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New International Relations Club creates space for discussion, new perspectives

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In a Kohlberg classroom on Sunday, April 29th, the new international relations club had its second official meeting. A discussion that started with the Yemeni Civil War flowed into topics including current events, globalization, and citizenship. Heewon Park ’21, founder of the club, and the members hope to create a space for people who are interested in international relations to discuss with each other as well as an opportunity for people to learn more about what is going on in the world.

Park developed an interest for international relations after taking “International Politics” with associate professor of political science Dominic Tierney her first semester at the college. She also noted that since it is easy to get wrapped up in day-to-day life on campus, she wanted to create a space for people to discuss affairs around the world including places that fall out of the mainstream news cycle.

“You just get caught up with what’s happening here on campus, or here in America, and then you lose sight of the fact that the world is such a huge place,” Park said. “I.R. tries to address things that are happening in other parts of the world that usually aren’t as acknowledged.”

Sam Jacobson ’21 feels that the club opens up another avenue for him to pursue his interest in international relations.

“I read a decent amount about what’s going on in the world and have really enjoyed doing readings for my international politics class,” Jacobson said. “But before the club, the only way that I’ve interacted with international relations was mainly just academic and reading in my free time.”

Park stated that she wanted to create the international relations club to allow for people who are interested in international relations like Jacobson to have more discussions with people who also share that interest.

“I feel like there’s so many people interested in international relations, but there’s no platform for people to express those views or talk about it,” Park said. “I feel like [the college] is very fertile grounds for discussions but we didn’t have a structure in place to allow for it.”

However, the goals of the club are not limited to attracting a crowd of political science majors. Park is interested in increasing the club’s attendance from people with varying levels of knowledge.

According to Zackary Lash ’19, an honors peace and conflict studies major, the club fills in a gap for both people who want to learn more and people who want to engage in conversation. Lash expressed that the club is a really useful space especially for people who might not have the ability to take international politics classes, which are typically some of the most popular classes in the political science department.

“I was lotteried out of International Politics twice, so I couldn’t really access any other I.R. courses,” Lash said. “I think [the club is] filling in a gap in two ways. Since there is no department, the club is trying to fill the academic side of it where people want to learn more about international relations, but it’s also filling in that social aspect where people want to talk about it and engage in it in non-academic ways.”

According to Jacobson, this space allows for people with many different backgrounds and perspectives to share ideas and broaden views on issues around the world.

“I want it to be open-minded and for people to take away from the club, however they interact with it, a broad viewpoint of varying topics, to understand multiple viewpoints, and become more open to different views,” Jacobson said. “I think that clubs and people here tend to have a single-minded view of things, which is fine, but I think it’d be cool to have this club be an avenue to discuss different viewpoints.”

Park also hopes for the club to be a way to invite a diversity of opinions. One of her aims in creating the club was not only to expand the topics of conversation around campus but also to introduce a space to allow for a greater variety of perspectives.

“I think the bigger goal I have is to broaden Swarthmore’s dialogue of what we talk about every day and integrate discussions about the world instead of just America,” Park said. “I want to provide a space for people who are interested in going into international relations or just want to learn more. More importantly, I want to make a space that allows for a whole range of levels of knowledge as well as a whole range of ideological perspectives that will help foster really good conversation and be a welcoming enough environment where people can speak about their beliefs about issues without feeling like they’re going to be attacked.”

Lash expressed that he was interested in the club because it was presented as a space for people with different academic niches to gather and collaboratively learn as Park intended for the club.

“When I first heard about it, I thought it would not only be a cool space to learn about different things going on in the world, but also a place to get different perspectives, because everyone has different knowledge spaces,” Lash said.

In addition to hosting weekly meetings, campus-wide discussions and events, and inviting guest speakers, the club is also planning on launching a website to make learning about international issues more accessible to students.

“The site is supposed to serve as an online hub of really accessible news,” Park said. “My idea for it was creating a space where students could write pieces about what they think about an issue or a crisis going on and present an easy way for other people to access that.”

Jacobson stated that he is excited about the website and the ability to both publish and have access to different students’ works.
“A lot of social science and humanities classes are given essay prompts that can be taken a lot of different directions, and it would be cool to have people share what they’ve written about, because there’s a wide variety of things to read and learn about,” Jacobson said. “I think it would also be very cool to give students the opportunity to have something that they’ve written to be published somewhere.”

While the website of students’ work is set to be launched next semester, the Swarthmore International Relations Club will continue their weekly meetings on Sundays at 3 p.m. and have their first club event, a student-led discussion on the Syrian War, on Friday, May 4th at 6 p.m. in Trotter 203.

Stephen Walt: Foreign policy-wise, Trump is much of the same

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Phi Beta Kappa lecturer and foreign policy expert Stephen Walt offered harsh criticism of the American foreign policy establishment last Thursday, Oct. 26. In his talk, titled “Where is U.S. Foreign Policy Headed?” Walt argued that foreign policy under president Trump is still commandeered by the pre-existing bipartisan foreign policy establishment; the administration now pursues long-standing, already flawed policies in an erratic and incompetent manner pursued by Trump.

Walt is a professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He authored three books, including The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which created a media storm. The New York Times called it “ruthlessly realistic,” while others accused it of anti-semitism.  

In his talk, Walt argued that the foreign policy establishment — or the ‘blob,’ as he refers to it — is to blame for decades of failure in global affairs. He referenced the US policy of ‘liberal hegemony,’ defining it as a foreign policy that actively tries to promote the basic principles and ideals of liberal democracy. The policy assumes the US is an indispensable nation, and that it should try to use its power to spread democracy, whether peacefully or by force.

Walt outlined changes in international power dynamics over the past thirty years. China’s power has steadily increased, the relationship between the US and Russia is at its worst since the Cold War, and the Middle East is in turmoil largely due to US efforts at regime change.

According to Walt, the election of Donald Trump, whose policies represent a repudiation of the grand strategy pursued since the Cold War, proves that the American people want change. However, the change in his foreign policy is in how Trump himself acts, not in policy.

