Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

guest speaker

David Corcoran: A Life in Journalism

in Arts by

Last Friday, nearly 60 people huddled in the Lang Performing Arts Center Cinema. Some were there to hide from Winter Storm Riley and the accompanying blackout afflicting other parts of campus. Others were there for the free dinner and complimentary copy of “The New York Times Book of Science.” Everyone, however, was eagerly awaiting a presentation by David Corcoran.

Corcoran was the editor of Science Times, the weekly science section of The New York Times, from 1988 to 2014. He is currently associate director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A graduate of Amherst College, Corcoran’s foray into journalism appeals to aspiring journalists at Swarthmore eager to start their career after a liberal arts education.

Witty and engaging, Corcoran captured the audience’s attention with humorous anecdotes about his humble beginnings.

“When I was younger, most people thought Superman was their hero. My hero was Clark Kent,” he said.

Growing up in a family of avid New York Times readers, Corcoran wanted his articles delivered to and read by households across the country. He started writing his first stories in high school, covering basketball games for his small local paper in New Jersey.

After college, he worked at The Record, a paper based in North Jersey. At The Record, he was an editorial page editor for 10 years.

“A lot of my tasks as a journalist involved answering e-mails and complaints from readers. As you can imagine, we got a lot of them,” he said.

Throughout the 1970s, Corcoran became interested in science-related news, from the burgeoning environmentalist movement to the lives of endangered whales.

“The environmentalist movement was a big deal, and people cared about that. We had no trouble publishing those stories,” he said.

Corcoran cites John McPhee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and prolific author, as one of his sources of inspiration. McPhee writes about a diverse range of topics, from plate tectonics to the Alaskan wilderness.

At The New York Times, Corcoran began as a copy editor, and eventually moved to the Science Times because of his his deep passion for science. Apart from editing and writing articles, Corcoran also hosted the Science Times podcast, which he worked on with a fellow producer. He is currently hosting “Undark: Truth, Beauty, Science,” a podcast exploring how science interacts with broader society, and discusses a broad range of topics, including hydroelectricity and ancient civilizations in Nubia.

When asked about how he chose topics to cover in his articles, Corcoran replied, “I think it’s a matter of instinct. Something seems important because it affects a lot of people’s lives, or maybe scientists discovered something that nobody knew. Anybody who works in news develops an instinct for it. That’s why we work in news because we feel like we know what’s important and want to communicate that.”

Although Corcoran has retired from the Science Times, he edited “The New York Times Book of Science,” a collection of the top science stories in the past 150 years, published in 2015.

“Science is as important as it ever was, maybe even more so because of climate change. I think that climate change is the biggest story of our time, and if you are a responsible citizen, you care about climate change. And people do, if you look at the comments sections of news. People are really engaged. Some people are wilfully ignorant, but I think that has always been the case,” he said.

Over the years, Corcoran observed that things have changed at a dizzying pace, especially the business models of major newspapers.

“Classified ads used to be huge profit centers for newspapers, but they vanished overnight when Craigslist came along. You woke up one morning and they were gone. Display ads, such as those for Bloomingdale’s, slowly dropped away. Revenue and money that were used to pay our salaries was going away,” Corcoran explained.

“The New York Times is doing quite well, but since 2004, the US has lost 50 daily newspapers and  hundreds of weekly newspapers. The number of people employed in the newspaper business was half of that in the 1990s,” he said.

Despite the looming economic uncertainty over journalism, Corcoran remains optimistic about its quality.

“I don’t see a big collapse in the quality of journalism. You’d think that if the money wasn’t there, there wouldn’t be good journalism. In some sense, that’s true, for example when news outlets close down. But for the national news and things we care about, I don’t see this decline,” he said.

Corcoran also thinks highly of specific news sites which continue to uphold journalistic excellence.

“The New York Times is different from the way it was when I was there, but I think it’s good, if not better. The Washington Post is a lot better. Along comes a couple of outlets that didn’t exist before, such as Vox, and they all do quality journalism, not to mention nonprofit news sites. I’m encouraged by that,” he said.

