The power of a name

If you can think back to your first couple of weeks on campus, whether that was a week ago or three years ago, you will probably remember being very confused about where things were. Whether you showed up at the Lang Performing Arts Center for a class that was supposed to be in the Lang Center for Civic and Social Engagement, or your friend told you they lived in Danawell when they really meant they lived in Hallowell you aren’t alone. Swarthmore is known for being especially difficult for newcomers to navigate; building signs are small, and maps are few and far between. What makes this campus even more difficult to navigate is the fact that many of the buildings do not have their own distinct names.
A prime example right now is the PPR Apartments. Instead of coming up with a new name for the brand new dorm, which is its own separate building, the college chose to call it the PPR Apartments. Not only is the name PPR already taken, but it is also already confusing enough as it combines three different buildings into one.
So why doesn’t the college give these buildings real names?
In addition to reducing confusion around campus, giving these buildings official names will give the college an opportunity to honor notable alumni or community members. President Valerie Smith reminds us that “by choosing to come or return to Swarthmore, [we] renew [our] commitment to the core values of a liberal arts education.” It seems like choosing notable alumni that’s life works are in line with our mission and core values would be a good way to do just that.
According to the college’s written objectives and purposes, the college aims to “help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.”
We understand that many buildings are named after people who give generous donations, but we do not think that the only way to name a building is to name it after a rich donor. No one has publicly donated a large amount specifically for the BEP, Danawell Connector, or PPR Apartments. Why not take the opportunity to name some of these buildings after notable alumni and community members?
This will give the college an opportunity to make a statement about the importance of ethics and social concern. It will also allow future students an opportunity to learn more about the college’s rich history.
We have chosen to include several possible names in this editorial. As a way to keep our list short, we have limited our list to alumni and community members who have passed away.
Lucretia Mott: As one of the founders of Swarthmore, Mott spent her life dedicated to many of the same values the school still holds today. Mott devoted her life to working on issues such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, school and prison reform, peace and religious tolerance. Her hard work can be seen in the creation of this institution, the Medical College of Pennsylvania, the Moore College of Art, and the fact that her house was a stop on the underground railroad. Mott is still remembered nationally today as one of the most prominent suffragette of the late 19th century and early 20th century.
James A. Michener: After graduating as part of the class of 1929, Michener went on to write more than 40 books. After teaching English for a few years, Michener was called up to serve in World War II where he was a naval historian in the South Pacific. It was while working for the Navy that Michener got the inspiration to write his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. As he became a successful writer he donated to many different educational and writing institutions, including Swarthmore.
David K. Lewis. As a philosophy major in the class of 1962 Lewis went on to become one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. He worked in a wide range of philosophical issues including language, mathematics, science, decision theory, metaethics, and much more. His most significant contribution was in metaphysics where he developed a theory of humean supervenience. According to Mark Johnston, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, Lewis was “one of the outstanding philosophers of his time,” and “he is the greatest systematic metaphysician since Leibniz,”
This list is nowhere close to an exhaustive list of alumni who have made significant contributions to society it serves as proof that the college has a rich history that is worth remembering.
Although naming a building after a person is a small act compared to things such as putting money towards helping DACA students or reforming our sexual harassment and assault policies, it is a small step the college can take to show that it is committed to remembering our history and reaffirming our values.
Plus, Mott would be a lot easier to say than PPR apartments.

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