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Athlete of the week: Audra Woodside ʼ19

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Audra Woodside ʼ19, a forward from Woodstown, NJ. has had a standout season so far for the Garnet women’s basketball team. Although the team has struggled to put up points, Woodside has been a bright spot, averaging 9.3 points per game — a team and personal high. She has had standout games against Washington College and Ursinus, scoring a personal high of 16 points in the former and securing 11 rebounds in the latter. The Garnet hope to finish their season strong, and take on Bryn Mawr College tonight at the Tarble Pavilion.

Ping Promrat: What is your major, and what are your plans following graduation at Swarthmore?

Audra Woodside: I am a double major in chemistry and religion. After I graduate from Swarthmore next year I plan to find a job in some part of the chemical industry. Right now I am interested in cosmetic chemistry, but I am looking forward to exploring various options.

PP: What got you into basketball as a kid?

AW: Playing basketball runs in my family. Two of my grandparents played when they were younger, both of my parents played in high school, and a few of my cousins also played. I grew up going to the high school games of my older cousins and I remember watching them, thinking that one day I was going to be just like them. I loved playing in high school and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to continuing playing in college.

PP: What have been some of the highlights from this season?

AW: I think one of the main highlights for the team this season was the Haverford game. Even though we ended up losing, we played a great three quarters of basketball. It was one time where everyone was in the flow of the game and we were able to come together and play a great game. We were also missing five of our players at that game, which I think made even more impressive that we performed how we did.

PP: Describe what it is like being the leading scorer for the team so far.

AW: My teammates have a lot to do with me being the leading scorer right now. As a post player, some of my points rely on the contribution from my guards. One of my teammates has the ability to know when I’m open even before I do. Also, my fellow post players are amazing. Not only can I trust them to rebound my miss shots, or make an amazing move when I pass the ball to them, but also they are an outstanding support system. They help me with things I need to improve on throughout the games and always help me keep my head together. Basketball is a game of five people working towards one goal and I am really lucky to have teammates who trust me.

PP: What are the greatest challenges in being a student athlete?

AW: Being a student athlete comes with its trials, but also its rewards. Playing a sport is like taking an additional double credit seminar at Swarthmore, and I do not think many people realize the dedication and time commitment it takes. Coach DeVarney states that in addition to our academic classes we also take “basketball class,” and basketball class takes not only physical effort but also a significant amount of mental focus and concentration. Although it sounds cliché I honestly think that the biggest challenges are time management and communication. As a student athlete you have to plan out your schedule weeks ahead and be able to communicate not only to your professors, lab instructors, and leaders of your other commitments but also your coaches and teammates; it requires a lot of planning and a decent amount of give and take.

PP: The team has struggled record wise. What are the coaches/players doing to try and finish the season strong?

AW: We are trying to approach each game one at a time and leave it all out on the court. Our goal for the next six games is to come together as a team and play with as much heart and intensity as possible.  

PP: If you could change one thing about Swarthmore, what would it be and why?

AW: If I could change one thing about Swarthmore it would be the pass/fail policy. I think it is great that we have the option to pass/fail four classes after our first year, but I think it would be better if we could uncover the grade after we decide to pass/fail if we choose. Sometimes we think we have to pass/fail a class because we performed badly on one test, but then are able to work it out by the end of the semester. I would like the opportunity to display that grade if I was happy with it.  

Peace and conflict studies gains regular major

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On Oct. 13, following a unanimous vote by the faculty, the college approved a regular major in peace and conflict studies.

The major requires eight credits in PCS, and the minor requires five credits, according to an email sent by PCS program coordinator Lee Smithey to the campus community. All majors and minors will be required to take Introduction to peace and conflict studies, and majors will also have to take a senior seminar. Honors majors will take three honors preparations in PCS and 1 in their respective honors minor, and have the option of writing a 1 or 2 credit thesis. Honors minors will take one honors preparation in PCS and three in their respective honors major.

