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A nerd goes to Washington

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The rain pounded us and we slipped in the mud.  When I held up the protest sign, the cold water poured down my sleeve and ran all the way down to my socks.  I nibbled on a soggy sandwich and asked myself why the heck I was standing here.  Why did I spend the last two months planning and organizing buses to take students and Swarthmore community members to the March for Science?  Why was I standing in the rain in a distant city with a plastic sign scrawled in Sharpie? The answer, for me, was fear and hope.

Fear.

I’m scared.  I just lectured in Bio 2 (our introductory biology course) on extinction rates and global warming.  I went to the scientific literature, preparing to write my lecture for Bio 2 from scratch with an open mind.  Even without global warming, the outlook is bleak as a result of environmental destruction.  Add in global warming, and we really are on the precipice of a sixth mass extinction, one that could surpass the extinction that killed the dinosaurs.  Let that sink in for a moment. Humans are killing off species at a faster rate than the extinction triggered by a six-mile-wide asteroid.

And yet, we can’t even get the people in power to listen to facts.  Climate change is a problem, vaccines save lives and do not cause autism; these are facts that are scientifically verified, tested, retested, and yet the current administration and many in Congress act as if these are debatable and subjective ideas. The solutions are complicated and we need people of all perspectives working on smart answers that solve the biological problems while also doing it in a fair and socially just manner.  The political conversation should be about how to deal with these problems, not about the fundamental scientific facts.  For me, one of the main messages of the March was a plea for rational, fact-based decision-making from our government.

I’m a nerd, and perhaps I’ve read too much dystopian science fiction, but my inner Orwell tells me to be very worried.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when the current administration put a gag order on our scientific agencies, but I still reeled from the news. When governments hide the truth, it is never a good sign.  Government scientists dedicate their careers to serving our country through their knowledge and expertise of the natural world.  We need to know what they are discovering and how it could impact our country.  Our tax dollars pay their salaries and now they aren’t even allowed to tell us what they are finding. The recent proposed budget cuts to scientific agencies are also terrifying. Cutting the budget of the National Institutes of Health by 18 percent will slow the development of the cure for cancer.  Gutting the EPA will keep us from understanding the effects of fracking on drinking water.  How can we stop global warming if the Department of Energy’s research into alternative fuels is cut by 44 percent?  How are the science students I’m training going to find jobs if research is no longer a national priority?

And so, I asked the local chapter of Sigma Xi for funding, emailed bus companies, bought all the rain ponchos at Target, hung up posters, and stood in the mud because I am afraid of the future of science and of our democracy.

Hope.

I love science.  I love the nerdy facts, the awkward people, and the goofy fun that happens when people spend hours and hours to help each other add one more number to a spreadsheet just to answer a rudimentary question.  I love the excitement people get when they discover something new, no matter how small.  I love that scientists gasp out loud when beautifully elegant results are unveiled at a conference.  I have hope that if we are smart enough and loud enough and if scientists can effectively share our love of discovery with the public, we can actually save the world.

I hope that the energy generated by the March for Science and similar acts of resistance inspires students to spend their lives making a lasting impact.  Swarthmore students go on to do great things.  One of the speakers at the podium was Christiana Figueres, an architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the previous Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. She was also a Swarthmore anthropology major who graduated in 1979.

I hope that the March for Science gets more Swarthmore students to vote.  In the 2012 Presidential election only 46.7% of Swarthmore students voted, less than the average of similar schools.  If there is one thing that should motivate Swarthmore students, it should be avoiding getting an F, even for voter turnout.  Come on! The issues surrounding the March for Science are important. They require everyone to pay attention and make informed choices about who is granted power. And it’s not enough to show up only for national races; we should be packing the polling stations for local elections too.

I hope that once finals are over (or maybe during reading week), students call or write to their local leaders.  I hope they can find common ground with those with whom they usually disagree.  Perhaps enough letters will convince a senator that science is good for jobs, good for democracy, and good for our health.  This weekend (while writing my final) I am going to write Senator Toomey and lay out why funding the NIH is important for the economy of Philadelphia.  This is not because the economy is necessarily my most pressing concern, but because I think it is a subject where there is common ground between us.

