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The Famous Sophomore Slump

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Ah yes, the dreaded and much talked-about Sophomore Slump. Well, folks, I’m here to tell you it’s as real a thing as you and me, and it’s affected almost every sophomore I’ve talked to right here on our beloved campus. I did not believe in this terrible syndrome until this semester, though everyone warned me about it. I thought, in the classic, know-it-all Swattie way, that I was much too smart to fall into such a slump, that I was too driven and dedicated to reach such a lack of motivation and energy. However, as tends to occur, I was wrong.

Coming back to Swarthmore after your first year is pretty much impossible to do without slumping. Slumping is when sophomores hit peak procrastination and can’t find any kind of motivation to do their work. Although they know that it’s of absolute importance to get cracking on their assignments, they just can’t find any way to get it done. It’s hard to return from a summer of minimum wage jobs and plenty of relaxation time to hours of essays and problem sets. It hits you as soon as you come back, with deadlines looming immediately ahead of you. The fear of failing and not having the stellar grades you’ve always wanted is sitting in the back of your mind at all times. And this is the best part: as soon as these extreme feelings hit you, they stay with you for the entire semester. There’s never a break, not even when it’s technically break, because there is simply no way to forget about all the essays and all the responsibility left back in the academic buildings.

In addition to the typical stress of Swarthmore, sophomores are required to choose a major, and it feels like such a make-or-break decision. It’s as though the rest of our very long lives is dependent on this one decision (which it’s definitely not – you can change your major several times after your first decision!), and all we do is stress and freak out about it until we somehow manage to make a decision. Personally, I remember switching my projected major about seven times in just the short summer between freshman and sophomore year. This led to drastic amount of stress; however, it feels nice to have started figuring it out. After that, it seems that everyone starts comparing inadvertently, creating cliques dependent on who’s majoring in what, trying to find common ground with people we may or may not even have known about before this very trying year.

Well, now that I’ve got one semester of this terribly long year (almost) under my belt, I can feel myself starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, I know, we’ve got another entire semester left, with four to five new classes that are sure to kick our asses, but it’s spring semester. Everything is better in the spring semester. Not only are we moving towards warm weather, but there’s spring break and the wild trip that may entail, as well as the end of the semester which promises sun and relaxation for, like, three months. And for some of us, it even means going abroad and getting to avoid Swarthmore for an extra six months!

So yes, the sophomore slump sucks a lot, and getting through it may take all the sanity you have left in your being, but it gets better if you just choose to look at the bright side of it all (as long as the whole jaded junior concept isn’t a thing).

The Art of the Flip Flop (or Not)

in Campus Journal by

 

I recently came in contact with a high school classmate through the powers of Snapchat, which I’ve been clumsily using for about a week now. Last I’d seen him, our plans were pretty much the opposite of each other — he was off to a large, public California university as a pre-med, hoping to become a doctor and help people. I had my heart set on studying English at Swarthmore, with absolutely zero career paths in mind (I never quite recovered from being told I couldn’t be a princess at the age of seven).

 

To his family’s shock, he is now a linguistics major — he took one class and fell in love with the subject. It made me wonder how we get there, from a simple major as declared on our application, occasionally lying through our teeth, to whatever we’ve decided to pursue. Shayne Rothman ’20 hasn’t written her sophomore plan yet but has already considered a variety of majors.

 

“I applied as a classics major with possible minor in either French or linguistics. I’ve changed that plan a few times. I went from just majoring in linguistics to majoring in linguistics and language to majoring in linguistics and minoring in French to creating my own special major around speech pathology. Now I’m thinking of declaring a major in linguistics and a minor in computer science,” said Rothman.

 

Rothman has made most of her decisions thus far based on her interests. Her interest in Latin got her interested in language structures in general, and she unexpectedly fell in love with linguistics. She freely admits there is also a more practical component around her choices: she loves CS, but also recognizes it is a useful and lucrative field of study. This attempt to balance passion and practicality feels familiar. When I started working towards my teaching certification, I often reminded my parents that it was good to have something that would lead me directly to a job. English major, education minor, it felt like an airtight plan. I even felt confident enough to plan to take Italian at Bryn Mawr, maybe study abroad in Italy at some point.

 

The Plan barely lasted a year. I came back to campus freshman spring emotionally exhausted but determined to see it through. To give myself a break, I took what I assumed would be an easy class: Transnational Graphic Fiction, which I hoped would help me reconnect with French culture. It all spiralled out of control from there.