In 1888, the college offered its first peace and conflict studies course entitled “Elements of International Law with special attention to the important subjects of Peace and Arbitration,” according to a blog post on the college’s website. This was the first peace and conflict studies course in higher education. The college’s interdisciplinary peace and conflict studies program was established in 1991.

According to provost Tom Stephenson, the peace and conflict studies program submitted a proposal which he reviewed with the curriculum committee before sending it to the entire faculty for a vote. Criteria for approving the major include a history of stable enrollment, the existence of a regularized special major, and adequate staffing.

Environmental studies went through the same process and was approved last year to become regular major.

PCS has had a regularized special major for many years, according to Smithey, who thinks the regular major will benefit students.

“A regular major allows us to create a cohort experience since all majors will follow the same set of requirements,” he said in an email. “We are also adding a senior seminar, which will scaffold the learning experience and help students integrate knowledge across their course of studies.”

That said, Smithey thinks the program has always been strong.

“If I think back over the time I have been at the college, we have always had solid student participation in the program, and virtually no turnover in the faculty who serve on the program’s steering committee,” Smithey said. “The arrival of professor [Sa’ed] Atshan and his excellent teaching skills has meant that we can consistently offer a core of peace and conflict studies courses to accompany the dynamic range of eligible courses offered by departments across campus.”

Stephenson agreed, adding that professor Sa’ed Atshan’s arrival as a faculty member concentrating in peace and conflict studies galvanized students in the program.

“[The program] really took off about three years ago,” said Stephenson. “The numbers started to increase pretty dramatically then, and the level of student energy significantly increased when professor Atshan joined the program.”

While there were six PCS majors and minors in the class of 2010, there were ten in the class of 2017, 19 in the class of 2018, and 28 in the class of 2019, according to provost Stephenson and the PCS major proposal. Atshan said that this year, his Introduction to peace and conflict studies class started with 76 students enrolled and his Israeli-Palestinian Conflict class started with 55 students. Stephenson said this increase was due to a wider array of offerings and more affiliated faculty.

“The program was existing on the efforts of one halftime person for a long time,” Stephenson said. “Professor Smithey had been the only person who had any formal affiliation with the program for a long, long time, and then we assigned more faculty to the program and then it suddenly took off.”

Atshan believes that the regularized major will increase awareness about the program.

“I think there’s something psychological when students see ‘special’; they often will associate that with increased bureaucracy and red tape,” said Atshan. “I think removing that ‘special’ from the title and being regularized and mainstream will create more awareness among the student body … and it will help us, I think, structure the program and normalize it across the student body even further.”

Michael Nafziger ’18, a PCS special major, echoed Atshan’s ideas.

“The process of trying to get a special major is kind of annoying, and I think more and more students are interested in peace and conflict studies, so it makes sense to streamline  it,”said Nafziger.                                                                                         

“For me, peace and conflict studies courses have done the most out of the courses here at Swat in developing me as a person,” said Nafziger. “My other major is Economics, and that’s very theoretical … peace and conflict studies are a great complement to that, because they’re always about reality, and about real-world issues.”

For Atshan, the work of PCS students has expanded beyond the classroom into real-world issues; he said that two of the four Lang Scholars last year were PCS majors.

Both Nafziger and Louise Rosler ’18, a prospective major, said that their friends and classmates are also excited about the major.

“The people who’ve already declared majors are upset I think, because they wish they could go back and major in this,” said Rosler. “I think that it’s something people here at Swarthmore really value, as a nonviolent approach to conflict.”

The regularized major is proof of the college’s support, and peace and conflict studies seems likely to grow even further in the coming years.

CS enrollment continues to swell, department responds

in Around Campus/News by

Sam Evans ’17 had intended on pursuing computer science as a potential major. However, each of the four times he registered for a course in the department, he was denied enrollment as there were more students registered than spots available.

“This really hindered my academic goals as I had always intended on pursuing CS,” said Evans. “It was really frustrating not being able to take the classes [I wanted to] even after waiting two years to get in.”

The Numbers

In recent years, the college’s department of computer science has seen enrollment rise at a rate which the faculty has struggled to keep up with. Professor and Chair of computer science Tia Newhall described the growth as a large-scale phenomenon affecting colleges across the country.

