Jennie Keith retires, Joy Charlton to lead Lang Center

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Joy Charlton will be assuming the position of Executive Director of the Lang Center in the fall. According to current Executive Director and Professor of Anthropology Jennie Keith, Charlton was appointed by a search committee at the end of the fall semester. “The goal of the search was to find a member of the tenured faculty,” she said.

Charlton is excited to assume her new role. She wrote in an e-mail, “I have been engaged in what are now Lang Center activities since my early days as a faculty member — with the Swarthmore Foundation, the Lang Scholars, community-based learning courses… to be able to focus on social responsibility within a context of academic excellence — what a fabulous opportunity this is!”

Charlton has many hopes for the future of the Lang Center, including “that we will find ever better ways to integrate students’ interests in social responsibility with the curriculum and faculty involvement, that we find ever bigger ways to integrate what the Lang Center does with residential life, that we continue to help provide the skills and opportunities needed for effective leadership in areas of social action and service.”

“I am especially eager for the center to move to its new location on Whittier Place,” she explained, “closer to the center of campus while still remaining an easy linking point for the local communities. I think students, staff, faculty, community members will find it a welcoming and energizing space.”

Joy Charlton, a sociologist, replaces Jennie Keith, an anthropologist by training. Is there a connection between the disciplines of Sociology and Anthropology and the work of the Lang Center? Charlton speculated, “we are both fieldworkers — our research is based on observation and interviews, which is to say direct contact with people and communities… our interest in better understanding and interacting with the social world make us good fits for the Lang Center, I would say.”

Students who wish to take a course with Charlton may still have an opportunity. Although she expects to be very busy as Executive Director of the Lang Center, “I may offer next year a senior version of the course ‘Everyday Life’ for those seniors who took it as a first-year seminar; otherwise and after that, we’ll see what happens.”

Charlton might look to her predecessor Keith for a model in juggling teaching and directing the Lang Center. Keith said, “I thought it was really important to teach even as I took this job… I made up a First Year Seminar called Social Action and Social Responsibility which lets me bring together my anthropological point of view and methods with the kinds of questions the center is concerned with.” Students in the seminar do placements with organizations in Chester throughout the semester. As a final project this year, students are writing papers about those organizations that will hopefully help them in the future.

Keith has served a variety of roles at the college in her thirty-nine years, including Professor and Provost. She has been with the Center since its beginning, and calls her time with the Lang Center “a tremendous opportunity to be part of something that will hopefully last for a very long time… it’s been a way to provide support for a piece of the college’s mission that’s been there from the beginning.”

Although the connection between academics and social responsibility has always existed, according to Keith, until the Lang Center “there hasn’t been a home-base and really extensive support for that connection… we were asked to provide vision and leadership, for that part of the college’s mission, and we see our mission as aimed right at that connection.”

In the beginning, “we were asked to provide support for a lot of programs that were already here… the Swarthmore Foundation, the Lang Opportunity Scholarships, the Lang Visiting Professorship, many social action student groups, and community-based learning in the curriculum.” Keith continued, “Several things have been added to that list,” including the Project Pericles Fund, Upward Bound, and a whole new set of social action student groups.

Keith was excited to move into the current building three years ago, since beforehand the Lang Center had been spread between various offices. She recalls “it was a huge step for us to all be in the same building… but the wonderful news is, now it’s too small.”

In the new building on 3-5 Whittier Place “we will have much more room for student activities… there will be a resource room for tutoring available for tutoring groups and people in the community that manage after-school programs.” A space designed for student use will be available even at night, unlike in the current Lang Center.

Although she is retiring from the college in an official capacity, Keith will still be around campus. She recently started a new research project about connections between Swarthmore College and Chester, and “my retirement office will be in the Lang Center… I’ll be very available for students. I don’t want to lose that connection.”


  1. Have your say
    congratulations for Jennie Kieth
    wishing you well and productive years in retirement
    I remember when you started your research on aging… and now I could be a subject…
    Look me up if you like..
    for now .. still working and doing shows and living since 69 in Santa Fe….Published all over the place…. best to you .. Forrest

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