StuCo Platforms: Educational Policy Representative – Marian Firke ’14

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.

For those of you who don’t know me (particularly since I have been abroad this year!), my name is Marian Firke, and I am a rising senior. Although my studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland may be keeping me from plastering campus with eye-catching-but-wasteful paper fliers, I am eager to be your Educational Policy Representative next year. I am running on a platform with the following 3 long-term projects as my central planks:

  1. Working to better integrate diversity education into the Swarthmore curriculum
  2. Improving support and facilitation for peer group-study resources within the social sciences and humanities
  3. Collecting, compiling, and addressing student concerns with the off campus study process.

Though implementation will be a lengthy process, I am committed to discussing, proposing, and promoting the integration of diversity or sensitivity education into the academic curriculum. The need for an intentional, curricular commitment to diversity is apparent based on common campus concerns surrounding race, gender, sexuality and consent, socioeconomic class, survivor issues, ability and disability, mental illness, substance use, and more. While the programs administered during freshman orientation do an admirable job of providing a “crash course” in many of these topics, it is unrealistic to expect that a two-hour workshop during a hectic and often disorienting first week of college can possibly be a complete education on any of these issues. We wouldn’t expect a two-hour writing workshop to be enough to get students through four years of college—so why do we expect the same of diversity and assault-prevention programs? I will work with faculty, students, and our new Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development to begin mapping a curriculum that will scaffold education and discussion around these issues. If physical education, survival swimming skills, and writing skills can be universal requirements within a comprehensive, curriculum-for-life approach to education, then I see no reason why a more structured program of sensitivity and awareness education could not also be integrated into the required curriculum.

Second, I would like to improve departmental support for peer tutoring and study groups in the social sciences and humanities. Students in physics, mathematics, chemistry, computer science, and biology classes have a wealth of resources available, including clinics and group-study sessions, facilitated by experienced and knowledgeable students and overseen by professors or other academic support staff. But there are no comparable support resources available for most social science or humanities courses. While the WA program is able to support students with a variety of academic writing concerns, and the SAM program is able to provide general study skills guidance, there is a lack of structured, discipline-specific peer support in these divisions. My goal would be to work with departments within these disciplines to develop better group-study and peer support systems so that students in these subjects are given comparable resources.

Finally, as someone who is intimately familiar with the off-campus study process, I am also keenly aware of the frustrations that this process can hold for many students. I am eager to address student concerns in this area, as well as helping to develop newer, more streamlined structures that will help individual departments to better support students preparing for or returning from their study abroad experiences. In particular, I would like to work with academic departments and the Off-Campus Study Office to develop a clearer and more systematic system for students to submit proposed coursework and obtain pre-estimations of study abroad credit. The current system is outdated, ad hoc, and confusing; students are left to decide who is an appropriate contact point for each course to be pre-estimated, which can lead to mixed signals and conflicting messages from departments. I am also eager to facilitate discussions with past off-campus study participants, to brainstorm constructive criticisms and changes that can be made to the OCS process, and to collect these suggestions into a more formal proposal.

Beyond these three large goals, I am also eager to do all I can to address student concerns and to work within the Council on Educational Policy and the Curriculum committee to discuss ongoing concerns and projects, including the expansion and development of interdisciplinary programs (such as Environmental Studies) and to evaluate and broaden community-based learning (CBL) opportunities. I am very excited to listen to student suggestions for smaller changes that can be enacted more quickly. Above all, I promise to be open and responsive to student suggestions as to how educational policy can better reflect the goals and values of our student body and how curricular and administrative changes can be made to better support Swatties in their educational programs.

Though sweeping change will likely take longer than the two terms I have remaining at Swarthmore, I am excited by the opportunity to be open conversations and begin stewardship of such change. Thank you for taking the time to read my platform, and please feel free to contact me at should you have any questions or concerns!


From Scotland with warmth,

Marian Firke ‘14


  1. Seconded on the need to revamp the Swarthmore credit evaluation for students abroad. I’ve only gone through half the system so far (also abroad for the whole year – hey yo!), but it has been a nightmare and I’m left wondering if my decision to study abroad will more or less trash a years’ worth of credit. Precarious situation here.

    I would love to see this get addressed in the near future, no matter who ends up with the position.

    • You’re definitely not alone in your fears about credit transfer–keeping my fingers crossed! I accepted the risk of “losing credit” when I made the decision to come abroad, but it wasn’t easy. (Especially with that whole “pay-full-tuition-while-attending-a-far-cheaper-institution” concept.) It’s definitely something I’m personally a little uneasy about, and I hope people can forgive the fact that I have such a personal stake in that part of my platform. Having gone through the process and had both good and bad experiences, I want to help make that process as smooth and painless as possible.