I also Marched for Science because I am hopeful we can make science into the universal enterprise it should be.  At the March, there were signs that read “science is universal” and “science is for everyone.” Although this should be true, science is hardly universal; billions of people don’t have access to the findings of science, its beneficial products, or even the chance to get a basic education in science.  We still have serious biases in our hiring and publishing practices. Systems of privilege and differences in economic opportunities to continue make success in science an uphill battle for many.  When the March for Science was announced, these problems came to the fore and forced the community to publicly address them.  The March organizers drafted principles of diversity, acknowledging that science is struggling with its own internal troubles even as we protest against science deniers. And there were hints of change at the March that gave me hope that we will make science better. Many people carried signs celebrating the contributions of scientists who have been ignored because of their identity, others proudly claimed their own identities on shirts and signs, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook coalesced around solutions for greater inclusion and outreach to the underserved.

This is not to say we won’t be discouraged. Even small acts, like organizing buses for a march can wear you down.  Many more people signed up for the buses than showed up at 6 am on the rainy day of the march.  I began to get discouraged, and then I tripped over a small child.  One of the faculty and her partner had brought their son, a self-reported 5 and 1/3 year old. I asked him why he was here.  He replied, “I want to be a biolologist when I grow up.” That did it.  I packed away my frustration and decided to be hopeful.  Hopeful that we can make the world a place where there are enough species left for him to study, hopeful that his findings won’t be censored, hopeful that his leaders will make fact-based policies, hopeful that science will be well funded, and hopeful that when he is a biolologist, science will be an inclusive enterprise where everyone is welcome.

References

Current administration puts a gag order on scientific agencies

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/24/epa-department-agriculture-social-media-gag-order-trump

Proposed Budget cuts to scientific agencies

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/03/trumps-first-budget-analysis-and-reaction

Principles for diversity at the Science March

https://www.marchforscience.com/diversity-principles/

President Smith: Peaceful protest at Swarthmore

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Peaceful protest and free speech have always been central to Swarthmore’s ethos, history, and identity. Today I want to reaffirm our long-standing commitment to the right of our students and all members of our community to protest peacefully. This right is among our proudest traditions and most essential values.

In April and May of 2015, students sat in peaceful protest in the hallway outside the Investment Office for almost five weeks, without incurring any conduct violations whatsoever. In fact, our student conduct policy explicitly and unequivocally supports students’ right to express their views, feelings, and beliefs inside and outside the classroom and to support causes publicly, including by demonstration. The policy clearly states, however, that these freedoms of expression must not “impinge on the rights of other members of the community” or the “essential operations of the College.” Disrupting the work of staff members or of an office violates this policy and intrudes on the rights of individuals.

On February 24, a group of ​three dozen community members who are passionate about climate change and support divestment, ​held a sit-in on the second floor of Parrish Hall in front of the Investment Office, the same hallway as in 2015. It was their right to do so, as it was in 2015. Most of the assembled students remained in the hallway, but some crowded into the Chief Investment Officer’s small office, preventing him from completing all but the most menial of tasks and restricting his movements and rights. The students who occupied the Investment Office were warned multiple times that they were in violation of the student conduct policy and were given the chance to move to the hallway to continue their protest. Several chose to return to the hallway; five others chose to remain in the office despite multiple warnings that they were occupying a staff member’s workspace and preventing him from doing his job.

Refusal to leave a staff member’s office clearly does not adhere to our student conduct policy. That policy needs to be applied equally and consistently, no matter who breaches it. And when there are intentional breaches, it is fair that those doing so face potential consequences which might include a warning or probation.

Here at Swarthmore we have focused considerable attention and resources on changing our energy use on our campus. We are now leading efforts to galvanize the institution of a carbon charge on college and university campuses around the country, and we are encouraging other higher education institutions to support carbon pricing publicly. Faculty in our Environmental Studies program offer courses that educate our students about the causes and consequences of climate change so that they might be empowered to create solutions to this urgent challenge. More than a dozen student organizations are dedicated to sustainability and to making a positive difference on this campus and in the world. While we may disagree with those who support divestment as a strategy, we agree on fundamental principles, including our deep commitment to environment sustainability and our enduring respect for peaceful protest both on this campus and beyond.