Upon reflecting on his experiences, Corcoran offers some pragmatic advice for Swarthmore students intending to follow in his footsteps.

“I hope you will do what I do, which is to follow your interest. I was passionate about news at a young age. I became a journalist and have never been sorry that I did. I would probably make more money and have more regular hours in another profession, but wouldn’t have been as happy,” he said.

Although he encourages students to pursue their passion, Corcoran also cautions them about the potential difficulty of finding a job.

“But it’s not so easy now. It was easy for me to get hired and get my first full-time job, but it isn’t easy anymore. Most of you are going to graduate from this elite school and that is not going to hurt you, but it’s not easy to find gainful employment which puts food on the table, especially in this business.”  

Aside from job searching, Corcoran highlights student debt as a possible concern.  

“If you’re interested in science journalism, you can go to science graduate programs, but you must be careful to not be saddled with too much student debt. You need to pay off debt, rent, and food. All of a sudden, you have to do work that you don’t want to do, which stands in the way of serious journalism.”

 

Editor’s Note: This event was organized by Keton Kakkar, with the help of the Forum for Free Speech.

Attendance at the event was said to be around a 100 people when published and has been changed to more accurately reflect event attendance. (March 9th 2018)

“Freedom’s apprenticeship:” Hard, Essential Conversations

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

While living in Lima, Peru on a Fulbright Fellowship after I graduated from college, I was reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and I came across this line, which has stuck with me ever since: “It cannot be repeated too often: nothing is more fertile in marvels than the art of being free, but nothing is harder than freedom’s apprenticeship.” At the time, it probably struck me because Peruvians were taking to the streets to change their government, but after completing my third week as Swarthmore’s first full-time Jewish advisor, de Tocqueville’s words have surfaced again, this time offering me a way of understanding the promise and the challenge of this community.

In my short time here, I have been warmly welcomed again and again by staff, students, and faculty, and I received another warm welcome when I went last Thursday to speak in Dr. Sa’ed Atshan’s class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After my presentation on the past and present of anti-Semitism, I took some questions. All of the questions were thoughtful. Some of them were extremely hard. These questions challenged my deeply held beliefs, revealed to me assumptions I didn’t even know I had and grew from experiences totally foreign to my own, leaving me a little disoriented and struggling to find words. While I have an extremely relaxed disposition (courtesy of my small children) and some experience in this kind of conversation, it was clear that others in the room were getting upset and tension was rising.

At its most basic, the purpose of a liberal arts education is to teach its recipients how to be free, and what I experienced in Dr. Atshan’s class was, I believe, in de Tocqueville’s words, “freedom’s apprenticeship.” If we simply believe what we’ve always been taught is true, or ask some questions but avoid hard questions, or hear hard questions without really listening to them and really seeing the people who ask them, we are not truly free. There is a Jewish teaching that a person can’t really be free without engaging in the study of Torah (literally, divine instruction in its broadest sense, or ultimate wisdom), and the only way to truly learn Torah is to let go of one’s attachments and assumptions.

Freedom’s apprenticeship is hard—the questions are uncomfortable, and letting go of attachments and assumptions can feel risky on many levels—and inevitably brings people into conflict, so we must work hard to continue to treat each other with civility in the course of these raw, vulnerable, rich conversations, and I saw Dr. Atshan gently but firmly helping his students to learn how to do this.

The stakes of this work are high. Not only is each individual’s freedom on the line, but when anyone opts out, settling for artificially narrowed horizons, this jeopardizes the freedom of others who are not fully seen or heard or acknowledged.

My hope for the students in the class I visited and for all members of the Swarthmore community is a year of hard, healthy conversations and genuine compassion for our partners in these conversations. Nothing would be more fertile in marvels.

Malcolm Lazin of Equality Forum visits campus, highlights queer issues today

in Around Campus/News/Regional News by

On Thursday, April 6th, the Executive Director of Equality Forum Malcolm Lazin visited the Intercultural Center for “Get Your History Straight,” a talk centered on the establishment of the modern, high-profile movement for queer rights in the U.S. The event is a part of Swarthmore’s Pride Month celebration, which was advertised through the Intercultural Center. Pride Month, typically held in October, included events on queer art, history, networking, and more.