      There are so many things that could make the OCS process faster, smoother, and easier. Even just creating a uniform system and web form for pre-estimation of credit would be an enormous improvement! I personally also would love to see a better system for connecting prospective study abroad students with people who have completed their program of interest. Program alumni can be a huge source of information about everything from what programs may or may not be worthwhile to how to maximize transfer credit through savvy course selection and work strategies while abroad. One of the best resources that Swarthmore has to offer its students are our own peers and the enormous wealth of our combined experiences–I think it’s a shame that there isn’t a better system in place for helping us reap the benefit of that.

      Everyone’s experience with applying to OCS is different–different expecations, excitement, disappointment, frustration, and joy. I am committed to listening to the experiences of others and seeing what core concerns emerge at the intersections of those stories.

      But concerns about transfer credit (and campaigning, for that matter!) aside, I hope that the rest of your study abroad is exciting, meaningful, and fulfilling. I know it sounds like a platitude, but being away from Swarthmore really has taught me more than I could have imagined possible a year ago–and I hope that the same has been true for your time as well.

  2. Marian,

    At the community meeting with Alina last night, many students voiced concern about the lack of diversity education, and that a single two hour workshop for first-year students is simply not enough. The proposed solution was an Ethnic Studies requirement. I’m really happy to see that diversity education is one of your primary goals, and I expect/hope that your platform will resonate with that crowd of people. I can say you have my vote, at least.


  3. To those thinking an “Ethnic Studies” requirement is a solution, may I suggest a quick read of Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz and Ken Sharpe. Especially when the implementation of both the writing requirement and the science practicum (Astro???) is a joke, I have little confidence that another requirement is the solution here.

    • Hey! Thanks for your critique. Obviously, the creation of such a requirement is only one of my three planks and I intend to split my time among the three concerns. I would also like to assure you that my first step in the fall would be to organize meetings with the IC, BCC, and WRC communities, as well as with the campus as a whole, in order to gauge student opinion with regards to not only what the requirement would look like, but whether there is student support for it in the first place.

      However, I wanted to specifically reply to your comment about Schwartz and Sharpe because I actually have read some of their work (though we have clearly interpreted it in two different directions.) There’s a pretty good summary of their idea of Practical Wisdom in this paper, for those who are curious:

      In particular, I’m guessing that your concern is along the lines of this sentiment from the linked paper:
      “The less practice people get, the worse their
      judgment will be, and the worse their judgment is, the more people in charge will perceive the need for rules – rigid bureaucratic procedures.”
      And I can hear that and understand that. I think we’re all concerned that Swarthmore students learn to “Use well thy freedom,” (as is inscribed on the stones of Parrish, as well as printed in the pages of Freedom, another book with a Swat connection.) And it’d be easy to interpret a new requirement as a restriction on that freedom–though I certainly don’t see it that way myself. I see it as a way to support marginalized communities within Swarthmore (and make good on decades of empty promises to those communities).

      I guess the place where our interpretations diverge is that I envision diversity education as presenting an opportunity for students to get more practice at using their judgment and thinking about how they respond to situations and dilemmas. The kinds of situations that Schwartz and Sharpe present–talking to a friend who asks “Do I look fat?” or deciding how to grade students’ work–are opportunities for their readers to consider how they themselves balance concerns for different “virtues” in real life. Thinking about how those decisions get made helps open up new lines of thinking about how to respond to other situations (and can make people reconsider overly pedantic or simplistic heuristics for how to live, such as “Honesty is always the best policy.”)

      For instance: I think one mistake that Swarthmore students sometimes make in their conversations about diversity is that they are not paying attention to the balance between analytical discourse and empathy, and this focus on the theoretical rather than the concrete experiences of their peers often inadvertently erases the experiences of those peers.

      Finally: Schwartz and Sharpe also emphasize the important role of social institutions in a positive psychology.
      “In other words, we are suggesting that you cannot have a positive psychology without paying special attention to practical wisdom, and you cannot cultivate practical wisdom without paying special attention to the shaping of positive social institutions.” The reality of Swarthmore as a social institution is that we are academically-minded, and whether we are in Sharples, dorms, or a dimly-lit, late-night coffee bar, we are prone to talk about our coursework and how it is affecting us. Since our studies play such a key role in determining the subjects of our conversations, it seems possible that one way to start a genuine dialogue about diversity at Swarthmore is to ground an empathetic dialogue intentionally in our curriculum.

  4. Er, I’ll back a “diversity requirement” when Western Civ, American government, and European studies are also required. Until then, Swarthmore’s curriculum is already shamelessly shallow.

    • I was under the impression that most of these are basic high school courses. Obviously, not every school system or high school is the same, but it seems weird to bring these up as priorities when they’re mostly covered for most people before they even get to Swarthmore.

      It’s kind of like if someone suggested that everyone should take a Stat class, and someone commented, “fine, but not until Swarthmore’s curriculum requires basic Algebra.”

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