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April 24, 2014

Rape Happens Here

For 150 years, leafy, progressive Swarthmore College tried to resolve student conflicts in the best Quaker tradition — peacefully and constructively. Then came 91 complaints of sexual misconduct. In a single year.


In the early 1980s, staff members in one of Swarthmore’s libraries began hanging reams of white computer paper in the bathroom stalls, which students would use to gossip about cute boys or gripe about homework. A few years ago, pieces of white paper of a different sort began appearing in campus bathrooms. They’re printed up by the administration and emblazoned with the words SEXUAL ASSAULT RESOURCES. One of those resources, as of a couple years ago, was a student named Lisa Sendrow. Last spring, for the first time, Sendrow herself needed to reach out to someone whose name appeared on the white piece of paper.


Sendrow is a 23-year-old brunette from Princeton, New Jersey. Her mother is from Mexico; her dad is a Jewish guy from the Bronx. She graduated last spring and works in health care in Washington, D.C. If 3,000 smiling Facebook photos are a good barometer, her four years at Swarthmore seem to have passed by untroubled. But in the midwinter of 2013, Sendrow says, she was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months. They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. “I basically said, ‘No, I don’t want to have sex with you.’ And then he said, ‘Okay, that’s fine’ and stopped,” Sendrow told me. “And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.”


A month and a half went by before Sendrow paid a visit to Tom Elverson, a drug and alcohol counselor at the school who also served as a liaison to its fraternities. A former frat brother at Swarthmore, he was jolly and bushy-mustached, a human mascot hired a decade earlier to smooth over alumni displeasure at the elimination of the football team, which his father had coached when Elverson was a student. When Sendrow told him she had been raped, he was incredulous. He told her the student was “such a good guy,” she says, and that she must be mistaken. Sendrow left his office in tears. She was so discouraged about going back to the administration that it wasn’t until several months later that she told a dean about the incident. Shortly thereafter, both students graduated, and Sendrow says she was never told the outcome of any investigation. (Elverson, whose position was eliminated by the school last summer, emailed me that he would answer the “great questions” I raised, but never wrote back.)


As the issue of campus assault gains national media traction, stories about incompetent or callous administrators have become bleakly — almost numbingly — familiar. But Sendrow’s account is also quite specific to Swarthmore. The unrest that’s roiled the little U.S. News & World Report juggernaut 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia over the past year — including dozens of allegations of student-on-student sexual assault, two federal investigations, two student-filed federal lawsuits, and four (unprecedented) expulsions for sexual misconduct — nominally revolves around a campus rape problem and an administration accused of abetting it. But the conflict in fact runs deeper: Swarthmore’s 150-year-old Quaker-inspired governing philosophy has collided with the far less forgiving demands of contemporary campus life.


ON APRIL 25, 2013, Swarthmore sophomores Hope Brinn and Mia Ferguson stood on Independence Mall in Philadelphia and told assembled media that the college had badly mishandled claims of sexual assault; in response, they were bringing a Title IX complaint to the federal government. This was just days after the duo filed a separate Clery Act complaint alleging that Swarthmore had systematically underreported such incidents. The complaints were part of a larger strategy — they later met with high-profile attorney Gloria Allred — in which Brinn, Ferguson and a couple dozen co-complainants aimed to use their personal stories to shame and ultimately reform their college.


Ferguson, from Brookline, Massachusetts, wrote an op-ed, “Raped and Betrayed,” for a student newspaper. Brinn, from Wilmington, Delaware, stood before the school’s board and told how she was sexually assaulted, stalked, and then met with “grave indifference” by the administration. Within a couple months, the Department of Education began investigating the school for Clery and Title IX violations. The controversy only increased when the New York Times ran a story in which Ferguson suggested that she had been denied a campus job in retaliation for her activism. By the end of the year, it seemed everyone was lobbing one accusation or another at Swarthmore. In 2012, 11 incidents of sexual assault were reported to the school’s public safety department. In 2013, that number — covering everything from harassment to rape — spiked to 91. (One-third of them concerned incidents from previous years.)


Over the past few years, dozens of colleges have faced damning accusations surrounding campus assault. But the problem only gained national traction when elite schools like Amherst and Yale exploded, too. Like them, Swarthmore boasts the usual trappings of coastal gentility: stately stone masonry, vast campus greenery, students sitting under trees, etc. Same with the pamphlet stats: $58,000 price tag; 17 percent odds of admission; $1.6 billion in the endowment kitty; 1,500 students who graduated from high school at the top of the class.


