Category: Breaking News

Wellness / Fitness / Theater Center Secures $2.5 Million in Donations

The creators of this pamphlet hope it will encourage donors to support design and construction of the Swarthmore Matchbox.

You know it already: Swarthmore College’s next new building will be the Wellness/Fitness/Theater center, first proposed last fall. But there’s more to it. Not only has the staff on Parrish 2nd committed to a ribbon cutting in fall 2014, they’ve found two lead donors, Salem Shuchman ’84 and Barbara Klock ’86, hired a firm on a design-build contract, and printed a twelve-page, semi-gloss pamphlet to capture the imaginations of potential donors.

Furthermore, the center has a name–”Swarthmore Matchbox”–selected by Shuchman and Klock in honor of their Swattie marriage and the lifelong friendships Swatties develop on campus. Those naming rights, along with a separate, anonymous donation, have allowed the College to set up a “$2.5 million challenge opportunity” that doubles the value of donations towards the project received through October 1 of next year.

As John Proios ’15 reported in yesterday’s issue of The Phoenix, the Borough Planning Commission a week ago Tuesday recommended approval of the College’s plan to develop the site. That recommendation makes final Borough Council approval at their Oct. 15 meeting a near certainty.

As was also reported in The Phoenix, as well as in The Daily Gazette a year ago, the Matchbox will be built atop the foundation of the existing but disused squash courts. (The squash team practices in King of Prussia–not the mall, the census-designated place.) The squash courts are the low building along Field House Lane just north of Ware Pool, on the west side of the Field House.

The new pamphlet claims “the nature of the box-like structural design and the use of a pre-existing building footprint give the Matchbox a relatively low price tag and a quick turn-around schedule: eight months to design, 10 months to construct.” The name “Matchbox” is thus intended to be evocative visually as well as Swarthmorily.

The Matchbox has a box-like structure with a glass curtain wall enclosing the main floor.

The box-like structural design contains three floors, each of which contains various elements of wellness/fitness/theater.

The fitness center, which will occupy 6000+ square feet of space on the main floor, will be filled, naturally, with fitness equipment. In turn, the Mullan Center, which has half the space, will be emptied of machines and opened up for multi-purpose athletics and fitness events. The Matchbox’s expanded workout space, in combination with the “fitness/wellness” space on the lower level, “will greatly enrich the College’s blossoming wellness program.”

Specific activities to be staged in the center may include but are not limited to: “spin, yoga, and aerobics classes [...] physical education classes [...] team lifting sessions, straight-ahead running drills, plyometric (jump training), and film study sessions,” according to the pamphlet.

The pamphlet imagines in vivid detail what it might be like to make a stop at the Matchbox a part of one’s daily routine. On page 1, it begins:

It’s 6:45 a.m. on a crisp, fall morning. The sun has just come up over the campus, but already there is a flurry of activity outside a striking, cube-like building with long, sheer glass panels, nestled between Field House Lane and the Crum Woods. Students, faculty, and staff alike eagerly await entry, looking to get in a quick workout before starting their day.

Light begins streaming through the building’s “glass curtain” walls. The doors open, and the building comes to life. An economics professor enters the expansive main level. She stares into a sea of state-of-the-art fitness equipment before jumping onto an elliptical trainer for a heart-pounding, 45-minute run prior to her seminar.

The pamphlet suggests yoga as one activity that the Matchbox will make room for. These current students were unnamed in the pamphlet.

Not everything in the Matchbox ties in strictly with wellness, but everything ties into the theme of community space. Dean of Students Liz Braun is quoted on page 9 on the subject: “Physical spaces have incredible power to draw people together in creative, substantive, and meaningful ways. Ideally, these spaces should support and cultivate the creation of community committed to diversity and inclusion, civil discourse, and wellness.”

In that vein, a 5000 square foot “multi-purpose space,” accommodating 300 people, will occupy the top floor and will overlook the stadium. That space “will be ideal for department meetings, team banquets, rehearsal dinners, and a wide variety of other large-scale events,” such as theater performances, the pamphlet says.

This space is intended to substitute for the impending removal of Upper Tarble. That will occur in a few years when the College commences a wholesale gutting and redesign of the Clothier building. Recall that the bookstore will leave Clothier’s basement for the Inn in 2016. All of this is in the College’s Draft Master Plan, completed last spring.

Finally, a theater studio in the lower level will accommodate rehearsals, workshops, staged readings, playwriting theses, and other small-scale projects.

If the diagrams and cost estimates in the pamphlet are any indication, the most preliminary designs are already underway. The complete design work will be carried out jointly by CVM Construction Managers and DIGSAU Architects. The pamphlet says that both are award-winning firms and that CVM specializes in innovation and sustainability.

No LEED designation is in sight at this stage, but “the building’s ‘glass skin’ will take in passive solar energy, and an innovative active monitoring system will ensure that fresh air is brought into the space based on the actual occupancy of the building. [...] Storm water will be managed using best practices and a recharge system to avoid erosion in the nearby Crum Woods.”

Salem Shuchman, one half of the lead donor couple, has recently rejoined the Board of Managers, a formality that extends his already twelve-year tenure by an additional term. A recent, public post on the front page of swarthmore.edu gives some details about his longstanding ties to the College:

Salem Shuchman ’84 is the founder and managing partner of Entrepreneur Partners, a Philadelphia-based private equity firm he launched in 2005. Prior to this, he was a senior partner at Apax Partners where he also headed the leverage transaction group. He has more than 20 years of private equity investing experience.

