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What do you want in a provost?

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

The student body has a chance to make huge amounts of change this semester and next. No, it’s not necessarily through a new walk out or protest, and Election Day has come and gone. Instead, we can guide essential programming of our academic program here at the college.  

A panel of faculty has come together to begin selection of a new college provost. As leader of faculty and director of curriculum, the provost commands a great deal of power over the academic program and a huge portion of our lives here as undergraduates. We think that most students do not have direct contact with the provost, but the student body should be very conscious of the decisionmaking process. Because the provost has the power to define academic programming for years, we should think on what our academic priorities are and voice support for candidates that will be receptive to those proposals.

Consistent considerations students bring up are a social justice distribution requirement, Credit / No Credit reform, and the expansion of programs that center on marginalized groups to majors. This selection gives students a more timely reason to discuss these issues as a campus more wholeheartedly and redefine our objectives for these potential programs instead of relegating these discussions to random roundtables on Cornell first or in committees.

These discussions could accomplish three goals. First, it will outline a student proposal to present to the college for potential change, the opportunity to connect wide and narrow interests, and give us a unified voice to negotiate with faculty and administrators. Second, it also gives us qualities and motivations we want to see in a provost. Lastly, it could also give the student body points of conversation with the incoming provost about ways to better incorporate student initiative in academia. These considerations and potential benefits are not the only things relevant to the selection of provost, and provosts do much more than just cater to student wants and motivations. However, we engage here as students most everyday, and if academic policy will be shaped for years to come, we should take initiative to have as much space in the room as we can.

As this long term process proceeds, students should reach out to professors they know or learn how to be on the selection committee. Let them know what you would value in a provost and what you want to stay the same or change about the academic program here. How can your time as a student here be made better?

Things here don’t change in a matter of a year, and usually not in a student’s time at the college either. We should take the opportunities we have to make change when the institution, which historically does not barrel through decision making, is in a changing mood.

Finding empathy

in Columns/Opinions/Staff Editorials by

This Sunday, the country witnessed yet another instance of mass violence. The shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas left 26 people dead and many more injured. Once again, we saw headlines of including the phrase “one of the most deadly attacks.” News publications increasingly use this line to describe massacres, such as the Las Vegas shooting on October 1 leaving 58 people dead or the October 31st New York City attack that killed eight people.

Around campus, however, this line seems to have lost its gut-punch feeling. Monday morning, for most of us, was just another day on campus. Students, staff, and faculty followed their regular routines. Some community members were unaware of the terrible attack that occurred just 24 hours prior, and few lost breath over it. These attacks have turned the lives of thousands upside down and scarred towns. Yet for us, life keeps going.

Anyone who watches the news will be able to tell you that it will often leave you feeling hopeless or depressed. This has caused many of us to lower our news consumption or compartmentalize the extreme things that we read about. This is dangerous. We cannot let these things become normal.

We cannot let these events paralyze us but we need to recognize the magnitude of what this country, and world, is experiencing. We need to recognize that the 26 people who died on Sunday and the countless victims of other attacks are more than just a CNN notification that pops up on our phones.

We need to find a balance between pretending these events never happened and letting them control our lives. This may look different for everyone. Some people may choose to get more involved with politics. Others may want to get more involved on a personal level and find some way to support the victims. Both of these options are valid responses to the terrible events that we keep seeing.

We know that it is impossible to give each news story the attention it probably deserves. You cannot donate to every fund or spend all day calling your congressman. That isn’t reasonable. What is reasonable is to take a few minutes every day to recognize the impact that these events have had on people and think about what you can to do help.

This college prides itself on being a social justice campus. We hold protests and vigils for many events, yet ignore so many others.

We recognize that, unfortunately, holding a collection or a vigil for every mass death would be impossible. But having a conversation about what happened with a friend at dinner is not. Reading about the stories figuring out what happened humanizing the victims is possible.  

Gearing up

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As we hit the part of the semester where the second round of midterms are coming up, the weather is getting colder, there are fewer daylight hours, and the end of the semester coming into view. With the end still very far away, many people are beginning to walk around like zombies. Many of us resort to completing each of our tasks just to check them off the list, and we end up moving through our days with a melancholy attitude.

This is the time of the semester where we all need a second little push. During this time, it is important to remember that there are some good things about this campus. It is important to do a little self-reflecting to find what it is about this campus that you enjoy.

Whether it be the salad bar, or the ski lodge-like atmosphere in Sharples, or that one class that you just really enjoy, we should each recognize what here at Swat brings us enjoyment about being here. Zoning in on those aspects of campus can help get each of us through this part of the semester.  

Maybe go back and re-read that dreaded “Why Swarthmore” essay on your college application and remember why you were so excited to come here as a first-year. Yes, you might cringe a little bit at the forced SAT vocabulary or stressed metaphors, but there might be something buried in there. Maybe you wrote about how excited you were to be able to live in such a beautiful arboretum, but when is the last time you went for a walk in the Crum? Maybe you wrote about how much you hoped to take advantage of being close to Philadelphia, but you haven’t been into the city as much as you anticipated this semester.