But Swarthmore, as it likes to remind us, is somewhat different from its liberal arts rivals. This year, the college published a coffee-table book called Swarthmore College: A Community of Purpose, featuring essays by notable alumni who hadn’t already contributed to the 2004 collection The Meaning of Swarthmore. University president Rebecca Chopp summarized that quintessence in a 2013 address to incoming freshmen, invoking the school’s “Quaker values of simplicity, rigorous examination of conscience, generous giving, social responsibility, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.”


To be sure, the school dropped its sectarian status more than a hundred years ago and is hardly a bastion of religious sentiment — of any denomination. What was once Daily Quaker Meeting became Monthly Quaker Meeting, which eventually gave way to Optional Quaker Meeting. Meanwhile, frats and binge drinking and casual sex and MDMA and Adderall and all the other hallmarks of modern college life began to creep onto campus. During one recent Sunday service at Swarthmore’s handsome, unadorned campus meetinghouse, the only student attendee who spoke up was from Haverford College; the rest were AARP candidates wrapped in polar fleece.


Still, two powerful vestiges of Quakerism remain. First, there are the progressive politics of Swarthmore’s student body, whose incessant demonstrations are in keeping with the civil disobedience preached by the school’s founders. Even before Ferguson and Brinn filed their complaints, concurrent protests surrounding fossil-fuel divestment, a commencement speaker and Greek life caused President Chopp to dub the second semester of the 2012-’13 school year the “spring of our discontent.”


The second central remnant of the school’s Quaker legacy — the “peaceful resolution of conflicts” — resides not in the student body, but in the administration. “From the very smallest scale to the largest scale, the college does have a long history of finding a way through that won’t leave half the people in any room feeling like they lost,” says Swarthmore history professor Tim Burke. “It means, for one, we tend to defer difficult decisions.”


Last year, those two interpretations of the school’s Quaker mandate barreled into one another. For decades, Swarthmore’s permissiveness and tolerance formed a protective bubble over campus. But applied to the festering problem of sexual assault, that same permissiveness and tolerance catalyzed mass student revolt.


WHAT ENDED IN UNPRECEDENTED turmoil began with a stereotypically Swarthmore occurrence: a movement to abolish Greek life on campus.


First, a little context. In 1933, a group of female students successfully agitated to abolish sororities at Swarthmore, in part on the grounds that they discriminated against Jewish students. Two decades later, a referendum was called, unsuccessfully, to do the same for fraternities. Skip forward a half century, and the Greeks were under attack once more.


In late August 2012, as students began to trickle onto campus, word got out that a sorority had been reestablished by a group of students who were perhaps more career-minded and athletically oriented than the typical Swattie. Perturbed, a senior sent an email to the Swarthmore Queer Union listserv:


Wait — I thought the sorority thing was shot down pretty definitively last year. Why is this happening? Are we happy this is happening??


They were not. And so a petition was formed to gauge interest in abolishing the new sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, which soon turned into a referendum to eradicate Greek life altogether.


Frats at Swarthmore look pretty much like you might expect. There are only two, Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi, and neither provides housing. When a writer at the website (Jezebel for fraternity bros) caught wind of the referendum, he panned Swarthmore’s frat scene: “To hear that there is anti-Greek sentiment at Swarthmore is about as surprising as finding out that a Lena Dunham shaped sex doll is the new mascot for Oberlin College.”


However harmless Swarthmore and its frats appear, they’ve long been maligned on campus. “Greek life at Swarthmore has always been precarious,” says former dean of students Bob Gross, who retired in 2006. “People resent that they have dedicated space.” Indeed, as the referendum heated up in March 2013, anti-Greek activists began pinning up fliers with messages like “Groups that exclude and frighten Swatties should not control 50 percent of the social spaces on campus.”


As the movement intensified, the anti-fraternity messaging began to suggest a relationship between “frat culture” and “rape culture.” A couple nights before the vote, in early April, several students asserted this more publicly through a familiar mode of expression at Swarthmore: chalked messages written on campus walkways. (Hope Brinn, one of the leaders of the movement, wrote about being raped in a message she planted in front of the campus library.) The next day, many of the chalkings had been scrubbed away by then-student-council co-president Victor Brady. Like many on campus, he was perturbed by the vitriolic and personal accusations they contained. President Chopp followed with an email condemning the “targeted anonymous postings.”


