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BEP phase one comes to a close

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On the northwest corner of campus, construction for the new Biology, Engineering, and Psychology building persists as the fall semester comes to an end. Since enrollment has risen for the biology, engineering, and psychology departments, BEP is being built to provide these departments with more space.  

BEP is in part the result of Eugene Lang’s $50 million donation, the largest gift in the college’s history, and is to house the biology, engineering, and psychology departments. It is expected to be completed by fall of 2020 with the first stage opening up summer of 2019. BEP will be a five-story building with one floor below ground. The building is expected to have meeting spaces, lecture halls, classrooms, a greenhouse, and a solar lab.

According to Carr Everbach, head of the engineering department, after student protests for divestment in 2013, the college’s Board of Managers agreed to allot additional money to equip BEP with more environmentally sustainable features.

“This process of defining what BEP was going to be continued until the spring of 2013 in which Mountain Justice and other students asked the Board of Managers to divest from all fossil fuel stocks and the Board of Managers refused. There were subsequent protests and possibly as related consequence of those concerns the Board of Managers agreed to allocate an additional $12 million to make it [BEP] as environmentally sustainable as possible,” Everbach said.

According to Larry Warner, the BEP project manager with Skanska — the firm managing construction for the BEP project — the college was proactive about implementing these environmentally sustainable features.

“One thing the college has asked the design team and construction team to come up with is a way to monitor the energy savings of the building. A lot of the systems, like the mechanical and electrical systems, are designed in a way to be energy efficient. Each of these components was built with energy efficiency in mind,” Warner said.

Andrew Ward, head of the psychology department, looks forward to these characteristics of the new building.

The sustainable aspects of the new construction, including climate control provided by geothermal wells, is a boon to Swarthmore,” Ward said in an e-mail.

As a psychology professor, Ward has been involved in the planning process for the building for several years.

The psychology department was formerly housed in Papazian Hall. After the destruction of Papazian to make space for the BEP building, the department was, and currently is, housed in Whittier Hall. With the creation of a new shared space, Ward also looks forward to the potential collaborative work between the biology, engineering, and psychology departments in the new building.

“[Psychology, biology, engineering] department members will, for the first time in many decades, have offices on the same floor as one another, making it easier for us to engage in informal contact with each other,” Ward said. “At the same time, the sharing of a building with biology and engineering promises to enhance collaboration between our departments. With the growth of interdisciplinary initiatives in such fields as neuroscience and cognitive science, we believe that being in the same building with faculty and students in related fields will be a tremendous asset to us and to the college.”

Everbach echoes this sentiment about prospective cooperation between departments.

The biology, engineering, and psychology departments have all functioned very separately both curricularly and in different buildings. There are some connections between them but they have been remote, but by putting them in the same space there will be opportunities for collaboration, discussion, and possibly for co-teaching and co-projects. I think at the very least, students from these departments will be intermingling and interacting and there will be some effect on the faculty and the curriculum because of that,” Everbach said.

Everbach also notes the benefits that a new space will offer the engineering department.

“Biology and psychology have a space and a quality of space problem. Hicks Hall is a stone box with little opportunity for moving the walls around inside or adding on things,” Everbach said “BEP will offer more square feet, more high-quality square feet, and more flexible and reconfigurable square feet.”

Nick Kaplinsky, associate biology professor and the department’s representative for the BEP project, also noted the lack of space in Martin Hall, the building currently housing the biology department.

“Everyone in the department has deep historical attachments to Martin Hall. But Martin’s lack of space and age place limitations on what we’d like to do and so it is time for a new building,” Kaplinsky said in an email. “We will have more space and, in many cases, labs that are customized for the particular types of experiments that are being taught by individual faculty members. An example of this is that in our current building there is no classroom where we can have 12 students working with soil. BEP will have one.”

Though many are excited by the prospect of a new building, the construction process can be lengthy and disruptive for some.

“It’s a painful process getting those nice facilities and we’ve already suffered some this semester with construction, and we’ll have to endure two more years of it. We do understand that construction is dangerous, noisy, and messy and that we have to tough it,” Everbach said.

Warner says that certain precautions are being taken to ensure that the construction process is not overly disruptive to the students or faculty.

“One of the things we take into consideration is the disruptions to the community. A lot of the planning that occurs behind the scenes is about how we limit the disruptions to the community,” Warner said. “It starts with our deliveries: there are large signs that tell trucks where they can and cannot go. All of that was coordinated with the borough of Swarthmore and the college.”

