Lang Scholars Program must change

2 mins read

The new class of Lang Opportunity Scholars recently presented their projects to the Swarthmore community. Their aims are varied, and range from bringing entrepreneurial and digital literacy skills to a rural village in Ghana, to teaching CPR techniques in Haitian hospitals and communities. Of the six projects, only two are based in the U.S. and only one of them in Philadelphia.

Though the objectives of these six projects are admirable, we believe that the Lang Opportunity Scholarship Program needs to devote its generous funds to foster innovation, improvement and activism in the area surrounding Swarthmore.

It is, first and foremost, problematic that Swarthmore funds students’ ventures into foreign countries to “help” populations they may be unacquainted with. The fact that most of the projects are not based in the surrounding area also prevents the Lang Center from being able to properly hold students accountable to the aims outlined in their proposals. Moreover, having projects based in different countries places limits on the amount of on-site time scholars will have.

We think that if a student receives $10,000 to bring services to a community, the project should span the two academic years following the scholarship award. A summer or winter break is not enough time to develop relationships with a community (especially a foreign one). It is, in general, not enough time to develop a project of such magnitude and importance. If a student receives this sum of money, there should be greater guidance and accountability measures in place.

Eugene Lang created the Lang Center and the LOS Program to encourage students to “work toward positive social change in the areas of social and political issues to which they are committed.” These values are not just dear to Lang, but to Swarthmore in general. As is, the LOS Program is not doing enough to either measure or ensure tangible effects. We must make sure that this uniquely incredible resource is put to the best possible use. Limiting projects to the surrounding area may be a step in the right direction in this regard.


  1. As a Lang Scholar from Vietnam, I am not endorsing this article. The article references to foreign projects as if bound to doom because of lack of sustained in-person involvement and poor understanding of community needs, I am going to disagree. Duong Tran ’15 and I, both our projects based in Vietnam, have been able to start an organization to sustain and scale up our work. Duong’s Youth Voice and Views (http://www.yvsvietnam.org/), fostering critical thinking and civic involvement through debates among youth, and my Project Sugar – Tinh Nguyen Long Hoa (https://www.facebook.com/PJ.Sugar), mobilizing public support for orphan children in Vietnam, now have strong locally-based executive teams to keep the work going onwards while we direct them from abroad. This has been possible through a lot of personal sacrifices (which is not unique to us among Lang Scholars). I am also aware that generally new Lang Scholars have been heavily involved in the issues of their proposal before they became the Scholars e.g. Efua, Fatima. The article is misinformed about the tremendous amount of work behind the scenes (on community partnership & assessment, coalition building, pilots, etc.) that each Lang Scholar is doing to make impossible possible, ensuring sustainable impact.

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