind that feels no obligation to prove or settle or determine anything, but just reminds me of what it has been like to be alive so far. I’ll decide how I feel about it later. u
My dad at his desk.
The Vertigo of the Modern Woman by Jade Dong
ometimes being a successfully modern woman is about making “repulsiveness” attractive. I’ve come to the conclusion that the modern woman is tasked to be clean. Or, she is expected to find that perfect, controlled, sacred, and almost ironic balance between being clean and dirty. The search for that balance gives rise to great vertigo. My ambiguous, potentially false-positive type II Herpes Simplex Virus diagnosis gave me great vertigo. The metaphorical vertigo, at the height of its intensity, lasted for a week. I was immobilized by my shame, guilt, anger, and self-contempt. I couldn’t bring myself to go to class without feeling nauseated. I felt dirty and
punished; I felt the vertigo and felt myself fall. I felt like I had failed as a woman and irreversibly desecrated my own body in search of a desirable, modern, and holy balance of cleanliness and dirtiness. Herpes—it’s funny how one harmless phonetic combination can elicit such complicated emotional responses. Much like the gory blisters and sores that it brings to mind, the word feels dirty in my mouth. It’s a strange, sardonic kind of phantom pain. The thing about having herpes is that, in the wide range of contractible sexually transmitted diseases, it’s not that bad. More than one out of every six people from the ages of 14-49 have it. Most people don’t know they have it because it’s not part of a routine STI screening (due to how common it is), and the symptoms
could be very mild and undetectable. It affects women more than men (the data is unfortunately heteronormative). Condom use diminishes the chances of trans-
The modern woman is expected to find that sacred, almost ironic balance between being clean and dirty. mission, but doesn’t eliminate it perfectly; in other words, it could happen to anyone, and it does happen to a lot of people. Rationally, I knew that herpes is just SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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“Deep Cleanse” by Polly Nor stigmatized mono—the weight attached to the “sexually transmitted” label was one that I knew I should be able to reject or think my way out of. In that week of intense vertigo, I knew that my feelings of shame and anger came from a place of socialized, convention-based irrationality. I’m not sexually adventurous or irresponsible enough for this to happen to me. I’m always responsible, so what exactly am I supposed to learn from this? This irksome potential diagnosis wounded me more than it should. Knowing that my emotional response is rooted in the societal stigma—the exact stigma that I was trying to unsubscribe from but am undeniably subjected to—made it even worse. What made the vertigo unbearable in that week was also the medical ambiguity of the diagnosis. On a journey almost quintessential for a modern woman, I walked into a clinic, asking for an IUD. They drew my blood and urine for a routine STI screening—chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. A woman made an absent-minded mistake; she ordered a test for the Herpes Simplex Virus instead of HIV. She called me in on a Monday morning and asked if I have ever had 24
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herpes. It was just a simple mistake, but at that moment, it felt violent. I felt a cold panic outline my body. I imagined my antibodies and my viruses intertwining, coursing through my veins, flooding and drowning me. She then looked up my results and told me that it’s within the range of a possible false positive, but I would need a more “experimental” blood test for it. After some research, I learned about the unreliability of herpes testing. The most commonly used herpes test—one called HerpeSelect—yields false positives once
I felt damaged and unsafe in my own body. in every two cases. I felt damaged and unsafe in my own body. I was angry at the ambiguity. I was angry at myself, because despite my characteristic precaution, there
will always be an infinite amount of things that I could’ve done better. I was angry at all the conversations of disclosure with past partners that I was forced to have. I was angry at how it would inevitably affect the way I approach sex and my body. I was angry at the well-meaning, clumsy woman who blundered my blood test; I was angry at her clean, clinical attitude towards my muddy reaction. It was as if I was supposed to sit quietly while my crime against my own body threatened my sense of womanhood and self. I did not know that I thought my body was holy until I felt the vertigo of desecration. I didn’t know that I loved being clean until I felt dirty. As clichéd as it sounds, the thing about bodies is that they cannot be desecrated because they are not holy; they simply are. From an anthropological perspective, Mary Douglas saw dirt as “matter out of place” in a world where cleanliness and order are axiomatically true. How dirty could a sexually transmitted infection be if one in six people have it? How dirty could my body be if I’ve treated it the best and safest way I know how? Could anything be dirty if I accept dirt’s inevitable place and utility in my body? Once I started thinking about these questions, the vertigo subsided. I believe in dirt’s place in my body because I believe in dirt’s place in women, in people. Dirt is dirt; it’s not clean or palatable; it simply is.
’d love for nothing more than for no one to feel the vertigo I felt, but that’s idealistic and impossible. I need to acknowledge that the intention of this essay is inevitably defensive; I’m only assuming negative biases and feelings from others because I inevitably feel them towards myself. I am assuming that this petty, common infection is something that needs to be accepted and processed, because I had a hard time accepting it. I’m getting my confirmation tests next week. Whatever the outcome is, it won’t make me more or less of a woman. When I first found out that I might have herpes, I felt like I failed as one. Now I realize that I’ve never felt more like one, because being a modern woman comprises being constantly surprised at the infinite number of ways that the world can make one feel weak, ugly, dirty, and shameful. Sometimes, being a woman is about standing up and maybe writing an essay in the face of overwhelming vertigo. Sometimes, being a woman is about finding beauty in one’s own dirt. u
Jumbled Thoughts of a Sunflower Kid by Hope-Elizabeth Darris
did not go looking for flowers; they found me. I didn’t just wake up one day and think to myself, “I’m going to put a flower crown on my head and prance around like a flower child.” I don’t know crap about flowers. My flower crowns aren’t of superb quality, just some little things from Claire’s. But here’s the thing about flowers: real or not, I can place them anywhere upon my body and they make me feel like art. They get lost in the kinks and coils of my thick black hair; they are placed on my necklace, crafted by the most tender hands in Venice; and they cover my worn-down Docs that make me feel like a badass. Off-topic (but also very much on topic), I honestly feel that there is nothing greater than defying the odds placed against you. Flowers are a home that I found without even trying. The first time I placed a flower in my hair, my hair was dry and damaged from months of chemically altering it in attempts to make it as straight as the hair I found so beautiful on my classmates. Like most 13-year-old girls, I was incredibly insecure and cared deeply about what other people thought of me. I would wake
up each morning desperate to put together an outfit that would prove to my classmates that despite my many differences, I was just as pretty as them. I would dress to impress the boys I had no interest in, and every compliment I got told me I was doing something right. I hardly did anything for myself, and it was tiring but felt necessary if I wanted to get through eighth grade without the seemingly honeyed comments spoken to me that were actually laced with venom. The night my mom first placed a black headband with small cloth flowers sewed in it on my head, I was hesitant to wear it to school the next day. No one else in my grade was wearing flower crowns and I didn’t need another aspect of myself that would make me an outsider. Being one of the few black kids in my school, a head taller than most of the girls in my grade, with a large gap between my front two teeth and a stomach that would always hang over the belt of my pants, I did everything I could do to blend in. This brightly colored flower crown would be doing the opposite. But my mom is a persistent woman and she would not let her money go to waste, so I was going to wear the flower crown whether I want-
ed to or not. At first it was weird and felt foreign, something that wasn’t me. I was not a girl who liked to wear flowers, and suddenly the flower crown had become a part of my image. But a shift happened, and I still have no idea what that shift was and I probably never will, but I started to love not only the flowers on my crown, but flowers in general. I started saving the small allowance I got and would pour my money into any flower-patterned item I could get my hands on. The flowers I wore on my body made me feel like a force to be reckoned with. I felt like a being of nature, something alluring and beautiful, and I felt a love for myself and my body that I had never felt before. With flowers in my life, I slowly stopped dressing for others and only started wearing clothes that made me feel like the nature goddess I was convinced I was.
ith this life-altering introduction, flowers became a part of my life and a part of who I am. Even when I’m not wearing flowers (a common occurrence now), just the sight of them reminds me that I am so much more than what other people see me as. There are a number of roadblocks set before me because I am a black queer woman, but I fight and try to knock down each obstacle with a flower in my hair. And each night, regardless of whether I’ve conquered or gone to bed in defeat, I place the flower on my bedside and think to myself that I am only human—I cannot defy all odds in one day, and I cannot defy them alone. As I drift to sleep and hear someone outside my window singing beautiful unknown melodies as they exit the train station, I remind myself that I am a force of nature. Resilience and strength run through my blood; there is a fire that burns deep within my heart, and I can handle every battle with a flower in my hair and emerge victorious. I’m not sure if these thoughts, ideas, and daydreams make sense, but there is something incredible about defying all the odds placed against me with a flower knotted in my 4c hair. And it’s funny, because I never went looking for flowers; they found me. u
“Illustration 6” by Céline Aziza Kaldas Anderson SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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Photo Essay by Evie Lutz This photo series documents my travels through the Pacific Northwest, and my home state Oregon. The region is incredibly diverse, with rain forests, deserts, mountains and coastline. Photography has motivated me to travel and to want to see everything the natural world has to offer.