“Get Your History Straight” extended past Swarthmore to Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College as students from across the Tri-College were in attendance, and Professor of history at Haverford Paul Farber, invited by Lazin, moderated the discussion.

The talk began with a screening of the PBS documentary “Gay Pioneers,” of which Lazin was executive producer. Equality Forum, the nonprofit that coordinates LGBT History Month and that Lazin heads, defines the film as “the story of the first organized annual ‘homosexual’ civil rights demonstrations held in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC from 1965-69. When few would publicly identify themselves as gay, these brave pioneers challenged pervasive homophobia,” on a website it owns dedicated to the documentary. The film detailed the origins of the modern U.S. movement for queer rights in the 1960s at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The film largely argues that, without these initial demonstrations that helped dispel stereotypes of queer people, the Stonewall riots would not have happened or have been as successful.

Following the screening, a discussion of the film and Q&A occurred with Lazin, Farber, and the attendees. Lazin opened the discussion with a disclaimer.

“For those that think that Stonewall was the start of this movement, I would say they’re misinformed,” Lazin said. “We don’t remember [the demonstrations before Stonewall] because people didn’t take time to remember.”

Farber guided the initial conversation, walking through issues of the conceivability of a queer identity, the pace of social change, and political tactics in the early actions compared to today’s larger movement. Lazin responded, recognizing legal and institutional restrictions on queer life like the American Psychological Association’s classification of homosexuality as a psychological disorder; noting that there are legislative, judicial, and public facets to social change; and that movements often grow to accommodate more voices, images, and people over time.

The conversation moved to the audience, and Swarthmore was introduced into the conversation. Students’ questions focused on issues of moving forward after the establishment of marriage equality in the U.S. as well as how to negotiate multiple ideals within queer and trans movements and how to make those movements not only national ones but more specific and intentional in communities like Swarthmore.

Lazin referred to the expectations of the first demonstrators for queer rights in Philadelphia for the inclusion of multiple ideas. He recalled a quote from Lilli Vincenz:

“Just to show that we were good patriots, we respected the flag. We were first-class American citizens, and we had, that was a message we had wanted to tell everyone from the beginning,” Vincenz said.

Lazin said it was important to introduce the idea of queer identity into the political consciousness then as is important today.

Farber also brought focus to the issues of campus politics and constructing meaningful relationships and coalitions.

“Understanding the roots of intersectionality will provide a pathway to understanding and possibilities. These issues are … bigger than you, so respect complexity and commonality,” Farber said.

He then argued that undergraduates should not be fooled into thinking college is separate from reality.

Following the talk, Robert Conner ’20, an organizer of the event, touched on the importance of Lazin’s work generally and at Swarthmore.

“Malcolm Lazin’s work is multifaceted and intersectional in the sense that it currently pertains to LGBTQ activism, but it touches on racial and socioeconomic equalities as well,” he said. “The multifaceted and intersectional nature and approach of Malcolm Lazin’s work and career is very relevant to the Swarthmore community.”

Conner went on to discuss how Swarthmore’s engagement with activism at different levels of community reflects why Lazin’s work is relevant to campus.

“In the Swarthmore community, we constantly deal with and carry out activism pertaining to issues at local and national levels,” he said. “It was productive and engaging to see the Swarthmore community and Malcolm Lazin interact and exchange ideas.”

Sydnie Schwarz ’20 reflected on her friendship to Conner and relationship with Philadelphia as to why she first joined Lazin in the IC.

“Robert Connor is one of my good friends, and he has told me about Malcolm Lazin throughout the school year from a point of admiration, both for his work and for him as a person,” Schwarz said. “Not only did I want to hear from the person who is a role model to one of my close friends, but I knew that this speaker is integral to various developments in Philadelphia, old and new. I have been making a conscious effort to access and engage with Philadelphia, and Mr. Lazin not only offered a historical and lived narrative of the origins of the Annual Reminder in Philadelphia that became Gay Pride but also insight of particular Philadelphian historical sites, current climate and organizations to visit and research.”