Walt blames the establishment for the state of US foreign policy. Although Trump ran on the premise that foreign policy in the US is “a complete and total disaster,” he doesn’t follow through on the policies he supported during the election. McMaster replaced Flynn, Trump said in an interview that NATO is no longer obsolete, he ordered a cruise missile strike in Syria After Assad uses chemical weapons, and he announced 5,000 more troops will be deployed to Afghanistan. According to Walt, these are many of the same actions Hillary Clinton would have taken if she was president.

“In a competition between Donald and the establishment, the establishment is winning,” he said.

Apart from criticizing the policies in place, Walt also listed the policies the US should pursue. The US should reduce or eliminate its military role in Eastern Europe, since Russia isn’t an existential threat to either the EU or the US. Trump should take a harder line with China to prevent it from becoming a regional hegemon and let Russia take the lead in Syria. The US shouldn’t have special relationships with any Middle Eastern powers, and should refrain from pursuing nation-building experiments.

Student reactions to these ideas were mixed.

“[Walt] underestimates Russia’s willingness to take risks given the threat it perceives from NATO and its declining global influence,” said Irina Bukharin ’18. “Although Professor Walt’s views most likely differed from the average Swattie’s, it was really encouraging to see so many people come out to hear his views.”

Frank Kenny ’20 was also unsure about one of Walt’s stances.

“I was surprised to hear him argue for a more interventionist approach when it comes to foreign policy dealing with China,” Kenny said.

Associate Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney offered a different analysis of post-Cold War US policy. He questioned Walt’s harsh criticism of the establishment, considering the failure of Trump’s anti-establishment agenda. The Trump administration and all its missteps don’t seem to endear Walt to the establishment, like they do with many Americans.

“Instead, [Walt] seems to be sticking to his guns,” said Tierney. “While I think a lot of people look at the Trump administration and think that the establishment is looking better every day, by comparison to some of the blunders that we’ve seen.”

The failure of US foreign policy over the past thirty years, said Tierney, doesn’t have it’s roots in the establishment, although they have blundered.

“If you look at the bigger story of American foreign policy, it’s actually been fairly successful over the centuries and even since WWII, so I’m not sure that the American establishment is the fundamental problem here … that suspicion has been reinforced by the trump administration because it is explicitly anti-establishment and has made very serious mistakes,” he said.

According to Tierney, the deeper reason for these foreign policy gaffes is that America has no one to challenge its power like it did during the Cold War.

“Countries the with kind of power that the US has had since the end of the Cold War in history have rarely acted in restrained and measured ways,” he said.

Despite having controversial views, Walt filled the room with students engaged in

meaningful deliberation, and encouraged reexamining widely-accepted points of view.

“Inside Out” program brings students and coursework into local prison

in Around Campus/Around Higher Education/News by

On Wednesday afternoon, in the Visitors’ Room of the nearby the Chester State Correctional Institute, Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves oversaw the graduation ceremony of his fourth “Politics of Punishment” course taught in a correctional facility in four years. Reeves did so – following tradition – by repeating the mantra “education is the most powerful weapon we can use to tear down walls and change the world” to the crowd of correctional officers, students, and administrators from the college – including President Valerie Smith – who were circled around him in honor of the accomplishments of his diverse group of students. While half of his class of 30 wore the “browns,” mandated by the facility’s dress code for incarcerated persons, and half were juniors and seniors from the college, all were crying, in celebration of the past semester’s work, but with deep regret that the two groups would likely never see each other again.

Since 2012, Reeves has been teaching in Chester SCI, leading similarly mixed classes of incarcerated students and students from the college through a pedagogical model known as the “Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.” The program, which was originally established in 1997 at Temple University, is operated on the belief that bringing together these two diverse cohorts of imprisoned individuals from the “inside” and undergraduate men and women from the “outside” in order to engage with topics of criminal justice could mutually benefit both groups. While “Inside-Out” courses may vary in discipline and content, Reeves’ focuses on the various social, political, and economic forces that over the past half century have influenced all levels of government in the US, propagating the unparalleled punitivity known as the era of mass incarceration.

“I decided to start taking students into the prison space in the spring of 2010,” Reeves, who has been doing mentorship work and academic research in correctional facilities since 2003, explained. “I had been teaching my section of Intro to American Politics, and there was a week module on voting participation…and I happened to just very parenthetically mention that there was a group of American citizens who in some states are denied the right to vote permanently, and a few groups of students were really intrigued by that…They did some homework…and they came back to me a few weeks later and said they had found an amazing program at Temple called the ‘Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.’”

According to Reeves, these students were aware of his experience in the prison space and asked him if he would bring them into a correctional facility to teach. Reeves at first was hesitant, wary of the safety and logistical concerns involved in leading a group of college students into such a facility, however, when his students arranged a meeting with the founder of the “Inside Out” program, Laurie Pompa, he was convinced. In July of 2010, he attended a 10 day training session to become certified in the “Inside Out” pedagogical model at the nearby State Correctional Institution at Graterford and began to pitch the idea of the course at the college.

“My colleagues in the department were enthusiastic” Reeves explained. “This is the only course that is offered for 1.5 credits given its unique demands on students in terms of time concerns and other demands, but I received a lot of support.”

After two years of working with the Political Science Department, the Registrar’s Office, the Provost’s Office, and Chester SCI administrators, Reeves acquired the institutional backing necessary to begin the course.

In January of 2012, he brought the first cohort of students from the college into the prison, formally solidifying the college’s place in the educational programming offered at Chester SCI. Though many of the “inside” students had taken “Inside Out” classes before, for all of the “outside” students in this pioneering group, this was their first time stepping foot inside of a carceral facility. Nevertheless, at the closing ceremony in April of that year, classmates from both sides articulated a shared perception of the course as the most challenging, but rewarding, of their academic career.

“This class was been a challenge in every sense of the word—emotionally, intellectually, relationally,” explained Sachie Hopkins Hayakawa ‘12, a student in this first cohort. “But each week I had the privilege to work with some of the kindest, strongest, most passionate, and sincere people, in thinking about and trying to confront the realities of carceral injustice.”