◆ Metolius River, Oregon, 2016
Mt. Hood, Oregon, 2016
Bandon Beach, Oregon, 2016
◆ Palouse, Washington, 2017
◆ Arches National Park, Utah, 2018
▶ Toketee Falls, Oregon, 2016
▶ Ona Beach, Oregon, 2016
▶ Clear Lake, Oregon, 2016
◆ Oregon Sand Dunes, Oregon, 2017
A NIGHT ON THE TOWN Photo essay by Samira Saunders
by Heidi Kalloo
on’t bother reading this. I’m not writing it for you. I know most of the books you readare written just for you like your own private carnival trying to win you onto the next page. But I’m not going to take my life and my pain and shape it into a neat little package with a moral and some hope tied pretty on top. My pen is writing words on this page in my present moment, and the page is filling up regardless of whether or not your eyes will eventually take it in. The pages and the words I’ve made are evidence. And not the bullshit kind that scum-of-theEarth cops and lawyers make to hold up in court. Even if the whole thing is nonsense and your eyes glaze over, even if nobody ever bothers even to look, you can’t do anything about the fact that in this present moment I’ve created my story. I’ve crafted something that lives in reality, it takes up space. So even if not a soul believes what happened, it still has some kind of material truth that can’t be denied. My biggest fear is being denied existence, which is ironic because I’ve spent so much of my life wishing I could stop existing, wishing I could disappear as insignificantly as a passing thought or something far off in the distance crossing the horizon. But maybe being denied existence is actually kind of the opposite, more like being an invisible invalid in an empty ER. Invalidation tickles at a fear entrenched deep inside of me dug out of decades of various lonelinesses. The ultimate, capital-A “Alone” I can think of, scarier than years not speaking to a single soul, is trying to speak and not being heard. I live in a small town, a place where nothing happens, and nobody matters. The sun shines unevenly through constant clouds and the landscape is gray. The buildings are cookie-cut boxes of plywood and empty strip malls are spotted around with no thought for the composition of their arrangement. All the construction around here has been built within the last
20 or 30 years on what used to be farmland, built with the cheapest materials and using the quickest method. So it’s not beautiful. Stores pop up and go out of business because they can’t compete with the local target and the Super Walmart down the highway. There’s no flavor or color to this town. And the people are just as bland. They aren’t particularly cultured or fashionable, not overly educated either. I wouldn’t say that most ‘round here are salt of the Earth, but blue collar definitely. Maybe nothing happens in town because you have to have free time and extra money to live a plot-filled life. If
I’m not going to take my life and pain and shape it into a neat little package with a moral and some hope tied pretty on top. you’re at work from morning to night every weekday and when you get home you barely have energy to take a shower and fix something to eat, how can you possibly interest someone enough to be worth writing about? Not that I would know anything about that kind of life personally, it’s just the way my folks and their folks, my school friends and their folks and their folk’s folks have lived their lives and will until it ends abruptly, uninterestingly. People come and go like minutes passing on a clock. I’ve had it pretty up and down over the years myself. Sometimes I get real down about the negative things because I can always think of quite a few. And then I start to feel guilty, especially in the tips of my fingers and in my toes, because at
least I still have four limbs and ten digits. Not to suggest I’ve done anything to put my extremities in danger, but I’ve seen plenty of videos on the net of people who lost some or all of their limbs. More often I find myself wriggling with self-loathing over having been momentarily ungrateful of the fact I was born without deformities, haven’t fallen on the third rail, and have not yet contracted a one-in-a-million case of meningitis. Limbs are something I have at least. And hey, I have a lot of time, too. Even if it’s time inside a box locked up and forgotten, or time spent suffering someplace far off and terrifying deep inside myself. Stories always take place in the city. There’s so much going on there, people to look at, things to do, sprawling sunlit skylines and nightly parades of twinkling lights. Maybe good stories can only come from the city now. Things happen in the city. People matter there. Cities are beautiful and terrible like summer storms. I imagine the view from your window in the city—if you live in the city—is visually stimulating. You can see people the size of ants bustling about as colorful in their human differences as shades of blue in the sky. Me, the view from my window is so boring and sad I hesitate to write of it. Even if I’ve spent hours and days looking out of it so that the never-changing image is seared into my head even as I close my eyes. On the underside of my lids I see the off-white stucco of the wall across the way. The six black dots in the upper left corner that make a howling face like in The Scream. Offset to one corner there’s the paint-chipped sill of the window parallel to mine. Yellowed vinyl curtains hang from the top of the window straight down, leaving about two and a half to three inches exposed. I can picture the sliver of room that is exactly alike to mine in all its pastel sterility. The light grain of the wood drawers underneath the window, the hint of a pale green vinyl armchair in the SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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corner where mine used to be. From the visible portion of the bed I can see it has no sheets and is always in its default sitting-upright position. The slivered room is always the same or has been for the months and months that I’ve been here to watch it. There is never any hint of motion to the scene, not even the slightest sway or breeze to the curtains. Its pleats maintain their rigid wave as if they had been dipped in wax. The entire picture is so stagnant that it may as well be just that, a picture hung on the wall. As hours and days passed by spent looking at the same image from the same angle, I started to doubt whether what I was seeing was really the room across from mine. I wondered if the window was really a window, if beyond what looked like glass
The reality we all agree on has a sensual materiality that can be experienced again and again in the same way. Hallucinations are another monster. I’d really find the sights and smells of the outside world. I would begin to imagine myself approaching the window, ready to leap out, only to collide dramatically 36
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with nothing but canvas. The image falls to the ground, revealing more off-white plaster wall behind it. In this fantasy my tears overflow in meaty globs, soaking my face, my hands, the ground. I pick up the painting and paw at its image until the paint smudges from the tears that then flow even thicker, soaking my daydream ‘till my mind becomes saturated and the future seems damp. My body is heavy with imaginary moisture. Shortly after all this I find myself needing to pee real bad, without fail. I go to the bathroom and stand at the toilet but more than once I’ve hesitated, overcome with the irrational fear that my genitalia has become like a rolled up soggy newspaper and if I touch it it’ll mush apart in my hand. It doesn’t, and everything comes out fine. Urination is one of those driving forces in my life that has a way of getting itself done with a rare motivation. If you have to pee, you find a way to do it, and then life goes on after that at all its dissimilar paces. Sorry if that’s too much information or if I’m off-topic too often. I think my mind might be beginning to go mushy too after however many weeks of not talking to anybody. So anyway, there’s this window across the way and I watch it endlessly from my bed. And nothing ever changes until it did. From what I can gather, there’s a kind of aesthetic tangibility about dreams and hallucinations. Like how something as simple as holding a book cements itself comfortably in reality by the familiar sensation of
your hands on the binding and your fingers through the pages, or the reminiscent scents of various book molds. The reality we all agree on has a sensual materiality that can be experienced again and again in the same way. Hallucinations are another monster. They’re shifty and sticky like a spider’s web you have to twist and turn to see but can’t ever quite focus on. They lurk in corners and move with otherworldly physics and are accompanied by no familiar or comforting sensations of the material world. You might see, hear, smell, or even feel something apart from reality, but there’s always a clue it’s not right. So that’s how I know this happened out where everyone agrees things really happen. It was well after dinner, but no one had come to collect the tray full of empty containers from my room. It was dark out already, too dark to see much except the window. The lights in my room were off as were the lights in the room across the hall. Nobody is staying there so the lights are never on. I was staring out the window watching the darkness melt and bubble into different shades of black when the room lit up. Not mine, the window room. The lights flickered on and betrayed the shadow of a dark figure, tall and wide against the curtain, poised to look directly at me. I was frozen upright in bed staring at the figure. His eyes, or where they would be if I could see them, were boring holes through the darkness directly into mine like whoever or whatever it was saw right through me, like I was just an animal and he a was God. The feeling of being under the gaze of all seeing eyes filled me with a
painting by Edward Hopper, photo courtesy of edwardhopper.net
terror icy and hot at the same time. I felt a sense of urgency, and I wanted to get up and see about the window, but I was paralyzed in place. An eternity seemed to pass like that, with me and the shadow locked onto each other, his darkness soaking in all the shadows from the night and growing blacker and blacker. And then it was over, like that eternal moment had never happened. The curtain was drawn back, and I saw a girl lying in a hospital bed like mine. At least it seemed to be a girl because her figure had a pleasant lightness about it, but overall, she appeared genderless. She had a small face and small features, and roughly cut short brown hair and she looked young enough to be a child or a teenager. She looked to be sleeping, hooked up to a ton of machines with tubes coming out of her face, chest, and neck. She looked like she’d been in some sort of accident, with bruises all over her freckled face. Just as I started to feel like a creep for watching this girl sleep, her eyes flew open like shutters slamming out against the side of a house. She winced with pain but fought against it, hurriedly taking in her surroundings. I could almost feel the fear as it appeared on her face, like it was mine. She threw the blankets off herself and began ripping off the cords connecting her to the machines. As soon as she was unconnected she leaped out of the bed and ran to the window. As she was trying to unlatch the window I saw the dark figure appear behind her. More than twice as big looming over her and growing in size as it drew near. I felt immediately fearful for
her, and I wanted to warn her about him. I fought against the paralysis, but it took all my strength and concentration just to wiggle the corners of my mouth. I felt as if my entire body was dipped in cement. The shadow man hovered behind the girl, who was just beginning to force open the window. I saw her gown pull tight back as the thing grabbed her from behind. The light seemed to suck out of her and the shadow wrapped its arms, like oily tendrils, around her body dragging her backwards.