Schwarz continued, noting how Swarthmore should engage more intently with Philadelphia as a resource but as a point where intersectionality can be found purposefully.

“You know, my immediate reaction upon hearing Malcolm talk about the public resources offered by the Equality Forum was why didn’t I find this during high school when I was leading an Allies? Simple resources like a queer icon per day during LGBT+ History Month or the historical films would have created productive dialogue,” Schwarz said. “However, I am admittedly unfamiliar with current campus initiatives to uplift queer and trans people, and I do not know how I would visualize a sweeping energy of Equality Forum coming to Swarthmore. Nevertheless, I generally feel that Swarthmore needs to systematically engage more with Philadelphia. There is a richness of activism and history to the city that is very accessible to us. Especially in consideration of how uncommon this urban access is for a small liberal arts school like Swarthmore, I feel that we do not engage with it except for on an individual basis.”

Schwarz went on to describe how Lazin highlighted issues in civil movements and how they have changed since their inception.

“Malcolm made a purposeful effort to talk about issues of intersectionality in Philadelphia movements. He pointed out how many queer women initiated the Annual Reminder, yet the movement did not seem to see them as the visible founders of Gay Pride Instead, white cisgender gay men took on the face of progress for the community. He also talked about how protestors in the sixties came to the march trying to look ‘professional’ and like ‘ first class citizens,’ basically by making their socio-economic status prominent as if that made them deserve rights more than unemployed or unprofessionally dressed people,” Schwarz said. “However, he noted that organizations in Philadelphia are currently investing much focus into trans women of color, and remarked that the new leader of a major local organization is the first black queer women to hold such a position in Philadelphia. This contrasts with the resistance he saw many organizations put up about even including transgender people in the community not long ago. I feel that awareness to this hierarchy within marginalized groups and new breakthroughs concerning intersectionality offers insight about how to uplift less systematically enabled persons into the conversation and pay attention to what faces are popularized in leadership.”

Conner noted the collaborative efforts between Lazin and Farber in the discussion section of the evening, commenting on their knowledge of regional resources and historical connections from the beginnings of the movement to now.

“In addition, both Professor Farber and Malcolm elucidated the little-known facts that the modern LGBT movement began well before the Stonewall riots, and a lot of it took place in Philadelphia,” Conner said. “Professor Farber and Malcolm pointed out that there is a lot of activism and internships that can be done in Philadelphia, and that students ought to take advantage of the city’s wide-ranging resources.”

Schwarz discussed how Farber provided some context to the liberal arts campus that Lazin complemented through his more regional and national efforts.

“I honestly missed the fact that Professor Farber was also coming, but I am so glad he was there! The dynamic worked well because Professor Farber well understood the Swarthmore student and their environment — an insight Malcolm Lazin did not necessarily share,” Schwarz commented. “While Malcolm Lazin answered questions and spoke about his network and experiences in Philadelphia, Professor Farber relayed his points back to the Tri-Co education and its sexuality and gender studies, and both offered perspectives on moving forward with the general agenda and individual efforts concerning LGBT+ rights. … He is teaching a course in the fall on public art in Philadelphia that I want to take and found out about because of this talk that transformed into a general reflection on local activism of all sorts.”

Conner concluded by hammering the idea that the discussion portion was most meaningful for students as the engagement with a national figure like Lazin could provide a large amount of information and experience to student activism and understanding of history.

“The students who attended Malcolm’s event particularly benefited from getting to ask him in-depth questions about career approaches towards enacting change,” Conner said.

Schwarz said the campus could gain lessons in empathy and relationships by participating in more talks like Lazin’s beyond just the implications of activism and civic engagement.

“I was disappointed that the room was not full, but I appreciated all of the questions and answers put forth. I almost could not make it because of practice, and I know there were a lot of conflicting events and a general increase in workload as classes are coming to a close, which was too bad,” Schwarz noted. “More talks like this would increase student interest in the local social environment beyond Swarthmore, an effect that would inherently increase skill set of being sensitive and observant to all forms of learning, particularly those that are immediate and visceral. I think students can also learn a lot from the realizations Malcolm Lazin has had throughout his lifetime about recognizing certain local leaders or sites as needing to be documented as a part of the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement and his personal actions (creating films, interviewing, submitting historical marker proposals) to execute those ideas.”