KJ, a student from the inside, and also a member of this original group, agreed.

“This program has redefined the label ‘felon’ and made me human again,” he explained. “Now I visualize a brighter future for my family and can see beyond the obstacles ahead. This program has debunked the myths that paralyzed me from finishing college. I’m moving forward, nothing can stop me now.”

Buoyed by the success of this initial iteration of the course, Reeves decided to teach “Politics of Punishment” in Chester SCI again in the following spring, and in the fall of 2014, he moved the course to the Philadelphia work release site near the University of Pennsylvania. This spring, Reeves returned “Politics of Punishment” to Chester SCI, where he feels most comfortable teaching the course given the facility’s immense personal significance to him.

“Chester SCI is a very important place for me, and it seemed for many reasons like the natural fit for the place to hold this course,” Reeves said. “It’s right here, and it’s built in the community space where I was raised. My late twin and I grew up in Chester, and the prison was not there when we were growing up, but it was opened in 1998…I had heard that there was a prison being built not too far from my neighborhood home, but prison was not anything that I had any familiarity with…I had no direct experience with prisons or mass incarceration.”

Nevertheless, by chance, Reeves – who was working with local leaders to establish a community center for Chester children at the time – one day found himself liaising with the newly appointed superintendent of Chester SCI.

“Fate and circumstances led me to meet her…and it just so happened that she said something really profound that rings in my ear to this day,” Reeves explained. “She said, ‘The work you do on your end with the community is so important because if you don’t do something on your end, I’m going to see them on my end.’”

Curious about the superintendent’s statement regarding the intersection of the incarcerated community and the outside community in his childhood neighborhood, Reeves agreed to visit the prison under her guidance during the winter of 2003. On his first visit to the 1200 man, medium security facility, he was shocked to find how closely this interplay hit home for him, when he had the incredible chance encounter of running into a former neighbor from his childhood, Jamal, who was now a lifer at Chester SCI. Reeves began to visit Jamal regularly, familiarizing himself with the Chester SCI facility, and unknowingly laying the groundwork of personal connections that served to ease his entry into this space with students from the college 9 years later.

Today, four years after the course’s inception, the Inside Out program has developed expansively at the college, with a surplus of students requesting to be in one of Reeves’s classes. Nevertheless, due to the logistical constraints of Chester SCI’s limited days available for educational programming as well as the pedagogical guidelines of the Inside Out model, which caps classes at 15 students from each side, Reeves does not permit freshmen, sophomores, or honors Political Science majors to take the class. Furthermore, since the course began, he has also interviewed all interested applicants to ensure that he gets a diversity of students who not only represent heterogeneous backgrounds and interests, but also a broad range of exposure to and beliefs about the criminal justice system.

“It’s important to me that not everyone thinks the same way in this class,” Reeves said. “I don’t just want students have been involved in this work for a long time or represent one set of views on this issue. I want students who might be nervous or apprehensive about the space…The best part of teaching this class is seeing the transformation that occurs. I don’t want to be the only one doing this kind of work, I’m not aiming to be selfish about this work. I want to bring as many people in who have an interest.”

Perhaps the individual at the college most supportive of and receptive to Reeves’s work has been Professor of Sociology, Nina Johnson, who in the fall of this year became the college’s second professor to teach an Inside Out course when she introduced her class “Race and Place” to Chester SCI.

“When I came to Swarthmore, I was asked by Professor Reeves to guest lecture in his class,” Johnson explained. “I was so blown away by the experience and really trying to find my way in the academy in a way that was consistent with my commitments and that opened the door for me. When the next training came up for Inside Out certification, I was all in.”

Johnson explained that despite entering the certification program skeptical of what she was to learn, she was moved by the community of educators and incarcerated individuals that she met through the program during her training at SCI Graterford.

“Mostly, I was moved by the individuals in the ‘Think Tank’ at Graterford, who I found to be living at the highest level of engagement and commitment,” Johnson explained, referring to the group of incarcerated students – all lifers – who work with outside educators to shape the curriculum of the Inside Out program and develop projects focused on re-educating the public about criminal justice. “They taught me how to teach and how to live because they lived their best lives – they lived their gifts and their talents – from the inside. So I thought ‘I’ve got to be doing that.’”

According to Johnson, introducing her course into the prison has been the most fulfilling and rewarding teaching and learning experience of her career in academia. “Race and Place” is an examination of the social, political, and economic forces that have impacted the racial construction of Philadelphia, particularly in terms of housing, employment and education, throughout the 20th century and in contemporary times. For her, teaching this material within Chester SCI gaved it lived meaning due to the fact that so many of her inside students were from the Philadelphia area and could situate their own life experiences within texts and class discussions.

“Highlights of the class were the incredible level of engagement and level of commitment that students – particularly from the inside – brought to the class,” Johnson explained. “This was not a surprise to me, but some of the Swarthmore students were definitely surprised by the level of rigor that inside students brought to the class. I think they realized, ‘I gotta step my game up this is not a regular class.’ Everyone is doing the readings, coming to class ready to work and to work at a higher level.”

Joelle Hageboutros ‘16, who was not in Johnson’s class, but is enrolled in “Politics of Punishment” this spring, echoed Johnson’s sentiments.

“One misconception is that the quality of the course might not be of the same caliber as a Swarthmore course is ‘reputed to be,’” Hageboutros explained. “This is totally false. The inside students will challenge you in many ways that you never thought possible and will bring a unique, nuanced, and thoughtful perspective to the readings and discussions that all the Kierkegaard and Marx readings can never expose you to or prepare you for.”

In addition to the course’s academic rigor, other students described it as having profound emotional value for them, providing them with an experience that was uniquely meaningful to them in ways unlike any other course they had taken at the college.

“To be honest, taking this course stirred up a lot of emotions for me,” explained Medgine Elie ‘17, who is also enrolled in “Politics of Punishment” this semester. “Listening to the stories of my incarcerated classmates was honestly a blessing because I learned so much from them but it was also hard to take in.”