Valerie Smith, President

 

Despite strain, writing course requirement to remain unchanged for the near future

in Around Campus/News by

As the class of 2019 completes the sophomore planning process, and students look ahead toward deciding their future courses, disparities in writing-intensive course offerings between departments has initiated few discussions of changes to the program by the Office of the Provost.

One of multiple requirements students have to complete before graduation, the writing course requirement prescribes students to complete three designated W courses. Those courses must also be completed in at least two divisions. Courses are determined to be writing courses after a professor applies through the college’s Curriculum Committee. Professors describe their course to the committee, submit the syllabus, and the committee determines if some modifications are needed before the registrar can mark the course as a W course. The Curriculum Committee consists of the four division chairs, the registrar, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, the Associate Provost for Educational Programs, three students, and the Provost.

Provost Tom Stephenson further elaborated on the Curriculum Committee’s process for determining writing courses.

“It’s not really a vote. We just talk about it and try to reach consensus. If there are serious objections raised, then those get fed back to the faculty member,” he said.

Courses that involve a lot of writing are not necessarily designated as official writing courses. That designation depends on a professor’s decision to apply through the Curriculum Committee. Furthermore, while writing courses do not necessarily have to include involvement of the college’s Writing Center and its Writing Associates, many do. Associate Professor of English literature and Director of the Writing Associate Program Jill Gladstein further explained the Writing Center’s role in helping professors provide writing courses to students.

“I am not directly responsible for the W courses. If a W course requests to have a WA, I will assign somebody, but as far as overseeing the implementation of W courses, that takes place more through the Curriculum Committee,” she said. “When the original proposal was written up for W courses, in there, I believe it said that writing courses would have priority over having WAs assigned. But, you didn’t have to.”

In regard to the demand for WAs over the years, Gladstein explained that there hasn’t been a decline.

“There are some classes like BIO 001 and BIO 002 that use WAs all the time. That predates me,” she said.

Gladstein also mentioned other large classes like PSYCH 025 and EDUC 014 that utilize multiple WAs.

“There are certain departments and courses that have utilized WAs since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here for around 15 years. And then there’s always a rotating faculty. Some new faculty come in and learn about the program and they decide to utilize WAs with their courses,” continued Gladstein.

While writing courses have been offered in every department at least once in the past, there are disparities in the distribution of writing courses across academic departments, especially in regard to departments that have undergone significant enrollment pressures in the past few years.

Since the fall of 2011, there has been one writing course offered in the economics department and 28 in the political science department. Compared to other departments that have experienced less enrollment pressure like the history department, there has been a more significant amount of writing courses offered. Over the same time period, 61 writing courses and sections of courses were offered in the history department. Some honors theses sections were marked W while others were not.

Stephenson offered an explanation for why this disparity exists.

“Part of the requirement for writing courses is there needs to be active mentoring of students in writing. Over the course there’s supposed to be a process of revision that may or may not involve WAs. And so, there’s a perception that it involves significant work and time investment by the faculty member. As a result, it is allowed but not required that faculty can cap enrollment of writing courses at 15,” he said.

Stephenson went on to say that departments that are under enrollment pressures like political science and economics don’t offer first year seminars or writing courses, leaving writing courses to be offered by smaller departments.

Professor of religion Steven Hopkins explained his reasoning for having his Patterns of East Asian Religions class be a writing course, despite the class exceeding more than 30 students.

“It is something that I’ve done since the beginning when I inherited this class. We’ve always done it in the department. Our intro courses have often been linked to writing courses, because writing is important to our department, particularly drafts and re-writes. And so, for the past years, I’ve kept it that way because I value the process,” he said. “It is difficult to deploy WAs. It takes time and energy from the professor. You have to have patience to deal with students that are scheduled and getting schedules on time. Logistically, I think maybe a lot of my peers think it’s a bit unwieldy if you have a large class, to manage WAs along with everything else.”

Professor of economics Mark Kuperberg also provided a similar explanation for why there is a significant lack of writing courses in some departments.

“Writing courses are a supply and demand thing. From the supply side, there’s this whole issue of freeing up professors and what other professors will have to teach in terms of total amount of students. On the demand side is whether a professor even wants to teach a writing course,” he said.

