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Institutional memory, or a lack thereof

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Remember when the first floor of Cornell didn’t look a think tank, or when points only worked on campus? Remember waiting outside of your friend’s dorm before and after 2 a.m. on party nights? What about the “DJ fund?” First-years won’t remember any of the above, and as time passes, fewer and fewer of the future students will hear about any of these once-common occurrences. These are just a few examples of how a lack of institutional memory can allow campus life to slowly change at the Swarthmore students have come to know. If students want to effect widespread and lasting change on campus, one obstacle that we must face is our very limited institutional memory.

Let’s take as a case study the 2013 Spring of Discontent. This semester marks the fourth year since then, and few students remember the entire story. What’s more, none of the current student body was here when it happened. During the Spring of Discontent, students protested Swarthmore’s inadequate response to sexual assault, a lack of institutional support for marginalized students, a series of urinations on the Intercultural Center door, and the college’s continued investments in fossil fuels among many other issues. It was a time when students of various identities and campus groups came together to hold the college, as an institution, accountable. Yet, it’s quite difficult to know how to bring about better college policies if we don’t remember what circumstances were like before.

Students here only really have an institutional memory of four years, and only four years (give or take a few) to make an impact on campus. Of course, a lot can be done in four years, but many things can’t. We must come to terms with that. If students, for example, want to change the fact that there are so few Writing courses in the social sciences or natural sciences compared to the humanities, tackling that issue must go through multiple committees, faculty members, and administrators. The same can be said for recent efforts to enact some sort of diversity or social justice requirement for incoming students. The same can still be said for striking the right balance of how much trust the administration gives students through its party policies. While a bureaucracy can be beneficial in preventing too much change from happening too fast, students still must bear the consequences of the issue to begin with. Our short institutional memory is a major roadblock that we frankly cannot overcome but must deal with and recognize when students want to make a change on campus.

However, the same cannot be said for an administration that has an institutional memory much greater than our own. In just four years, the administration has the power to incrementally enact widespread change without incoming students noticing the difference. At the risk of sounding too conspiratorial, we must be cognizant of the power administration has to change student culture. When put into policy, the administration has the luxury of taking its time in forming various ad hoc committees and selectively incorporating student input only when it sees fit. When taking steps to improve student life on campus, the administration must realize that students only spend a short time here. It’s possible to enact policies that will at least marginally improve the lives of students currently on campus, while still remaining thoughtful of the implications of policies long after the current student body is gone.

Acknowledging the extent of our institutional memory as a community is key to recognizing what policies can reasonably be enacted at a fast pace and what policies will take years or decades to achieve. Regardless, the administration should still recognize the fact that incremental change benefits them more than it benefits current students.

Of course, there are complex problems that need to be addressed on campus that will require thoughtful dialogue between students and administration. That takes time. What we shouldn’t forget, however,  is that students have a much smaller institutional memory than the administration. There is an incentive for the administration to keep the status quo or change policies while ruffling the least amount of feathers possible at the expense of current students’ satisfaction with the campus life. Bringing about widespread, beneficial change is slow. Let’s not make it slower than it needs to be.

 

The Musings of Mariani

in Columns/Opinions by

In these pleasant suburban surroundings we are forced to keep ourselves busy just like the Swarthmore commuters, filling every moment with distractions or tedium or predetermined socializing or total spontaneous and meaningless chatter with a stranger. The commuters take the train to Philadelphia while we get to sleep in and sit all day amidst our books, dreaming about the world we construct with our preferred abstractions, be they mathematical or sociological. Perhaps Swarthmore has lost its old bohemian character, but it remains monastic. We work hard and quietly and alone.

While we work, the world burns— or rather, it is simply getting hotter. What makes our most grave problems so difficult is that they are seemingly not very grave. It is scary how un-frightening they are. The universalization of the knowledge of our society’s worst injustices and outrages means that any impending problem, no matter how significant, does not strike us as anything new. The spread of recreational drugs, junk food, exercise equipment, and the advent of the smartphone have vastly increased the degree to which the average person can satiate themselves and tranquilize any anxiety or pain. This has occurred simultaneously with a vast increase in the anxiety and pain people experience as society decays.