 

I fell back into my love of French literature in a heartbeat, realized that the department had something to offer and that yes, a French person could study Francophone literature at an American college without wasting their time. As I grew increasingly drawn into “pure” literature, I felt increasingly uncertain about my future. The summer didn’t help; my boss cheerfully asserted no one actually gave a damn about what you majored in until I wanted to strangle him. Didn’t ANYONE understand my MAJOR EXISTENTIAL STRUGGLE?

 

This fall, I reached a semblance of peace, mainly thanks to a professor who took the time to talk to me for hours, help me figure out multiple major/minor combinations, and guide me through my existential angst. I owe her a lot, so she may be disappointed to hear my newfound balance is basically “I don’t know what the f*** I’m doing, but neither does anybody else so let’s go along with it.”

 

“The people who you tend to remember are the people who are very passionate about something. It’s hard to be at a school where it seems as though everyone else has it figured out and knows what they want to do. I understand that this isn’t necessarily the truth, but it still feels sometimes like you’re the only one who hasn’t got it all together,” Rothman pointed out.

 

Scott Candey ’20 is one of these people. He came in as an engineering major and hasn’t wavered. Engineering is notoriously difficult to pursue due to its lengthy list of requirements, but Candey has remained nonetheless.

 

“The main reason I’m seeing it through is there’s nothing that fits me better. I like creating things, I like science. The best place to build new things on campus right now is the engineering department.”

 

Candey added that he does sometimes wonder what else he could study or consider other paths, but ultimately, this is what feels right. A few weeks ago I would have burst into tears, shaking him by the shoulders and asking how dare he be so confident. I’d like to think I’ve reached a more mature stage of acceptance — some have it figured out, some don’t, that’s okay. I will never haul myself out of bed early enough to go to Bryn Mawr five times a week and pick up a new language, and that’s also okay. Even the ever-looming Sophomore Plan is starting to look less ominous. Max Weinstein ‘19 had some perspective on this plan.

 

“The sophomore plan was an invitation to think about the next two years, without being demanding or scary, […] I’m glad I switched from Political Science to English, because English is harder from me, […] But I’ve become more interested in science lately. I still have two years, so I’m sure it will all get wrapped up with a bow by graduation time.”

 

Say what you will about Swarthmore — at the very least, it’s not an especially relaxing environment — but if nothing else, it gives us room to explore. It would be too cliché of me to say something like, “Incoming freshmen, try something completely new and discover new passions!” There are brochures and orientation pep talks for that. I will say that the IC courtyard is always a nice place for a little existential cry as you contemplate your future. Besides, as my more sympathetic professor pointed out, absolutely nobody knows what they’re doing, so why not put on a good show?

 

College to go through Middle State’s accreditation process again

in News by

Every eight years, Swarthmore must evaluate their quality of education to be approved by Middle States, a Philadelphia-based accreditation organization. The school’s most recent cycle of reaccreditation began last year and will continue into 2019, during which time the college reports on aspects of its work, ranging from the effectiveness of the curriculum and the college’s mission to the student experience and institutional integrity.

Accreditation ensures that institutions of higher learning are meeting expectations put in place by a private organization. Although the mandatory process is tedious and labor-intensive, the parties involved see it as an opportunity for the college to reflect on its institutional goals and constant improvement.

The process is overseen by co-chairs political science professor Carol Nackenoff and director of institutional research and assessment Robin Shores and a Core Committee, comprised of Provost Tom Stephenson, Dean of Students Liz Braun, Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown, General Counsel Assistant Secretary of the college Sharmaine Bradham LaMar.  

Middle States recently condensed the number of standards an institution must create and adhere to from 14 to seven. These standards include “Mission and Goals,” “Ethics and Integrity,”  “Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience,” “Support of the Student Experience,” “Educational Effectiveness Assessment,” “Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement,” and “Governance, Leadership, and Administration.” To tackle this, the process leaders assigned a working group, comprised of several students, faculty, staff, and sometimes board members, to each standard.

The college must also prove that they meet the 15 requirements of affiliation imposed by Middle States. Most of these fit under a standard, the co-chairs reported, but to handle the unmapped requirements of affiliation, an eighth working group was created.

According to the college’s website, last year, Middle States approved a Self Study that outlined the college’s standards and set up for the completed report. This year, the Core Committee is aiding the working groups in finalizing their respective reports up for review next year. This includes reviewing materials, gathering input, analyzing findings, and writing a final report.

Nackenoff and Shores agreed that even after decades of grappling with the accreditation process, it still requires a tremendous amount of work. The co-chairs reported that they spend a quarter to half of their time every day working on the process, averaging 10 hours a week, including summers, because of the ever-changing process and ever-changing college.