“It’s a national trend. Computer science departments across the country, and probably internationally as well, are growing,” Newhall said.

According to a 2017 publication of the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of bachelor’s degrees obtained in computer and information sciences increased 50 percent between 2009-2010 and 2014-2015 as compared to a 15 percent increase in all other disciplines combined. Other colleges have reported a similar strain on their computer science departments to adjust to the sudden popularity. The University of California, San Diego, for instance, has seen the faculty-to-student ratio within its computer science department drop to 1-to-44, according to a May 2016 article in the The San Diego Union-Tribune.

 

Swarthmore associate professor of computer science Andrew Danner noted that the median class size in computer science falls between 30 and 40 students whereas the median class size across all disciplines at the college is roughly between 10 and 20 students. The college’s 2015-2016 common data report recorded that 41.9 percent of classes in all subjects are sized between 10 and 19 students.

According to Newhall, the number of computer science majors has spiked from an average of 12 majors per year to 55. In the sophomore class, she estimated that there will be around 55 majors.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to the numbers that we’ve had in the past where we had maybe twelve majors a year,” Newhall said.

Professor and Department Chair of English Peter Schmidt believes that the enrollment growth in computer science is indicative of a general increase of interest in STEM programs. Still, he does not feel that the enrollment boom in natural sciences has taken resources away from humanities. Instead, he worries that the growth of STEM programs may result in a disproportionate number of majors in the natural sciences as compared to the humanities and the social sciences.

“The big thing we worry about is making sure admissions recruits people and accepts people … who are definitely saying they’re interested in the humanities,” he said. “If we get below 10 percent of people majoring in the humanities, that’s really skewing everything.”

According to a 2015 article in the Phoenix, the percentage of humanities majors in the class of 2015 was 18 percent, the lowest rate in decades. How this rate will change in response to the recent growth in STEM majors remains a question.

cs lotto

Lotteries

Katherine Huang ’18, a computer science major and student assistant in the department, observed that the growth of the department has spiked since her first year at Swarthmore.

“When I took CS 21 [Introduction to Computer Science], the room was maybe half-full,” Huang recalled.

Huang believes the sophomore class has felt the worst of the growing pains.

“The year that’s been hit hardest is probably the sophomores because sophomores are usually eligible to take some upper-level courses, but this time around, they really can’t because juniors and seniors are in them,” Huang explained.

Amy Shmoys ’19, who recently applied to the computer science major, expressed her concern with being lotteried out of upper-level courses.

“I’m definitely very nervous about being lotteried out; it’s a very realistic thing,” she said.

Shmoys, who was lotteried out of CS 63: Artificial Intelligence this semester, does not feel that she was denied a key opportunity since she had luck in the lottery system in a class she finds interesting.

“It’s not so much that I’m missing out on learning stuff; it’s that the order is [unpredictable]. You pick and choose, and you get into different stuff,” she said.

According to Newhall, now more students enroll in introductory courses than can be admitted into the class, so students in over-subscribed classes are selected via a lottery system.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we have to lottery students out of CS courses at Swarthmore right now,” she said.

Newhall believes that enrollment in computer science is growing because the skills taught are applicable to a wide range of subjects.

“I think computer science is becoming more of a service discipline. It’s becoming more important to know some computational thinking and programming skills,” Newhall said. “A lot of disciplines [are] trying to solve problems using large amounts of data, and computer science has the solution.”

Newhall expressed her regret that more students cannot take CS 21, explaining that the problem-solving techniques taught in the introductory course are applicable to a wide range of disciplines.

“We like having and want to have a more diverse student body in CS 21. [There are] students who may go onto major, students who may never take another CS course again, students who may use programming and computational skills directly, and students who may just use it indirectly,” Newhall said.

Upper-Level Courses and the Honors Program

The wave of enrollment has also affected the format and size of upper-level courses. According to Assistant Professor Ameet Soni, the department must cap enrollment in upper-level classes at 40 students due to availability of space. Newhall stated that the program can no longer offer seminar courses as a result of the large number of students trying to take them.