At Swarthmore we have the apotheosis of this societal phenomenon. The world requires us to work intensely, so we do and are forced to avail ourselves of the various stimulants and depressants our society gives to the emotionally troubled, a category that is being expanded all the time to include larger and larger swathes of the population. We sit in our comfortable libraries and walk around our verdant campus, occasionally dining in the picturesque town that shares our college’s name, and we despair that the world is falling apart.

While I know that many people here are truly driven by a deep devotion to justice arising from a miraculous inner-well of compassion (I truly believe this and say it unironically), I do sometimes detect, at least within myself, a certain histrionic character to the rantings and ravings against the injustices of the world we are all prone to, which sabotages the honest efforts I and others do make to improve our world. I find within myself, and I see in others, a tendency to give up our commitment to changing the world as soon as we have to get up from our proverbial armchair. Once I see my pursuit of justice taking me down paths which will force me to abandon my dearest comforts and pleasures, I suddenly become paralyzed with indecision, hopelessly struggling against the ambiguity of the world. I then begin to read the news, and am outraged by the latest injustice, perpetuated  by the selfish and complacent elite who run the world, horrified that they could be so complacent when confronted with grave moral problems.

The challenging thing about the times we live in is the extent to which we all have to be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to improve our society and the world. This requires a degree of moral integrity and endurance, which many inspiring people at Swarthmore and around the world have, but which I know I lack. I suspect that some of my peers do as well. We compose and enact the society we are so hasty to critique; in fact, we are elite members of it. Obviously, we operate within institutions that need reform, but we continuously take actions which we know contribute society’s ills, and excuse ourselves through rationalization.

Speaking personally, what horrified me most about Trump was how recognizable and understandable he was to me. Growing up I played a lot of golf and met a lot of obnoxious, narcissistic, alpha-male types who I privately idolized for what I perceived to be their strength. A large part of my education at Swarthmore has the effort to eradicate this idolization within myself. Yet Trump is only the most recent and horrible product of the processes of oppression which have been tearing our society apart for centuries now. These processes are implemented with the machinery of our society, of which I, and we, find ourselves in command.

What we put out into the world through our actions can only be a reflection of the moral courage we have inside us. Fear of pain and fear of failure sap our drive, and dastardly men are free to cause pandemonium in our world. The United States of America is being led by a man who wanted to achieve the presidency for unambiguously masturbatory reasons. But our problem is not Donald Trump. Evil, prideful men have been with us for all of history. The conditions of our society created a situation Trump could exploit. We as individuals makeup our society and our actions in part gave rise to these conditions; therefore we are responsible for Trump. Even if his rise to power is not our fault, the responsibility to defeat him is. But it is well within our power to defeat him, and to fight against the injustices from which he draws his terrible power.

Affecting change from the ivory tower

in Campus Journal by

Why should your education end with your BA? For many, the prospect of entering the job market implies distancing oneself from academic environments and moving onto more practical career paths. As indicated by the large proportion of students who go on to acquire PhDs, some Swatties never truly leave the university environment. As we speak of a “Swat bubble,” some may perceive this as never entering the real world. What does a life in the ivory tower actually represent, and how can individuals make a difference?

I personally recognise its appeal. It provides direction and certainty: BA-MA-PhD-Assistant Professor-Associate Professor-Professor, to use Swarthmore job titles. Although employment is scarce, the single-track nature of the practice makes it appealing to some. By building relationships with faculty here, interested students can get an idea of what kind of life they’d be leading; the Swarthmore Honors Program and senior theses provide insight into what further study may look like.

“I like to talk to professors about their own careers and interests — they definitely have wisdom to share about the academic life,” said Karen*.

Karen is considering entering academia, but isn’t very certain — the aforementioned difficulty of finding employment remains daunting to her.

“I know securing a job in the humanities, my area of interest, is getting increasingly hard. Overall the lack of certainty in the field — in finding a job at a place you enjoy, in getting tenure, etc. — makes me uneasy,” she said. “Also, academia’s competitive nature doesn’t really appeal to me.”

To Professor of Anthropology Farha Ghannam, academia wasn’t on the table until she obtained her master’s diploma (she’d sifted through interests in law and journalism before getting to it). She attributes her change of heart to the specific nature of hierarchical relations within her field. She understands the relative importance of social status and knowledge versus financial status in academia as an indicator of worth.