Lazin’s coming to campus, Farber’s direction, and student inquiry allowed for an important discussion of where queer and trans movements in the U.S. started to gain traction. The talk initiated reflections on where the movements came from, and students now see the possibilities for deeper intersectional engagement and empathy as long as discussions like these are consistent within and beyond the classroom on campus.

Toni Morrison casts her spell

in Arts by

IMG_2110

“I’m worth it.”

A filled LPAC auditorium. A lengthy standing ovation. The moment so many have been waiting for since the start of this academic year finally came Monday night when Toni Morrison was wheeled onto LPAC Mainstage.

Dr. Weinstein’s reverent introduction of Morrison as a spokesperson for her race, a figure that has been claimed by both her time and her race, and a writer that has eluded the traps that befall an author who writes on race gave many the notion that they were soon to lay eyes on some sort of deity. What we saw instead was a smiling, white-haired, reservedly regal elderly woman with a voice to lull children to sleep.

In his introduction, Weinstein spoke of the multitude of sentiments he has experienced while reading Morrison’s works. “As a white reader, I have experienced shame at what whites have done to blacks, admiration at what blacks have survived, and pity and terror in the face of something so real.” It was gratitude, however, that he expressed towards Morrison. Gratitude for showing the injustices blacks have survived, but also, and perhaps more importantly, gratitude for trusting her imagination and conveying what it sees.

It was this notion of imagination, the individual minds of readers and the worlds they create, that Morrison focused on during her talk. She called her lecture ‘Invisible Ink’, calling it a “description of what I try to do or what I think I’m doing in my writing.”

She underlined the importance of distinguishing reading as a skill and reading as an art. She read a brief passage from Flannery O’Connor and described it as an illustration of flawless writing. What constitutes flawless writing? For Morrison, it is “writing that can be read over and over again with attentiveness.”

“I was a reader before I was a writer,” said Morrison. She recalled reading Run Jim Run and Hansel and Gretel and having so many questions about what else was going on besides what the text conveys. “Invisible Ink is what exists outside the lines and is discovered by the Right Reader.” A person who loves a particular text may not be the Right Reader for that text. For Morrison, great writing lures the reader to worlds outside the lines of the pages. The Right Reader is the one who can tap into those worlds to form a fuller understanding of the story being told.

Morrison went on to discuss the role of race and gender in the projections made by the reader. When the gender of a narrator is explicit in a text, it elicits certain responses from the reader. Similarly knowing the race of the author and/or narrator produces far more certainties for the reader than not knowing the full identity of the voice. Morrison seemed to suggest that the assumptions adopted by a reader may be put into question through the engagement of Invisible Ink. “What if we read the invisible ink and saw that it was not so?”

Recalling his first encounter with Morrison some forty years ago, Weinstein stated that Beloved “remains as shocking as when it first appeared.” He is by no means the only one who finds Morrison’s works to possess that flawlessness that allows them to be revisited time and time again. We were able to catch a glimpse of her ever resonant literary gift as she read a passage on a work in progress. “Don’t ask me anything about it,” she chuckled.

Morrison lectures, reads to delighted full house

in Campus Journal/Columns/The Scrivener by

IMG_2110

On April 7th, Toni Morrison spoke to a packed house – so packed that many faculty were stranded outside, forced to watch her speak on the monitors. Her reception was understandable. At 83, Morrison is one of the last twentieth-century literary heavyweights, a Nobel laureate and the author of Beloved, a book so universally lauded that, as Scott Bradfield puts it, even a mention of its name is accompanied by “a little sigh, a half-sensible expiration.” Toni Morrison is one of the few living authors who can visit a class taught on her life’s work.

