Students should reign in more prominent guest speakers

Jonathan Franzen, Rita Dove, Junot Díaz — any bells ringing?

They might not. It’s been nearly two years since Dove came to campus, and even longer since the other two award-winning authors visited. The three are just a handful of memorable and famous speakers that have come to Swarthmore in the past several years. If asked to name a more recent speaker, you might be hard-pressed to even remember. While we frequently host professors and academics in various fields, it’s not all too often that we get to hear eminent writers, philosophers or thinkers.

With the buzz surrounding Judith Butler’s current talk series at Bryn Mawr, it makes sense that Swatties might ask where their Judith Butler is. But the only people we can blame for that is ourselves.

So few of us realize that the college offers students the very resources they need to bring speakers to campus. For starters, the Student Budget Committee, through the Forum for Free Speech, allocates ample funds to bring prominent speakers to Swarthmore. Syndicated journalists, Nobel Prize-winning economists, bestselling authors — these are the people students should be working to bring to campus. These are the people who could draw a full crowd to the Keith Room, the Scheuer Room or Science Center 101. Where one might see a scattering of eager Swatties at current small-scale guest lectures, sold-out events are almost unheard of.

With student resources such as the Cooper Series and the Forum for Free Speech, it’s easier than we might think to submit a proposal for an event that would offer us the opportunity to listen to and meet with anyone from Bill Clinton to Jonathan Safran Foer. In fact, it was the Cooper Series that allowed us to bring in speakers such as Dove and Díaz.

The processes for funding are simple and accessible, designed to encourage individual students, student groups and student communities to take the initiative to secure funds in an effort to expose ourselves to the ideas, experiences and advice of distinguished and influential figures. The Cooper Series application isn’t due until February, so we’ve all got a short while to draw up a couple proposals that envision Khaled Hosseini, Paul Krugman, Sandra Cisneros and maybe even Barack Obama himself in the Lang Performing Arts Center.

The rewards of inviting such speakers span across the intellectual and creative milieu. Not only does it allow us to come together, cross-cutting our many differences, but it also gives us a chance to learn and understand the world through people who’ve given back to society in the most instrumental and innovative ways.

Settling for several marginal speakers is not the same as inviting fewer esteemed academics, politicians and writers. Even better — if all of us used the money available to us through the Forum for Free Speech, we would have several remarkable speakers.

Who knows — at that rate, we might even need to submit a proposal to expand LPAC.

Those interested in acquiring funds for a guest speaker, lecture, workshop or event should go to the Forum for Free Speech application ( and/or the Cooper Series application (

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