“In graduate school in anthropology, success is very much linked to finding a job in academia,” she said. “A joke that I have with a lot of my students is that I think it’s because academia is very high in symbolic capital but not so much in material capital. We invest so much into these symbolic aspects that we think ‘oh, you know, it’s the only way to succeed.’ So I think that desire got cultivated in the Foucauldian sense.”

Ghannam is now glad for her decision to enter academia. She values the mutually beneficial nature of professorship, complimenting Karen’s appreciation of faculty wisdom.

“I’m hoping that my work as a teacher is fundamentally about change, learning from the students and teaching them, learning to look at things in a new way,” she said. “If you are allowing people to see other possibilities through teaching, or through publication, then you are really potentially able to offer spaces, potentialities for things to be done differently, for change to be instituted.”

Since Ghannam’s area of speciality of the Middle East, issues remain with how her research can stay attuned to this region in spite of her physical separation from it. She sees no other way than to return to Egypt (her current locus of research) every summer, and interact with the communities hands-on. In going back to Cairo, she’s able to experience those things that make her research more genuine.

“I tried, in one of my books, to describe how a child learns to cross a very busy street in Cairo,” she said. “I tried to describe that. But there is nothing that teaches you as much as being there, as crossing that road.”

Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies Alexandra Gueydan-Turek felt similarly. A French native and specialist of francophone North Africa and postcolonial theory, she returns as often as she may to conduct field research. Basing herself in a U.S. institution has, however, been a double edged sword. On the one hand, France was unable to cater to her academic interests due to its reverence of its literary canon, now outdated in the contemporary francophone world.

“The major literary outputs right now are mostly authors who are not coming from that ex-colonial center,” she said. “That was a freedom that was allowed, actually encouraged, in the United States.”

However, travelling back to Algeria or Morocco with an American affiliation means that she is at times met with hostility, due to the negative associations these places have with the West. These issues, to me, epitomize one of the main qualms I associate with academic work: the freedom to create knowledge we deem helpful and useful, whilst also being associated with a structure of power which shapes our discourse to fit the West. To Gueydan-Turek, the key has been to try and use her work as a means of repairing small elements of this broader, U.S.-based discourse:

“I hope that with my scholarship I can correct certain trends of neo-orientalism that I perceive as coming back in full force,” she said.

In this sense, Gueydan-Turen hopes to affect change within the specific field of discourse she has access to. Her role is one that, for now, serves to better others in her domain.

The students I interviewed had few doubts as to the social roles academics are capable of. Karen does not see working in a university as different from another environment with regards to the change that can be affected.

“No matter what I do or where I am, it’s going to be my responsibility to make meaning for myself. I feel like my ability to make positive impact ­­— whatever that looks like — has less to do with where I am than on my own drive and intention,” she said.

Sarah* went further than this: to her, further study provides the means necessary to contribute to society in ways she would not have been capable of otherwise.

“I want to go into academia because I do not feel that I have gained the proper tools (social skills, real skills) to help others otherwise,” she said. “So if I can inspire others to action by being an academic that would be my way of contributing to society.”

Overall, all those I spoke to felt strongly that university work allowed people to make meaningful contributions to the world around them. If so, why stop now?

* Students’ names have been changed to preserve their anonymity.

Only a month gone, but plenty to reflect upon

in Acatalepsy/Columns/Opinions by

Fall break has come and gone, meaning many of us have headed home, left the bubble and settled back into cozy beds, eating non-Sharples food. As I slipped into bed my first night home, pulling my comforter over my shoulders, I felt a rush of recognition. That simple act of getting in bed, with all its accompanying details — the slight dog smell, the weight of the blankets, the sudden warmth that contrasts with the cold hardwood floors — instantly brought me back to my life at home.

I was picking up right where I left off. This was the life I associated with high school. It felt like a million past nights; the feelings transcended time and space. Yes, I just spent a month in school, but if I closed my eyes in that moment, college seemed like a dream. My here and now was so familiar, ready to be linked with countless memories that were easily accessible and at the ready. The lives of my parents and sister seemed relatively the same as before. Work and school dominated the weekdays, and the weekends were always in demand, disappearing to viola concerts, sport practices, play rehearsals, errands and catching up on sleep.