As Elie explained, what was particularly meaningful to her on a personal level because it was one of the few times at Swarthmore where a classroom has been representative of the community that she comes from.

“Studying mass incarceration with currently incarcerated individuals was difficult because all the men looked like me and my family, like men that I grew up with,” Elie said. “Listening to them share about how they are dehumanized by society was painful and frustrating to hear…One of the most memorable moments in the course was when one of my inside classmates said that no one has a problem discriminating against someone with a criminal record. No one feels bad about it because once you are labeled a criminal, according to society, that’s all you are and ever will be. That statement was so blunt and so painfully true.”

Despite the educationally and emotionally transformative effects that students expressed, however, the development of the Inside Out program at the college has not been without obstacles. When Reeves originally pitched the course in 2012, for example, several faculty and administrators expressed concern regarding the potential safety concerns involved with taking students from the college into the prison space. These moments of pushback were at times profoundly disillusioning to Reeves, who more than once worried that a course taught through the Inside Out model would never be approved by the college.

“It’s been really, really heavy lifting…I had said at one point we’re done I can’t do do this it’s just too much heavy lifting,” Reeves explained. “This was sometime in winter of 2011. I had just gotten the official invitation from superintendent to offer course. I was putting all of the final pieces in place…I started to see that I had support in places I never imagined, though, and I’ve tried not to look back since. It’s extraordinarily difficult particularly when you have bureaucratic challenges in the prison and challenges on the administrative side.”

The exterior of the nearby Chester State Correctional Institute

Amongst those Reeves counts among his most meaningful supporters then and now is Registrar at the college, Martin Warner, who according to Reeves, stopped him in the hallway one day and gave him the encouragement he needed.

“I was thinking about the way that it might go along with quaker values including a longstanding interest in prison service and reform,” Warner explained. “There was worry on the grounds that anytime anyone goes to prison one needs healthy caution about what you’re doing and how to do it well. But I also think it’s possible to do well. I didn’t hear anything that was rational. What I heard was more loving concern for the students and worry that the students might be injured somehow, a fear that something terrible might happen at prison and people could be hurt. I didn’t find that worry compelling.”

Reeves explained that as a parent, he could understand these concerns. Nevertheless, there is a strict safety framework built into the Inside Out pedagogy that serves to protect against behavior from students on either side that might endanger the rest of the group. In addition to the program’s first-names-only policy, students are prohibited from passing notes, giving gifts, making physical contact beyond a handshake, or contacting each other once the class is finished.

According to Professor Johnson, who has also faced isolated instances of pushback while developing her course, these safety protections, as well as the rules and regulations of the prison space in general, serve in fact to insulate students in ways that those who have not entered the facility might find difficult to imagine.

“Walking into that institution is safer in many ways than walking onto campus,” Johnson explained. “There are all kinds of social protections that exist there but don’t exist in the real world. When there was an FBI threat to the campus in the fall, students were excited to go because it’s safer…While I’ve heard safety concerns from some faculty, I’ve never heard any complaints from students.”

As Reeves and Johnson continue to successfully lead classes taught in the prison, however, it is likely that the overwhelmingly positive student reviews of their courses – as well as the ideological appeals of the Inside Out model – will continue to attract more and more faculty to expand their coursework to correctional facility. A testament to this rising trend is the sheer number of faculty – which Reeves estimates to be between seven and 10 – who have expressed interest in also pursuing “Inside Out” certification.

Most ardent among these individuals, perhaps, is Professor of Religion, Ellen Ross, who will take her Inside Out training this summer and intends to begin teaching her course, “Prison Letters: Religion and Transformation” as soon as the 2017-2018 academic year.

“It’s been great to have Keith Reeves’ enthusiasm for the program on campus, and I’ve been encouraged by talking with Swarthmore students who were in Keith’s Inside Out course,” Ross explained.

She added that her course, which focuses on themes of religion and transformation within the prison and draws primarily from Christian sources, will discuss everything from the New Testament to the imprisonment of Martin Luther King Jr., framed within the context of the contemporary character of mass incarceration in the US.

“I am here because I want the separation between the world of jails and prisons and the world outside to be transformed,” Ross explained. “We have a lot to learn from one another…When we read and discuss together with respect for one another, and openness to what we can learn…We have a lot to learn from one another and with one another.”

As more and more faculty from the college express interest in teaching Inside Out courses, Reeves explained, the college will need to seek out other correctional venues such as women’s prisons and county prisons into which to expand course programming. Chester SCI only allows Inside Out educational programming on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and at present, the college shares these limited time slots with several other institutions including Temple University and Widener University. Nevertheless, while this growth may be daunting logistically, both Reeves and local correctional administrators alike are excited about the opportunities for partnership that exist.

“I will retire at some point, and for the time that I have now and the opportunities that I have now, I am going to work to create the demand to see this institutionalized,” Reeves said. “My hope and expectation is that we will expand the program, and I’m increasingly optimistic that we are poised to do this both with the current climate and values of leadership at the college and with local officials…This issue is the issue of today, it is the issue of now, and this is one way in which Swarthmore can make a difference.”

Reeves’s students on both the inside and the outside agreed.

As Lee, a lifer and current member of Reeves’ Politics of Punishment class explained at the closing ceremony yesterday, “This course…peels back layers of complexities cloaking such stereotypes in law and order, revealing the truth that is seldom told but often forgotten, if not purposely hid. For this reason, I believe that the conversation this course facilitates is necessary and overdue. If this country is serious about healing the gaping wounds of its past racial history, the ‘Politics of Punishment’ course should be mandatory in all colleges.”  


Students visit Israel/Palestine, deepen understanding of conflict

in Campus Journal by

Many Swarthmore students spend much of their time in classes that help them become intellectually immersed in a variety of complex social, political, and cultural worlds.  Rarely, though, are these students able to experience firsthand any of the situations they study.

But over winter break, students from Visiting Assistant Professor of Peace & Confict Studies Sa’ed Atshan’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict course had the opportunity to spend ten days on the ground in Israel/Palestine, witnessing for themselves the reality of what they had spent the last semester reading and talking about.