We do self-reflection and self-assessment periodically because we want to always be improving,” Shores said. “The institution evolves, and we should be continuing to reflect on how we are doing.”

Nackenoff called the process a catalyst for valuable self-evaluation that might not normally have been be prioritized.

“It’s a great opportunity for members of the community to reflect on where we are in terms of meeting our goals and aspirations and to think about areas where improvement might be appropriate,” she said. “You take what you learn and feed back into discussions on how you can do better in these different domains. This process of using feedback to improve is the point of assessment, and it is ongoing.”

Nackenoff said that although she doesn’t believe the college’s accreditation is in jeopardy, it’s important to take the process seriously. She added that scheduling meetings is the hardest part of the process.

“The timetable is pretty ruthless,” she said, referring to the three years allotted to complete the process. “It made us pretty nervous. There is not much room for slippage.”

Braun mentioned a different difficulty.

“I think the most challenging part is managing just the sheer volume of information that needs to be collected, analyzed, and digested into a coherent report,” she said.

Despite the difficult work that still remains, Shore said that a great part of the process is watching different community members learn and engage together.

“For students, faculty, staff, and board members to work together and learn about the college has been a really great opportunity,” she said.

W course for int’l students has promise

in Columns/Op-Eds/Opinions by

Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail inviting all international students to meet with Dr. Natalie Mera Ford, who currently serves as a Swarthmore’s Multilingual Writing Specialist. As an international student, I was interested in how college-level writing in the US differ from that in other countries, especially here at Swarthmore where every student must take at least three writing courses in two distinct disciplines in order to graduate. Moreover, because most of my professors had yet assigned any major essay (an indication that they soon would), I believed it would be useful to know beforehand the challenges international students often face while attuning their writing skills to the level expected at Swarthmore. Therefore, I attended the session and was surprised: some international students did not have trouble with their writing skill or their writing fluency as much as with the academic writing norms to which they have no prior exposure.  

Before addressing anything further, I would like to define two terms pertinent to our discussion: writing skill and writing fluency. This article defines writing skill as the ability to formulate a grammatically correct sentence. The greater one’s writing skill is, the fewer grammatical mistakes one makes while conveying an idea. Standardized English exams evaluate students primarily on this area. On the other hand, writing fluency refers to how natural one feels while crafting sentences with appropriate syntax and word choice. Indeed, all fluent writers make minor grammatical mistakes once in awhile, but we would still call those writers fluent if those grammatical mistakes do not significantly interfere with the message they wish to convey. Hence, writing skill does not correlate with writing fluency. With these definitions established, I will explain why writing skill and writing fluency do not trouble international students at Swarthmore as much as some may assume.

First, because the admission process at Swarthmore is extremely selective, it is highly unlikely that non-proficient English users could enter the institution. To elaborate, Swarthmore tests its applicants’ English proficiency on several instances before offering them an acceptance letter. Numerically, applicants demonstrate their English skill through their GPA and their standardized test scores (e.g. SAT, ACT, TOEFL, and so on). Pragmatically, they demonstrate how fluent they are as an English writer through their personal essays via Common Application. On top of that, some applicants may be interviewed by Swarthmore admission in English. These rigorous admission process applies to all students at Swarthmore, domestic or international.

Therefore, we could assume that international students have an English proficiency equivalent to that level of native English speakers.

Second, the learning environment at Swarthmore is conducive to the development of English skill. At the most superficial level, all classes except foreign language are conducted in English at Swarthmore. Every day, students read texts in English, listen to lectures in English, and complete the homework their professors assigned in English. At the more meaningful level, we analyze, criticize, and synthesize every claim we come across as we embrace the spirit of liberal arts education, all in English. In other words, because the amount of reading, listening, and speaking in English required in this institution is tremendous, every Swarthmore student develops their writing skill, their writing fluency, and other areas of English proficiency as a result. Thus, even if you do not buy into the argument set forth in the previous paragraph and still believe international students are somewhat less proficient than native English users, the gap between the former and the latter will eventually diminish thanks to Swarthmore education.

However, based on the conversation I had with my international friends, Dr. Mera Ford, and people who worked closely with international students, the consensus is that even though a significant number of international students believe they are proficient in English, they do not feel confident in their writing ability as much as they should. As mentioned earlier, such lack of confidence arises because some of the international students do not know how Swarthmore professors expect them to write. Although this problem applies to other student populations as it affects international students in particular: the latter may internalize the blame, believing they struggle because of their inferior writing ability even though such explanation is untrue. Culture significantly affects how one writes. This article will now provide several examples to support the claim and put forth some possible solutions.