Everything was at once comforting, familiar, nostalgic, but also stagnant. It was the same monotony and small-town life that I was eager to leave only a month before. Slipping back into this second skin, I had to wonder, is this what people aspire to? Do people want to settle into routine? Do people just want a life they can predict and depend on — a home to consistently return to, something unchanging in the midst of an accelerating world? It is evident from history that just because it’s the way things have always have been, “familiar” is not necessarily synonymous with “best.”

Change is such an essential part of life: jobs are lost and gained, the weight of death is only lightened by new births. Humans are creatures of habit, attempting to defy the natural order and attain peaceful organization. At Swarthmore, my week-to-week schedule varies so much depending on what events are going on. One Monday will never be identical to the next.

Going home is so strange in part because I am entering a sphere entrenched in routine. Not to say there are no variables to the weekly template — at home I made sure to change up my life, stave off boredom, go out and do things — but there is not the rich abundance of activities and the wild loveliness of college. College is a new place in which I’m a different version of myself. And going home makes this internal change salient.

Before beginning school, I had scoffed at the notion of an October break. A full week? So early! It seemed ridiculous. No other school had a long break, and after only a month, it seemed much too soon to come home. I wouldn’t even be homesick. Little did I realize that time has a very different way of passing at Swarthmore. One month is so miniscule when considering the four years spent at college, but it feels like eternity when you’re constantly busy surrounded by friends and fun. Swatties are accomplishing and learning more than they even recognize. It is a community that constantly stimulates, and the students rise to the occasion. In a place so rich with resources and draped in luxury, it isn’t a far stretch to say it’s “too good to be true.” Especially as a freshman with unprecedented independence and excitement, I can say that I love college. Yet, when days are so jammed with activity that a morning feels like a separate entity from an afternoon, a break is welcome.

Come October, students start to yearn for their hometowns. I was surprised by my own eagerness to return to the quaint 01036, suffering through a seven-hour bus ride that turned more into eight and a half — a small price to pay for a warm bear hug from my mom. Home is where the heart is. Home is not only Hampden now, though. Swarthmore, Mertz and 19081 are also home.

Each student has their pre-Swattie existence, a unique history that they bring to campus. These enrich everyone else’s experience at Swarthmore, but inevitably they will remain just that, stories that tell who they were and how they came to be, but don’t reflect who they are and who they will become. College is a limbo state, a festering of change, clashing of ideas, existential crises and late night quandaries. It’s odd seeing an upperclassmen in your hall dressed up to go to a job interview because that brings the real world so tangibly close.

Going home for October break leaves me incredulous about all I have done and learned in such a short time at Swarthmore. It is the shocking realization that I am already a different daughter than the one my parents dropped off at campus that first day. I am sucked so easily back into my home world, and it is instinctive to feel I’m back in high school, but I consciously know it isn’t so. College is not some wonderful world I imagined, it’s my new reality. A week is just enough to get my fill of familiar and then return to the home that I am building for myself 250 miles away. A home not yet well-known, but one that is entirely my own, that will bridge me to a future of familiars chosen by me, for me. In the day-to-day shuffle the collection of minute changes in how we think, interact and exist can be overlooked. Sometimes there is the “ah-ha” epiphany about our identities or opinions, but usually it is the everyday, constant yet subtle influences that over time reshape who we are. We go home and laugh when relatives exclaim, “You’ve changed so much, it’s been too long!” Little do we realize how accurate these statements are. When you are in a place  as progressive as Swarthmore and constantly challenging what you believe and who you are it doesn’t take long to begin transforming — as little as one month. College and home are worlds apart, separate families, but come together equally in importance and influence in what makes each of us who we are.

The faces of Paces: classic hipster fashion, with an added splash of humor

in Campus Journal/Columns/Hi! Fashion by

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When I walked into Paces for my training as a server, Michele Gugerli ‘14 explained that, as front of the house staff, I was expected to dress nicely. My combination of vintage dresses and weird children’s clothes ended up going over well. “Dress nicely” is a relative term, and, at Paces, the conception of house aesthetic is important but unconventional. This week I talked to Gugerli and Sinan Kazaklar ‘14, members of the café’s management team, about the Paces aesthetic, with its cohesively hipster undertones and unusual, diverse overtones of daily style.