Currently, the BEP building is in Phase One of construction. According to Janet Semler, the director of capital planning and project management at Swarthmore, Phase One involves constructing permanent foundation walls for the basement floor of the building.

In the next few weeks, however, the next phase of the process will begin: the erection of structural steel, the columns and beams that will form the skeleton of the building. This next stage in the construction process is expected to continue throughout the spring semester before decking and roofing is installed in the summer.

For the time being, the sounds of construction and the flying dust will continue even as the semester comes to a close.

Letter to the Editor: Worried About How You Look?

in Letter to the Editor/Open Letter/Opinions by

I wish that my son could tell his own story, but he can’t, so I will try for him, perhaps to give courage to others who are in the grip of the illness that cut his life short at the age of 24.

“It’s odd,” I mentioned to my then-18-year-old’s therapist. “Nathaniel shaves with the lights out in the bathroom and the door propped open to let in a little light from the hallway.” The therapist’s eyes widened with sudden understanding and alarm.

“It’s BDD — Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” she blurted out.

The moment plays in slow motion in my head, locked in my memory. BDD? Never heard of it. I had no idea what she was talking about, but it did not sound good.

As soon as we got home, I ordered Katharine Phillips’ seminal book about BDD, “The Broken Mirror,” and read it in one sitting. When I finished, I knew this was the disorder Nathaniel had been suffering from since age 11 when he first became anxious, and that we were in for a rough ride. It had already been hard, and it got harder — much harder.

Our six-foot four, handsome, intelligent, and incredibly funny son was wrestling with an inner demon that I could not fathom and could hardly bear living with. If it was torture for us, his family, it was unmitigated hell for him. He hated his appearance and was convinced that his skin was defective — “hideous, disgusting” were the words he used. Yet he had a beautiful complexion, and by anyone’s standard, he was handsome. A shaving nick or a minor blemish would keep him indoors for days, or he would cover them up with tiny pieces of bandage so that he could bear to go out. The focus was mostly his skin, but when he was younger, the worries had shifted: he thought the roll of flesh on his tummy was too pronounced (“But you are a growing boy!” I would say), the shadows under his eyes were too dark (“But everyone has them!”), his hair had to be just so (“Do you need all that gel?”). He compared himself with his younger sister, wanted to be her weight and keep up with her level of activity to satisfy an inner command. He was victimized by narratives in his head that dictated he cover up blemishes, exercise compulsively, or compete with his beloved sister. There is no logic to BDD, so no logical argument or reassurance helped.

Nathaniel was the kind of kid growing up that other kids wanted to hang out with. Inventive, smart, full of ideas for games and imaginary play. He never lacked friends. His teachers loved him because he did his school work to perfection and participated fully in class. A natural athlete, he was an avid soccer player and later cross country runner. And sense of humor? He could mimic anyone and would leave us in stitches. Once he invented an on-the-spot musical that he sang on a family car trip to our endless amusement. He could even turn criticism into comedy. While out driving once, he said calmly, “Mom, it’s a source of great comfort to me to know that if you ever have an accident and lose an arm, you won’t have to change your driving habits.” I burst out laughing, but the message got through; I have been driving with two hands on the wheel ever since.

When he first became ill in fifth grade, it was as if a bomb had dropped from the sky and blown our delightful son into an alternate reality. He ran one, two, then three times a day, virtually stopped eating, and lost so much weight that he had to be hospitalized. SSRI medication helped, and from then on, he began seeing therapists regularly. The diagnoses ranged from anorexia to OCD to school anxiety to social anxiety to generalized anxiety disorder, but he didn’t get the correct BDD diagnosis until seven years later.

BDD, an OCD spectrum disorder, is more prevalent than many realize.  Two to four percent of the population suffer from it, with the highest proportion among college age students, yet many mental health providers do not know of the disorder or how to treat it. Convinced that they are ugly, sufferers often get stuck in the mirror or avoid mirrors completely, compare themselves to others, skip social situations due to concerns about how they look, and spend hours trying to “fix” or cover up flaws that others see as insignificant or non-existent. The focus is most often the face (nose, skin, hair), but sufferers can be paralyzed with concern about any part of the body. Not remotely like vanity, this crushing preoccupation with appearance can disrupt schooling, make employment difficult, and strain relationships. The suicide rate is the highest of any brain disorder — higher than for those with severe depression or schizophrenia.