To begin, the first major problem is that, whereas the writing at Swarthmore emphasizes content and clarity, the writing style with which some international students are familiar focuses on the beauty of the language. My experience in Thai education system warrants this claim. In Thailand, students learn Thai as their first language. By the age of six, the age they presumably have a solid foundation in Thai language, they will start studying English. English, therefore, is not a first language for the majority of Thai students. To determine how knowledgeable each student is in English and reduce the potential gap in knowledge, Thai teachers focus upon the language usage in an essay rather than the content. Thai education, in essence, values big words over small words, indirect over direct communication, and rhetorical beauty over logical clarity. In contrast, to write well in American settings, one must be as clear and concise as possible. I, along with many international students I know, struggle tremendously while transitioning from the former writing style to the latter. In essence, such difference in writing culture between the United States and other countries cause some international students to focus more on the language and less on the content, which is contrary to what Swarthmore professors prefer.

Another major problem regarding the expected norm of writing is citation. In some countries, citation is not expected. Rarely are students in those countries penalized for failing to cite properly. The opposite applies to the United States: one could face a serious academic probation from failing to cite oneself, let alone other authors. One of my international friends once told me that she felt awkward every time she cited because citation is not “a thing” in her country. To exacerbate this issue, because there exist so many citation formats (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.), chances are students unfamiliar to the citation culture forget to cite or fail to cite properly. Indeed, neither forgetting to cite nor failing to cite properly indicates how skillful or fluent one’s writing proficiency is. Rather, they reflect how cultural difference could potentially impact international students’ ability to write.

Lastly, the last problem pertains to the extent to which Swarthmore students use the writing resources Swarthmore offers. To answer this question, I created a survey with several questions regarding each student’s writing experience from “How confident are you in your writing skills?” to “What are your writing background prior to entering Swarthmore?” To make pertinent to our discussion, only the data gathered from surveys international students complete will be reported in this article.

One of the survey questions asks students to describe how content they feel towards the writing resources Swarthmore offers on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 = Not at all, 5 = Nothing to complain). Another asks how often they use those resources through similar scale (1 = Never use them, 5 = Use them whenever I could). Interestingly, eleven responses to the first question fall between 3 to 5, which means they believe Swarthmore, at the very least, provides sufficient resources on writing. However, when asked how often they use those resources, six responses fall either into 1 or 2, indicating that half of the surveyed students barely, if never at all, utilize those resources. Some justification include: “I procrastinate to the last minute, so I don’t have enough time to visit any WAs”; “I feel no need to use it”; “I am simply too busy.” Even more interestingly, for students who have taken or are taking a writing class, more than half believe the taking writing course does not help improve their writing skill as much as they had initially expected. Few even argue the non-writing courses they have taken improve their writing skill and fluency more than the W-accredited courses. Also, whereas two-thirds struggle with expressing ideas clearly and citing properly, virtually every student has problem with spending too much time on writing.

Overall, even though this survey by no means represents the general consensus among international students because of its small sample size, we still learn that some students know the writing resources exist but do not use them for several reasons. Common struggles among international students include spending too much time on writing, expressing ideas clearly, and citing properly, with the last two pertaining specifically to international students. How should we solve these problems?qqq

First, every class should make explicit what style of writing the class expects every of its students to adopt: if students worry less about how to write, they could devote more time into thinking what to write. Second, Swarthmore should provide sessions on citation, plagiarism, and basic writing processes, and so forth to all students who are interested. Indeed, because not every student who struggles with writing could take the Transition to College writing class, it is essential that these sessions be provided early so that the struggling students could fix whatever problems they may have with writing before taking more advanced, writing-heavy courses. Lastly, students and Writing Center should reach out to one another more. Perhaps, if the Writing Center has more flexible operating hours, students will be encouraged to use the center more. Writing is difficult. Addressing these issues will make writing way easier.  

Why study English?

in Columns/Op-Eds/Opinions by

When I tell people outside of Swat’s intellectual community that I want to be a Computer Science and English Literature double major, the response is usually something along the lines of, “Why study English?” The first time this happened, I was slightly taken aback. Why did I have to justify a passion for literature when one for coding is lauded as smart, practical, and even exemplary?

When people hear “Computer Science major” attached to my name, they are sometimes shocked, as I don’t exactly fit the stereotypical, general perception of a CS major: some guy who spends all his time in a basement gaming and playing Dota. Still, they are usually impressed, often commenting that I will have an easy time getting a job or that they think I will be really successful.