Mia Ferguson wasn’t involved with the referendum, but she was incensed by the notion that student testimony was being suppressed. “I had accepted what happened with me as sexual assault,” she told me as we sat in a Philadelphia restaurant in late January. What motivated her to go public was the sense that Swarthmore had abandoned its commitment to free expression and inquiry.


So she joined Brinn for a second night of chalking. “We were really angry, chalking things everywhere, and then this staff member came up to us,” Brinn remembered in an oral history collected last year by a campus magazine. “He said, ‘Are you aware of the cover-ups, too?’ And he started talking about how the administration had literally been destroying evidence of sexual assault.” Brinn and Ferguson couldn’t track down any specifics, and the staffer stopped responding to my emails when I asked him about the claims. Whether true or not, the whiff of a wider conspiracy galvanized the two women. Within a few weeks, they had collected sufficient testimony of victim-blaming, underreporting and general administration insensitivity that they brought their complaints against Swarthmore.


For a dedicated band of student activists at the school, a broader politics of oppression linked frat culture and rape culture with concerns about everything from the Keystone XL pipeline to American imperialism. But where they saw “intersectionality,” others saw inchoate aggression. After the fraternity referendum failed, says David Hill, a 2013 graduate and DU brother well known on campus for his conservatism, there arose “a general culture of hatred towards the administration.” Gross, the retired dean, summed much of the activism up as “the way adolescents individuate themselves — by rebelling against the parents.”


The analogy may be flip, but it’s apt in at least one sense. Swarthmore represents a peculiar inversion of the “in loco parentis” once reliably promised by small liberal arts colleges: Students expect — and are granted — near-total autonomy. But that no-consequences freedom also sets up an expectation that students will be inoculated from any harm that befalls them on campus. I spoke at length with roughly a dozen victims of alleged sexual misconduct at Swarthmore and, through a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained the Title IX complaint that detailed the stories of a dozen more. (Swarthmore’s Phoenix and Daily Gazette published several such accounts, too.) One theme was constant: The women felt betrayed less by their perpetrators, from whom they never expected much, than by their college.


HEARD BY THEMSELVES, the claims leave open the possibility of a misunderstanding between student and administrator, of signals tragically crossed. Taken together, a pattern appears to emerge.


“Sally,” a 2012 graduate, said she was at a party in the fall of her freshman year when a fellow student cornered her, pushed her against a wall, and began to kiss her, before being pulled off by a mutual friend. Later that night, Sally awoke to find the same student had entered her room and climbed on top of her. She managed to push him off. When she told associate dean Myrt Westphal she wanted to pursue charges through the College Judiciary Committee (CJC), she says, Westphal asked her to say “harassment” rather than “assault,” and questioned whether she really wanted to “pit her two friends against each other.” Discouraged, Sally declined to pursue judiciary action. (Westphal, who retired last spring, declined to comment.)


Similar stories are legion. Jean Strout, a 2010 graduate now studying at Harvard Law School, says that after she was pinned to the ground by a naked, drunk rugby player, she spoke to a male administrator by phone, who told her it sounded like a “misunderstanding” and that she should ask the offender for an apology.


A recent graduate who now practices law in New York City says that when she told an administrator she had been raped, the administrator said, “You don’t sound as if you were raped,” and, noticing the cross hanging around her neck, asked if she wanted to see a priest. A first-semester freshman at the time of her assault, she says she sought support and guidance from multiple members of the administration in moving forward with her case. However, after months of conversations she calls “frustrating” and “invalidating,” she ultimately declined to pursue it: “I was tired of fighting, and wanted to focus on healing.”


Another student, according to the Title IX complaint, was raped in her dorm room by a friend of a friend with alcohol on his breath. Before he left the room, he looked at her, smiled, and told her, “It’s your word against mine.” After she recounted the incident in a long email to a member of the administration, her complaint says, school officials never got in touch with her or did any investigation.