Having a name for a brain disorder, sadly, doesn’t disarm the demon any more than knowing that you have diabetes improves your insulin levels. But it did lead us to skilled practitioners. Drs. Katharine Phillips, Michael Jenike, Tamar Chansky ’84, and Marty Franklin all had their times with Nathaniel, trying to help his mind find the space and energy to combat BDD’s onslaught. He tried various SSRI medications and many combinations of medications, which sometimes provided relief. Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention strategies — the gold standard of treatment — were only slightly helpful.

As he grew older and his symptoms intensified, he had to leave high school and earn his diploma from home. Some days he couldn’t leave the house, although he managed to work part time and found joy in coaching middle school cross country and teaching in an after-school program. By his mid-twenties, he was still living at home and could see no promise in his future. He watched his sister and friends go off to college, find partners, launch their careers. “BDD is my only companion,” he told me once. “It dictates my entire day, from the second I get up, until I go to sleep — the only time I get any relief. I would not wish this on my worst enemy.” He ended his life in 2011.

Very few people understand brain disorders, and even some people who knew Nathaniel didn’t fully grasp that his condition was not caused by faulty reasoning or an inability to face life’s challenges. Because BDD is under-recognized and under-diagnosed, my family and I have devoted much of our time to raise awareness and funds for research. Recent fMRI studies at UCLA have discovered that the brains of those with BDD process facial images on the left side of the visual cortex instead of the right, like the rest of the population. The brains of those with anorexia show the same anomaly, suggesting that sufferers focus on tiny details of appearance and not the whole picture. More research will determine if this finding is causal or correlative, but it points to anatomical factors involved in BDD and suggests that visual re-training in treatment might help. Genetics and social/environmental triggers also play a role, but the pathway of the disorder is not yet fully understood.

Brain-circuit-based therapies such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, currently in wide use for depression, and Deep Brain Stimulation using implanted electrodes to stimulate areas of the brain — similar to the treatment used for Parkinson’s disease — may hold promise for those with severe BDD, but more research is needed.

If you think you may have BDD, or know someone who might be struggling with appearance concerns that interfere with daily functioning, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist at the college health center. The International OCD Foundation website has a large section devoted to BDD where you can learn more about the disorder. If you want to read more about Nathaniel, the website Walkingwithnathaniel.org details our family’s journey more fully.

Nathaniel knew that after he died, we would wonder what we could have done differently. “Please don’t,” he wrote in the letter he left us. “We were all doing the best we could and there is no regret in that.” No regret, but no silence, and no stigma either. Please spread the word about BDD, and get help for yourself or others who might need it. No one should have to struggle with this devastating illness alone. I know that is what Nathaniel would say.

Judy Nicholson Asselin ’75

Barry Schwartz reflects on a long, happy career

in Campus Journal by

“Barry Schwartz has truly lived a good life.”

This remark from the symposium honoring the esteemed psychology professor of 45 years best sums up the sentiments expressed at the event, held in late March. Schwartz’s colleagues spoke in Lang Concert Hall, exalting the depth and impact of his research, the reach and meaning of his teaching career, and, most notably, his admirable way of being.  I sat down with Professor Schwartz to discuss the event, his prolific career as a professor and psychologist, and his hopes for the college.

“It was stunning,” Schwartz described his experience attending the symposium. “It was just unbelievably gratifying.”

A wide variety of students attended the event to celebrate Schwartz’s long career, as well as to hear talks from well-established psychologists around the country, including a personal video from Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

Hearing the impact of his classes and collaborations came as a surprise to the professor, who describes feeling grateful for the ways Swarthmore’s liberal arts programs have shaped his own career and knowledge.

“People find nice things to say and everyone exaggerates a little bit,” he insisted.

Professor Schwartz remains remarkably humble, even when we discuss his highly prolific career. He has written 6 books and published over 20 works of research and opinion, in addition to teaching psychology courses.

“I tell everyone: my education began at Swarthmore,” he said. He came to Swarthmore as a psychology professor in 1971 because it was geographically convenient and says he stayed because he fell in love with it.

Schwartz believes that working at Swarthmore has afforded him opportunities unavailable at a big research university. Instead of only developing relationships within the psychology department, working at Swarthmore has allowed him to meet sociologists, historians, and biologists. He is a better psychologist for it, he tells me. He also appreciates the students themselves and the relationships forged with them over the years.

“They don’t realize it, but I love when they disagree with me,” he insisted.

Schwartz remarked on the changes he has seen at Swarthmore over his 45 years.

“It’s become more professionally-oriented,” Schwartz explained.

He thinks that the faculty and students alike are thinking more so about specialization and research, maybe at the cost of breadth and institutional welfare.