The course, part of the peace and conflict studies program and cross-listed with political science and Islamic studies, covered the historical context of the conflict and how that history informs the current situation.  Atshan, who joined Swarthmore’s faculty this fall only nine years after graduating from the college, said that he chose to teach this course for a number of reasons.  On the one hand, the subject matter is personal to him, given that he grew up in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, located in the central West Bank.

But Atshan emphasized that the conflict is important for all American citizens to understand, because of the United States’ involvement with Israel.  Atshan cited the fact that Israel has received more money in U.S. aid than sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean combined, and stressed the importance of U.S. citizens understanding where that money is going and what it is doing.

While the coursework itself was an in-depth exploration of the conflict, the trip was, for many students, a profound experience that expanded their understanding of the conflict far beyond their readings and discussions.

“It’s just a topic that I wouldn’t be able to fully, fully grasp unless I was able to see it for myself and see everything I learned in class in reality,” said Therese Ton ’19.

Colin Salama ’19, who said he took the course in order to gain a better understanding of a pressing current political issue, agreed that meeting people in the area was a very different experience from reading about them.

“I think the most shocking for me personally, was not even the humanitarian workers … the most interesting for me were just the regular people who were just dealing with the situations they had,” Salama noted.

Atshan organized the trip so that students would have experiences like Salama described, and witness the subject of their studies as it exists in the real world.

“In the natural sciences we do labs, we study this theory and then put it into practice.  But in the humanities and social sciences we need more of those experiences,” he pointed out.

Much of the group’s travelling on the trip was facilitated by the tour operator Siraj Center, which, according to its website, emphasizes “the development of responsible tourism, re-branding Palestine as a destination for experiential travel and human connection.”

The group spent the first two days of their trip in Jerusalem, and split the rest of the time between the West Bank and Israel proper. They also had the opportunity to spend a couple of nights on homestays with Palestinian Christian families in Bethlehem.

Professor of Religion Yvonne Chireau chaperoned the trip.  Though Atshan himself was unable to join his students for their travels, the students were able to visit their professor’s high school, the Ramallah Friends School, during their time there.  Atshan stressed that he wanted students to visit the Quaker school because of Swarthmore’s own Quaker roots.

Each day of their trip brought a packed schedule of meetings with new people, all of them Israeli or Palestinian non-violent human rights or social justice activists.  Students also visited important sites, such as the Holocaust museum.

Killian McGinnis ’19 emphasized the importance of hearing about and engaging with the personal experiences of people living in the occupied territories.

“There’s this sense of strength and resilience that was really shocking,” McGinnis noted.

Other students also remarked on the resilience of Palestinians in occupied territories, who carry on their lives in spite of daily violence and deprivation of resources.

“Some of these little things were just amazing to see,” Salama reflected.

Multiple students who went on the trip cited one woman’s story as particularly jarring and affecting.  The woman lived in Nabi Saleh, a Palestinian village whose water supply was taken over by an Israeli settlement a few years ago.  A group of Nabi Saleh residents have since committed to weekly non-violent protests against the Israeli settlements, and are routinely tear-gassed at these protests.  The woman they spoke to told the students about the death of her close relative, who was shot in the head with a tear gas cannister and killed on the spot.

In recounting this story, Ton noted the strangeness of hearing it, and being shown a video of the events, all while sitting in this woman’s living room with her children nearby.  Other students echoed this sentiment, noting the powerful emotional effect of hearing violent and heartbreaking stories directly from the people who experienced them.

Kate Dunbar ’18 pointed out that the trip was a difficult and frustrating experience in a number of ways, and that making sense of their positionality there was challenging.

“Your place is to be a student and just a student … being there as an American is hard,” she noted. Many students had similar feelings about the trip, but they also found it inspiring.

“The trip was super intense, but it was very humanizing of the conflict,” said McGinnis.

According to Atshan, all the students seemed glad to have gone on the trip.  He collected evaluations of the trip from each of the students, and said that they were, across the board, very positive reports.  He described the students’ testimonials as “beautiful, heartwarming, and deeply, deeply moving.”

“There were a lot of instances when I was impressed by the hospitality with which we were met and how grateful people were that we were there to listen to what they have to say,” McGinnis recalled.

Salama also pointed out the eagerness with which the activists they met talked to the students.

“A lot of the people that we met, they told us [that] more than anything they wanted people to hear their stories.  They didn’t want to just get lost in the media stories [that portray Palestinians in negative light],” Salama said.

In the spirit of spreading stories, the group will be giving a presentation on the trip this coming Monday.  Some students spoke of wanting to continue to engage with the conflict in various other ways.  Ton noted that some students may be working on a photo exhibition, and that some may engage with the group Students for Justice in Palestine.

Though some of the students did feel motivated to take some kind of action in light of their experience on the trip, Dunbar noted that they should do so with caution.

“We don’t want to take ownership of other people’s pain and suffering,” she asserted.  She said that a definite next step for her personally will be to continue to learn and stay informed about the conflict.

The trip was partially funded by the Lang Center and the president’s office, but a majority of the funds came from a private anonymous donor.  Because of this funding, all 20 students were able to go on the trip cost-free.  Students who went on the trip and subsequently wrote a paper about their experience are receiving .5 credits in the spring semester for doing so.

Inside a culture of flexibility for student-athletes

in Sports by
Balancing class commitments with athletics is a persistent challenge at Swarthmore College
Balancing class commitments with athletics presents a persistent challenge at Swarthmore College. Photo by Sadie Rittman

Every several weeks, it seems, another student-athlete scandal rocks a prestigious university. Most recently, five Notre Dame football players have been suspended from the team amid cheating allegations. This news broke just after the furor subsided from former University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill basketball player Rashad McCants accusing renowned head coach Roy Williams of pushing him and others into taking classes that essentially provided rubber-stamped A’s for all student-athletes.

Even the Ivy League, famous more for producing world leaders than professional athletes, has not been immune to controversy. In 2012, Harvard University was rocked by the largest cheating scandal in memory, eventually forcing around 70 students to withdraw. Many of the implicated students were varsity athletes, with two of the best players on Harvard’s nationally-ranked men’s basketball team being forced to withdraw from the school for a year in order to avoid suspension.