Kuperberg also predicted that this lack of writing courses would not change in the future. According to him, the college’s plans to increase the student body, increase the amount of faculty, and decrease the amount of courses professors must teach from five to four per year give a net effect of increasing the amount of students professors must teach in the department. This would further decrease the possibility of the economics department offering more writing courses in the future.

However, Kuperberg did not necessarily see a lower amount of writing courses in high enrollment departments as a bad thing.

“The writing course is also a clever way of incentivizing students to take courses in under enrolled departments. The highly enrolled departments are going to be less willing to offer writing courses, the lower enrolled departments are more willing to offer writing courses. Writing is something dependent on the subject. But, good writing is good writing, I believe. Wherever you take a writing course, it should improve your writing. It does have the side effect of pushing students into less enrolled departments. That’s not a bad thing necessarily,” he said.

Hopkins also agreed that the writing course requirement has been useful in exposing more students to the department.

However, some students like Sam Wallach Hanson ’18 wished that writing courses would have been useful in the economics department.

“I would have loved to learn more about writing for economics before jumping into some of the higher level courses. I’m also now about to enter my senior year with only two of my three writing requirements completed, as neither my major nor my minor offers any writing courses. I’ve enjoyed the writing courses I’ve taken in other departments, but I wish I could have taken W courses that were a bit more applicable to my areas of study,” said Hanson.

Ava Shafiei ’19, a WA, also shared her critique of the current writing course requirement.

“It’s not necessarily the amount of W courses that’s a problem. I think it’s that they’re distributed unevenly across departments, and that different professors and different departments treat WA courses with different levels of not only rigor but different pedagogical styles, and I think that makes a difficult for students to really gain the writing skills they need for want at college,” she said.

For other students, like Mohammad Boozarjohmehri ’19,  fulfilling the writing course requirement did not provide any difficulty.

“I met all my requirements, and I didn’t even know I met them all,” he quipped.

Despite the disparity in the amount of writing courses between departments, Stephenson signaled that there would not be concrete changes to the writing course requirement in the near future. He did mention, however, that the college’s Council on Educational Policy has been in the process of re-thinking graduation requirements.

“CEP, responsible for more broad-range curricular planning, is looking more generally at graduation requirements as a whole. And the writing course requirement is a big graduation requirement topic. One of the issues on our agenda is to think more holistically about graduation requirements. That work has been underway for a while, and we haven’t reached any conclusions. We’ve collected some data about the writing requirement, but haven’t really had the opportunity to digest it,” said Stephenson.

That data concerns polling departments about what sort of writing they do in their curriculum that is designated in writing courses versus non writing courses. According to Stephenson, one of the main criticisms of the writing course requirement learned so far is that there are very writing intensive courses that do not carry the W designation.

If the CEP does come up with a policy proposal to change the writing course requirement, the proposal would be voted on by faculty and need to be passed by a simple majority after public discussions. Also, the new policy change would only affect future students, and not ones currently enrolled. However, Stephenson noted that he does not see a policy change happening for a long time.  

News editor Ryan Stanton also contributed to this article.

Students, faculty to launch education policy journal

in Around Campus/News by
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Photo by Chanoot Sirisoponsilp ’19

A new undergraduate educational policy journal will be launched within the next year. The journal will be primarily student-driven and will be written A new undergraduate educational policy journal will be launched within the next year. The journal will be primarily student-driven and will be written the intention of being accessible to a broad community. It will focus on educational policy that has a local basis, but that also raises global awareness.

The idea for the educational journal was developed about a year ago by Professor Edwin Mayorga and students, including Heitor Santos ‘17 and Medgine Elie ’17. Their plan for the project was to create a source of information with its basis found through the collaboration between students, faculty, and the community at large. They also wanted to use language that is accessible and understandable to those not heavily involved in the academic community and more accessible for students.

“I was trying to create sources for students to have conversations about educational policy that wasn’t talking down to undergrads,” said Mayorga. “I think sometimes research talks down to undergrads.”

Students have been heavily involved in the development of the journal and will be the primary contributors when publishing begins. Papers written by Mayorga’s fall semester educational policy class will be published in the first issue. The project currently has 20 participants, including writers, revisers, social media coordinators, and an advisory board, and will also be working alongside the writing center.

According to Mayorga, the journal will discuss a broad range of topics, including dyslexia, gifted education, and ethnic studies in grades K through 12. However, the range of topics covered in the journal will be primarily dependent on the interests of the students involved.