Thankfully, the idol-worship has not gone to her head. She is a no-nonsense orator, conducting herself with measured self-assurance. The first part of her talk was a reading of what seems to be a previously unpublished essay, entitled “Invisible Ink,” addressing Morrison’s understanding of the relationship between reader and text. In twentieth-century literary criticism there was a split in the consideration of the right way to approach a text. On the one hand, you had those who sought authorial intent and backed the idea of a stable text with a “right” reading (“Animal Farm” is “supposed” to be read as an allegory for communism”). Then there were those who decried the intentional fallacy (the consideration of authorial intent) and advocated a plurality of readings: the text was for them a child let loose by its authorial mother, to be inscribed upon in myriad ways by a multitude of readers. Morrison attempts to bridge these two understandings with her idea of invisible ink. Put simply, invisible ink is the subtext waiting to be unlocked by the “right” reader. An example Morrison gave illustrates the point well: Faulkner is known for leaving narrative blind spots, points where information is deliberately withheld to put the reader on even footing with the characters. The “right” reader will take this as an invitation to engage even more fully with the text, to complete it in a sense, by allowing the information he gains later on to fill out the “omitted” portions of the novel; author and reader work together to write a complete text. Her method of criticism invites a multiplicity of readings, but suggests that some books will only resonate correctly with the “right” reader (as in “you’ll understand this when you’re older”). As with any other theoretical lens, this viewpoint isn’t applicable in all cases. In a sense it favors twentieth-century literature, as, beginning with the modernists, authors became increasingly interested in demanding more from their readers. Certainly “Don Quixote” does not need a “right” reader to unlock its invisible ink, if there is any. Ultimately, while “Invisible Ink” is a nice way of bridging two critical extremes, its terms feels a little euphemistic. Not that Morrison need worry. She has legions of “right” readers.

The second part of her talk was a reading from a work in progress. The passage was, as Morrison’s later work has increasingly become, concerned with voice. It read as a monologue by a “high yellow” – light-skinned African American – woman, relaying the difficult emotions she experienced when she gave birth to a “midnight-black” child. The candid nature of her dialogue, the sometimes uncomfortable personal truths the character gives voice to, are commonplace in the peculiar type of “moral” fiction Morrison seeks to write. Earlier in the day, when Morrison held a Q&A session for Professor Weinstein’s “Faulkner and Morrison” class, she spoke about her desire as an African American, sensitive as she is to the burdens of this nation’s past, to avoid writing “the melodrama of good being abused.” Thus, the violence and antipathy we find in a Morrison novel is her attempt to present “experiential truths” intended not to be ethically evaluated but experienced affectively.

At the Q&A students and faculty posed questions, and Morrison’s answers were gratifyingly honest. Even a fairly generic question (“What do you normally write on?”) prompted a thought-provoking answer. Morrison writes exclusively with a number 2 pencil on legal pad; not in itself interesting, but her rationale made one stop and think. An  irreverent gripe about the lack of resistance a modern keyboard provides turned into a critique of the deceptive formality of a word processor. Morrison told of how she always required her creative writing students turn in handwritten work lest the neatness of the typed formatting trick them into thinking their writing was better than it actually was. The pragmatism of Morrison’s argument was refreshing: neither a retreat into ludditism or a simple writer’s quirk, her decision to stick to writing with a pencil stemmed from a desire to remove all obstacles that would prevent the critical interrogation of her own work.

One student asked what he was supposed to take away from this moral universe, what insight there was to be gleaned from her ethical ambiguity. Morrison’s response – that the point was not getting, but experiencing, even if it is unpleasant to do so – was refreshing insofar as it shied away from the idea of reading as “escape.” If anything, Morrison’s work is about confrontation. “Forget about happiness,” she told the room full of students. Perhaps hyperbolic, but something we should all hear once in a while. One was reminded of a quote by Austrian Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.”

 

Swarthmore students prepare startup ideas for Reddit creator

in Around Campus/News by

On December 4, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, an online social news and entertainment website, will be coming to the college to give a talk and to receive pitches from students seeking to advance technology startup ideas. Ohanian will also be giving away two hundred signed copies of his new book.