An eternity seemed to pass like that, with me and the shadow locked onto each other, his darkness soaking in all the shadows from the night and growing blacker and blacker. Her cries spilled out from the cracked window and I heard them as if her small mouth was against my ear, screams of absolute terror mixed with pain. She struggled with all her might against the shadow man and beat on the window. Then her eyes found mine across the way. I’ll never
painting by Philip Koch, photo courtesy of philipkockpaintings.blogspot.com
forget the look in her eyes, the desperation and the fervent plea. We stared at each other and her struggles became weaker and weaker until she seemed pale and gaunt like the life was sucking out of her. The shadow drew her away, but she kept her gaze locked onto mine. I could see she was mouthing something with the last of her power, the same two words over and over again. Finally, she was pulled out of the room, and then the darkness came for me too, and my vision blurred to black. When I opened my eyes again it was day, and I wasn’t paralyzed anymore. The nurse came in with medicine and breakfast like nothing had happened. But the memory of what I had seen was seared into my head like no dream I’d ever had. That’s what I was saying about materiality. I’m sure this wasn’t a dream or a hallucination because of the sounds and the sights. They were solid and rigid in their physicality. All but that horrible dark shadow. I know it seems unreal, but I also know for sure even if I can’t properly convince you, I know it was real and really happened. I was almost afraid to look at the window under the daylight, but I didn’t feel anything like the icy hot terror that had frozen me the night before. I was afraid because I knew what I would see before I looked, the same view I’d seen every day for weeks, the curtains drawn and the lights off, the window shut and locked just like a picture on a wall. But now when I closed my eyes I couldn’t see that picture anymore. I could only see small lips mouthing two words. “Help, please.” u
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Two poems by Colette Gerstmann
Cyborg You’re a peek of metal in my mouth; I pry to get to silver sky behind. The tongue surprised by freak mementos of this iron hardwired in my throat, threshold of my pulp and pulse. I had expected hoax, but you slid riddled realness through my teeth, an honest hacker. I accepted you like floss, a sleekness to worry at the creases of breath. I fret with wire as you seesaw between steel mask and brain. You leave me cold clues, chain mail clippings, coins to suck on. I have found in you a slot in me that lets me see against myself, the other player. Please oath: the stars are bright beneath the screen. u
Silence Song On storm mornings, I’m a scratched kitchen. Milk in my eyes, bread in my chest. Outside, blues bruise to black through window blinds, sunrise in reverse. My feet are fog; will not feel the floor as tile. My mouth slow and full of teeth that can’t cut crust. Like a drum the blood inside me kneads bread, bakes and breaks it. A toast sticks in my throat. My silence a cold soup with a hard surface. Fingernails and heart that punctuate it. Sound keeps secrets from me, will not tell me whether I should break it. u
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by Ariana Soriano the time someone called me beautiful when i was bartending
i did not want to be
it is not a compliment if you make my woman feel like she belongs to you as if she owed you anything to make you feel secure in your fragility i do not spit in his drink i forgot what it felt like to bite my tongue like this to bite my nails like this mouth preoccupied to keep people from putting words in it i lose count of the times i have forgiven men for the sake of my safety i missed the weight of the switchblade in my pocket the last time a man welcomed himself into my space i put my head down and wondered how long it would take
for my stomach to come back to me again my mouth to stop forming apologies tongue to abandon pretext
i have a burn scar above my left ankle from when i tried to make my woman a candle for her own vigil a scar on the side of my right foot from the glass i didnâ€™t want inside me knuckles that always find themselves bruised and ask me why
my anatomy wants nothing to do with me or my guilt or my self-hatred it puts my limbs into a sweater big enough to let them question how much room they deserve this is how i carry myself i get tired of apologizing for my body and try to start apologizing to it for the spine i have bent in all of my attempts to make myself smaller for how easily i have disregarded everything it has asked of me
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i try to convince my skin to forgive me for thinking it was something i had to absolve myself from for allowing men to bury themselves in it a vessel for deadweight i do not exist for the sake of your consumption i am not meant to taste like “i’m sorry” refuse to allow myself to be easier to digest try to follow the example of the bitterness housed in the three generations of women before me who sleep with scissors under their pillows and a dead man next to them the women before me who do not bother to with “perdoname”
and why the fuck should they? u
mobius love by Abhinav Tiku
so (s)he makes you laugh, so (s)he’ll make you cry, for it is the law, every action having an equal, opposite reaction, so you must ask, will your tears be of salt or of sugar, when they carve and cement your cheeks into Valentine Snacks u
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by Andrew Kim with thanks to Tomoko Sakomura first matcha. it reminds me of my grandmother’s pine needle powder. her favorite cure for stomachaches in my childhood. I remember my mouth coated in green, tongue stuck, drinking water to furiously rinse. sifting matcha powder – my grandmother rubs my belly
soft green foam, the cloud floats and I kiss it. my childhood dream of eating clouds. faint patter of spring rain in my bowl
moving slowly. in each gesture, in passing the sweets, in folding the kaishi. grace of a falling leaf, the discipline of a flower. allow me to go first.
reaching the bottom of the bowl, I taste my own mouth. little me rolling in grass from the only picnic with my parents that I remember, through pictures only.
muted chatter I chew the loudest cookie
last bit of foam can I get it all – sippy cup
my hand like the bamboo whisk. grabbing it with the tips of my fingers, like holding her hand for the first time. bristling against the bowl, in the tempo of a fall stroll. the leaves crackling under my feet.
washing the bowl, back in samsara of soap and water cleansing the bowl and my memory too.