With English, this is not the case. When people hear the words “English major,” their minds jump to a picture of an idealistic idiot who, twenty years later, will be living under a rock writing poetry, attempting in vain to find a publisher interested in their 1,000 plus-page novel on 18th-century Russian idealism; or a picture of a professor in a lecture hall at a school in the middle of a cornfield wearing a tweed jacket and preaching about the importance of Medieval Literature to a group of half-asleep freshmen who could not care less.

Although these stereotypes do not cover the breadth of options English majors have after college, it is true that such majors have an average starting salary far lower than that of most other disciplines. This is a fact that turns many away from the department, even if they are one of the dwindling few who may have a passion for literature. As someone who is also studying Computer Science, arguing that starting salaries don’t matter would be hypocritical. So why study English when sticking solely to Computer Science would be the more practical choice?

English as a discipline is far more valuable than most believe. People who have never taken a college English class often assume that the department concerns itself solely with the contents of novels when, in fact, English classes — at least the ones I have taken so far at Swat — employ novels as portals through which we engage in sociological and political analyses of the time periods in which they were written and read. For example, in Professor Patnaik’s first-year seminar Literature and Law, we discussed the various ways in which Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White” helped spur the 19th-century English Property Law reform movement that eventually granted women the right to own land.

The ways in which fictional works influence the way we live our lives are infinite. So many societal trends and behaviors evolve from characters and themes formulated inside authors’ imaginations. The cultural influence locked inside novels affects the way we behave and interact with each other, especially across social and political differences.

In her critically influential text “From Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel,” Nancy Armstrong states, “Fiction alone enables very different individuals to sit down to dinner in entirely unfamiliar places without finding them particularly strange, to shuffle into classrooms with people they have never met and with whom they might have little else in common … In this respect, the most powerful household is the one we carry around in our heads.”

Widely circulated works of fiction, and the themes that emerged from such stories, have molded behaviors throughout history and continue to touch the present, tying together people across large swaths of distance and time. Throughout her piece, Armstrong emphasizes not only the supreme power of reading fiction but the necessity for writers to keep creating it.

“In suppressing the fact and agency of writing, we also suppress the historical process by which these spheres of self, society, and culture were created and held in equilibrium … and thus the political power exerted by fiction — beyond our power to question.”

We have the privilege of attending one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, and our English department is fantastic. The professors are renowned in their respective fields, brilliant in lecture, and constantly pushing their students to achieve a greater level of understanding of the text and of the world.

Further, there aren’t a lot of places where you can take both English Literature and Computer Science every semester, and the fact that Swarthmore permits its students to open their minds to new disciplines, and diversify the range of subjects explored is an opportunity of which I think more of us should take advantage.

So when you’re signing up for classes come December and you scroll past the English Literature section, give it a second glance before moving on. Even if you’re a STEM major who took Modern Algebra to fill a writing credit, you may actually enjoy learning through novels. The classes are pretty incredible; I recommend giving one a chance.

Swarthmore academic quality is dropping

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Year after year, Swarthmore College ranks as one the top institutions in the country. This year, the college currently ranks as number ten on Forbes’ Top Colleges list. Although a top ten ranking is not new for the college, it is still concerning. The reality is that the college has not been performing better, but rather worse, in Forbes’ rankings over the past several years. We once ranked as high as three, but have since clearly fallen to the tenth spot.

The downward trend is a concern to some, but for many students at Swarthmore, there is nothing to worry about. Swarthmore is an academically challenging institution, and students get reminded of that nearly every day. For some reason, many students correlate rigor of academics with quality of academics, and thus have no reason to fear that Swarthmore may one day fall out of the top ten.

But could they be wrong? Has the quality of academics at Swarthmore declined over the past several years, and has this decline been reflected in our ranking? The reality is that sometimes, students, faculty, and administration turn the other way and ignore the flaws within the college that have begun to harm the academic experience of Swarthmore students, and instead hide behind the statement that, “Swat is one of the best colleges in the country.”

We at the Phoenix no longer believe that Swarthmore is a great school, and that hiding behind the truth of the past has tarnished the quality of academics at Swarthmore. The decline in quality can be seen not only inside the classroom, but in the curriculum and academic structure overall.

Swarthmore brags about having small classes, but in reality, classes at Swarthmore are not very small, especially in departments with high enrollment. Although the student to teacher ratio is eight to one, according to the Common Data Set (most data in this article is pulled from the CDS), the average class size at Swat is 16.1. Some would say that the size of the larger classes are compensated by smaller subsections. However, the subsections are not much smaller than the classes, averaging at 14.3.