Misery poker and Swat-bashing are common around campus. Sometimes it can be fun to make fun of ridiculous things that happen on this campus, but going too far can hurt your experience here.

Swarthmore does a lot of things well. It works hard to support their students through externships, accessible professors, access to funding and many other opportunities.

What’s more, being at Swarthmore offers one access to a collective ethos. When something happens at this school, people know, and people care. That can’t be said for a lot of other schools, and we should recognize its value here.

This school has many flaws, many of which are pointed out in our editorials. However, we must remember that this is a place we have all chosen to be. We have the responsibility to make this community the best possible version of itself, because it is ours.

 

A dive into the archives

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

In light of recent events on campus, the editorial board figured it would be worth digging into past issues of the Phoenix printed decades ago to see what students back then had been writing about the college. Surprisingly, some of the headlines were just as fitting then as they are now. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, change has come to Swarthmore much slower than previously thought.

 

“Student Council endorses Black studies major, supports revival of ad hoc committee”

February 29, 1972

 

“Islamic cultural studies program lags”

April 24, 2003

 

“Student Council to explore course requirements”

March 25, 1975

 

“Freeze thaws for tuition; Bookstore sets price hike”

September 21, 1971

 

“Social Committee plans fall calendar; administration quashes concert ideas”

October 1, 1971

 

“SAGA food service proposes new design to reduce overcrowding”

September 25, 1981

 

“Bike thefts reported”

October 16, 1981

 

“The time to divest is now”

February 26, 1982

 

“Racial slur found carved into table”

March 20, 2003

 

“Students in dire need of space, events”

September 24, 1999

 

“Comm members, Student Council, activists charge inertia of student input”

February 20, 1973

The problem with promises

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Swatties love to make promises. Whether it is promising that you will go support your friend at their game, read over a classmate’s essay, or finish your homework before midnight, we are all constantly making promises both to ourselves and to others. The problem is we aren’t very good at keeping them.

It is not that we are maliciously promising to do things that we know we cannot do. We genuinely think that we can do it all until we can’t. A combination of not wanting to say no to anyone and thinking that we can do everything has led most of us to overcommit.

It starts small, skipping one item on your to do list for the day, or promising yourself you will get it done tomorrow or this upcoming weekend. Maybe you get part of it done, but eventually something drops. This is usually at the very last second, not wanting to admit to ourselves before we have to that we misjudged what we could do. We send a hasty apology note to the friend, classmate, or professor and move onto the next thing on our inevitably long to do list.

This overcommitment culture goes beyond just the student body population to the professors and the administration. Professors promise they will get your paper back to you next class, which turns into next week, or two weeks. The administration promises that the Pittenger-Palmer connector will be done by the weekend, when in reality it is going to take two weeks. This leads to ramifications across the college. There’s always someone else suffering the consequences of unkept promises.

This community needs to take a step back and do some self-evaluation. When we unintentionally make empty promises, it decreases the weight our promises hold in the future. As we slowly get accustomed to making excuses for our broken promises we also become accustomed and desensitized to seeing other people exhibit the same behavior. How can we fault our friends for bailing on dinner when you bailed the week before? When you turn your paper in a few days late, it is only natural to accept it back a few days later than when the teacher originally promised for it to be back. It’s far too easy to condone these kinds of  broken promises from the administration when we ourselves are so accustomed to doing it ourselves.

While it is extremely important for students to engage with the administration if we want to see any lasting change, it is unsurprising that students choose not to because of the way we fail to follow through.  It is difficult to have a conversation to make an impact when both sides are accustomed to shirking responsibility when we inevitably overcommit. As we dive into midterms, we as a community should be conscious when committing to things, in an effort to practice self care and also change our expectations of promises in order to move forward collaboratively to enact real change.

 

Institutional memory, or a lack thereof

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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 power of a name

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

If you can think back to your first couple of weeks on campus, whether that was a week ago or three years ago, you will probably remember being very confused about where things were. Whether you showed up at the Lang Performing Arts Center for a class that was supposed to be in the Lang Center for Civic and Social Engagement, or your friend told you they lived in Danawell when they really meant they lived in Hallowell you aren’t alone. Swarthmore is known for being especially difficult for newcomers to navigate; building signs are small, and maps are few and far between. What makes this campus even more difficult to navigate is the fact that many of the buildings do not have their own distinct names.

A prime example right now is the PPR Apartments. Instead of coming up with a new name for the brand new dorm, which is its own separate building, the college chose to call it the PPR Apartments. Not only is the name PPR already taken, but it is also already confusing enough as it combines three different buildings into one.

So why doesn’t the college give these buildings real names?

In addition to reducing confusion around campus, giving these buildings official names will give the college an opportunity to honor notable alumni or community members. President Valerie Smith reminds us that “by choosing to come or return to Swarthmore, [we] renew [our] commitment to the core values of a liberal arts education.” It seems like choosing notable alumni that’s life works are in line with our mission and core values would be a good way to do just that.