allegro! my teacher shouts – the morning wind swirls through my bowl
tasting rain on pavement and grass matcha dust lingers u
my right hand on the bowl. I hear my uncle’s voice: you must use your right hand. during the ceremony to honor our ancestors, the superstition, the incense, my aunt’s sweat, taking refuge in the kitchen. my right hand on the bowl. facing away three bows for my aunt
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BOOKS Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Parties” 248 pages Paperback, Graywolf Press, 2017, $16.00
by Emma Haviland-Blunk
This isn’t how things are done, but this is how I am going to do them.” This is the second sentence in Carmen Maria Machado’s first short story collection “Her Body and Other Parties,” and while it fits in the context of this opening story, it could easily be a declaration about the collection as a whole. This is a book that challenges the format of the short story itself, already a genre that explores new possibilities for writing. Machado is in her element here, and the result is this twisty, complex, emotionally—fraught collection of eight stories. The book is a medley of specific genres, so it’s impossible to categorize it as a whole. Elements of science fiction and fantasy mesh with the feel of psychological thrillers and combine with pure fabulism to give readers a wide range of narratives and perspectives on selfhood, embodiment of feelings, and the subtle violence that goes hand in hand with love and lust. Each story takes on a slightly different tone, all encompassed within the overarching vibe of weird but true experiences grounded in a woman’s body. As many critics and reviewers have already noted—and as even the most casual reader might glean from the title of the collection—Machado’s stories are inextricably tied to the body; specifically, they are tied to a woman’s desire and memory and sensuality as encompassed within her body. The collection opens with a fleshed out riff on an old classic that feels like a fairy tale—its reminds me of “The Green Ribbon,” a story about a woman who wears a green ribbon around her neck and never takes it off, until one day she does and her head falls off? “The Husband Stitch” is what happens when that woman tells her own story, speaking freely about the messiness of desire and recognizing it as a catalyst in multiple ways. “In the beginning, I know I want him before he does,” the narrator says; her desire for her eventual husband is soon matched by his all-encompassing desire to untie the ribbon from around her neck, despite her
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declarations that he can’t—not because it’s a secret but because it isn’t his. There are predictably disastrous consequences (as in the original) because the husband cannot accept that there are things that are out of his domain. But along the comfortable road of a wellknown story, Machado paves new sideroads and alleyways. All women in this story’s world have a ribbon somewhere on their bodies, but no reasons are given for this phenomenon. This mystery stands in opposition to the way the wife tells the story to the reader, with a presence of mind and detailed asides on how to read it out loud that are more unnerving than the plot itself. These nuances are not fully explored, but they don’t have to be—it is enough that they give the tale more weight. There are currents of deep melancholy that run through many (if not all) of these stories, a feeling that is matched and almost mirrored by the reader’s simple joy of recognizing her own experiences within the story, but with a twist. A reader might sympathize with the character from “The Husband Stitch” who states simply that it’s not a secret, it’s just mine, but then feel a strange distance open when the not-secret is the ribbon that connects the narrator’s head with her neck. In another tale, a young queer love story develops beautifully, but amidst souls sewn into prom dresses, with no possibility of a happy ending for either the lovers or the fading women (“Real Women Have Bodies”).
The middle-aged woman who hates her body undergoes gastric bypass surgery and finds more peace, except that same hatred has materialized and now lives with her as a physical presence (“Eight Bites”). Ater a woman is raped, she looks at the world in a different way, since she can now hear the inner monologues of porn actors (“Difficult at Parties”). Machado’s are queer stories for a number of reasons. They feature queer characters without fuss or a sense that this is something new, they are queer in their weirdness, and they are queer because they challenge a reader’s assumptions about what they will get from a narrative. These stories demand that the reader play an active role in the development of the tale: with so much subtext and subtlety, there are as many interpretations as there are readers. “Mothers” is a tale that feels especially dreamlike, as it switches between the present and the narrator’s memories; by the end of the story the present isn’t as solid as you thought, but rather has slowly become more of a delusional fever dream. Even here there is a touch of the fantastical, with a baby who looks like both her mothers, and the usurping family that resembles the narrator’s picture-perfect dream imaginings. “Especially Heinous” has a similar fever dream vibe, with doppelgangers and girls-with-bells-for-eyes, but these elements are approached with such a matterof-fact tone that it’s more fantastical than delusional. It’s the most ambitious story here, taking centerfold and centerstage in an episode-by-episode list of 272 alternate summaries of “Law & Order: SVU.” The list format models itself on episode descriptions you might find on IMDb, and the forced simplicity of that structure leaves openings for personal interpretations and filling in the gaps. Machado’s tales make you feel like she’s discovered an entirely new way to put words together and is doing you the favor of allowing you along for the ride. After finishing “Her Body and Other Parties,” you will want to start the book all over again and see what else you might learn Image courtesy of Amazon
and feel from these disturbing, sexy, revelatory stories. Her magical realism is reminiscent of Kelly Link’s style and Samantha Hunt’s recent short story collection “The Dark Dark,” while the surprising moments of walking into a cloud of intense emotions might remind a reader of the stories in Amy Hempel’s “The Dog of the Marriage.” Each of Machado’s stories is sincere in its strangeness, because in the combination of the real and the fantastical is the power to see normal life
in a new way and challenge it. The short story is, by nature, a format that allows an author to experiment. It is difficult to shape narratives in such a precise way, but there is also more breathing room to try out new ideas without being tied to a longer length. With this debut collection, there is no question of whether Machado is up to the task of precisely crafting a short story. Her stories don’t shy away from difficult topics or questions, but rather embrace the discomfort
and weirdness and show readers how to sit with and then question those feelings. Alongside the intensity of the subject matter, readers also develop an awareness and appreciation for prose that is frank and sometimes violent but always intoxicating. Machado is without a doubt one of the best and most electric young writers of late. The only question is when she will finally finish her novel.
New Translation of an Italian Ghost Story
“Trick,” by Domenico Starnone, 176 pages, paperback, $11.76
by Leo Elliot
f every work of meta-fiction is a ghost story, what happens when the source text is a ghost story? Everything is death, but you’re just seeing things. Only the innocence of a child can save you, but it is no revelation. The child delivers life-giving shocks of jealousy and irritation instead. In “Trick” (“Scherzetti”), Italian novelist Domenico Starnone draws extended doodles over Henry James’ 1908 short horror story, “The Jolly Corner.” In the novel, Starnone depicts an aging graphic artist juggling two difficult assignments: to illustrate a shiny new edition of James’ story and to babysit his five year-old grandson for a week. Setting his own art to the service of a more famous (U.S.) artist, Starnone’s protagonist Daniele Mallarico does not learn the value of humility. Humility instead hangs tantalizingly out of reach, the reminder of someone he could have been. The result is a lovely and unflattering depiction of the artist: short-tempered, self-obsessed, and only reluctantly attached to reality. By way of his protagonist’s determination to be grumpy, Starnone delivers an exceedingly funny novel, offering perfect sequences of the sort of sublime perceptiveness familiar to anyone who has watched a precocious child bounce around and ask questions. Among Italy’s most prominent contemporary novelists, until late Starnone has not held much purchase among English-speaking audiences. With the 2018 English-language edition of “Trick,” Pulitzer-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri offers her second translation of Starnone published in the last two years, following “Ties” in 2017. Lahiri reflects on translation and metanarrativity in a brilliant foreword. Within it, Lahiri parabolizes the impossibility of translation with the an explanation of the English title’s origins in
the U.S. “trick or treat.” Although the tradition has only been exported to Italy in recent years, Halloween’s “trick” was the best synthetic equivalent Lahiri could come up with for Italian’s “Scherzetto,” which has a range of connotations between humorous fib and prank. The grafted meanings that come with literary repatriation can substitute for some of the original references that cannot be preserved. At the same time, the reader only has to look as far as Starnone’s own protagonist, an illustrator who occasionally becomes aware of his mythic over-confidence in his ability to represent an author’s intent, to gain some skepticism about translation’s magic. Even if suspended disbelief is involved, the reader of Lahiri’s translation has a friend of a friend in Starnone, an author who seems equally comfortable being cleverly “meta-” and utterly straightforward. Starnone’s novel-in-translation is somewhat pessimistic in outlook: it says of self-deception, “what a ceaseless joke,” and of life, “what an elaborate prank.” For the reader, “Trick” is a perfect treat. The novel’s thematic set-up is a haunting parallel between the journey of James’ protagonist Spencer Brydon and Mallarico’s own situation at the time of his interpretation of James. In James’ story, Brydon returns to New York City as a late adult because his parents die. Brydon has to departy his life as bohemian expatriate in Europe and manage the family properties. In New York, he discovers a surprising talent for business that gives him an existential fright. Bryson begins to believe that he is followed by an actual ghost or döppelganger, the bland moneymaker he would have been if he had stayed stateside. Mallarico returns to his childhood home as Bryson’s haunting stews in the back of his mind. Daniele Mallarico’s daughter Betta