Although 16.1 is surely a small number, especially in comparison to larger institutions, the college uses several techniques to effectively lower this number as a statistic without actually providing students with the benefit of smaller classes. It is easy to see this if we ask the question, “Do most students at Swarthmore take courses that are, on average, of smaller sizes.”

The answer is no. Most students at Swarthmore College take courses that are much greater than 20 people in size. According to the Common Data Set, the top five degrees at Swarthmore are Economics at 16.4 percent of students, Political Science at 12.8 percent, Biology at 12 percent, and Computer Science at 10.6 percent, and Mathematics at 8.1 percent. These five majors alone sum to 59.9 percent of all degrees given by Swarthmore. Since about six of every ten students will major in one of these five departments, Swarthmore’s academic quality heavily relies on the experience of the students within these departments.

Unfortunately, in the top five departments, many of them have class sizes that are above twenty students, effectively falling into the “medium size” range. Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, which are both courses required for the Economics major, are both about 100 students in size every semester. With the exception of honors courses, many upper-level Economics courses are much greater than 20 students in size. Cellular and Molecular Biology is easily over 100 students every semester, with labs usually greater than 20 students. Without including the incoming freshman class, 38 students are already registered for this class for next fall. Every Intro to Computer Science section is easily over 30 students. Many reports have been posted before regarding how the Computer Science department is severely understaffed at the college.

Even in departments that fall out of the top five, some of the most important courses are large. Organic Chemistry, one of the most difficult courses at the college, will currently feature a robust 58 students. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict course is set to feature 61 students with no subsections to complement the course. General Physics with Biomedical Applications has already reached 53 students for the upcoming semester.  

“At least courses are getting smaller.” This statement is false. In Fall 2010, the average class size was 14.8 and rose to 15.7 in Fall 2015. Subsections are rising in size as well. In the Fall 2000 semester, subsections were 9.9 students on average. In Fall 2016, they were 14.3.

“So the courses might be a bit larger than we hoped, but at least everyone always gets their classes.” Wrong again. For this upcoming semester, 74 Computer Science students were lotteried out of courses. This included upperclassmen in the department lotteried from upper-level courses. Many courses at Swarthmore end up being small because the college lotteries out students and forces them to take other courses in departments with empty seats. Foundation Drawing has already reached its enrollment limit of ten each for both sections, needing to lottery students to do so. Real Analysis I, a Mathematics major requirement, is also a vital course that was also lotteried out several students.  

It is easy to see that 16.1 is a skewed number, and that the College, on average, cannot provide its students with easily accessible small courses.   

“The College is financially in a place to fix this.” One could argue this statement is false. For the last four years, the College’s operating budget has broken even, so the College is not “losing money” in that sense. However, other financial trends are concerning. The Market Value of our endowment has decreased over the past three years. This is concerning because not only is the spending rate as a percentage of endowment been the highest since 2009-2010, but also that the college is not being compensated from its spending by return on investment. In 2013-2014, the spending rate was 3.5 percent and the College received 17.8 percent return on investment. In 2015-2016, the spending rate rose to 4.0 percent but return on investment dropped 19 points, falling to -1.6 percent. The College is not only eating into its endowment to cover operating costs and projects, but is also losing money on its investments.  

Although class sizes are an important factor in determining academic quality, it’s not the only thing. Other things to consider for academic quality include advising, quality of professors, resources outside the classroom, and quality control techniques. However, some students on campus would say that Swarthmore College also fails to meet its own standards in those categories, but that discussion is for another time.

We at the Phoenix encourage the administration to fix this problem by adding more sections to larger classes, which will decrease the average number of students per section and limit the total number of students lotteried out of classes. To do this, the administration might want to consider analyzing the amount of funds given to each department to make sure departments with larger numbers of students receive more adequate funding.

Hopefully, the College can find a way to reverse its current track and begin providing students with the educational experience we were promised.

A comprehensive analysis of athletes and their majors

in Columns/Sports by

Do all athletes really major in Economics? Conventional wisdom at many Division I schools might lead us to believe that yes, they do. Economics at most colleges and universities is perhaps the most popular major among athletes, with many Division I athletes following traditional business paths. A 2015 study in the Bleacher Report of the “Big Five,” the five power Division 1 Conferences for football (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and the Pac-12), found that an overwhelming number of football players participated in business and related majors. Other popular majors included sports administration, communications, and kinesiology and exercise sciences. However, some famous Division I athletes have followed much more non-conventional paths. For example, Dikembe Mutombo, the former NBA star, majored in Linguistics and Diplomacy in his time at Georgetown. Michael Jordan majored in Geography during his time at the University of North Carolina. This is all to say that particularly in the Division I sphere, majors are more often centered around pre-professional tracks: those that create a direct path into a job in finance, sports administration, consulting, or for athletes like Michael Jordan, a side-career in mapmaking!