“They want to get into the lab before they know why,” he said.

We talk about whether Swarthmore could or should be involved in getting students to reflect on themselves and their time in college, so that they avoid getting, as Schwartz said, lost in the details.

“It might be worth a try,” he said, about specifically instituting a class or series about self-reflection.

As far as their success at Swarthmore, he likens classes and programs in personal reflection and personal development to an ethics class in business school. They can be meaningful and thought-provoking if done correctly but, he cautions, when they become boxes to check off, they’re not just unproductive but counterproductive.

“Why are you doing this? Why does it matter?” he encourages students to think about in their own lives.

His own popular “Happiness” course is an example of such topical classes done correctly. Each time it’s offered, it fills up more than 5 times over. Last time, over 70 students were lotteried for just 12 spots.

“I told them this isn’t a self-help class! You’re not going to learn how to be happy,” he said.

Despite being a psychology class concerned with research and theories of happiness, students treated the class as far more than an academic exercise. Schwartz described this high level of engagement and excitement with pride.

“It became more than an academic exercise to them. It just became incredibly fun to teach.”

Still, Schwartz’s proudest moments at Swarthmore didn’t involve classes or research.

He told me about his role in supporting student activism in pushing for a living wage and the ways his position in the school gave the cause increased legitimacy, which ultimately paid off.

He similarly cited a proposal he made about community-based learning and social action as central to the conception of the Lang Center. He’s proud to see the Center become important to students and the college institutionally.

Aside from that, he fondly looks back on his style of relationship and collaboration.

Referring to a class he taught with Professor Ken Sharpe, Schwartz said, “We taught a fantastic class based on friendship and collaboration. It was just pointed out to me how unique it was to have personal and professional relationships where you can’t see where the friendship ends and the collaboration begins.”

Ultimately, he described Swarthmore as a model for other schools, making our decisions within the college of added importance.

“There need to be some pristine institutions,” he explained.

In terms of hopes going forward, he added that we might find a way to encourage political diversity and student resilience, in particular.

“Students seem afraid to hurt each other’s feelings, which is a good thing but also not a good thing,” he asserted. “Liberals are getting sloppy. The conservatives here are in much better shape because they’ve been pushed on so much.”

Schwartz looks back on his time at Swarthmore, his relationships, and collaborations with deep satisfaction.

Ultimately, he is hopeful for the future of Swarthmore and proud of what is sure to be a profound legacy here.

“No regrets,” he concluded. “Not one.”

College hosts symposium for outgoing Professor Schwartz

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Last Saturday the college held a ceremony honoring long-time psychology professor Barry Schwartz. The ceremony took place in Lang Concert Hall from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. During that time, faculty members who had worked with Schwartz had the opportunity to share their experiences and gratitude for him. The event was open to all students and faculty members and drew a large crowd, with attendees filing in and out through the course of the day.

President Valerie Smith opened with general remarks about Schwartz’s incredibly successful career, publishing over 200 articles and 10 books, being interviewed on Anderson Cooper and the Colbert Report, and sharing his research findings through numerous TED talks. Smith paved the way for the other speakers with an introduction to his impressive professional life.

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Seligman began his speech by talking about his experiences working with Schwartz and the findings they had shared. Seligman acknowledged all of Schwartz’s incredible achievements, but made note that Schwartz was instead successful because he had only had, “one job and one wife his whole life.”

Daniel Reisberg, a psychology professor at Reed College, took the stage next and talked about his work with Schwartz. Some of the following speakers included professor of psychology at Princeton University Daniel Kahneman, professor of psychology at Swarthmore Richard Schuldenfrei, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Adam Gant, and professor of political science at Swarthmore Kenneth Sharpe.

Toward the end of the event, several Swarthmore professors shared their experiences, including chair of the psychology department Andrew Ward. Ward started his talk with a few jokes about his humbling experience working alongside Schwartz, noting that students confused him for Schwartz’s assistant and commenting on Schwartz’s dress attire when teaching. He then described with his acronym of tips for happiness called the “BARRY.” Each letter refers to an aspect of life that Schwartz follows to be happy. The letters stand for Be grateful, Allow students to succeed, Reward others, Resist irrational behavior, Yield to the power of satisficing, and finally to have low expectations (which did not have its own letter).