“It is focused both on local education issues and also national kind of issues and questions so that we are relevant both here, and having a positive impact on policy and discussion and action here, but also raising awareness about more national and global issues,” said Mayorga.

To facilitate this, the journal will work on being accessible to as broad an audience as possible. According to Mayorga, one main goal is that it will not be geared towards a solely academic audience.

“We are not hiding our work behind a wall of money, and we are as open access as possible so people can really be able to find the information and participate around student writing,” Mayorga said. “I’m really excited about open access kinds of publications… I think information should be free.”

The open process of the publication initiated a great deal of interest from the student body, and Mayorga was surprised by how many people became involved. One goal of the journal is to attain alumni involvement in the project, and provide a single place where people can go for information that is both accessible and intellectual. Typically, information has not been as accessible as would be ideal, and the journal will provide a place that people can go to for educational news by forming a student-focused center of research and expression.

“I think it’s imperative that we who have benefited most from our education system, having made it to a place like Swarthmore, now work to expose how unjust and how oppressive that system truly is,” said George Woodliff-Stanley ’18, who will be writing for the journal. “I think this project gives us a great way to do exactly that.”

Maria Aghazarian, serials and e-resources specialist at McCabe Library, will be working with the journal to help maximize accessibility. Aghazarian expressed that currently, works by disenfranchised groups are not always easily accessible for the general population, and that the formatting of information is often not user-friendly. The journal hopes to make changes in the overall accessibility of information. Aghazarian will be working on more technical aspects of the journal, such as formatting, to increase the accessibility of articles.

“I think it’s important to know that typical modes of publishing typically exclude undergrads, women, people of color,” said Aghazarian. “The whole point of doing research is for other people to build on it, so that’s why I think this will be an awesome project, hopefully with some longevity.”

The journal will be discussing many issues involving unequal educational opportunity, especially as it pertains to the effects of legal status, class, race, sexuality, and gender. Esteban Cabrera-Durán ’18, who will be writing for the journal, expressed his excitement to engage in writing about educational inequalities and considering factors that influence educational attainment and policy.

“I hope to work with everyone else to create a publication that is accessible and has some foundation on where policy change can occur,” said Cabrera-Durán. “Overall, I hope this publication serves the community organizations and people who are doing incredible work at the grassroots level.”

The first issue will be published within the year and will include four or five articles, with a call for submissions for the second issue included. “My hope is that more and more, I’m not the voice of this thing…” said Mayorga. “Students are and the research is, and then we’ll go from there. We’ll see.”

Mandatory academic trigger warnings would be ineffectual

in Columns/Nothing to Declare/Opinions by

Recently, many people have been pushing the idea that college professors should be required to put trigger warnings on potentially distressing course material, and the notion has gotten a good deal of flak from many academics. The American Association of University Professors has given an official statement opposing the idea of a mandate on the grounds that it would stifle academic freedom. While I am also of the opinion that mandatory trigger warnings go against what academia is supposed to do, there are other concerns to consider in this debate.

No one seems to be talking about how mandatory trigger warnings wouldn’t work on a strictly logistical level — at least not well, after taking into account what would have to be done to enforce it as a rule. They’d be more trouble than they would be worth, and that is apparent as soon as you sit down and actually think about what instituting mandatory trigger warnings would entail.

Emotional triggers are vastly personal things. Yes, there are some people with “stereotypical” triggers — an explicit description of sexual assault is certainly likely to trigger a sexual assault survivor — but triggers can also be seemingly benign and non-offensive things. Those people who are disturbed by anything other than the wholly generic aren’t going to be helped that much. And it also comes with the implication that professors could get in trouble if they didn’t have the right trigger warnings and someone still got triggered, which doesn’t seem like it’d solve any problems.

If mandatory trigger warnings are supposed to help individual students who may be disturbed by something in the classroom, one would have to know what each individual student is triggered by beforehand, because there’s no way of knowing what to put a warning on otherwise; triggers are just too diverse. How would a professor go about this process? Should they send out an e-mail asking all their students for a list of things that personally traumatize them? Should this list just be kept in a student file so professors don’t have to ask for this information every new semester?