Gugerli explained, “between Sinan, me, Josh and Treasure [Paces senior management] there is a pretty cohesive look.” Just looking at the individuals sitting in front of me, any cohesion of that look seemed tangential. Kazaklar described his look as “prepster,” and as a bit unconventional but polished, with a growing emphasis on quality, while Gugerli expressed love of multitudes of layered patterns, of the cheap and the almost-ugly.

I began to understand the cohesion better as Gugerli and Kazaklar described a game Gugerli plays daily, in which she names her outfit and gives it a back story. These stories feature an artist running out of the studio for a coffee break or, in another, simply a grungy girl. Recently, the game has expanded to include Kazaklar. A few days ago, he was an investment banker on a weekend picnic with his girlfriend in Central Park. All of the narratives have in common a playful enthusiasm and interest in style as communicative of story.

Their playful approach to something they clearly care about and take seriously shows Gugerli’s and Kazaklar’s hipster leanings with regard to their style. Cohesion of aesthetic at Paces comes not from identical personal styles amongst the management, but from this melding of fun and thoughtful care, and its resulting “café culture” brand of hipster.”

I would define café culture as intellectual, but not overly serious or concentrated, and cool, but simultaneously warm and welcoming. The café culture brand of hipster embodies these values. It is your classic hipster minus the pretension and with a more genuine sense of humor. The sophistication of Kazaklar’s perfectly tailored blazers and and Gugerli’s piles of grandma jewels and scarves fit in equally well, combining cool with thoughtful, warm and fun.

There is a history to the hipster presentation of Paces. “Paces today has been influenced by the legacy of its directors, who were predominantly hipsters … certain people want to be the directors of Paces and work at Paces because it has a certain vibe, and so over time that’s become the stereotype, that the paces directorate team is often just a group of good looking hipsters.”

A community of hipsters most certainly breeds originality. But Paces is also a business, so that originality is placed within the confines of what it dictates is appropriate. These are the stipulations for front-of-the-house dress: “it doesn’t necessarily matter how you’re dressed, but we always emphasize that you should be dressed well. And that’s a service element. You don’t want a server who looks like they’ve just rolled out of bed … it doesn’t matter what your style is, but when you come to work, you should be killing it.”

But caring about presentation at Paces, Gugerli suggested, also stems from the fact that the space is entirely student-run. The kind of hours and dedication that go into Paces, for all the management staff, translates into caring about that space. And “when you care about Paces, you care about the atmosphere, you care about the vibe.” Presentation is a part of that effort that can be manifested in a tactile, immediate way.

Kazaklar noted some of the little details across the space that, in addition to staff clothing, comprise that presentation. “We painted the new chalkboard, for example — the colors, the things at the top. And we have the mural behind the bar, even the flowers we buy every week.” I would add to these aesthetic augmentations the colorful walls, the little candles on each table and the student artwork strung around the room.

Gugerli explained the hope for the combined product of these details: “We are going for something a little indie, a little comfortable, some vintage elements — and that, to me, is just because it’s warm and comfortable and welcoming.” The effort that goes into presenting this image is impressive. But because, in presentation, it comes from the genuinely quirky dressers Paces café culture continually attracts, the effort avoids feeling contrived. And Paces sees the advantage of its workers’ demographic. “We like people who dress quirkily and have their own style, because its part of that image of Paces as being a bit quirky and independent,” Gugerli said.

The form the quirkiness and independence at Paces take now is not necessarily forever. Kazaklar and Gugerli, half of Paces management staff, are both seniors, and leaving Swarthmore at the end of the semester. The aesthetic at Paces has, and will, continue to develop under new management. “The atmosphere always changes over time. If the campus decides it needs a space that looks and feels different, that’s fine. It was very different my freshman year … I like the aesthetic Paces has now, if the next directorate staff wants to edit it, I don’t mind that, as long as the service and the food keep staying on that upward trajectory.”

In a space with as pervasive and aesthetically embodied a culture as Paces, however, aesthetic change happens over time, in a process Kazaklar described as “additive as opposed to substitutive … [Change at Paces] has always been building on what existed already.”