Schwartz gave the final talk of the afternoon in which the Lang Concert Hall reached its capacity and started with a standing ovation. Schwartz began his speech thanking his colleagues and peers for their influence on his life. During his talk, he attributed the successes of his life and career not to what he created for himself, but instead to being able to see opportunities when they presented themselves through good fortune. He said, “I have been incredibly lucky and fortunate to take advantage of good luck when confronted with it.”

Schwartz mapped the experiences and path of his career studying at NYU, and then moving on to the University of Pennsylvania to receive his PhD in psychology. He was torn at a point in his life to study either law or psychology. He said, “I studied psychology in college largely by accident, I chose the grad school I went to for the wrong reasons but discovered it was the perfect place to be. I would have gone to law school and become a lawyer in Penn law school had they been willing to take me part time while I finished my PhD. The happy accidents just go on and on.”

Schwartz ended his talk sharing his ideas about the college admission process and how high schoolers could be happier and more stress free if it did not involve the pressure to outperform other students in an applicant pool.

Schwartz expressed his impression of the symposium as a whole and commented, “I was completely stunned. It just took my breath away. My colleagues who organized it were unbelievably generous with their time, and wanted it to be just perfect, the president and the provost were generous with funds to support it, my colleagues and collaborators all every one said yes when they were invited despite how busy they are and that four of them were coming from the west coast.”

Many of Schwartz’s former and current students attended the symposium, including McKenzie Himelein-Wachowiak ’19, who is currently taking his class, “Thinking, Judgment, and Decision Making.”

Himelein-Wachowiak said, “I think he’s a captivating lecturer, and always solidifies the material we’re learning with interesting studies, which helps me better learn the concepts. I also admire his almost-cynical humor.”

Rajnish Yadav ’18, who is in two classes with Schwartz this semester — “Thinking, Judgement, and Decision Making” and “Behavioral Science and Public Policy” — agreed. “Barry’s lectures are captivating. There has never been a dull moment in any of his two classes I am taking this semester. He has a great sense of humor and he uses it with great success during the lectures. There have been a lot of ‘wow’ moments for me in his classes which have helped deepen my understanding of judgment and decision making,” he noted.

Students attended the symposium for a variety of reasons. Martina Costagliola ’17 remarked, “I’ve always been interested in Barry’s research and work, so I really wanted to hear what his colleagues had to say about working with him. The lineup of speakers was also just impressive, and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to hear all of them speak.”

Himelein-Wachowiack commented, “I was excited for the opportunity to hear so many prominent psychologists, like Seligman, Kahneman, and Lyubomirsky, and for the opportunity to honor Barry while also learning about the current research of the speakers.”

Schwartz wanted students to take away one central message. “Serious intellectual engagement can be thrilling, and more important, it can lead to understandings that can change the world,” he said, “we tend to be so caught up in day-to-day business of assignments and exams that we can lose sight of why it matters that we do this kind of work, and do it with integrity and passion.”


College’s ambitious construction plans underway

in News by
The psychology department will move out of Papazian hall, above, upon the completion of the school’s new biology, engineering, and psychology building.
Photo by Sadie Rittman

This summer marked the beginning of a number of construction projects on and around campus. These plans include improvements and extensions to Willets Hall, the softball field, and the Dana and Hallowell dorms. Additionally, three entirely new buildings are being built: the “Matchbox,” Town Center West- which will house a campus bookstore, pub and inn- and the new biology, engineering and psychology building (BEP).

Of the projects planned by the college, the new BEP building is the most ambitious and least finalized. With construction slated to begin in 2016, the college has left plenty of time to discuss plans with the student body, alumni, staff and faculty. The building should be finished by the fall of 2018. The BEP building, when completed, will be the largest building on campus and is being implemented to match the increasing spatial demands of a growing student body.

“From biology’s point of view, we’re crammed to the gills in our current building, and even though we love it, we’ve literally taken over closets and other spaces that were never designed to be research facilities,” said Nick Kaplinsky, associate professor of biology and the department’s point person for the building. “The new building will solve our space issues, solve our mechanical issues and allow the department to expand and serve future biology majors.”

Each of the three departments that will occupy the BEP building will upgrade the amount of space they have on campus, and their old buildings will be reutilized for other departments.

In addition to the BEP building, the college is looking to build more student housing. Plans on this new dorm, or set of dorms, are still in flux, but it is likely that the new housing will be built near the PPR dorms on the south side of campus.

The school has already begun the process of renovating student housing. Over the summer, Willets underwent a series of construction projects. Most parts of the plumbing, insulation and electrical systems were entirely replaced. The bathrooms and lounges were also renovated.