Ohanian is a Silicon Valley investor, entrepreneur and activist best known for his heavy involvement with sites like Reddit, Breadpig, and Hipmunk. Swarthmore will be one of many stops on his ongoing tour for his new book, “Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed.” Ohanian gave a TED talk in 2009, was named on Forbes “30 Under 30” list and is an activist for uncensored internet use.

Jack Yang ’14 and Nimesh Ghimire ’15 are running the event and responsible for bringing Ohanian to the college. Ohanian approached the college about giving a talk at the start of the Fall 2013 semester, but received no response. It was not until Yang became aware of Ohanian’s interest that a formal talk was scheduled.

“He first e-mailed SAC and asked for help. But until late Sept, nobody replied,” Yang said. “I learned about the opportunity from my friend in NYC, and she introduced me to Alexis and his manager. Soon after, we finalized a date and exchanged an overall format of the event.”

In addition to the talk, Yang and Ghimire have planned an event dubbed “Office Hours,” where three Swarthmore teams will pitch startup ideas to Ohanian on stage. Ohanian will give them feedback on their ideas and advise them on what and how they should present to potential investors.

“The Office Hours is a special component of the Swarthmore stop,” Yang said. “We’d like Alexis to showcase how Silicon Valley investors evaluate ideas and help entrepreneurs.”

Only three teams will pitch their ideas to Ohanian on stage. Ghimire, Marisa Lopez ’15, Antony Kaguara ’15, and Meiri Anto ’16 are in the process of accepting submissions and determining what teams these will be, according to market size, innovation, domain expertise, and motivation and vision. Fourteen ideas have been proposed so far, and though only three teams will pitch to Ohanian on stage, the remaining teams will speak with him off stage.

“We have a Y-Combinator mentor coming into Swat to give a talk, so we started thinking about how we could leverage that. So what we came up with was a thirty minute session, ten minutes each, three Swat teams, pitching their idea to Alexis. And this would not be an ‘asking for money’ sort of thing” Ghimire said. “What you have is a real investor, who’s been on the Silicon Valley scene for a while, giving real feedback to people interested in starting a business.”

Sitting in on the meeting with Ohanian will be Swarthmore Alum Brian Baum ’11, co-founder of Prizeo. Prizeo is a Y-Combinator-backed startup designed to raise money for charities by connecting celebrities and fans. A minimum donation is set, and participating celebrities offer prizes to donators that are given away at random.

“What Brian, we think, will do is bring in the Swat perspective,” Ghimire said. “I think that Swat is different in that not everything about entrepreneurship that’s common is common here at Swat. So Brian might sort of step in and say ‘ok, so in a Swat context, from a Swat perspective, this is what Alexis meant when he said X.’”

Ghimire, an economics and rural innovation major, does not come from an explicitly computer science-based background, but has had experience in other new technologies and social platforms.

“In Nepal I started an innovation lab, about two years back,” Ghimire said. “The idea is, it’s creating space for young people in rural communities to come together to design, prototype, and implement interesting projects that solve local challenges.” The lab is also online at peaceinnovation.net.

Ghimire was also heavily involved in the first TEDx event in Nepal. TEDx—TED-like conferences organized independently of the bi-annual TED conferences held in Long Beach and Palm Springs, CA—are locally founded events where regional leaders gather to discuss new innovations and community challenges.

“The first event in Nepal was the TEDx Katmandu event—I started that. So I’ve been familiar with Alexis’ talk for a while.”

Sam Zhang ’14, a computer science and psychology double major, has proposed an idea for interactive free-viewing video streaming.

“You take a bunch of cameras, put them in an arc, and film a scene,” Zhang said. “They’ll take what they film and they’ll render it, and they’ll be able to cut across a single slice of time and make it look like time froze and you can pan around. But the difference with what I want to do is that I want to make it interactive, so that as you watch the video you can watch from different perspectives.”

Zhang is new to the entrepreneurial side of computer science. He sees this as an opportunity to try out one of his ideas on the market.

“It sort of fell on my lap.” Zhang said. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while.”

Zhang wants to find a way to sell this to the pornography industry. According to him, pornography offers a market for new innovations in video streaming.

