Student-run courses are a long-standing Swarthmore tradition, but according to Leo Hecht ’24, not enough students take advantage of the opportunity. This past fall semester, Hecht taught POLS091SR: Culture and Conflict in Football to a group of peers under the supervision of Professor Jonny Thakkar.
Despite Hecht’s initial fears that the course would not be taken seriously, he expressed gratitude for the learning environment at Swarthmore.
“Everyone assumed, ‘Oh, he’s teaching the history of soccer.’ And when everyone was doing add/drop, people were asking, ‘Where do I sign up for Leo’s class,’ almost ironically,” he explained. “It took an entire semester for people to start saying, ‘No, I can’t go out tonight, I need to work on Leo’s presentation.’”
Hecht emphasized that while students in the course were his teammates and friends, he appreciated the opportunity to connect with new peers as well. He went on to explain that he was driven to teach the course from both a passion for soccer and a desire to connect his interests to his academic and professional pursuits.
“For the longest time, I wanted to take a course that relates back to what I want to do with my life, and also what I’m extremely passionate about, which is soccer,” Hecht said. “[This course] is a way for me to leave my mark on Swarthmore in a sense. It’s pretty cool to be able to say this is my academic baby. This is what I can take forward with me beyond college.”
The process of designing a student-led course is dynamic — it requires research, the creation of a syllabus, and consulting with a professor in the associated department. Hecht emphasized that the foundation of his course was not a history of soccer, but rather a discussion on the interactions between the game and sociopolitical elements of life.
“One of the most important things we talked about was where the 2030 FIFA World Cup would be held,” Hecht said. “The week before [it was announced] we had talked about sports washing and we evaluated good and bad cases of it.”
Sportswashing is defined as a country using sports, for example hosting tournaments, to improve their reputation on a global scale.
Hecht stressed the benefits of teaching a student-led course at Swarthmore, saying that it has furthered his professional development and illuminated his Swarthmore experience.
“This [student-led course] is what Swarthmore is about,” Hecht said. “How many other institutions can you teach your own class at? How many other institutions will be so willing to help students convey the passions that they have?”
The course creation and approval process was self-directed and involved many emails to professors. Despite the need to stay vigilant about logistics, Hecht felt supported by the Swarthmore community from the very beginning.
“Professor Diego Armis was the one that essentially started this idea. He came up to me and a fellow student, Gabriel Levis ’23 , during a class, History of Smoking in the US Archive, because he saw how on-brand it was for me to start writing an essay on soccer by connecting soccer, smoking, and politics,” Hecht said.
Professor Armis helped Hecht and Levis create an annotated bibliography on several sources related to soccer, leading the two to want to teach a course on the subject. After graduating in the spring, Levis was unable to help Hecht facilitate the course.
Hecht believes running the course also serves as a crucial tool for later career opportunities and interviews. He strongly encourages other Swarthmore students to give teaching a try.
“I loved it. As I’m thinking of what I gained from this, it is mainly from the presentational aspect [of the course].” Heicht said. “I’ve had employers tell me, ‘You have great ideas, but you need to be able to tell a story when you present,’ I’ve had a lot of experiences that have led up to this moment. Being able to say that this beast, this class, is mine, is something that I’m very proud of.”