Something tells me that this violation of privacy would not be appreciated. The only students who would truly take advantage of such a policy would be the ones who already approach their professors about accommodations they may need in the future. Even pretending that the method wouldn’t be highly contested, it would also entail trusting the students to be thorough, which they probably wouldn’t be. Students would only make the professor aware of triggers that they think would pertain to the class, which opens up the door for them to be triggered by something that they didn’t think would be relevant, but ended up popping up in the class anyway.

If professors violating the privacy of the students to protect them from harmful content isn’t okay, the only thing they could do would be to put trigger warnings on material so obviously objectionable that the trigger warning would be superfluous. All they’d have to go on would be what is stereotypically deemed unpleasant, and they’d just have to hope that everything was covered. Really, the article about sexual assault in Saudi Arabia has disturbing content? I never would have guessed.

What if almost everything in the class winds up having a trigger warning? What would that accomplish? Wouldn’t it just be easier to acknowledge that the class you’re in covers disturbing content on a fairly consistent basis? If it’s the professors’ obligation to put a warning on anything that could conceivably be distressing, the trigger warning would lose all weight and significance very quickly. That could be avoided by professors leaving most things alone and only putting trigger warnings on extremely disturbing content, but “extremely disturbing” is wholly subjective. And it’s not even a trigger warning at that point: it’s just a normal warning to all involved.

Some people say that trigger warnings are like movie ratings, but there are problems with that comparison. There’s a spectrum of movie ratings, firstly, and even then people think it’s inefficient because the rating does not provide a nuanced description. “PG-13” means nothing because almost everything is PG-13 — it could be a movie where an actor said “damn” more than twice or a movie where someone gets shot on-screen: they both get the same rating. Trigger warnings would quickly turn into the PG-13 movie rating of academia if their use were required. It’d actually be worse — there’s only one trigger warning. It doesn’t even have the spectrum to fall back on. Occasionally, it would be more specific, but even then it’s not all that indicative of the content. “Extreme Violence” can be someone getting slapped once, or it can be someone getting hit by a car—it all just depends on what the person writing the trigger warning finds disturbing. Some trigger warnings are hyperbolic to the extreme, and some are too vague. They’re not helpful.

In order to avoid unclear warnings, someone would have to be hired to standardize mandatory trigger warnings. There would have to be some kind of regulation to make sure that “Trigger Warning: Violent Content” means the same thing at Swarthmore that it means at Penn or Temple or Villanova. That’s what making something a required rule does — it entails regulation and standardization. We wouldn’t want someone from Minnesota transferring to NYU and being offended because the article that said “fuck” wasn’t tagged for extreme language.

Trigger warnings should be used at the discretion of the professor where they see them fit. They shouldn’t be mandatory, and they shouldn’t be the default way of going about things. I understand the sentiment: schools are trying to be more empathetic toward students who need mental/emotional accommodations. But this ultimately seems like all bark and no bite. It makes people feel nice because they can be arbitrarily considerate, and that’s all it really accomplishes.

I don’t think mandatory trigger warnings would destroy the academic spirit as many people insist. I think that rhetoric is needlessly apocalyptic. I’m not even against trigger warnings as a concept, even though they’re often overused to the point of being useless. It’s the tone of trigger warnings that I’m against: the paternalistic idea that those with delicate sensibilities absolutely need to be shielded from all things that may fluster their fragile dispositions lest they faint from the horror. There are better, more constructive ways to care about the well-being of others — ways that don’t involve unfortunate implications about potentially stifling academic expression.

Alcohol policy undergoes major shifts, change to come uncertain

in News by

The student body received an email from Lili Rodriguez, dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development, on August 27th announcing three changes to the campus alcohol and party policy.

One of the changes is the creation of a formal medical amnesty policy for violations of the “Alcohol and Other Drugs” section of the Student Code of Conduct. While the school had been known to provide leniency in some such cases, this new policy formalizes the rules surrounding substance-related emergencies. Administrators hope that a limited immunity in emergency situations will encourage students to seek help. The new medical amnesty policy applies to both the individual in need of assistance and the individual who seeks assistance, even if these individuals are one and the same. In this measure, Swarthmore’s medical amnesty policy departs from the Pennsylvania state amnesty policy, which only provides immunity to the person seeking assistance. The new amnesty policy takes precedence over the Pennsylvania law only in situations adjudicated by Swarthmore College. If a student needs to leave campus to be treated during an emergency situation, the Pennsylvania law takes effect.