As spokeswomen for fellow victims, Hope Brinn and Mia Ferguson often underemphasized their own stories, but they too joined the complaints. Ferguson says she was raped her freshman year in a dorm room by someone she considered a friend. After keeping it bottled up for a semester, she told two resident advisers who were required to report what she told them. They proceeded to tell no one. Hope Brinn says a male student burst into her room while she was naked and refused to leave, after having harassed her via text message. According to her Title IX complaint, when she reported the incident, an administrator laughed and told her she might consider having him write “knock” on his hand as a reminder before he goes out. (Brinn has also spoken about a separate incident of sexual assault.)


The administration, along with the specific school employees involved in each case, is hamstrung in its ability to dispute such claims publicly, thanks to the strict confidentiality requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. When I asked a Swarthmore spokesperson if there were factual errors in student newspaper accounts of similar incidents, she said there were many, but the school wasn’t permitted to correct any of them. Swarthmore also declined to make any of its administrators available for interviews for this story, responding to written questions through the spokesperson. Regarding the Title IX complaint, it provided this statement: “These are allegations only, and the Department of Education has stated explicitly that its investigation ‘in no way implies that [the Office of Civil Rights] has decided merit.’” (Click here to read the entire Title IX complaint and Swarthmore’s response.)


Over the course of our conversations, a couple students teared up, while others couldn’t bear to recount their assaults. But for the most part, their testimonials had a somewhat bloodless, clinical aspect to them. Pain, it seemed, had hardened into disgust and cynicism. “Students still buy into this whole Quaker idealism,” says Ferguson. “You feel, ‘I really get this place, I know the administrators and I trust them intimately.’ So it’s this really disturbing level of deceit.”


IN 2011, THE OBAMA administration sent a letter to every college in the country, informing them that by neglecting to properly address claims of sexual violence, they were creating a “hostile environment” prohibited by the Title IX gender equity law. Early this year, Obama doubled down, announcing a task force on college sexual assault. The upshot? Schools that viewed Title IX in the context of athletics have been blindsided, while students have pounced. In 2009, a reported 11 student complaints were filed nationally with the federal government; in 2013, that number rose to 29.


Whether Swarthmore is in violation of federal law for ignoring or underreporting sexual misconduct is for government investigators to determine. But until recently, it wasn’t so obvious that schools would be punished for such lapses. Indeed, many observers argue that focusing the blame on wayward administrators misses the larger point: Colleges shouldn’t be involved in this stuff at all.


The group best known for taking this view is the right-leaning nonprofit FIRE, or Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has made a living defending the trammeled due-process rights of alleged bad guys. But even certain women’s-rights advocates are squeamish about a bunch of physics PhDs on an adjudication panel deciding the guilt or innocence of an accused rapist, without lawyers, evidence, or any other trappings of a typical court case. “My grave concern is the capacity, the competence, and the appropriateness of colleges dealing with rape outside the criminal justice system,” says Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project. Even if a college justly expels a student for rape, Tracy points out, he can transfer to another college and rape again.


One counterargument, which colleges have been making for decades, is that administrators steeped in campus culture are better equipped to resolve student-vs.-student disputes than unfeeling law enforcement. “What Swarthmore will claim is, ‘We want to make sure it’s educational, we’re not here to punish students, we’re here to help them grow and learn,’” says Mia Ferguson. “Which makes sense … but that is a way they skirted around punishment to a certain extent.”


Indeed, it was largely out of the school’s good intentions that its scandal took root. What current students see as shocking complacency is in fact consistent with an unofficial disciplinary policy that’s long governed Swarthmore.


Twenty years ago, Swarthmore also found itself embroiled in a national controversy over alleged sexual impropriety. The story involved two 18-year-old freshmen: Alexis Clinansmith, a white girl from the wealthy Detroit suburbs, and Ewart Yearwood, a Hispanic kid from Washington Heights in Manhattan. Clinansmith claimed Yearwood had been stalking and harassing her. Yearwood claimed he was just playing Romeo and was being maligned for his Latino assertiveness.

Clinansmith took the matter to a disciplinary hearing, where a jury deadlocked over Yearwood’s guilt. Then-president Al Bloom decided Yearwood had “intimidated” but not harassed Clinansmith and devised what he felt was an ingenious solution: He would pay for Yearwood to transfer to another institution for a semester while everybody cooled down. Bad move. The Wall Street Journal slammed the school for capitulating to the feminist lobby, while other conservative commentators attacked Swarthmore for going soft on Yearwood in deference to the (still vaguer) Hispanic lobby. Political correctness, the commentariat railed, had run amok.