calls him from his waning career in Milan to babysit his grandson, Mario, in Naples, where Betta and her husband Saverio have raised Mario in Daniele’s childhood home. Having evaded his deadline on the James piece, he has to double task on childcare and creation, even as the shared parameters between his return and Brydon’s fill him with fatiguing worry. In Naples, Daniele begins to feel the presence of ghosts: his teenage discovery of his talent and with it a ticket out of rugged Naples; the birth of his arrogance and the first love who scorned him for it; the man of petty crime and labor he might have been had he stayed. Sometimes, Daniele sees faces in the walls. Unlike Brydon, he seeks comfort in a rational explanation. The shifting figures in the plaster are a result of fatigue and blood loss from a recent surgery. More viscerally, Daniele realizes his loss when the owner of a humble café reproaches him for refusing to smoke inside. Daniele remembers some of the Neapolitan dialect, but he has become a foreigner to the city’s vicious geniality. The novel is vivid about Naples, by which I mean the book gives the effect of exploring the city. But it is an exploration that feels guided by a disingenuous and sensationalist tour-guide. By leaving, Daniele has learned to see what makes Naples distinct as he has lost his ability to be inside its native feeling. While Daniele’s study of James fills him with relevant interpretive schema, he begins to emit a stream of despairing, confused, and intellectualized internal inquiries into the nature of “return,” as if aware he has an audience. As an aside, Domenico Starnone is the husband of Anita Raja, the woman identified in 2016 as the possible author behind the pseudonym Elena Ferrante and “The Neapolitan Novels.” If anything, Trick is a SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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valuable complement to the English-language popularity of Ferrante’s novels. Using different techniques, Starnone depicts Naples, and fills the setting with similar themes of memory, disjunction, home, and youth. As parallels between life and work launch Daniele into a state of psychological distress, Starnone craftily places allows his child character to intrude further into the artist’s process. Mario always wants to play and learn more about his fabled famous grandfather, asks questions about life and adulthood, lectures grandpa on the household rules, and offers simple and devastating critique of Daniele’s illustrations (“they’re too dark!”). Mario’s endless “why’s” enter into a dance with Daniele’s self-interrogations. Mario becomes the ghost, and then Mario turns Daniele into his own ghost, the ghost is Naples, and then it is Daniele again. As dissonance accumulates between his life, his work, and his creative imagination, Mallarico’s critical distance from James collapses in what appear to him a series of ecstatic and painful realizations, each having as immediate cause some Mario-based emergency. I will not ruin the incredible middle scenes between Daniele and Mario, but the effect is that the short novel becomes as much an argument between Mario and James, with Daniele in the role of professional interpreter, as it is Daniele’s story. As Daniele’s resentful internal drama occupies much of the novel’s space, this drama is also the meeting of impulses from Mario, James, the publishing house, the art world, and Daniele’s dying reputation. Daniele is certainly the protagonist, but he is a protagonist of his own growing irrelevance and easily afflicted ego. Daniele throughout the book is referred to as “grandpa” (nonno), the name used by Mario, his own daughter, the cleaning lady, and eventually even himself. The background is the approach of death; Daniele gains the ability to reflect on his life and many selves in full only as he loses his love for his career, the future, the approaching deadline. One background irony of Daniele’s decline in fame and vitality is that Henry James himself disdained book illustrations. Daniele has an assignment that he does not want, for less pay than he once fetched, for the work of an author who never would have wanted his story illustrated. If Daniele is aware of James’ opinions on the graphic arts, to which there are no references in the book, it would only further his morbid self-consciousness and remind him that even in the case that any of his work is remembered, his vision and 44
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artistic motivations will not be. In one of his ego-trip-cum-reminiscences, Daniele ponders his disappearance from the world, a process that began when he decided to dedicate his life to making art: “I’d learned to blur every sentiment, reduce my reactions to almost nothing, feel neither love nor pain, pass off for compassion what was merely the absence of any carnal, palpitating affectivity.” This is the pact of a young artist, and as an old man Daniele cannot even viscerally regret this decision; all he can feel is irritation. As a protagonist, Daniele is frustrating, and often difficult to sympathize with. The novel is beautiful because as the threads of Daniele’s environment densen, the reader stops rolling their eyes at his moaning and begins to realize the immensity of what is happening to him: the end approaches, life’s final period of reflection begins, the whole of his accomplishments and mistakes can appear in a single thought. For this arc alone, Starnone’s work is a serious accomplishment. Starnone’s depiction of the precocious child Mario deserves a special mention. An easy trap in writing a child is fallacious idealization: the child is automatically loving, fearless, blessed with an innate moral sense. Starnone establishes a further challenge insofar as the character Mario exists at first in the story only through the expectations and psychological projections of his grandfather. In the first chapters, Mario appears as a chattering combination of all that Daniele dislikes in his parents, neurotic and critical like his mother and breezily self-confident like his father. Over the course of four days, Mario and Daniele live with each other, and learn more about each other. Daniele takes care of Mario, and ensures that he is fed, entertained, and that he does not watch too much more T.V. than his mother would allow. At first, Mario is a nuisance, demanding Daniele’s attention when the artist would rather be at work. For all his frustration, Daniele begins to take interest, and then to find Mario fascinating. The most beautiful moments in the book are detailed etchings of this emerging relationship. Grandfather and toddler share exchanges, negotiations, and mutual adjustments as they live together. Daniele comes up with his own preoccupations to mull while he interacts with the child, and they are the same that surround the archetypal child-character: Mario is protean, vigorous, unashamed. Daniele is jealous. Yet it is not Mario’s childishness per se but his constant specific motion that gives the story its emotional effect. Mario always
ducks the expectations of his grandfather, coming up with phrases or attitudes that are precisely his own, taking things way too far and then into the absurd, exhibiting a matter-of-fact style of being exactly who and what he is in time. Slowly, Daniele finds himself participating with increasing willingness in Mario’s world. First, there are little games that Daniele allows Mario to initiate and then there are more dangerous “games” that revoke Daniele’s sense of control. Again, I will not reveal the important details. One lesser game, for example, is “Horse,” the familiar game of ride the adult. For whatever reason and despite fears for his health, Daniele feels inspired to get on his hands and knees and let the child ride him as he does his father, Saverio, a younger man. Whenever describing Mario in such interactions, Starnone’s writing loses its penchant for abstraction and becomes humorous and precise: “He climbed up and straddled me and, holding me by the sweater, proceeded to command with authority: giddyup, trot, gallop. If I was too slow in obeying he dealt me blows to the ribs with his heels, shouting: I said gallop, are you deaf? I was deaf, indeed, and tired, and in bad shape, to a degree he couldn’t possibly imagine. He was a crass little thing, despite his impressive vocabulary. He started to really think I was a horse, and in fact he stopped calling me Grandpa, now he called me Furia…” The passage goes on like this, until Daniele has to call it quits. More than any other character, Mario reads as vivid, and “Grandpa” begins to see the same distinct quality in the boy, and loves him for it even if the implication is that Daniele himself has become a ghost. So Starnone’s little gem of a book is not only a story about death, despair, and waning genius. It is about eruption, lively chaos, and the little beansprout coming up through the waste. It is the sort of novel that seems to begin in the middle of nowhere and then gradually displays technical perfection, every sentence lying in its proper place like a long Saturday picnic as a child. English audiences are lucky to have it, and we will be luckier again when Lahiri or another capable translator begins the long trek backwards through Starnone’s decades-long oeuvre. I, for one, want to know what it means to Starnone, irony-lover he clearly is, that it is his novel about disappearance and artistic irrelevance that may set this ambiguous ball rolling. Worth a chuckle, at least, but one has the suspicion he’s been laughing for months.