Additionally, the immunity afforded by the AOD policy apply only to violations of rules that pertain to alcohol and other drugs. Although the policy states that the medical amnesty policy may act as a “mitigating factor” in the disciplinary process for other infractions, AOD amnesty does not provide true immunity in those cases. Behaviors specifically mentioned as outside the bounds of the AOD amnesty include “assault, hazing, harassment, [and] vandalism.”

In the case that a student contacts or uses emergency services and utilizes the AOD amnesty in doing so, the college will still ask that student to have a confidential discussion with the school’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor, meet with another College official, attend an educational course, or some combination of the above. Students who fail to fulfill these requirements will have their immunity revoked and will be rerouted to the disciplinary process.

The new policy also bans the presence of hard alcohol at registered campus events. Upperclassmen over the age of 21 will still be able to keep liquor in their rooms, and gatherings with fewer than 30 people won’t be subject to the ban. Rodriguez expressed hope that maintaining liquor-free spaces would be a shared effort. “We hope all students will hold one another accountable,” she said.  “Whether it’s the host, SWAT Team members hired, or any bystander at the party — if there is a situation or behavior that concerns you, please report it to public safety immediately.  It is everyone’s responsibility to care for one another.” In addition to the hard alcohol ban mentioned in the August email, the updated Student Code of Conduct also disallows the use of vessels commonly used for hard alcohol, specifically mentioning “punches and party bowls.”

Some among the student body fear that this restriction could have undesirable side effects. Denied the presence of liquor at parties, some students may engage in potentially dangerous “pre-gaming” behavior. One resident assistant who wished to remain anonymous because of their  position said, “Banning hard liquor at parties may encourage students to consume more alcohol in their dorm rooms prior to the party. It may also encourage students to consume hard liquor in secret or isolation, habits that constitute unhealthy drinking patterns.” Alex Moscowitz ’15 said, “I think that [the changed AOD policy] will either increase the number of parties that have smaller numbers, or it will decrease the number of registered parties, and parties with larger numbers probably won’t register the fact that they’re over 30 people.”

The new policy also bans drinking games. While the email from Rodriguez specified the use of drinking paraphernalia as newly disallowed, the actual text from the Student Code of Conduct is much more general, referring to any “activities, games, and/or other behaviors” that encourage alcohol abuse. Behaviors and equipment specifically mentioned in the policy as disallowed are “funnels, keg stands, ‘around-the-world’ parties, flip cup, quarters, beer pong, Beirut, and power hour”. Rodriguez argued that the difference is quite arbitrary.

“We leaned on paraphernalia because it’s blatant and obvious.  Anything can be a drinking game, right? … We hope that the spirit of this regulation is what students understand,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to put themselves in dangerous situations or to pressure others to drink irresponsibly through use of paraphernalia or drinking games. However, in practice, it’s going to be easier to spot a funnel than to determine whether the poker game people were playing was leading to rapid consumption of alcohol.”

It is unclear where exactly lines will be drawn regarding these new rules. Moscowitz expressed doubts as to the enforceability of the new policies. “Traditionally Swarthmore has been mercifully relaxed on enforcement of alcohol policy and I think to a degree this reflects a change in policy, but I don’t think they’ll be remarkably successful in banning drinking games or hard alcohol consumption … in the general sense I don’t think much will change” he said, “people will probably keep things a lot more under wraps than they used to, but that’s the only effect I foresee”.

Rodriguez emphasized that the decision to change these rules was grounded in fact and that the process used a diverse range of evidence including outside studies, review of peer schools’ policies, case studies at Swarthmore, and Swarthmore-specific statistics. The August email noted that only one other college that Swarthmore reviewed allowed hard alcohol at campus parties. In response to concerns that the new hard alcohol and drinking game bans are unnecessary, she said, “Over 70 percent of parties registered last year used primarily hard liquor.  Given the wealth of empirical data and understanding about college-drinking behaviors now available, we also know that hard liquor is particularly dangerous because it is ingested at faster rates than beer or wine and often mixed with sweet drinks that mask the alcohol being consumed.  We’ve had lots of cases of students blacking out after having what they thought was ‘one or two’ drinks but were likely significantly more servings than they assumed.”