The school had an obligation to be “just and compassionate,” Bloom told the Washington Post. Yearwood’s transgressions, he added, were “not a reason to abandon him.” Or as one freshman put it at the time, “I guess Swarthmore tried to do the right thing and not ruin this guy’s life, which reflects the college’s Quaker traditions.”


Such resistance to traditional punitive measures, it turns out, is a Swarthmore trademark. Edward Parrish, one of the founders of the college, was forced out by the school’s board for his disinclination to crack down on student misbehavior. One hundred fifty years later, an articulation of that ethos was broadcast to the graduating class of 2013. Myrt Westphal, the dean who came under fire last year for allegedly not taking student complaints seriously, delivered the baccalaureate address at Commencement. “Laws and rules and punishments don’t always work,” she said, standing at the base of the grassy campus amphitheater. “They are a necessary underpinning, but they don’t always fix the problem. It is too easy to turn to the law, but I feel if you have to use the law, broadly speaking, you have lost. We need more human and personal techniques to reduce the conflicts.”


There is admirable idealism in that strain of thinking. But placid Quaker utopianism wasn’t the brand of reform students were looking for. “The problem that a lot of us have with ‘constructive dialogue’ is that ‘constructive’ is a code word for ‘nice,’” says sophomore Allison Hrabar, who went public with her assault story and who says her perpetrator was expelled last fall. “I had a lot of conversations with the school, but it wasn’t until the Title IX complaint that things started changing. And it wasn’t until I started dropping the word ‘lawyer’ that things started changing.”


INDEED, AFTER 150 YEARS of well-intentioned baby-splitting, Swarthmore has begun behaving in a very uncharacteristic way. In the wake of the unrest last spring, Tom Elverson’s job was eliminated. Two other controversial deans had their responsibilities shifted, another left for a new job, and five new Title IX staffers were hired. Instead of relying on a jury of students and faculty to adjudicate sexual misconduct cases, Swarthmore has tapped a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, Jane Greenspan, to do the job. Not least, for the first time in recent school history, the college expelled students for sexual misconduct — four in all.


But the Quaker counter-programming wasn’t embraced by everyone. One of the first to appear on the receiving end of Swarthmore’s new reform-mindedness was, of all people, Mia Ferguson. Last August the school denied her a job as a resident adviser for refusing to disclose the name of an alleged victim of sexual assault. Ferguson went to the Times, claiming she was being retaliated against for her activism. (The college denies this.) While it remains unclear whether the fine print of her contract was interpreted correctly — she says she wasn’t mandated to disclose information she learned before starting the job — there is an irony to her charge: One of her grievances is that her RAs didn’t report her assault, as they were mandated to.


A couple weeks later, with the bitter referendum movement behind it, campus frat Phi Psi let its guard down and distributed a recruitment poster featuring tiny pixilated photos of naked women. Quick to condemn the imagery, which had been used in the past to no great consequence, the administration forced members of the fraternity to attend sensitivity training. A conservative campus publication decried the move, while familiar foe FIRE slammed the sanctions.


Ferguson and FIRE have little in common. Ferguson’s aim was to protect student privacy; FIRE was concerned with First Amendment rights. But these cases hint at the widespread sense that Swarthmore, if it wasn’t directly betraying its students, was somehow betraying its mission.


Last spring, for instance, Swarthmore alumnus and Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen sent a sympathetic email to a conservative student after she wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed critiquing a group of campus activists (which included Hope Brinn) for hijacking a public board meeting at the college. Cohen voiced concern that a “college founded by Quakers and based on essential principles of tolerance could be so intolerant of contrary views.”


Members of Swarthmore’s nascent sorority, who wouldn’t have been edgy at all on most campuses, felt similarly persecuted. “I perceived that I was coming into an open or welcoming environment,” says Jessica Seigel, a sorority member and the leader of a centrist political organization on campus. “That [perception] has been destroyed.” Her fellow sister Elena Schlessinger, a co-president of the student council, says her conservatism on certain issues, along with the toxic sorority association, made her persona non grata to campus activists. “It’s really fucking sad,” she says. “Because you’re with the smartest people in the world … but [they’re] only debating people who are one degree away from them.”