MUSIC The New New Atlanta The bubbling-under ATL artists who will dominate the charts of the future by Azikiwea Green and Julian duction reminiscent of 90s hip-hop and new southern-style drum patterns and Turner sound, J.I.D’s rhymes comes with an enertarting somewhere around 2013, the getic flow and careful delivery. On songs year Drake famously remixed the like “Never,” his poignant voice makes track “Versace” by the Migos, At- him hard to forget. Recently signing with lanta quickly rose as the most influential J. Cole’s Dreamville Records and placing, city in rap and hip-hop. Over the last five J.I.D’s career has begun with a promising years, artists like the Migos, Metro Boom- start. in, Future, 2 Chainz, Young Thug, and Gucci Mane have dominated rap charts. Whether on features, singles, or collabs, these Atlanta artists have solidified the city’s long-challenged reputation in the hip-hop industry as a city with reputable talent. Even though it has been only recently that Atlanta artists have gotten attention at a national level, for many of these artists, their following had already been well-established within the city and the metro area. Now, even with these bigger, more mainstream artists, Atlanta’s local music scene continues to thrive. Areas such as East Atlanta Village and Edgewood are still bustling with new talent. This list highlights some of Atlanta’s most exciting upcoming artists, all of whom have enjoyed some commercial success Gunna, courtesy of Billboard and are expected to pop off in the near Hailing from College Park, GA, the future. neighbor of other successful early breakout Atlanta artists such as Soulja Boy and 2 Chainz, Gunna has gained attention from his Drip Season mixtape series. Working with Young Thug’s producer Wheezy, Gunna has carved out his own space in the collection of melodic sing-song trap artists over the wet 808s and energetic hihats and snares that we are familiar with. He raps about clothes, money, women and drugs, like many other rappers, but in songs such as “Don’t Give Up,” “Phase” and “Marvelous Day” Gunna also offers insight on growth, struggle, and the aspiration to live a better life. Taking up after his mentor and probably largest musical influence, Young Thug, Gunna has emerged as Atlanta’s most promising artist who will continue the semi-melodic loose, lean-infused style that has seen earJ.I.D, courtesy of Genius In a scene that’s criticized for lacking ly success in 2017. artists with “lyrical” skill and talent, East Atlanta’s J.I.D defies that stereotype and puts an end to that discussion. Rapping over beats that blend sample-based proLil Yachty may have made “bubblegum”
Sahbabii, courtesy of DJ Akademiks
trap popular, but since his ascent, it seems that the rising Atlanta artist Sahbabii has mastered it. Effortlessly floating over easy-sounding melodic keys and synths and compelling 808s, Sahbabii colors each track with dark tones laden with auto-tune. Sahbabii stands out in terms of lyrical content, where he is frequently either describing receiving oral sex, threatening to shoot his haters, or flexing his ice, but oftentimes in the most absurd and creative ways, asking questions like “how you suck dick but don’t eat string beans?” or bragging that he is “under your bitch like deodorant.”
Young Nudy, courtesy of XXL
Some may recognize the phrase “Hey Pierre, you wanna come out here?” from Playboi Carti’s Magnolia, the tagline of SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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producer Pierre Bourne. In addition to working with the likes of Carti, Bourne has been working closely with upcoming artist Young Nudy. Also from East Atlanta, the same neighborhood as 21 Savage and Gucci Mane, Nudy’s voice swings away from the style of any other rapper from the area. His airy voice and light delivery makes you feel like he is tiptoeing over the track. That, coupled with his beat selection, have given rise to layered and dissonant, but sonically irresistible music.
St. Beauty Ralo, courtesy of quickfixlife.com
Yung Bans, courtesy of HYPEBEAST
lanta trap machine, Ralo has the potential to demonstrate nationally the rhythmic sensibilities of the Southern gangster.
St. Beauty, courtesy of Vogue
St. Beauty is an alternative R&B group with pop, electronic and acoustic soul influences. They are members of Wondaland, an artistic group that also includes Janelle Monae and Jidenna. Formed originally at a boutique shop in southwest Atlanta, the band has built a following in Atlanta’s live music scene since 2012. You could often catch them performing at small open mics with an intimate acoustic guitar/bass and vocal duet. Now with their debut EP, the group has evolved their sound and added breadth to their musical reach. It is expected that this new project will take them beyond Atlanta, and to a wider audience.
Ralo has managed to transform his extensive arrest record into a cadence through which he has established one of the most unique voices in New Atlanta’s generation of dopeman rappers. Bursting onto the scene with a feature on Future’s 2015 single “Can’t Lie,” Ralo’s shrill voice and gritty lyrical content has since conjured some of the most dynamic street anthems of the last few years. Now backed by Gucci Mane’s 1017 Eskimo Records imprint and supported by the At46
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Yung Bans Lil Baby, courtesy of The New York Times
6LACK, courtesy of GQ
The texture of this artist’s vocals makes his music seductive to the ear, similar to how Frank Ocean captivated listeners on his album, Channel Orange. In 2016 6lack, created a stir with his project, Free 6lack, featuring stand-out tracks “PRBLMS” and “Ex Calling,” a remix of Future’s “Perkys Callin.” Since grabbing two Grammy Nominations in 2018, we are anxiously waiting for his next project to come this year.
Lil Baby I often think about my usage of the adjective “hard” around folks who may not be aware of its use as a term meaning good, excellent, or impressive. For example, Lil Baby’s “Harder Than Hard” mixtape appropriately identifies the smooth yet heavy-hitting Atlanta rapper whose trap narratives simultaneously access regional tradition and extend the genre into dynamic, late 2010s production.
Yung Bans first achieved recognition circa 2015 with a feature on the rather low-key single “4Tspoon” with Playboi Carti. Bans’ voice stands out on the track for its obvious youthfulness and irresistible ability to do less while doing more. This came shortly after the viral success of Playboi Carti’s breakout single “Broke Boi,” which solidified the compatibility between slower percussion, trance-like production, and catchy trap hooks. In 2017, Yung Bans took this ethic and released a series of sparse, dark singles while on house arrest, becoming something of a mysterious golden child to the underground rap community. In the iconic video for “No Cap” with Reese Laflare, the 18 year old performs his verse on the hood of a car, his feet dangling and revealing his ankle monitor. The Atlanta native’s casually compelling flow and interesting beat selection has poised him to become an important voice in the ever-growing Atlanta rap drama. Keep up with him via his latest video for “Feel Like Young Scooter” with Tracy and D Savage, prod. 16yrold.u
Reptaliens make you doubt your selfhood on “FM-2030” by Vanessa Levy
eptaliens, a Portland-based project known for their live performances featuring a performance artist dressed as a reptilian satanic priest, released their first album this past October, followed by a tour with STRFKR. The band is made up of Cole and Bambi Browning, active members in the local scene who record and perform with Julian Kowalski on guitar, Bryson Hansen on guitar, and Tyler Vergian on drums. Cole refers to Reptaliens as more of a “concept,” claiming in an interview with their label, Captured Tracks, that “those who are willing to let go and open themselves up to new experiences will be rewarded and emboldened. Those who want to turn away will have no choice but to look. The truth is out there.” The band makes this apparent by referencing Belgian-born Iranian-American transhumanist FM-2030 in the album title and by permeating the lyrics of each song with eeriness, such as in Simulation when Bambi sings about escaping a simulation, or in Nunya when she narrates the story of a celebrity stalker. Inspired by sci-fi, cult mentalities, and the concept of obsession, the lyrics are seamlessly juxtaposed against the dreamy melodies of each track. The fourpart band weaves together a sunny, pop sound, similar to that of Beach House, Boyo, Crumb, and Inner Wave, while mystifying the listener with creepy lyrics. There are quick shifts in time signature and departures from the melody with disReptaliens perfroming live, courtesy of OPB music.