“They were the original rooms, 50 years old, and the original plumbing, 50 years old. So we got to replace all that,” said Stuart Hain, vice president of facilities and capital projects.

In addition, Willets was taken off of the campus’ central steam system and given new boilers. The buildings furthest from the central steam system suffer the most from energy loss in using heat and hot water. In combination with improvements to the building’s insulation, the new boilers are supposed to significantly increase Willets’ energy efficiency.

While Willets was being revamped, construction on the new Matchbox building continued across campus. Nestled above the field house on the far side of Fieldhouse Lane, the Matchbox is the result of a funding campaign led by two married alumni, Salem Shuchman and Barbara Klock.

When completed, the Matchbox will be a student wellness and fitness center, as well as a space for the theater community. Construction on the Matchbox began last winter and was scheduled to be completed by the beginning of this semester, but the severity of last winter pushed that plan back. As of now, construction on the building should be finished by late September. The expected opening day is October 20.

As residents of the two dorms will attest, construction at Dana and Hallowell is underway. The final goal is a new five-story building connecting Dana and Hallowell. This building will replace the Danawell trailer, which previously served as a communal social space for the two dorms. In addition, the new structure will contain 68 new beds, designed to accommodate the college’s enrollment increases. The plan is for the building’s framework and foundation to be finished this fall, before the ground freezes.

Hain believes they will finish construction on Dana and Hallowell on schedule.

“We really believe we’ve built enough time into this schedule to make it work,” he said. “It could get so mean here that we get slowed down significantly, but there are some options about how we can accelerate that by working longer hours or longer weeks.”

Down the road from Dana and Hallowell is the softball field, which is being replaced. As of now, there are two fields. The old field is ready for fall play while the new field is being finished. The new field will have an adjustable netting system, as well as a new locker room attached to the home dugout.

“The outfield is pretty much in place, we’re installing an irrigation system and a drainage system to augment the system that’s there, [and] we’re building the dugouts,” said Jan Semler, director of capital planning and construction.

Town Center West is due to be finished by the end of the 2016 spring semester. It will contain an inn, a restaurant and retail spaces. The administration hopes that Town Center West will encourage a greater student presence in the ville, as well as support visitors and alumni. The bookstore will also be moved to the location.

“What we’re starting do now is actively think about what a bookstore, or a college and community store as we’re now calling it, of the future will look like. [Town Center West will] give us the opportunity to start thinking about how to repurpose the space that’s the current bookstore, since Clothier really is supposed to be a student center […] getting the bookstore out of there is going to be a huge help in terms of spaces that are available for students,” said Gregory Brown, vice president for finance and administration.

In addition, a new parking lot and a roundabout are being constructed by the Palmer, Pittenger, and Roberts dorms and Fieldhouse Lane. The parking lot will replace student parking in lot C and faculty parking by the train station. The parking lot will be finished and in use by the end of fall break. The roundabout is still in its beginning stages. Until September 12th, construction on Chester Road will operate at night from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. After that point, construction will shift to the daytime, but at least one lane of traffic will be available throughout the day. The administration is planning for two further periods of nighttime construction, but the dates for these are not yet in place. The asphalt work on the roundabout is due to end before winter in accordance with PennDOT guidelines, and the roundabout will be complete by the end of the school year.

Bias 101: Introduction to one perspective

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Introductory courses are often a student’s first academic exposure to a new field. It stands to reason then that the more perspective one gains into a field, the more breadth they gain in their understanding.  And still some introductory courses are taught by only one professor. This may not make a difference in some subjects, such as chemistry, math, and physics, but in others it can lead to a wholly different experience. This difference is largely due to the amount a person’s specialty can skew their perspective in their subject.

Some departments already combat this problem by having various professors involved in teaching the intro course. The biology, political science and economic departments are some of those that employ this method. If organismal biology were only taught by an evolutionary biologist or a neurobiologist, then the course would be fundamentally different. This should apply to other fields in which a certain perspective can overpower the discourse and affect the way in which information is explained. The intro courses that suffer the most from this lack of varying views is psychology, sociology and anthropology, and philosophy. Introduction to anthropology and sociology are taught as one course by two professors, one from each department, however this still only allows for one perspective from each field. Philosophy has two intro courses, but they are still only taught by one professor without so much as a guest lecture from someone else in the department. Psychology suffers greatly from being taught by only one professor.