These incidents could reflect a variety of ills in college sports, from lax admissions standards to overburdened student-athletes. Of course, the common thread between these scandals is that all occurred at elite NCAA Division I institutions. Whether the challenges that led to these scandals exist at a small Division III school such as Swarthmore is a different question entirely.

Based on interviews with student-athletes and professors from a variety of disciplines, it is clear that even at Swarthmore, playing a varsity sport requires some academic trade-offs. However, students and professors agreed that student-athletes here are largely able to balance these commitments. Aided by the flexibility of professors and coaches, Swarthmore student-athletes appear to feel free to choose their courses and majors and several have excelled on the field, court or pitch while majoring in disciplines that many of their Division I peers would not be permitted to commit the time to pursuing.

Men’s soccer player Michael Superdock ’15 was named last fall to the Capital One Academic All-America First Team. Superdock’s honor marked the third consecutive year the men’s soccer team has had a player named to the Academic All-America first team, as the defender followed on the heels of standout goalkeepers Peter Maxted ’13 and David D’Annunzio ’12.

Notably, Superdock majors in computer science, a major that, with its demanding in-class commitments and labs, is far from a stereotypical athlete major. Superdock said that he “ended up choosing computer science regardless of sports,” emphasizing that “the coaches understand that academics really come first here.”

The culture of encouraging students to prioritize their academic interests prevails throughout the athletic department.  Women’s soccer player Julia Murphy ’15 and volleyball and basketball player Chastity Hopkins ’15 highlighted some of the methods coaches use to ensure that their players are able to balance their academic and athletic commitments.

Murphy, a defender and Honors chemistry major, said that while “Coach [Todd Anckaitis] is very clear that, yes, you are committed to soccer and you are committed to practice, he is very committed to the two-hour rule,” meaning that all team activities are confined to a daily two hour time slot, allowing players to effectively plan their schedules. She added that in her experience, “both professors and coaches have had a good understanding of NCAA rules and the expectation to go to class instead of practice.”

Hopkins, who balances being a two-sport athlete with a biology major, is thankful that, “My coaches have never told me that I cannot do something.” Volleyball coach Harleigh Chwastyk has taken a different approach from that of Anckaitis to ensuring that athletes are able to train without missing class. Biology’s afternoon labs often force Hopkins to miss the beginning of practice, but since Chwastyk “schedules flexible practice times between 4p.m. and 7p.m.” players are able to arrive late or leave early without falling behind. “They want me to commit to being a good student and to being a good teammate,” Hopkins added.

The culture of flexibility is emphasized from the top of Swarthmore’s athletic department. Director of Athletics Adam Hertz says that although “coaches try to work around as many classes as possible… [conflicts are] often unavoidable for some of the larger teams and for those whose sports are limited to practicing during daylight hours.” In these instances, “coaches understand that students will have to miss practices on occasion.” Hertz makes clear that “students are never to miss an academic obligation for a practice.” With respect to games, Hertz works with other Centennial Conference schools to craft schedules that minimize conflicts.

As for the idea that students may feel compelled to choose less-demanding majors in order to focus on athletics, Hertz was as dismissive as Superdock, Murphy and Hopkins, saying simply, “That’s not why we are here.”

For certain sports and certain disciplines, however, the picture is less rosy. For players on teams that cannot practice or play at night, such as softball and baseball, choosing courses in-season can be challenging. Some departments, as baseball outfielder Brian Kaissi ’15 points out, appear to be particularly inflexible with regard to course offerings. Kaissi says that, “As a political science major, it is often difficult to structure an academic schedule that does not interfere with athletic obligations. For example, some classes are offered at just one time, just one semester in the calendar year.” With student-athletes largely unable to enroll in afternoon classes while in season, departments, such as political science, that schedule the majority of their courses in the afternoon often prevent these students from taking courses they would otherwise be interested in.

While buy-in from coaches and student-athletes is a major part of students’ freedom to take the courses they want, professor flexibility is important as well. Here, the perspective of students and professors alike is that most professors are willing to work with athletes. Athletes, however, called out one persistent issue: the increasing tendency for class commitments to extend beyond scheduled times.

Hertz characterizes this trend as a “time creep,” which he describes as a “broader campus-wide issue… where field trips, lectures, and other obligations are increasingly scheduled during the time of day that has been traditionally recognized as time for students to pursue their other extracurricular passions.”

Both Superdock and Murphy cited the “time creep” as an occasional problem. Superdock pointed out that 7p.m. computer science study sessions are virtually impossible for him to attend in-season. For Murphy’s chemistry major, seniors must attend Thursday afternoon lectures, something that poses problems for Murphy. Since the lectures are a requirement for completing the major, Murphy is confident that her coach will allow her to miss practice. However, by forcing her to miss additional practice time for non-class related commitments, the department contributes to the “time creep” and forces Murphy to compromise her commitment to her teammates. Other departments, such as the political science department, which annually requires senior majors to present their comprehensive papers on a spring Saturday laden with athletic events, contribute to this problem as well.

Professors stressed their willingness to accommodate students’ needs. Lisa Meeden, chair of the computer science department, says that, “if a student needs to miss a lab or exam, I have it rescheduled.” Meeden lauded athletes for their communication, adding, “In my experience, student-athletes have been very proactive about letting me know of potential conflicts so that we can get them resolved early in the semester.”

Fellow computer science professor Ameet Soni echoed Meeden, saying, “I think athletes do a wonderful job of managing their schedules and they usually pose less of an issue than non-athletes as they quickly learn to develop good time-management skills.”

While none of the professors interviewed for this piece spoke out against being flexible for class conflicts, economics professor Mark Kuperberg took a characteristically witty approach to the issue. Kuperberg became perhaps the first person to apply the Coase Theorem to college athletics when he postulated that “Ronald Coase won the Nobel Prize for realizing that externalities are fundamentally about two parties fighting over a common resource.  In this case, the common resource is Time. My feeling is that the academic side should have the property rights and should be bribed by the athletic side when they want extra time.  I’m still working on what form that bribe should take.”