FM-2030 album cover, courtesy of the band.
torted riffs, like on the third track, Simulation, after the lyrics “I need some help to find my way out of this simulation/ Open the portal let me in/Come on DMT find me unlock the secrets I seek/I want to crawl out of my skin,” form the sound of a bad dream. The detached way Bambi sings out her cries for help over the chiming haze of the melody evokes a feeling of disassociation. After questioning the truth of our reality in philosophy class, these lyrics nearly catapulted me into an out-of-body experience. The track that brought me to the album was the seventh, titled Nunya. It served as a case study for dissonance between sonic and lyrical tone, and upon first listen, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of familiarity. The ambient sound effects, saxophone, and pulsing beat, over the starry-eyed lyrics sung with hardly any emotion, suspended me in a peaceful dimension. The sense of nostalgia about young love and climbing through each other’s windows overwhelmed me: “Hey baby whatcha
doing/Come over to your window, girl/I can see you through the bushes lit under your window sill/Glossy magazines, pictures of you/I know you are looking only at me.” These lyrics resonated with me out of wistful affection for the past…until I realized Bambi is singing from the perspective of a weird, old celebrity stalker. They did a great job at convincing me of his relatability by hypnotizing me with the crystallizing melody. Bambi’s inclination to sing from the perspective of other people brings more variety and vivacity to the world FM-2030 creates. After getting over my existential crisis about deeply empathizing with a stalker, I was caught off guard by the absurdity of the lyrics in 666Bus when Bambi sings (note, to a jingly tune), “I always start to say my goodbyes when death is in the back of my mind/I hope it doesn’t get all over my favorite shoes.” If the absurdism does not capture you, maybe the nihilism will—in the opening of the song, Bambi ponders love and mortality: “Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus while I was dreaming of falling in love, or maybe I’ll fall in love and die of a broken heart.” The lack of attachment in her voice, paired with the ethereal sound effects, energetic beat, and vivacious melody, gives the listener the feeling that they are being warned. The nonchalant reference to death juxtaposed against the lively tone demonstrates the nightmarish quality of Reptaliens’ sound. Within their first year of releasing music, the band has already played shows with bigger artists like Foxygen, and their lyrics remain fixated on the macabre and otherworldly aspects of life, like the life-threatening obsession in Nunya or the casual acknowledgement of imminent death. From the feel of their live performances, I would not be surprised if they departed from their dream-pop sound and headed for heavier electronic sounds and effects, like Crystal Castles. I would look forward to more intense vocal effects and walls of sound during the intros and outros. However, I deeply appreciate the eccentric pop over the menacing lyrics found in FM-2030. Their foreboding words and bright textures will always bring me to play this album on sunny days when I nevertheless feel melancholic or gruesome.u
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MOVIES & TV Why “The Shape of Water” was Oscar bait Guillermo del Toro’s latest film is palatable but unintriguing.
by Ariana Hoshino and Ilana Epsteina
here are few films that pay homage to magical realism, a narrative genre pioneered by prominent Latin American authors like Gabriel Garcia Márquez and filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro. This genre, characterized by the insertion of surreal elements into realistic settings, creates a universe that exists somewhere in the uncanny valley, leaving the viewer disturbed, intrigued, or a combination of the two. Del Toro’s 2006 masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth,” for example, hovered somewhere between disturbing, mysterious, and fascinating, creeping under your skin and lingering for hours after the film had ended—a perfect example of magical realism done right. Although “The Shape of Water”’s iconic flooded bathroom sex scene pays homage to Marquez’s short story “Light is Like Water,” in which a house becomes flooded with light as if it is water, it fails to deliver the intrigue of the genre. One-dimensional characters, a painfully predictable plotline, and faux radicalism converge into a film that doesn’t ask for anything more than passive viewership from its audience. In a contemporary distribution environment where mediocre, passable, passively viewable films fill theaters faster than you can say “Avengers, assemble,” what we need is a story that will encourage us to challenge what we know, not cater to it. “The Shape of Water” stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works as a janitor in a Cold War-era government laboratory. She is charming, kind, and entirely one-dimensional—her character is defined by her muteness, with every decision she makes informed by her disability. Over the course of the film, she develops a bond with a caged amphibious Amazonian creature (Doug Jones), captured from the Amazon for the purposes of American space experiments, as it suffers abuse at the hands of Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon), the government agent assigned to the creature’s case. The creature can hardly defend itself, save for a fleeting success in the severing of two of Strickland’s fingers, an act that comes back 48
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to haunt us disgustingly throughout the rest of the film as the flesh of Strickland’s hand slowly decays. The physical abuse Strickland inflicts upon this creature parallels the sexual abuse he inflicts upon Elisa, bringing her and the creature closer together in their shared inability to verbally
We need a story that will encourage us to challenge what we know, not cater to it. express themselves and the discrimination that comes with it. Although this is a compelling premise, it reduces Elisa’s desires, fears, and emotions to being derived from this single character trait, making the underdog narrative both explicit and facile. Elisa proceeds to develop a relationship with this creature, kidnapping it from the laboratory and bringing it to her house in order to eventually set it free in the ocean. She keeps the saltwater aquatic creature in her bathtub, but the urgency of its release intensifies as it slowly starts to die due to the lack of salt. Elisa eventually tries to release the creature at a local dock in the middle of the night, but Strickland ambushes them, shooting both. However, the creature’s magical capabilities allow it to regenerate the bullet wounds as Giles (Richard Jenkins), Elisa’s best friend, arrives and whacks Strickland in the face, knocking him out. Elisa and the creature are able to escape to the water where they supposedly live happily ever after, and it is in this moment that we learn that Elisa can not only breathe underwater but also has gills. The motivation of every scene in The Shape of Water stems from the straightforward concept that discrimination is bad and justice must be served to those who deserve it. The film never gives its audience a reason to question the progression of the plot or the motives of the characters, meaning it never relates itself back to its larger themes or justifies their signif-
icance. This is the definition of a passive viewing experience – the viewer is never required to think about why something is happening, or why something is being explicitly shown. The only plotline that is even slightly morally ambiguous is that of the russian spy Dimitri Mosenkov, who is torn between staying loyal to the Russian mob bosses and saving a creature whose beauty he truly admires. Elisa, Strickland, and the creature’s storylines take precedence over his, and Dimitri—rendered all too briefly, with magnetic subtlety, by Michael Stuhlbarg—blurs into insignificance with the rest of the B-plots. Every scene is designed to affirm judgements that are established within the first thirty minutes, not to change or challenge them. All of this leads to a predictable resolution, leaving Del Toro scrambling to reintroduce something substantive that incorporates the mystery of magical realism – the gills that Elisa blooms in the last
Image courtesy of theshapeofwaterfyc.com
frames of the film. Unfortunately, audiences don’t buy endings that are unexplained and unsupported. The conceit falls flat. In 2009, the Oscar voting process for best picture shifted from a popular vote to a method of instant runoff voting. In short, instant runoff voting, also known as preferential voting, requires that voters rank their favorite films rather than choosing one winner. The films with the least support are eliminated and the second choice of the voters is tallied up with the rest. This goes on until a film has fifty percent of the votes plus one, which becomes the winner of the best picture award. This system rewards the films with the broadest support, which sounds democratic, but actually just rewards mediocrity—films that take risks are films that people either love or hate, and films that were “pretty good” will likely end up as most peoples’ second or third choices on their ballots. What makes “The Shape of Water” even more predictably palatable to an Oscar-voting population made up primarily of older, wealthy, left-leaning white people is its cast of secondary characters. Elisa’s two best friends are a liberal wet dream of feel-good representation: Giles, a gay man suffering from the prejudice of the era and an endless stream of creative and professional disappointments, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a hardworking and sharp-witted Black woman who is cheerful in the face of cruel bosses and abominable working conditions. You get the feeling that Spencer must be tired of playing characters living in the American 1950s—in the past several years, she has starred in