As members of management poised to leave behind Paces and the culture it embodies, Gugerli and Kazaklar contemplated the position they might find their personal aesthetics in in the context of the outside world.

For Kazaklar, whose aesthetic stands on the far side of the clean-cut at Paces, entering the grown-up world doesn’t pose much expectation of change: “I think I’ve reached a plateau, and the kinds of changes [to my wardrobe] are little tweaks, like try this out and see what people think about this, as opposed to throwing my wardrobe away and seeing what happens. It’s more, ‘let me try this pattern, let me try matching this with this.’ It’s always going to be a bit unconventional, polished, look — bougie-esque, as Michele [Gugerli] would call it.” It is not exclusively attached to Paces or college in general, and so will carry its present form largely onwards.

For Gugerli, whose style has been more formed by the realities of college liberalism, leaving does involve some anticipation of change. “To an extent, my style is going to have to evolve, because Swarthmore is very body-positive, and it doesn’t necessarily matter how revealing your clothing is … a lot of my style has come out of the fact that Swarthmore has this huge degree of freedom of what it is acceptable to wear.” Change is not in the spirit, but the details, of dress here. The acceptance of creative eccentricity at Swarthmore in general, manifests at the café.

There is immense freedom, and even encouragement, to dress in unexpected ways at Swat in general, as well as Paces, which does not necessarily exist elsewhere. Taking advantage of that freedom is a luxury Paces liberally and thoughtfully indulges in. And that indulgence provides, at least for Gugerli, a very real pleasure. “That’s something that sometimes frustrates me about Swarthmore … I do sometimes wish that people would make more of an effort when putting an outfit together, because there’s a certain level of self-care in it. I want Swatties to treat themselves!”

Party policy undergoes changes under new coordinator

in Around Campus/News by

In addition to the changes in administration and staff the new academic year brought with it, Swarthmore’s policies underwent serious alterations over the summer. Rules and regulations related to planning and hosting events on campus were no exception. According to new student activities coordinator Michael Elias, it was both the lack of clarity and safety within the previous policy that prompted the changes.

“From my conversations with RAs, Party Associates, student leaders, and colleagues in the Dean’s office, it became very clear that students felt the process was somewhat unclear and also cumbersome,” he said in an e-mail. “In addition, after becoming aware of various safety issues that had occurred at events in the past, I felt that it was best to create some improved measures of Party Host accountability, Party Associate [PA] responsibility, and ensure that all necessary campus partners were in communication about when and where events are occurring.”

The changes are not many, nor are they central to the way in which Swarthmore parties will operate, though. Party permits, for example, are now required only if more than 30 people are in attendance, as opposed to the previous ten, and are due at least a week before said party, instead of two days. Permits must now also indicate what type and how much alcohol is being served, if any, at the party, and students over 21 will be provided with a wristband before entering indicating that “they are of the legal drinking age.”

Public safety officers are free to enter parties with and without legal party permits, whereas previously, it was suggested that they would not not “enter registered parties where the permit is displayed unless documented complaints regarding the party are received.” The new policy also sets stricter standards for the amount of Party Associates (PAs) that should be present, depending on the number of guests, and for the amount of times they should be checking in with the hosts during each event.

But most importantly, the party hosting process will now be based out of the student activities office, rather than the drug and alcohol counselor’s office, previously managed by Tom Elverson. According to Beth Kotarski, in fact, “the biggest change is that the new drug and alcohol counselor will be out of the health center. It will not longer be a direct report to a dean. He or she will really take [more of] a clinical and educator role.”

This new drug and alcohol specialist will, apart from dealing with issues of addiction, lead the way in drug and alcohol education. Among several other things, he or she will start campus-wide discussions and provide training for the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team (DART). Candidates are currently being sought for the position.

“The school is looking at all their policies and I think that that’s a positive change,” said Kotarski.

Still, Elias stresses that these are interim policies.

“Over the next several weeks and months, as students work within this process, we will be hosting meetings to receive feedback about the process to guarantee that it’s working as smoothly as possible, while also ensuring that the proper safety measures are also being accounted for and that we are in compliance with state law, and our alcohol and drug policies,” he said. “Receiving student feedback about the new process is incredibly important to me and will be one of my top priorities.”

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