“We used to have, for the senior comprehensive, a senior seminar, and we just can’t offer it anymore. We don’t have the faculty resources to offer an upper level class that’s capped at 12 or 15 [students],” she said.

There have also been changes to the honors computer science program to make up for the removal of two-credit seminars from the course offerings. According to the college’s description of the honors major requirement, students must now complete two two-credit preparations, which entail combining two advanced courses from a preapproved list. The structure of the preparation emphasizes the material of one course over the second, so that there is one “focus” course and one “breadth” course.

Soni stated that the department recently adjusted its requirements, so that students do not have to take the courses simultaneously as this has brought about scheduling difficulties for students.

“It was hard for students to be able to predict when the courses were going to be offered, so they weren’t necessarily able to take both courses before they graduated,” Soni said. “We’ve loosened that requirement to be focused more on one course rather than … two courses at the same time, and so that’s added some flexibility for students.”

According to Danner, the department hires visiting professors frequently, and it has each professor teach an upper-level course concentrated in their research area during the visiting period. However, he explained that, since visiting faculty are hired for only two or three years at a time, it is difficult for the department to plan courses in advance, so student majors are met with uncertainties when planning their academic track.

“It’s really hard for us to schedule, and it’s super hard for students to plan,” Danner said. “When we have students make up their sophomore plans, … we can kind of have an idea as to what courses will be offered, but it’s a sketch.”

Regardless of these changes, Soni observed that the honors computer science major is not very common.

“We’ve noticed that there [are] not as many students interested in pursuing honors,” Soni said.

Huang expressed a similar observation.

 

“Honors CS is pretty rare because CS is such a young field, but now it’s not really possible,” Huang said, reasoning that with the elimination of seminar courses, students are less likely to seek an honors major.

In-class accommodations

At all class levels, professors have had to adjust their styles of teaching in order to cater to the increased numbers of students in their classes.

Soni describes how technological aids have allowed him to retain some aspects of discussion-based learning in his classes.

“We’re bringing more technology into the classroom in order to help us. Ironically, most of us did not use PowerPoint until a few years ago,” Soni stated.

According to Soni, when he first started teaching in the department in 2011, many professors taught from chalkboards. Now, they have switched to screens. Soni videotapes lectures and posts material online before class periods for students to review. He explained that, in this way, students are prepared for the topics covered during class, so he can devote more of the hour to engaging students in exercises and small-group discussions. Soni believed that the peer instruction format, which entails a student-centered approach to learning that emphasizes application of material over pure lecture, allows students to interact more directly with one another and learn collaboratively.

“The reason it’s called peer instruction is [because the students are] talking to each other and learning the ideas together and grappling with some of the murkier questions,” Soni explained.

Soni also mentioned that many professors now employ classroom response devices, or clickers, in their larger classes in order to gauge students’ understanding. Danner noted the helpfulness of the technology.

“More faculty are using clickers in the classroom to get quick feedback from the class. It’s hard when you have a sea of 50 to 60 people; it’s very anti-Swarthmore,” he said.

Soni noted that professors have used the smaller format of lab sections to work with students individually. He said that, in spite of the growing enrollment, the department has been able to offer more sections of each lab and has kept the sections at manageable sizes. In addition, a new computer science lab was constructed in Clothier Hall.

“I think a lot of our changes have been [concerned with] trying to still maintain the contact we have with individuals in the class as opposed to losing them in the sea of students,” Soni explained.

Newhall praised the learning opportunities a small class can provide.

“There’s just more opportunities in a smaller class for students to do presentations [and] in-class work, and then go around and look at what other students have done,” Newhall said.

Moving Forward

The department hopes to hire more faculty to bring down class sizes in response to the enrollment boom. However, Newhall does not believe that the pace at which the department can hire faculty has kept up with the rate of growth.

“It’s kind of a slow process. It’s not keeping pace with how quickly we’re growing,” Newhall said with regards to the procedure for hiring tenure-track positions.

According to Provost Tom Stephenson, the tenure process is intended to be slow since professors often hold positions for extended periods of time.