Psych 001 is taken by many students each semester, often enough to warrant the use of Sci 101. Depending on the professor teaching the course, however, it is not an encompassing introduction to the subject. Instead, at times intro psych is instead an introduction to social psychology, and at others to behavioral psychology. It is by no fault of the professors that this is the case, it is understandable that they approach the subject from the lens with which they have adopted over many years of instruction and research. But often, this means that areas such as cultural, development, and neuro- psychology are glossed over or barely mentioned in those courses. In a field like psychology, where an action or attitude can be interpreted socially, culturally, developmentally, neurologically, behaviorally, cognitively, or evolutionarily. All of those analyses have their merits, but when only one paradigm is taught, students walk away from the course feeling as though they know more than they truly do. Some of these fields are young sciences, in the case of psychology, sociology and anthropology, and it would not be doing these student a favor to make them feel as though there is a single approach that is right and accepted. There isn’t one, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the process. That’s exactly why introductory courses should be taught by more than one professor. It exposes students to the various, and sometimes opposing, views in a field, instead of sticking to a singular perspective.

Questions arise regarding rat lab in Papazian

in Around Campus/News by

In the back room of a lab located on the top floor of Papazian Hall are 17 lab rats currently being used in an experiment run by the psychology department. The rat lab is under the direction of Centennial Professor of Psychology Allen Schneider, but students carry out all of the experimentation that occurs within the lab. Over the years, Schneider’s interest in physiological psychology, which seeks to understand human behavior by manipulating the brains of animal subjects, has supported a series of experiments within the lab.

The current undertaking in the rat lab is a study of how memories of fear can be eliminated. “We’re talking about very strong emotional fear memories that can interfere with your life,” said Rose Pitkin ’14, a neuroscience major who spends four hours a week in the rat lab. “These are traumatic events like car accidents, violence, or house fires – things that could cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”

The goal of the experiment is to manipulate the brains of rats that have been subjected to a traumatic experience in such a way that they forget their memories of fear. These healing methods, if found effective, could hopefully one day be applied to alleviate the pain of humans suffering from PTSD.

According to Corinne Sommi ’14, who has worked in the lab for three years, the eight students who work in the lab must care for the rats, perform the experiment on the rats, and ultimately kill the rats after data has been collected. “We feed them and give them water.” Sommi said. “When the rats come to us they are juveniles, and we have to pick them up and get them used to people.” Handling the rats in this way is essential to prevent the rats from experiencing fear from human contact during the experiment.

After the rats have been assimilated to their environment, they undergo a traumatic experience that is designed to leave them with memories of panic and alarm. “We put them in a box and run a current through the box to shock them and establish their fear memory,” said Sommi. The pain they experience from the shock will later develop into a fear memory.

Pitkin added, “It’s startling to them but it’s not enough shock to stop their hearts.”

According to Sommi, since fear is a learned experience, the rats come to associate the box with the feelings of terror that arose in them when they were shocked. This makes them suitable subjects for a variety of treatments that attempt to manipulate the brains to exterminate memories of fear. “We use drugs and exposure therapy to make the memory extinction permanent,” she said.

The students working in the lab make their own propranolol, a drug used to reduce anxiety, and inject the medication into the rats. “Propranolol is a beta blocker,” said Chelsea Matzko ’15 who has been working in the lab for the semester. “This means that it reduces the symptoms of fear and lessens the effects of PTSD.”

Injected with propranolol, the rats are placed back into the boxes.

“We put them back into the context where they were scared and observe their behavior” said Matzko. Each rat’s level of fear is measured according to how long they stay motionless in the box – a symptom of panic in rodents. Following this final stage of experimentation, the rodents are placed into a chamber where they are killed using gas.

But while the intentions of the experimentation are positive, there is concern for the ethical implications of using rats for this type of study. “Animal research of any kind takes a negative toll on the animal’s life,” explained Madeline Conca ’17, also a neuroscience major at the college. “An animal’s value needs to be more than just a mechanism to better the lives of humans.”

Coca is not alone. Azucena Lucatero ’16, who is in the process of establishing an animal rights advocacy group at Swarthmore, said that animal research was not only unethical but unnecessary. “I’m fundamentally opposed to to anyone using animals in research,” she said. “It’s cruel on multiple levels and totally unnecessary. Alternatives to animal testing — which are just as, if not more, effective and valuable — exist.”

Lucatero, however, still volunteered to help care for the rats of Thanksgiving break, saying that if she could not stop the research, she could at least “give them some comfort.”

“I gave the rats food, water, and played with them to help them settle down and get used to people,” she said. “They were really scared because they had just been shipped in.”