According to the college’s written objectives and purposes, the college aims to “help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.”

We understand that many buildings are named after people who give generous donations, but we do not think that the only way to name a building is to name it after a rich donor. No one has publicly donated a large amount specifically for the BEP, Danawell Connector, or PPR Apartments. Why not take the opportunity to name some of these buildings after notable alumni and community members?

This will give the college an opportunity to make a statement about the importance of ethics and social concern. It will also allow future students an opportunity to learn more about the college’s rich history.

We have chosen to include several possible names in this editorial. As a way to keep our list short, we have limited our list to alumni and community members who have passed away.

Lucretia Mott: As one of the founders of Swarthmore, Mott spent her life dedicated to many of the same values the school still holds today. Mott devoted her life to working on issues such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, school and prison reform, peace and religious tolerance. Her hard work can be seen in the creation of this institution, the Medical College of Pennsylvania, the Moore College of Art, and the fact that her house was a stop on the underground railroad. Mott is still remembered nationally today as one of the most prominent suffragette of the late 19th century and early 20th century.

James A. Michener: After graduating as part of the class of 1929, Michener went on to write more than 40 books. After teaching English for a few years, Michener was called up to serve in World War II where he was a naval historian in the South Pacific. It was while working for the Navy that Michener got the inspiration to write his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. As he became a successful writer he donated to many different educational and writing institutions, including Swarthmore.

David K. Lewis. As a philosophy major in the class of 1962 Lewis went on to become one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. He worked in a wide range of philosophical issues including language, mathematics, science, decision theory, metaethics, and much more. His most significant contribution was in metaphysics where he developed a theory of humean supervenience. According to Mark Johnston, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, Lewis was “one of the outstanding philosophers of his time,” and “he is the greatest systematic metaphysician since Leibniz,”

This list is nowhere close to an exhaustive list of alumni who have made significant contributions to society it serves as proof that the college has a rich history that is worth remembering.

Although naming a building after a person is a small act compared to things such as putting money towards helping DACA students or reforming our sexual harassment and assault policies, it is a small step the college can take to show that it is committed to remembering our history and reaffirming our values.

Plus, Mott would be a lot easier to say than PPR apartments.

Editorial: SGO and admin don’t encourage student voices

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Last week on April 2nd, the Student Government Organization held an open meeting with Dean Braun and other members of the staff to update students on the visioning process and to listen to students’ opinions and concerns. Although students did have a chance to voice their concerns and the administration and staff were present as these concerns were articulated, we at the Phoenix feel that the student concerns were far from addressed.  Instead, the SGO meeting space was ineffective for helping students feel validated or for creating any actual change on campus.

We at the Phoenix believe that the current structure of SGO meetings, even those with administration present, is not conducive to an actual space where students are truly heard and treated as agents of change on campus. Instead, much of the topics that are brought up do not allow for a diversity of thought and when students do express actual concerns, these concerns are lost in the administrative process. There is a real problem with the structure in that the SGO process does not seem conducive to a collaborative community since the process seems disconnected from the actual process of enacting changing and student voices disappear instead of actually being seen as real issues that need to be addressed on campus.

It’s important to note that many staff members care for the student body and that they truly want to do what’s best for their students. A facilities member at the SGO meeting discussed how they attempted to redesign one of the lounges in PPR with a minimal budget, and how they played a role in redesigning Essie’s to meet student needs. Dean Braun discussed how Mephisto’s was designed with the needs of the students in mind and how the administration was happy when students were proud to use the space. We at the Phoenix appreciate all the effort the school puts into making Swarthmore a comfortable community.

However, we at the Phoenix also feel the need to stress that the current system of hearing student voices through the SGO meetings is not effective. The administration at the meeting is too prepared to defend themselves than to actually listen to the advice and desires of the students. When one student brought up the strong desire for an outdoor study space, they were quickly shrugged off with a comment about how studying outdoors may not be the best option for wellness or how studying outdoors is not a part of the current project to make Danawell a more desirable space. First, if the administration were to listen to students main concerns on campus, they would know that Danawell is hardly the biggest priority for change on Swarthmore’s campus. Students would much rather have their concerns addressed for a student union, a renovated McCabe Library, or a bigger dining hall and smaller coffee bar lines before fixing one of the newest spaces on campus. Second, if the administration and SGO listened to student concerns, they would be willing to shift their priorities and initiatives to honor the voices of students rather than firmly abiding to their own preordained vision.

The SGO environment also fails to provide a space for active change. If students do bring up concerns and the administration at the meeting responds, they respond by directing students to other administrations in an endless circle of people to contact. At the meeting, at student brought up concerns about creating more party spaces that are not strictly wet or dry, and admin responded simply by stating that this was a good conversation, but more appropriate to address in front of Josh Ellow, the alcohol and other drugs coordinator. While we at the Phoenix support the inclusion of multiple staff members confronting an issue and recognize that jobs are delegated throughout campus, it is almost impossible for any real change to occur through SGO if students are always being directed elsewhere instead of hearing real solutions to their concerns.

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