“The process for adding tenure lines is designed to be slow and deliberate, so that we can make these commitments, which can last for the careers of a faculty member, carefully,” Stephenson said.

Newhall suggested that, despite the boom in undergraduate enrollment, there hasn’t been a consequent increase in candidates seeking tenure.

 

“There are lots and lots of positions, but there hasn’t been a big increase in the number of PhDs produced. So there’s fewer candidates for every position out there,” Newhall stated.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2009-2010 and 2014-2015, the number of doctoral degrees conferred in computer science only rose 25 percent, as compared to the 50 percent increase of bachelor’s degrees obtained during the same time period. Additionally, the rates at which bachelor’s and doctoral degrees are awarded in any discipline have increased by similar percentages, each around 15 percent.

Currently, there are several visiting lines in the department, and Newhall would like to see these professors gain more permanent positions.

“This semester, more than 50 percent of our courses will be taught by visitors … We’d like to change that percentage over time, and we’d like to be able to offer more courses … We certainly recognize what the issues are, and we wish we had more faculty resources to help,” Newhall said.

Student Reactions

In spite of increased class sizes, students in the department are pleased with the attention they have received from professors.

“I always felt like my professors were there for me whenever I needed them,” Huang said.

Shmoys also expressed her satisfaction with faculty teaching.

“All of the professors have been phenomenal despite the huge class sizes,” Shmoys said. “So far, all the professors I’ve had have had accessible office hours, and beyond that, [they] are always around in the CS department, so it’s very easy to just swing by and ask questions.”

Even so, Shmoys noted the difficulty of interacting with professors on an individual basis during class periods.

“If you make the effort to go and see [professors], then it’s very easy to have a relationship with the professor, but you don’t get it as much in class,” she said.

On behalf of the department, Newhall reflected on the responses of faculty to the increase in enrollment.

“We’re trying to do what we can do, given the numbers of students that we have and the number of faculty resources that we have. It’s not what we’d like to do necessarily, but it’s what we can do,” Newhall asserted.

Huang expressed her wish for a more stable future for the department.

“I hope that the CS department will be able to find its balance in hiring faculty and holding classes,” Huang affirmed.

In the face of spiking student enrollment, the computer science department has had to make sacrifices as it struggles to maintain a new equilibrium. The future of the program remains uncertain, but students feel adequately supported by the department in spite of its changes.

From juniors to sophomores: majors we love

in Campus Journal by

As spring semester trudges on, sophomores officially declared their majors on Monday, Feb. 6. While the college offers around 50 major and special major programs, some are more popular than others.

Raina Williams ‘18 is majoring in economics, one of the top five most popular majors at the college. Although she originally considered majoring in biology, another popular major, her first course in the economics ultimately swayed her course of study.

“Amanda Bayer was my first econ professor, and just an awesome woman in the field. [She] works at the fed, for women, women of color too, I don’t know -— just an awesome first impression,” Williams said.

Bayer has not been a singular influence on Williams; the department as a whole has contributed to her learning.

“I think there’s really good support with the professors. I’ve gotten passed along between a couple professors because of pregnancies or people going on sabbatical and stuff, and I haven’t had a problem going seamlessly into another professor’s office, so I’ve been really comfortable with it,” Williams said.

Despite the support, Williams does note that Economics, while a popular major, is not a very diverse one.

“Being a black woman, you don’t see too many other black women in econ, I think there’s like two, maybe, in my class, and it tends to just be very male dominated, very white male dominated, which is fine … it’s been okay for me but it can be overwhelming for some people. Luckily I have friends that are in that kind of group so it works for me, but you do see a lot of like, damn, I think if I wasn’t on a [sports] team I think it’d be hard sometimes, just for (things like) study groups,” Williams said.

In terms of advice to newly declared sophomores, Williams says the best thing to do is to go visit professors.

“They want to do nothing but help. They honestly, like — everyone is so nice in the department … they’re waiting to help you with an internship, too, so it’s kind of lit!,” Williams said.

Another benefit of econ, Williams believes, is its capacity to be part of a double-major combination.