When confronted with the idea that a hard alcohol ban could increase the risks related to pre-gaming, Rodriguez again stood by her argument, saying that the idea “is a popular myth that pops up whenever drinking policies are enforced or changed … the last decade of research has not shown this to be the case, whether it’s a city increasing their enforcement of underage drinking laws or a college/university doing the same.” She specifically cited Colby’s hard liquor ban and institution of dry common spaces, changes which were not followed by any increase in alcohol related hospitalization rates.

Many of the questions related to the policy changes are still up in the air. To what extent and with which tools these new policies will be enforced remains to be seen.

Minimum wage reform

in Columns/If It Moves/Opinions by

Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller’s election-year propositions have pushed minimum wage to the forefront of economic debate in the past year. Their bill, if passed, would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 in three steps over two and a half years. Supporters of the bill point to the resulting increase in standard of living for the bottom 30 percent, while its opponents primarily argue that its costs (especially job loss) are too high. The debate is particularly hard to referee because the econometric tools that are used to defend conclusions are derived from largely subjective assumptions about the labor market. Indeed, we can only know the real effects of raising the minimum wage by raising the minimum wage.

What almost every economist agrees with, however, is that an increase in the minimum wage will ultimately lead to a reduction in poverty. The “elasticity” of the minimum wage in terms of poverty reduction is the economic term that describes this relation. A negative elasticity implies an inverse correlation between wage and poverty, while a positive one implies a direct relationship. Arindrajit Dube, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, notes that 48 of 54 notable calculations of this elasticity since the 1990’s have been negative. Supporting this conclusion, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog concludes that the $10.10 minimum wage has the potential to significantly improve the standard of living up to 30 percent of the worst-off Americans, while causing little to no adverse consequence on the median household.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated last Thursday that Harkin and Miller’s bill would force businesses to spend $15 billion more in salaries by the time it is in full effect. Considering the fact that the private sector has spent roughly 5 trillion dollars annually on wages in recent years, this small increase provides a strong support for proponents of the bill. The increase would cause employers to spend only about a third of a penny more per dollar on wages.

The CBO’s research further shows that the bill would increase earning of 16.5 million workers who currently earn below $10.10 per hour. The CBO also estimates, however, a loss of 500,000 jobs as employers adjust to their new cost conditions. Though certainly painful, this loss is small compared to the size of the American labor force (about 155 million). This loss is perhaps slightly more tolerable given the fact that a significant proportion of the estimated 500,000 jobs are held by adolescents in middle and upper-middle class families. In contrast, according to The Fair Minimum Wage Act, single-parent households, women, and workers of color would be the primary beneficiaries of the minimum wage reform.

The cost to local, state, and federal government is a bit harder to disentangle, but still astonishingly in favor of the $10.10 base. Because government agencies have fairly good pay standards, the bill will only increase local and state governments’ spending by roughly 1 billion dollars, slightly more than a tenth of a percent increase given spending statistics in 2012. The federal government will bear even a smaller increase in cost. They will have to pay approximately 2 million dollars in increased wages to their 4,000 employees that earn below the $10.10 minimum.

The academic research continues to build in favor of the bill and suggests that policy makers should be able to implement the reform with little economic and political backlash, but perhaps the picture painted above is overly optimistic. Despite the CBO’s estimate of 16.5 million people to benefit from the increase in minimum wage, it finds that only about 900,000 will be lifted from poverty. Jeffery Dorfman of Forbes highlights the important reality that only a minority of minimum wage earners are currently in poverty. In fact, because business are able to pass off some of the burden they receive from the minimum wage increase to customers, the CBO estimates that only about one fifth of the bill’s benefits go to its primary targets, or households below the poverty line.

That said, Harkin and Miller’s proposal to raise the minimum wage certainly seems to be a step in the right direction, and, fortunately, it is one that should be possible at a relatively low cost. Republicans on the Hill, however, still seem likely to rally the votes to block the measure this summer. Regardless of the outcome, the problems of wealth inequality and poverty in America will remain dire.

Party policy undergoes changes under new coordinator

in Around Campus/News by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, Elias stresses that these are interim policies.

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

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