“It’s a huge market. It’s the driving force of all video streaming technology. Youtube streaming video was invented by pornographers.”

From there, according to Zhang, his model will be able to matriculate into other markets.

“They’re the first. Once they pick it up, there will be innovations on it, they’ll make it more usable, and it will trickle down to more mundane uses.”

Jackie Kay ’14, a computer science major, has also proposed a pitch to Ohanian. Like Zhang, she is new to the idea of marketing her computer science skills.

“I haven’t always been that interested in business,” Kay said. “But I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s a really important way of propagating new ideas to people on a massive scale.”

Kay has proposed organizing gender ratio information for companies on a website exclusively dedicated to this information, and potentially more information beyond gender ratios.

“How do we find out what that percentage is?” Kay asked. “I kind of know how we would do that. I would write a web crawler to go on LinkedIn or Facebook, and I would search for employees.”

From there, Kay said, the idea is to expand into other forms of information in order to make access to information internal to a given company more accessible.

“This sort of information gathering should be expanded to other questions people have, [questions] that are difficult to Google. I think you need to have another technology other than a general search engine that gives people information like this.”

“The office hours require a lot more work, but it’s a lot more exciting,” Ghimire said. “Let’s see how it goes.”

Sam Zhang is the webmaster for The Phoenix. He had no role in the publication of this article.

Cornel West, Robert George to speak at Swarthmore

in Around Campus/News by

Robert George ’77,  a conservative Christian thinker, activist and co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, and Cornel West, a democratic socialist who has been active in liberal political causes, will come to the college in February to discuss their experiences and the importance of engaging in conversations with those that have different opinions.

George and West, who both teach at Princeton University, will visit the college together on February 3 to meet with small groups of students and again on February 10 to lead a collection for the whole community.

George is a professor of jurisprudence and chairman of the U.S. commission on international religious freedom. He has published many books on the topics of civil liberties, law and the constitution.

West is a professor emeritus of African American Studies and is the honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. He also is interested in Marxism, transcendentalism and pragmatism, and is author of the bestselling book Race Matters.

Despite their different opinions, George and West have taught classes at Princeton University together and have become close friends. George volunteered to visit the college out of his appreciation for his experiences as a student and the opportunities that Swarthmore has provided him.

“[George and West] developed this dialogue through teaching and conversation and they felt, having read about the college last year, that they could make a positive contribution to the life of the college and processing where we are by [visiting],” said Swarthmore history professor Tim Burke.

George and West agreed to visit the college to discuss their experiences about having productive conversations with people of varying opinions and the importance of learning from others.

“I think the very idea of their visit is they are here to talk to us about how to speak fruitfully about people despite the difference in opinion,” said Special Assistant to the President of the College Ed Rowe.

“Obviously these are two [intellectual leaders], they have said and done very provocative things, which is the nature of intellectuals. So people are bound to hold strong disagreements with one or both of them, just as they are bound to hold strong disagreements with one another.”

In addition to teaching, George openly opposes gay marriage and has campaigned against it, leading many students to disapprove of his visit to campus.

“I do not think that it is necessary to bring someone who calls the presence of GSAs [Gay-Straight Alliances] in schools ‘homosexualist propaganda’ to broaden views or spur discussion,” wrote Claudia Lo ’16.

“A talk on community building given by someone who espouses strict essentialist interpretations of many, many contentious issues, that are about gatekeeping and have incredibly oppressive outcomes makes no sense.”

Some students, however, find such reactions to be unfair.

“The reaction against George, in my opinion, is uncalled for,” said Danielle Charette ’14. “I disagree with George on a number of points, but there’s no denying that he’s a prolific scholar, a popular professor, and, from what I hear, a really kind man.”

“The fact that there’s a degree of hysteria at the prospect of a conservative coming to campus every few years demonstrates that Swarthmore has a problem[…]Princeton and Harvard students have welcomed George’s opinion on their campus. For a few hours, Swarthmore can as well.”

During their visit, George and West will encourage debate and discussion and focus on how to maintain opinions while still discussing them productively and respectfully with others.

Go to Top