“It’s a good major I think to pair with others like poli-sci, psychology, even history, just like a lot of different other majors, so I think that kind of just being a little proactive in terms of meeting people, too,” Williams said.

Hayley Raymond ‘18 is part of another such other major, albeit a less popular one— chemistry. Her love for the subject began during her freshman fall.

“I wound up placing into honors chem my freshman fall … and I wound up loving it and decided this was what I wanted to major in. I pretty much knew right off the bat, just being in that class for a couple of weeks,” Raymond said.

Raymond’s favorite part of the major is its capacity and potential for specialization.

“Even though it’s all chemistry, there are so many different subtopics and subfields that we look at, and I always think it’s so interesting that even within the chemistry and biochemistry majors … you have people who are so focused in certain areas, like some of my friends will love organic, or will love inorganic, because their brain works one way but not in the other. And it’s always so interesting just to see how people’s brains work and see how you can be so subspecialized in a field that’s all still considered chemistry,” Raymond said.

However, this broad range of specific topics does have its drawbacks.

“There are things that you’re really really gonna love about chemistry, but there are also some sub-fields that you’re not gonna love so much. So I think that navigating those courses and maybe doing something, not necessarily that you don’t like, but something that doesn’t come as natural to you, because some chemistry is very math-based, then others is very much like visual thinking and flipping molecules around in your head … if your brain works in one way it’s not necessarily going to work in another way and that makes things challenging because you still have to take all of the courses to be a major,” Raymond said.

Raymond believes that labs, too  — characteristic of many STEM classes— are a challenge.

“Labs are hard and time-consuming, you spend three to six hours in lab per week, and then have hours of data analysis on your own on top of that. Especially in the upper level courses, the lab reports are challenging … but they really do add to your learning in the end. I mean, you have to love it, because it’s a lot of time,” Raymond said.

This passion, Raymond believes, is beneficial regardless of your field of study.

“I think that goes for all majors, [it’s] something that you’re passionate about and that you want to put the work in, because you’re going to be putting in a lot of hours in the department and a lot of hours in class. So it’s not always fun, but you do have to enjoy it at the end of the day,” Raymond said.

Students drop honors, influenced by changes in schedule

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Swarthmore is known for its Honors program. The number of Swatties actually receiving an Honors diploma, however, has dropped in recent years. Between 2008 and 2012, an average of 112 students received this diploma. In 2013, the number had dropped to 89. Last spring, only 82 students completed the Honors program.

There are currently about 105 students in the class of 2015 enrolled in Honors, about the same number of students in the class of 2014 who planned to pursue Honors in fall 2013. According to Provost Tom Stephenson, at least nine individuals from the class of 2015 have dropped Honors since the end of last spring semester — a number that’s “very consistent” with previous years.

“If the numbers hold exactly true for this year as they did for last year, then it would probably end up in the low eighties again,” said Craig Williamson, Honors program coordinator and professor of English literature. “We really don’t know why these numbers dropped in recent years and we’re very concerned about it.”

Provost Tom Stephenson echoed this sentiment.

“We’d like to see numbers that are more like 25 to 30 percent of the class in Honors, we’re now at more like 20 percent of the class in Honors,” he said. “We’d like to see more students finding Honors as being an attractive thing to do.”

Both Stephenson and Williamson consider the Honors program as an integral part of Swarthmore’s identity as a college.

“I think Honors is a really historically important program that in some ways distinguishes Swat from a lot of schools in that it provides an opportunity to engage with the broader scholarly community in their fields and to engage in defined fields of study in an in-depth ways,” said Stephenson.

Williamson called Honors the school’s “signature program” and deemed it “the most challenging and rewarding program overall that Swarthmore has to offer.” Swarthmore seniors interviewed, regardless of their ultimate decisions regarding the Honors program, each spoke of its unique benefit.

Patrick Ross ’15, an Honors theater major, appreciates the theater department’s support of its Honors majors. This support has allowed him to form connections with Philadelphia artists and to bring in professional artists who will help him to stage his playwriting and directing theses. He views these connections as invaluable in a discipline in which networking is the key to finding a post-graduation job.