What is different about the Division III scene, particularly Swarthmore College? Are there discernible differences between a student-athlete at Swarthmore College and their educational experience versus a football player at the University of Michigan? The Phoenix Digital Ops team put together a comprehensive analysis of male and female athletes in the 2015-16 sports season, and their declared majors. We aimed to hypothesize what a top-tier liberal arts education pushes for our student-athletes. Do our athletes follow similar tracks to the ones Division I athletes are on, or does Swarthmore push a different type of academic creativity that transcends the traditional pre-professional tracks?

For the ten varsity male sports in the 2015-16 season, there were 103 declared majors among the juniors and senior classes of each team, which includes double majors. For example, if a Men’s Varsity Tennis athlete double majored in Engineering and Psychology, this would be counted twice in our tally. 26% of male athletes majored in Economics. Men’s Lacrosse had the highest percentage of Economics majors on a single sports team, with 52% of the players having declared Economics majors. The second highest declared major for male athletes was Engineering, at 14.5%. This was followed by political science, computer science, psychology, and math. Majors that were not represented among men’s athletes during the 2015-16 year included Environmental Studies, Greek, German Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies (many being regularized special majors).

Ian Cairns ’20 responded to the data compiled by the Phoenix Digital Ops Team, and added his own experiences as an athlete choosing his prospective major.

“I’m from Detroit, Michigan and I’m a member of the Men’s Varsity Soccer team. Currently, I’m an intended Economics major, with an undecided minor. I’m not surprised by the amount of Economics majors on some of the male sports teams. That being said, at a place like Swarthmore, there are a lot of abstract and non-traditional majors that are offered too.”

Cairns went on to comment on the difference between a Swarthmore education and once at a bigger university.

“I would definitely say at Swarthmore, there is encouragement for athletes to go outside the traditional majors. I know at larger institutions, it is common to apply to a certain school within the university for your major. I had a lot of friends who went to the engineering school at the University of Michigan, where the distribution requirements make it much different from a liberal arts school like Swarthmore. That being said, both have their benefits; I don’t really have a bias to either.”

This sentiment reflected by Cairns is largely backed up in the data. Some varsity athletes end up going outside the traditional majors, while many do major in traditional majors like Economics, Biology, Engineering, etc.

For the ten women’s varsity sports in the 2015-16 season, there were 85 declared majors among the junior and senior varsity athletes. Interestingly enough, the data compiled was vastly different in comparison to the male athletes results. The most popular major among female athletes was biology, which accounted for 14% of the declared majors. This was followed by psychology at 11%, political science at 10%, education at 8%, and economics and history at 7%. Majors that were not represented among women’s varsity athletes included cognitive science, and Chinese.

The data shows us that Swarthmore varsity athletes are really not that much different than the average Swarthmore student. The most popular majors across gender were Economics, Engineering, Biology, Psychology, Political Science, Computer Science, and Math. This almost directly mirrors the most popular majors among the Swarthmore student body as a whole. The largest majors discrepancy for athletes versus the student body was Economics, as 18% of athletes majored in Economics, as opposed to 13% for the student body, which isn’t particularly  significant. Is there something about a Swarthmore education that differs from a larger institution? For one, our data shows us that while Swarthmore varsity athletes follow many of the traditional majors that athletes and students across the country declare, there also exists a diversification in the data that we might not necessarily see at a non-liberal arts school. Out of every major in the school, every single one is represented by at least one varsity athlete. From gender studies to economics, a critical analysis of the data reveals that the varsity athletes at this school are just as academically diverse as the rest of the school. While many traditional majors are represented, athletes are declared majors in every single major on campus. It is clear that the stereotype that all athletes are some type of Economics or business major is transcended at Swarthmore. Our academic mission promotes intellectual curiosity and the liberal arts as a tool to discover your passion. Swarthmore varsity athletes and the student body at large embody just that.

Is study abroad really worth it?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

My fantasy of studying abroad began on the college tour I took during my senior year of high school. Swarthmore College, a floral, east coast school with a tiny acceptance rate was promising to ship me off to Europe and change my life. I was sold and began preparing for my junior fall abroad on the first day of college in Introductory French.  