Those working in the lab, however, said that the detriments to the rats were a necessary evil. “You could never do this type of research on people,” Pitkin said. “We are using these resources because they are what is most available to us.”

Sommi agreed saying that the conclusions of the research to some extent outweigh its ethical costs. “It’s really easy to hate animal research until you know someone who could be saved by it,” she said. “I love rats, and I don’t think this is the worst thing in the world. There is a greater good for it.”

Regardless of the ethics of the experimentation, the rat lab plays a significant role in the psychology department’s research at the college and provides students with a unique lab setting.

“The rat lab is the only operating animal science lab at the college,” Pitkin said. “I chose to work there because the research I did this summer made me realize the importance of such labs. For me, this is a great opportunity.”

Something It Is Like To Be A Human Being

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

“Inner perception is a fiction which was conjured into existence in order to explain how things are with us,” said Peter Hacker, an eminent philosopher who spoke to a gathered crowd of philosophy professors, students, and other interested attendees on Friday, November 8. Hacker, who taught at Swarthmore from 1973-86, is known for his detailed investigation of the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a far more eminent — and deceased — philosopher whose theory of language indelibly marked modern thought. (You know, languages have to be shared between people — that’s him.)

Hacker, who was Oxford-prim and very funny, argued that consciousness — which has undergirded much of philosophical thought since at least the time of Locke — is “a marvelous piece of grammatical deception.” First, he explicated its various colloquial uses: it is similarly being conscious/unconscious, being conscious of [something], summoning [a past experience] to consciousness, along with a host of other colloquial uses, like being self-conscious. But in philosophy, it has become a sort of remedy for what is referred to in neuroscience as “the binding problem,” which Hacker characterized as follows: “Given that we perceive whiteness by the visual sense, and sweetness by the gestational sense [and so on], what brings them all together to form the perception of a singular…sweet object?” For many philosophers, the answer is that we perceive the information that comes from our senses within another perceptive power located inside our mind, and therefore can pick through our sense perceptions and construct our perception of the holistic sweet object. But for Hacker, we do not need to perceive our own perceptions: “You can’t distinguish between something that you can’t confuse! You can’t confuse whiteness and sweetness.”

Hacker’s work has serious implications in neuroscience, where researchers often look for the “neural correlates for consciousness”; that is, the area of the brain that lights up when we are conscious of something. According to Hacker, such a search is “fundamentally misguided.” Those researchers misunderstand — and limit — what consciousness is. “If you’re a person who thinks consciousness is a spotlight,” said Krista Thomason, a philosophy professor, “It looks like, at least in Hacker’s view, that neuroscience is trying to find the light bulb. And his point is you’re not going to find the light bulb.” That is, neuroscientists won’t find a part of the mind that lights up when someone is conscious, although they might find “an event that occurs in the brain that’s correlated with whatever is in the perceptual field,” said Hacker. However, this event is not what it is to be conscious, which also encompasses the “huge battery of linguistic skills” listed above, such as consciousness of, self-consciousness, etc.

So Hacker’s work systematically decouples “consciousness” from any firm, single definition, especially from one that is an event within the mind. But Hacker’s work also builds up an alternative story, one that encompasses the definitions provided by colloquial speech, and puts at its center the use of language. Therefore, says Thomason, “if you say this set of neurons is consciousness — he’s going to say no it’s not, because it’s not adequately explaining the process we’re interested in…you’re always in the realm of the physical in one sense, because you’re not explaining the [use in the language].”

All the colloquial uses of the word, Hacker said, are valid, although they may have no implication for science or philosophy. His unpacking of the use of the term in philosophy was often hysterical, as when he lampooned another philosopher, Tom Nagel, for “the assumption…that every experience is such that there is something there is like to have it.” There may be “something it is like to eat fresh strawberries” and even “something it is like to be a human being” — which we have mislabeled consciousness — but there is not something it is like “to see the buttons on my yellow shirt.

What Nagel is really looking for, Hacker pointed out, are the “hedonic qualities of what things are; to put it bluntly, jolly nice or bloody awful.” But, “for the vast range of experiences we have, there isn’t anything it’s like to have them, because you identify the experience not by what it’s like to have it or suffer it, but what it’s of!” To see the buttons on Hacker’s shirt wasn’t awful or nice — it was just an experience of seeing the buttons. But it certainly wasn’t like an experience of seeing them. Therefore, while to be human may be “wonderful,” Hacker said, it’s probably not “like wonderful — except in California.”

In fact, it’s not like anything — and again, the whole notion of “consciousness” goes poof.

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