Julia Murphy ’15, an Honors Chemistry major who has done research with a Swarthmore professor for the past two summers, has also found the Honors experience rewarding.

“I’m just excited to talk to experts in the field about something that they’re passionate about and I’m passionate about in an academic setting,” she said.

Rehana Omardeen ’15, who planned to pursue an Honors major in linguistics, looked forward to discussing her thesis with an expert in the field. For Laurie Sellars ’15 and Jason Heo ’15, the Honors program provided the possibility of taking seminars in the political science and economics departments that would be inaccessible to them as course majors.

Despite recognizing the opportunities provided by the Honors program, however, Omardeen, Sellars and Heo all recently decided to pursue course majors.

Just as each Swattie has a slightly different logic for choosing the Honors program, each choosing to abandon the program has a slightly different rationale. However, there was a common thread between interviewees:  “The single most important reason that [graduating seniors] list for not going into Honors is the stress,” Williamson said.

Heo said that when he declared an Honors major, the prospect of Honors examinations “was definitely exciting but appropriately nerve-racking.”

Ross, who does plan to continue with Honors, also noted, “The stress is so enormous. Most people think about dropping at some point.”

Nearly every other student interviewed also mentioned the association between the Honors program examinations and high levels of stress.

Stephenson specifically noted the inherent stress of being examined by previously unknown outside academics. In addition, he also noted the high intensity of the end of the spring semester for Honors majors.

“It is odd that we ask our Honors students to go through both written Honors exams and whatever final assignments that they have in their courses that they’re taking in the spring semester of their senior year that aren’t part of their Honors preparations at the same times,” he said. “That does seem unusually stress-inducing and I’ve been wondering if there’s anything we can do about that.”

For many seniors, the stressful nature of the Honors program increased significantly upon last spring’s announcement of the schedule change for the coming year. This controversial proposed change would allow seniors to graduate one week earlier by cutting out four days of study time for Honors majors and eliminating three days of senior week.

“One thing that seems fairly clear to me is that decreasing the number of days that students have to take those exams, to prepare for those exams, is going to increase the stress,” Williamson said.

While only two students who dropped Honors over the summer cited the schedule change as a significant factor in their decision, students agreed across the board with Williamson’s analysis.

“When you have three days to study for your final exams and your Honors exams, I just didn’t think that I would be well enough prepared.” said Alexis Leanza ’15. “And that’s when I really started thinking about dropping it. There were always the doubts in back of my mind … but I was pretty set on it [before the schedule change].”

She ultimately chose to drop her Honors major.

“The schedule change was the final nail in the coffin,” Sellars said. “It reaffirmed everything and erased any doubts that I’d had about no longer doing Honors.”

Heo said that the schedule change “definitely made it easier to drop, considering how difficult it would have been to prepare adequately.”

Omardeen agreed, and said that while she had previously been considering dropping Honors, “the new schedule change pushed [her] over the edge.”

“I didn’t feel like the school was honoring the Honors program or us by not giving us enough time,” said Amie Chou ’15, who also elected to drop Honors. “They didn’t really take us into account or communicate well.”

Both Stephenson and Williamson noted that they were aware of student frustration with the schedule change and emphasized that no final decision had been made. According to Williamson, the earliest they can make a decision is a week from Friday.

Leanza said that she would consider re-adding Honors if the schedule reverted to its previous iteration. However, she noted that “it is more stress regardless of the schedule and the amount of time have to study for it.”

For others, their decision to pursue Honors didn’t hinge as completely on concerns about a hectic end to their Swarthmore experience.

“I wasn’t coming at it from a standpoint about too much work, because I clearly loved the classes. I just wanted a different kind of engagement for my last year here,” Sellars said. “I just really wanted to be able to take the art history course I had envisioned taking in college or take a religion class and I felt like if I pursued Honors, I wouldn’t have as much freedom to do those things.”