Bribes and property rights aside, it appears that the student-athlete balance is a healthy one at Swarthmore. Student-athletes are generally motivated and capable, with many excelling even while balancing demanding academic schedules. This balance would not be possible without strong cultures of respect and communication that exist within both the coaching and professorial communities at Swarthmore. While issues such as the “time creep” and the inflexibility of class schedules in certain departments certainly need to be addressed, Swarthmore’s athletics culture exhibits a balance that make the probability of the school facing controversies such as those experienced at Notre Dame, UNC and Harvard quite slim.

College readies for major capital campaign

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A rendering of the soon to be built addition to the Dana and Hallowell dorms.

The college’s development office is preparing to widen the scope of its fundraising efforts by launching a new capital campaign in October of this year. The campaign is intended to finance the college’s “Strategic Directions” plan: the 10-year forecast for physical and curricular development at the college that was originally announced in December of 2011.

“The campaign will support almost every area of the college’s growth,” said Karl Clauss, the vice president for development and alumni relations at the college. “Financial aid will be a key component as well as high-impact learning, the Institute for the Liberal Arts, the expansion of faculty positions and bricks-and-mortar projects.”

The campaign will build on the roughly $75 million in alumni donations from Board of Managers Chair Gil Kemp ’72, Chair Emeritus Eugene Lang ’38 and Member James Lovelace ’79. The development office hopes that by announcing a capital campaign, the college can begin to engage a larger pool of donors.

“We hope to engage with donors at more modest levels,” said Donald Cooney, the college’s director of development. “Large gifts enable us to move forward on one particular initiative, but that should not underscore the impact of smaller gifts.”

According to an estimate by Al Bloom, the college’s president from 1991 to 2009, the capital campaign will need to raise around $400 million in order to implement the initiatives proposed in “Strategic Directions.” This is almost double the $245 million raised during the 2001 “The Meaning of Swarthmore” campaign, which was the college’s most financially successful capital campaign.

Although the college announced “Strategic Directions” in 2011, the inauguration of the capital campaign has been delayed to coincide with the college’s sesquicentennial.

“The alumni have to believe in the direction the institution is headed,” Clauss said. “They have to feel connected to Swarthmore in order to give. We hope that the sesquicentennial events can really engage folks.”

The sesquicentennial events reflect a larger aim of “Strategic Directions,” strengthening the college’s ties with the alumni community.

“We look to our alumni to engage with our community in creative ways and at deeper levels, both on campus and with each other in what is now a worldwide Swarthmore network,” said President Rebecca Chopp in her “Strategic Directions” address. “We have also heard the alumni express a desire for more forms of communication and networking with each other, as well as with the college.”

The development office and alumni relations office is working to intensify these connections. Staff have traveled to meet with those who have expressed an inclination to donate, and have been planning events ranging from faculty lectures and gallery visits to book clubs.

“When the campaign goes public, this will set off a series of events to launch the campaign, starting with Garnet Weekend,” Clauss said. “Then we plan to hit major metropolitan areas throughout the course of the next academic year.”

“We have an incredibly generous alumni community,” he said. “There is such a variety of things to support, and I’m excited to make these public to the college community.”

The alumni contributions to the capital campaign will fund a wide variety of initiatives at the college, ranging from physical development to the expansion of curricula on and off campus. For example, it will help provide the funds to construct new engineering and science facilities, renovate Clothier Hall, endow the Institute for the Liberal Arts and provide several million dollars in financial aid. Many of the proposals are geared towards accommodating the increasing size of the student body, including renovations to the Lamb-Miller Field House, Old Tarble and Sharples as well as the construction of new community spaces on campus. The plan also calls for increasing the size and diversity of faculty, in part to offset the ongoing reduction in faculty course load.

“We are going to increase the size of the student body over a 10-year period,” Cooney said. “That will have an impact on campus, and we will need to respond to that with campaign initiatives. Increasing demands must be met.”

Chomsky at Swat? Noam way!

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Noam Chomsky, renowned professor of linguistics and opponent of neo-liberalism, and his daughter Aviva Chomsky, professor of Latin American studies and political activist, visited Swarthmore on Tuesday to lecture about their respective fields. The lectures were co-sponsored by various departments, but the Chomskys were invited by Professor Donna Jo Napoli of the Linguistics department, who has been a longtime family friend. Noam and Aviva Chomsky picked the theme and subject of their lectures, so both of them settled on politics, Noam Chomsky speaking on capitalism in Really existing capitalist democracy: Can it be survived?, and Aviva Chomsky speaking on divestment and the relationship between workers and the environment in Whose Planet? Whose Economic Development? Jobs vs. Environment in the U.S. and Latin America.

Noam Chomsky has been a longstanding faculty member of MIT and reached prominence through his work in linguistics. Professor Napoli introduced him, saying, “He revolutionized linguistics through the way in which he carried out language analysis.  He arrived at conclusions purely by logic in the face of data — conclusions that have been confirmed by more recent methods of brain imaging. His approach to political science has been similar: he looks at the data and reasons his way to conclusions, no matter how unpopular those conclusions may be.” The Vietnam War spurred him to enter the political scene, and he has since then become very involved in political theory as a vocal opponent of neo-liberalism.

His lecture focused largely on criticisms of the real world application of the ideals of capitalism and democracy. To Chomsky, it seemed the biggest discrepancy in a capitalist democracy is the relationship between popular attitude and actual policy, stating that the lowest 70% do not have any effect on the policies that are implemented. He referred to the sequester, a political action that was influenced entirely by the rich, and to a living wage, which is preferred by 80% of the population  but has yet to be implemented because it isn’t in the best interest of the rich. There have even been constant tax cuts for the upper class in the face of majority support for implementing higher taxes for corporations and the rich. “It’s a plutocracy,” Chomsky said, “or to borrow a quote from Jim Hightower, a radical kleptocracy.”

