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:
- Working to better integrate diversity education into the Swarthmore curriculum
- Improving support and facilitation for peer group-study resources within the social sciences and humanities
- 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 email@example.com should you have any questions or concerns!
From Scotland with warmth,
Marian Firke ‘14