The lack of flexibility in the Honors program also factored into Chou’s decision to pursue a course major. “If [Honors] had fit in naturally for me, I would have been more inclined to pursue it. I don’t like fitting my schedule and my interests around Honors.”

“I have a lot of priorities that aren’t academic that I want to focus on,” Chou added, mentioning the importance of her friendships and thinking about post-graduation plans. “Fifty years from now … would Honors matter? What am I going to wish I had done more of? Not academics.”

Literary canon with a troubling history

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

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Over the summer, I began a research endeavor under the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. The Mellon Program seeks to increase the number of minorities holding PhDs in the humanities. I decided I would read four of Toni Morrison’s works and take notes in preparation for what would become my English senior paper. Most of my background as an English Literature major, naturally, centered on European literature. Coming into my final year as a Swarthmore student, I felt an obligation to engage with literature that centered on non-white individuals and communities.

I really enjoyed the experience of reading Morrison. As many who attended her recent Cooper Series talk witnessed, Morrison (in both her person and her fiction) opens our eyes to inner worlds that we could hardly imagine beforehand. I was exhilarated by the manner in which The Bluest Eye, Jazz, and Beloved expanded my mind such that I felt as if the growth came from within me. I believe that this is what the most powerful literature accomplishes. A world external to anything I’ve experienced concretely somehow gives me a feeling of rediscovery. It’s as though I have forgotten something essential, but am finally realizing it once again. When this happens I gain a sense of wholeness, enrichment, self-actualization.

Unfortunately, the responsibility of forming an argument which could be made in twenty pages threw a damp towel on the experience. Of course, I should have known that I would have to do this in the end. However, I did not foresee the tension that would come from the personal impact the works would have on me and the academic requirements I needed to apply to them. That is to say, when something really means something to you, but you’re not sure exactly what it means, it can be an extremely difficult task to form a thesis on even its smallest elements.

When it came time to start incorporating secondary sources, I wasn’t ready to so quickly impose another’s reading of the text on that invaluable first encounter. I read critical analyses unwillingly and began to wish I had chosen to do a final paper on Paradise Lost or Harry Potter. But that would simply reinforce the Euro-centric interests I had become attached to over the duration of my life as a reader. I would be taking funds from a program that wants to offer opportunities to minorities in higher-education and using them to learn more from and about white people. To make a long story short, I turned in a final paper that was fine but did not meet the expectations I initially had for it.

I did, however, enjoy the process of writing my senior colloquium paper for my French minor. I had chosen to write about the myth of Orpheus in relation to Jean Cocteau’s film adaptation of the same title. When I was a freshman I took a first year seminar about the Narcissus myth, mirrors, and reflection. This was my introduction to the English Literature Department at Swarthmore and I was enthralled not only by the story, but by the way in which a myth thousands of years old had me considering what it means to form an identity in a world of others. Since the mirror is an essential aspect of Cocteau’s film, I was excited to revisit the ideas surrounding identity that I had encountered in my English Lit courses with my French final project.

As much as I enjoyed the process of doing my French colloquium paper, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t let go of this notion of identity and otherness. I’ve possessed this nagging thought that here I am being deeply influenced by a corpus of literature coming from a culture which, at least in the past, minimally recognized the humanity of non-Europeans. Would these authors even consider me a consciousness that could grasp and be moved by the ideas they were putting down? At least with Morrison, I was convinced she would be sure of my humanity as a reader. I did not have the same sense of assuredness while reading Ovid.

Despite having these thoughts about the minds of Western writers, I have not been discouraged to the point of rejecting the literature. It’s taken some time and effort to not be overly affected by the idea that the minds from which great works of Western literature have emerged are minds that might not consider me a worthwhile reader. Though I keep reading, I believe the lens with which I read undergoes a slight shift when I remember that I am a female of African descent encountering Western literature. This final semester I am taking the English course “Tolkien and Pullman Literary Roots” taught by Craig Williamson. Both these authors’ works present important considerations about recognizing the other as a subject similar to and different from oneself. So as I delve into their English epics, I make the choice to not feel undervalued as a reader, but to acknowledge their individual efforts as writers to embrace otherness.

 

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