Throughout my first two years here, the excitement of going abroad lived up to the hype presented by admissions. The Study Abroad Office bombarded us with pictures of students smiling in front of castles and beautiful jungles, while Swatties who were fresh from abroad provided us with unwelcome anecdotes about how much they miss the Spanish way of life, or how the crêpes at ML breakfast are “just not the same as in France.” Yes, we know.

I, however, do not plan to reiterate that narrative. I am not about to declare myself a global citizen who suddenly sees what he was missing all along. I learned many things while I was abroad and gained irreplaceable experiences, but I want to share what happens when you do not have the time of your life. I want to share what it’s like when going abroad is very, very difficult.

Before going to Strasbourg, France during my junior fall, I had never been out of the country. Well, I had been to Canada for an underwhelming 16 hours while touring McGill University, but that didn’t exactly douse me in multicultural knowledge. Traveling was never something my family did, and my parents didn’t have any advice for navigating a new country. Even Swarthmore’s gatekeepers Rosa Bernard and Pat Martin couldn’t predict what I was going to experience in parts unknown.

In France, I first learned a lesson of language. My main goal was to learn French, the language of Voltaire and Pepé le Pew. I had risen for 8:30a.m. classes for four semesters straight, and I felt it was time to collect my reward for all my hard, tiring work. I didn’t want to simply learn more French, I wanted to be fluent by the end of my semester. I wanted utterances about baguettes and the Eiffel tower to slip off my tongue without a second thought. I wanted to seem like I wasn’t American. For reasons I never really figured out, this seems to be a common goal of foreigners traveling abroad.

When I listened to others talk about their language immersion programs, I heard a lot of rhetoric about a “click” moment, during which one experiences what seemed like some sort of linguistic nirvana. The “click” advice promised that, after a few weeks of frustration, I could rest assured that I would start to “get it.” My vowels would sound more exact, the syntax of my sentences would align naturally, and native French would no longer sounds like gargling and random tongue flips.

Click.

This may have been the worst piece of advice I received. As I learned in Strasbourg, acquiring a new language is a never-ending battle. It’s the look of confusion and possibly insult on the waiter’s face when you try to order water and you’re not sure if you want “eau” or “de l’eau” or “d’eau.” It’s starting out your semester reading “L’étranger” by Camus, giving up after a week, and exchanging it with a translated version of Charlotte’s Web, which you still need a pocket dictionary to get through. It’s the daily struggle that I experienced in trying to understand my professors and internship director during my program.

The second half of my program was an internship in a linguistics lab. It mostly involved asking my director to repeat herself three times in a row and on the fourth time nodding my head and not answering the question that I didn’t know she had asked. I know that my French improved while I was there, but the linguistic barrier drove me crazy, if not made me feel lonely. It accentuated my status as an outsider and, for the first time, brought my identity as an American to the front and center of my attention.

Fall of 2016 was not an easy time for anyone to be an American. In my young memory, politics had never been more vicious. I watched with anxiety as the presidential race unfolded into a cock fight during September and October. I eagerly awaited the end of it until I woke up the morning of November 9th to the living nightmare that no one expected. It was not easy to feel like the only American on that day. There were other Americans in my program, but by that time, I had started working in a linguistics laboratory with only French people, who were, to my surprise, not feeling the same sense of tragedy that I was. The American election was of course covered by French media, but the French people around me were not offering me their shoulders to cry on. France may as well have been a different planet. They were French, and I was an American in France at a time when many in my country were questioning what it meant to be an American. In the moment when everyone I loved was in turmoil over an uncertain future and I was across an entire ocean, I could only think, “what am I doing here?”

I certainly experienced a plethora wonderful things in France. I miss the beautiful cities, food, and language—everything my textbook promised me. I grew accustomed to biking through the narrow streets and sipping little, bitter cups of coffee. At the end of my internship, I wrote a 31-page paper in French on regional French lexicon, something I was quite proud of. I had a touching goodbye with my internship director, too. When we parted ways, she even started to tear up. To be honest I thought it was a little weird, seeing that I never understood a word she said in the three months we knew each other and didn’t realize we had that kind of relationship. Touching, nonetheless.

Most people will say that everyone should go abroad during college. You might never get the opportunity again, or you should do it “while you’re young.” While there is no part of me that regrets going to France, I am happy to be home, and I don’t agree that everyone should go abroad. It is a challenge that, if one is not emotionally ready, can be a miserable experience. If I go back to France, I won’t be ashamed of acting like a tourist. I won’t be embarrassed for shaking a hand rather than kissing someone’s cheeks when greeting them. What I value from my journey was not the tutorial on how to live like the French—it was the lesson on how to love living like an American.    

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