On the first day of Orientation, Swarthmore freshmen opened their mailboxes to find a packet of course listings for an imaginary “Men’s Studies” department. “Due to a printing error,” the cover sheet read, “one department was left out of the College Bulletin for 2007-2008.” This department was “Men’s Studies,” and the following pages of the packet, painstakingly formatted to mimic the appearance of the Swarthmore course catalog, detailed dozens of alleged course options. These courses ranged in topic from the Olympics to the video game “Halo,” featuring such titles as “Demolition,” “Beer and Malt Liquors,” “The God Delusion in Real-Time Strategy Games,” and “Study a Broad.”
Ben Blonder ’08, Nathan La Porte ’08, and Mike Rosenberg ’08 came up with the idea of a men’s studies department during their freshman year, while sitting in Sharples with friends one day. “‘Study a Broad’ was the first [class we thought of],” La Porte remembered. “We started writing things down on napkins.”
“We did a lot of editing afterwards,” said Blonder. La Porte added that the project “kind of sat dormant until this year.”
As Swarthmore’s first-year students filed into the Lang Performing Arts Center for their introductory meeting on August 28th, many of them skimmed the Men’s Studies mailing. Much confusion and hilarity ensued. “I believed it,” confessed Dan Goes ’11. “I read [the packet] over with my roommate,” said Valerie Clark ’11. “At first we were just laughing at it, but then it did catalyze a conversation.” Laura Keeler, a freshman who is “very interested in women’s studies,” said that she “didn’t find [the packet] particularly offensive or particularly funny.” “It wasn’t offensive,” agreed Alex Weintraub ’11. “I thought it was funny,” said freshman Lucas Janes. “We had great laughs sitting around in the dorm room.”
At the Departmental Advising Fair, the three seniors donned an array of playful hats and sat at their table to await visitors. Blonder said that most people just smiled and walked on, while some students stopped to ask, “Is this for real?” According to Blonder, the Russian Department jokingly claimed to be “very offended that the ‘Vodka’ seminar was not cross-listed.”
La Porte noted that “pretty much everyone who was listed as a professor [on the packet] was involved” in the project. Did registrar Martin Warner know about the plan? “He found out about it afterwards,” Blonder admited.
Warner recalled that the trio of seniors “presented themselves at the Advising Fair, and asked for a table and sign.” Wanting to “honor their right to free speech,” he gave the students permission to use a leftover booth; he did not provide them with a sign because he “did not want to suggest official recognition.” “I hadn’t read [the packet], and I felt like I had to be careful,” he said. Now that he has had time to examine the handout, Warner responded to the content saying “As a man, I recognize boyish humor. I think they made some digs, and I hope they didn’t step on any toes.” As an aside, Warner said, “I thought their parody of the [course] catalog was cute.” He added that the students could consider creating an actual men’s studies course “if they wanted to get serious.” La Porte said, “We’re thinking about doing that.”
“I don’t think [the packet] was offensive, or in poor taste,” concluded La Porte. “We had a good time,” Blonder saiad. “Our intention was just to let the freshmen smile when they got here.”