This echo-chamber issue, of course, isn’t new. “What I didn’t like so much was this overwhelming sense of pious liberalism,” wrote novelist and alumnus Jonathan Franzen in his contribution to A Community of Purpose. “I’m a left-wing Democrat, but even for me it was a bit much. We should have been problematizing things, doing the kind of intellectual searching that was happening in the classroom, but instead there was this unexamined consensus.”


What is new is the intensity of the competing claims of victimization, leading even the most unlikely of students to claim they were sold out by the school. Which brings us to “John Doe.”


LAST MAY, A JUNIOR AT Swarthmore hailing from North Carolina was expelled for sexual assault and harassment. In January, he sued the school for violating his rights under Title IX, the same law that Brinn and Ferguson accused the school of breaking. He seeks $75,000 in damages along with readmittance to the school. He and his accuser, the suit claims, met in a coed a cappella group and had three consensual sexual encounters. The first was a kiss; the third was intercourse. It was the second that proved problematic.


Late on April 30, 2011, according to the suit, “Jane Doe” sent John Doe a text asking him to come study with her in her room. He did, and after some brief chitchat, the two engaged in consensual oral sex. The next day, Jane confessed the encounter to her boyfriend, who didn’t attend Swarthmore. He proceeded to send a threatening email to John. (The boyfriend said he had a gun.) Later that day, Jane came to John’s room and apologized for the email, after which the two had consensual sex. Nothing ever happened between them again, according to the suit. Nineteen months later, while studying abroad in Scotland with the same boyfriend, Jane told a dean at Swarthmore that the second encounter hadn’t been consensual and that she wanted to press charges through the campus judiciary system.


By early June, John Doe had been found responsible for sexual assault and immediately expelled. John Doe claims he was made a sacrificial lamb after Brinn and Ferguson had brought their claims against the school. So he sued, making him one of more than a half dozen “Reverse Title IX” complainants in the country. (Swarthmore, in a court filing, released an email in which the plaintiff told Jane Doe’s boyfriend “I agree with you” after being accused of actions “tantamount to rape.” The college also claims that Jane Doe resisted John Doe during the second encounter, which it says included digital penetration and caused her to bleed.)


The irony of Swarthmore’s position is that months earlier, it was beating back a separate lawsuit filed by women claiming the school hadn’t done enough to address sexual assault. (That case was ultimately dropped.) Where Ferguson, Brinn and others felt betrayed by the school’s complacency, John Doe felt betrayed when Swarthmore tried to stop being so complacent. As he claimed in the suit, “Associate Dean [Myrt] Westphal assured John that no student had been expelled for sexual misconduct in her 25 years at Swarthmore.”


Swarthmore has become something of a higher-education Rorschach test. Victims of sexual assault see a school that willfully ignored a pervasive rape problem. Campus conservatives, free-speech groups and, now, at least one alleged assailant see extreme political correctness infringing on students’ rights to free speech and due process.


“Consciously or not,” says a former administrator, “they’re so invested in protecting this bucolic campus, this elite liberal arts college that is Quaker and consensus-driven and radical and progressive.” Anything that bursts that fantasy, the former administrator says, “they just can’t deal with.” That sentiment refers to deans and professors, but in truth, it applies to most everyone on campus. What makes Swarthmore unique isn’t that it had a sexual-assault problem. What makes it unique is that its administration was hard-wired to address that problem in a way the student body was hard-wired to reject. Sooner or later, in other words, the Swarthmore bubble was going to burst.


THE COGNITIVE DISSONANCE between the two sides — and between the old way of doing things and the new legal realities of campus compliance — became stark one afternoon in mid-January, when I met Bob Gross, the former dean of students, at a coffee shop. Gross, wearing the muted-wool-and-tweed uniform of retired academics everywhere, for many years presided over the disciplinary hearing processes at Swarthmore.


“One day I was reading the paper about asteroids hitting the Earth, you know, a certain chance that the Earth could be struck by an asteroid and civilization would be wiped out,” he said. “And we used to say, ‘Do we want to spend our last days on Earth in a fucking CJC hearing? You know, let’s put it off.’” He chuckled. “The thing about deaning is, you’re always at the mercy of a drunken 19-year-old. Like it can just knock your weekend to hell.”


“Or more,” I reminded him.


He looked at me: “Or more.”


Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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