He stated that conservative philosophy vocally favored the rich, and critiqued current democratic ideology in the United States as being too conservative. “It’s been said that there is only one party, the business party with two factions, democrats and republicans, but while there is only the business party, there is actually only one faction, moderate republicans. There has been a marked shift to the right in American politics,” said Chomsky.

Chomsky went on to talk about the role of government. “The government should look for national security, but instead seeks to increase the reach of its powers – look at Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning for example.” He echoed the sentiment that whistleblowers should be applauded and critiqued the American free press for not being free at all, pointing to a marked lack of coverage compared to other foreign newspapers. Chomsky stated that the goal in a democratic government should be to have informed voters making rational decisions, yet the current goal of public relations is to make uninformed voters make irrational choices. He heavily criticized the United States’ war on terror, stating that it’s only been used to justify the mass surveillance carried out by the NSA. The use of drones itself is a terrorist campaign conducted by the government that largely creates more enemies of the United States. The public is intentionally kept in the dark about what is happening to them, and entry into the political system is restricted. Chomsky ended on a positive note; stating that what is required is a complete educational reform. A shift from mandatory testing and routine memorization to encouraging individual learning and interest is necessary as the current institution discourages independent thinkers.

The reaction to Chomsky’s lecture was extremely enthusiastic. A line started forming at LPAC Pearson theatre at 6:00, an hour before his lecture, and the theatre reached capacity shortly after the ushers opened house.

Professor Aviva Chomsky of Salem State University is a Latin American historian and influential political activist. Her work has mostly focused on mine workers in Colombia and other Latin American countries, as well as Appalachia. Her lecture focused largely on balancing the lives of workers and environmental concerns and the efficacy of the divestment movement, a movement that has been active on campus. Aviva Chomsky stated that she was a supporter of the divestment movement, and finds it an important tool for raising awareness, but she did have some criticisms. In drawing parallels with the anti-apartheid divestment campaign, she claimed that the biggest difference is that there was an internal call from the National African Conference which she has yet to see from Appalachian mine workers. She compared the divestment movement to a move to shut down the power plant in Salem, Massachusetts. Though various residents wanted to close it, none of them were willing to give up electricity — which would mean that shutting it down would merely mean opening another plant elsewhere.

“When you travel to eastern Kentucky it’s clear what’s wrong with mountaintop removal mining, and all of us are involved and affected in one way or another but we’re usually not aware of it. Part of our privilege in this country is that we get to be unaware of the effects of our economic energy policies, so we can just enjoy our electricity and return on investments without having to see what’s behind them,” she said.

Indeed, both Chomsky’s emphasized that Americans largely have the privilege to remain isolated from the consequences of their wasteful and unsustainable lifestyles. And both of them spoke out against this isolation, leaving their respective fields — Latin American studies and Linguistics — to take on political issues. That speaks to the role of the intellect in our time: not merely to analyze, but, when possible, to speak out.

And that’s a lesson all Swatties can take home.

Public Policy Program to End in 2016

in Around Campus/Around Higher Education/News by

After over a quarter of a century in existence, the Public Policy Program will no longer be available to students at the end of the Spring 2016 semester, college officials announced to those involved with the program this past break. Current Public Policy minors were notified of the decision via email last Monday.

Interdisciplinary minor and major programs — such as Public Policy, Environmental Studies, and Islamic Studies — are subject to a College review every five to eight years. These reviews are comprised of surveys of alumni who participated in the program, currently enrolled students, and involved faculty members. This review is subsequently analyzed by the Curriculum Committee, which determines whether or not it believes students’ educational needs are being met and the college’s educational philosophy upheld.

The Public Policy academic program underwent a scheduled review during the 2010-11 school year. During this time, the committee ascertained that many of the classes had integrated policy roles into their curriculum. They found that the policy elements of many economics and political science classes had begun to overlap within their respective courses of study, said Provost Tom Stephenson, whose office oversees the committee. “It had become redundant,” said Stephenson. These redundancies were further exacerbated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of classes available to confer credit toward the minor are from the Economics and Political Science departments. In lieu of these findings the program was given a two-year extension with another review when that time was up. As Professor John Caskey, coordinator of the program, put it, “We were almost on probation.”

This past semester, the Public Policy program faced the follow-up review previously ordained by the Curriculum Committee. The results demonstrated that the issue of redundancy had not been sufficiently resolved. According to Stephenson, the decision to end the formal program came down to how the College allocates its resources. With respect to the reviews from 2010 and 2012, the committee thought that the “administrative overhead to keep a formal minor could be put to better uses,” said Stephenson.
Prevailing Public Policy minors need not fear, however, as the program will remain unchanged for the classes of 2013 and 2014.  According to the program website, the minor currently requires a total of at least six credits spanning the areas of economic, political, and quantitative analysis, an internship that is generally completed between junior and senior year, and a senior thesis. These requirements are expected to change for the classes of 2015 and 2016, who will still be able to minor. According to Caskey, there will likely not be a thesis requirement. Nevertheless, the paid internship opportunities will continue to be available even after the program’s termination, as well as all of the core classes, such as Health Economics, Public Economics, and Environmental Politics.

The Provost’s Office has record of Public Policy existing since at least 1985, making it one of the older interdisciplinary programs at the College. Although popularity has fluctuated over the years, interest has been high in the most recent years: there were fifteen minors in the class of 2012 — a fairly large number as far as interdisciplinary minors go, according to Stephenson — and there are eight in the class of 2013.

Reaction to the news has seen little controversy. Senior Meera Oak, a Public Policy minor, said that the end of the program was “a little disappointing,” but that future students will not miss out on too much as they will still be able to take all of the classes involved and will have many of the same internship opportunities. However, according to Oak, the cancellation of the senior thesis will perhaps be a big loss for future students. The thesis offered a solid platform for students to think about and address any policy issues that they cared about without the academic constraints of any specific discipline.

“If anything it’s the only thing that will be lacking,” she said. Nevertheless, those involved with the program seem to understand the verdict.

“Everyone is a little bit sad with the decision, because this is a good program,” said Caskey, “but it was a matter of College priority.”

Photo courtesy of swarthmore.edu.

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