both “The Help” (2011) and “Hidden Figures” (2016). Giles and Zelda watch and support Elisa in her pursuit of love, and “The Shape of Water” becomes yet another mainstream film in which gay people and black women are allowed to exist, so long as their lives are ancillary to a white woman’s quest. In this film, it’s not only the “good guys” who are tropes designed to soothe guilty liberal consciences—the primary villain of the film, Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), is as unambiguously evil as it is possible for a character to be. He is racist, misogynistic, homophobic, sexually abusive—you name it, he is it—and utterly devoid of nuances, motives, or backstory of any kind. In one scene, he chokes his (unconsenting) wife during sex. In multiple others, he makes sexual advances on Elisa, taking her disability, and the fact that she can’t verbally express dissent, as a sign that she is his for the taking. Del Toro has said that it was goal in creating Strickland to subvert the usual narrative of monsters and heroes: the patriotic white man, who in classical Hollywood narratives swoops in and saves the day, is lacking any strain of humanity, while the otherworldly creature fills the role of romantic lead. But rather than truly reframing the power dynamics of the cinematic universe, this character conceit flattens the narrative down into the most conventional form possible. “The Shape of Water” has earned praise for being a “queer” love story, one in which a love forbidden by the mores of a society is victorious against all odds. But the fact of the matter is that while it may be
taboo, the relationship between Elisa and the Amphibian Man is still one between a woman and a man. The Amphibian Man is how the character is actually billed in the credits and in the screenplay. The costume designers have gone to great pains to ensure that the character’s body suit reveals a figure of classical masculine beauty, complete with a six-pack. To take the literalism of his masculinity to an even greater extreme, the precise morphology of the Amphibian Man’s genital organ is described in loving detail by Elisa’s nimble fingers. The film may speak of forbidden love, but it’s a love packaged in the familiar trappings of heterosexuality. The half-hearted radicalism and heavy-handed hero story of “The Shape of Water” made it an obvious pick for Oscar voters who were made uncomfortable by “Get Out” and snobbish in the face of “Lady Bird.” The film offered privileged viewers with an opportunity to pat themselves on the back—they were in support of the silenced! Black people! Gay people! They could see villainy when it was shoved directly under their noses! In a film world wracked by the so-called “revelations” of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the opportunity to support a movie that so blatantly spelled out the cruelty of a white man in a position of power was a godsend for heavy consciences. But in its complete disregard for nuance of any kind, “The Shape of Water” does viewers a disservice by pretending as if a predator is as easy to sniff out as the pus dripping from Strickland’s disgusting hand wound.u
Image courtesy of popzara SWARTHMORE REVIEW
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The Death of Mr. Lazarescu State and identity in Cristi Puiu’s Romania
by Daria Mateescu
Ioan Fiscuteanu in “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” Image courtesy of criticsroundup.com
risti Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (Romania, 2005) encapsulates a longstanding Eastern European psychological phenomenon that has only arrived for most Americans under the age of Donald Trump: nationalism as a form of self-hatred. This complex consists of the flamboyantly contradictory claims that America must be made great “again,” thus implying it is not great now, but also that it is nonetheless the greatest nation on earth. (This is, one may argue, a perverted extrapolation of the universal self -elp tip to love oneself in spite of one’s flaws.) Donald Trump blames these flaws on a monolithic pile of minority claims. Romanians blame it on America. Puiu is the championing director of the Romanian New Wave film movement, defined by a revival of classical neorealism in the context of late communist and early capitalist Romania. To offer realism to either of these time periods, the movement portrays the crippling and austere monotony of an intellectual and spiritual poverty enforced by and anchored in the economic poverty brought on by the dra-
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matic change in political systems. “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” which tells the story of Mr. Lazarescu, an elderly widower and former engineer who has a late night encounter with the health care system, epitomizes the tenets of the movement. The story is uniquely and deliberately Romanian. It is for this reason, one can
Not all pain, and not all love, is the same. Culture shapes both the scale of these sentiments and their very nature and form. presume, that the precarity of Mr. Lazarescu eludes many reviews and interpretation of the film. Yes, it is a film about
“love of humanity,” as many reviewers have proclaimed it to be, but it is also a film about a profoundly failed graft of Western political systems and values onto Eastern civilization. In order to understand the film, we must understand the two intertwined aspects apparent both in the film and Romanian society as a whole: a love for the Romanian people and a hatred for the way the West has led them to operate. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu must be interpreted as a deliberately and wholly non-American film. In our modern adoration of the common human experience of suffering as well as joy across the world, we ignore cultural distinctions in how different societies experience the pain brought on by precarity. The assumption that “all” human beings suffer, and “all” human beings experience love, seems to be the basis of so much Western thought that it has even become the leading impulse towards philanthropy. If we are all fundamentally the same, how can we not feel empathy for one another? Puiu’s point, which is disappointingly
missed by western reviewers, is precisely the opposite. Not all pain, and not all love, is the same. Culture shapes both the scale of these sentiments and their very nature and form. For some Romanians, for example, suffering is specifically directed at an understood, if not expressed, communist nostalgia and dislike for the effects of supposedly Western-imposed capitalism. While this sentiment is present in only a minority of the entire Romanian population, it features in a majority of the film’s characters. There is a line early on in the film in which Mr. Lazarescu’s neighbor tells Mioara, the paramedic who acts as Lazarescu’s champion, that Lazarescu’s daughter has left for America. This passing remark, one which to most viewers would not seem any more remarkable than an American daughter’s departure to Canada, carries far more weight in Romania. In a country of 17 million where nine people emigrate per hour, the prodigal child’s departure for the West is a cultural trauma. Mr. Lazarescu’s loneliness, interpreted by Western critics as an existentialist commentary, is in fact brought on by the two inevitable factors of Romanian elderly isolation: spouse’s death and child’s westward emigration. This migration is not a coincidence—what can be more telling of a country’s economic and social failures to its citizens than their de-
of Lazarescu) or for life itself to run its course. Aside from a forsaken existence, the second most obvious problem to Lazarescu’s sanity and health is the inefficacy of the healthcare system upon which he is dependent. He is routinely neglected by doctors, either by their seeming malevolence or by the fact that no hospital seems bureaucratically prepared to take on another patient. As he lies unattended on the gurney, a foreign audience might take it to be a critique of yet another health care system that fails to serve the poor. To a Romanian audience, however, Lazarescu’s trial through the bureaucracies of a failed health care state mean something more. Lazarescu’s only ally is the paramedic Mioara, and the machinery of the state’s health care system is his enemy. An enemy not more powerful than his own loneliness, but an enemy that nonetheless feeds on it. This is the Romania of early capitalism, where the citizen’s trust in the state to offer oppressive, restrictive, but nonetheless functional services is beginning to dissipate. They are no longer oppressive, but they are equally not functional. This contrasts with the superficially effective competence of the communist state, whose benefits were manifested in more ways than just the practical services it offered such as health-care and education. It also offered its citizens the Big
Luminița Gheorghiu as Mioara Avram
Brother companion—a state which would never cease to be present in the citizen’s lives, whether or not they wanted it there. This state, and the companionship it offered, was torn down in the revolution of 1989 and the rise of American-inspired late capitalism. America is prominently brought up twice in the film—the first time with the
Image courtesy of Accent Films Entertainment
parture from the homeland? The elderly are left behind, somewhere between an empty pride in a past that they themselves discarded and a future that has yet to arrive. All that remains is stillness and waiting, be it for the doctor to bother returning to the hospital bed (in the case
mention of Lazarescu’s daughter’s departure and the second with his recollection of the American bombings. Lying upon one of the many unattended hospital beds of the night, Lazarescu recounts his early childhood memories of the World War
The film is far more than a selfhating critique of the West. It is also a soft ode to what has been preserved of Romanian culture within the individual, if not the system. II bombings of Bucharest by the Americans. This scene compels the viewer to draw a comparison between the chaos and destruction that American invasive tendencies had on the physicality of a city to those they have on the physicality of Lazarescu’s now dying body. In spite of Puiu’s attitude towards America’s effects on Romanian society, the film is far more than a self-hating critique of the West. It is also a soft ode to what has been preserved of Romanian culture within the individual, if not the system. Lazarescu’s neighbors come to his help when he needs it, the husband giving him a massage while the wife searches for medicine. The paramedic Mioara fights against the bureaucratic doctors at every step of the way, refusing to allow Lazarescu to die a preventable death. In these interpersonal exchanges, the film makes evident the social duty to help a fellow man who shares the same vulnerability to bureaucratic negligence. Lazarescu’s sad fate lies in the absence of both a systemic equivalency to this tender solidarity among the citizenry, and a wife. The Romanian tragedy thus finds its roots in two inescapable enemies: death and the United States.u
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