Shuchman rejoined the Board of Managers in 2013 after serving from 2000-12. In addition to his Board service, Shuchman was a class agent from 2002-04 and served on the Alumni Council in 1992. He earned a B.A. in political science from Swarthmore and the Ivy Award. His wife, Barbara Klock ’86, served on the Board of Managers from 1990-93.

 

Editor’s note: This article has been altered since publication. The changes are primarily with respect to tone.

President Chopp Releases Sexual Assault Consultant’s Interim Report, Announces Staffing Changes

In an email sent to all students, faculty, and staff this morning, Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp detailed the progress the College has made in its ramped-up efforts to respond to and prevent sexual misconduct. With input from safety and compliance consultant Margolis Healy & Associates, whose interim report was released by Chopp, the College has decided to undertake a national search for a full-time Title IX Coordinator.

That position, formerly part of Sharmaine LaMar’s responsibilities, will be temporarily filled by CAPS staffer Patricia Flaherty Fischette. Swarthmore also plans to hire both an advocate and a hearings advisor, who will assist students alleging sexual misconduct. The College will hire a drug and alcohol counselor, and Public Safety will add an investigator.

Swarthmore also plans to review all of its policies relating to sexual misconduct, including the impact that drugs and alcohol have on students’ social lives.

Margolis Healy & Associates will release a final report this fall.

Chopp’s full email is below:

 

 

 

Dear Members of the Swarthmore Community,

I write to share with you an interim report presented by Margolis Healy & Associates (MHA) on the College’s response to sexual misconduct and, based on MHA’s recommendations to identify specific actions to put in place immediately to help create a safer and more supportive environment for all students, including survivors of sexual assault and harassment. In May, I asked MHA to provide, as soon as possible, some immediate actions we could implement as we await their final report. The interim report (PDF) makes those recommendations, and this letter suggests initial steps we can take this summer and in the early fall.

As is true at many other schools around the country, we undertake this important work in the midst of a sea change occurring related to the federal laws and regulations governing how colleges and universities respond to sexual misconduct.

At Swarthmore, we deeply value each of our individual members. We share a strong sense of interconnectedness, of mutual respect and shared purpose as an academic community. When individuals are harmed, we must respond quickly and with our full support. When our community is not providing the right environment for academic and social flourishing, we must fix it. The fact that we are not perfect and must take corrective actions can lead either to cynicism or to change. I ask you now, as a member of this community, to join us in working for change.

Our common goal must be to prevent all forms of sexual abuse, assault, harassment, gender identity violence, and intimidation so our students may thrive in what is one of the most rigorous and creative undergraduate programs in this country. One incident is one too many on our campus. We know, however, that sexual misconduct does occur at Swarthmore and in the world at large; thus, we must take strategic steps to prevent it, combat it, adhere to due process, enforce sanctions when it occurs, and provide support to survivors.

This spring, I sought a comprehensive, independent review of our current practices, programs, and personnel related to sexual misconduct in order to better understand their efficacy and to make improvements in this critical area as quickly as possible. For this letter and the report itself, sexual misconduct means sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, gender identity violence, and all forms of sexual and gender violence.

In May, MHA, which specializes in campus safety, security, and regulatory compliance, began an independent, thorough review of all of the College’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures. I also announced in May the formation of an internal Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, including students, faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Managers. This task force, which began its work this summer, has been charged to look carefully at how the College is implementing the existing and new regulations and laws and also to cultivate a culture that fosters greater mutual respect to ensure that our campus is one in which every member of our community can thrive.

I deeply appreciate and acknowledge the good, hard work that many community members have already undertaken in this area, including task force members, Sexual Misconduct and Advisors Resource Team (SMARTeam) and Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) members, staff in the dean’s office, health services, public safety, and many other individual students, faculty, and staff. For the last several years, we have had a part-time Title IX coordinator and have hired additional staff specifically to address this issue. We have expanded and improved training and consent workshops, regularly notified the community about available resources, and made a number of other improvements. But there is still more work to be done to meet our common goals as an intellectual community that always sets and achieves the highest possible standards.

MHA will return to campus this fall to meet with community members. They will provide additional recommendations in their final report. Based on their interim report and in consultation with our internal task force, I want to share the following specific actions to be implemented over the next several months:

  • I have authorized—and this fall we will conduct—a national search for a dedicated, fulltime Title IX coordinator, who will report directly to the President. The search committee will be formed when students and faculty return, with a goal to have a coordinator in place by the end of the academic year.
  • In the meantime, I am pleased to announce that Patricia Flaherty Fischette, who has worked in counseling and psychological services (CAPS) and with health services to provide counseling and programmatic support to students and the SMARTeam, has agreed to take a leave from CAPS to serve as the College’s interim Title IX coordinator, effective immediately. Patricia will be responsible for all Title IX compliance, training, and programming and will review investigations. We are most fortunate she is able to step into this important role this summer. Her background in law, counseling, and Title IX will serve us well as we begin implementing the MHA recommendations.
  • The Title IX coordinator’s work will be further supported by an expanded group of Title IX deputy coordinators, including Lili Rodriguez, associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development; Patricia Reilly, associate provost for academic development and outreach and associate professor of art history; Zenobia Hargust, human resources manager; and Nnenna Akotaobi, associate athletics director. These deputies will support the Title IX coordinator’s oversight of all Title IX complaints and will identify and address any patterns or systemic problems that arise during the review of Title IX complaints.
  • One of the most common concerns raised by students is a lack of a clearly identified advocate to help victims/survivors navigate our support systems as well as our grievance procedures. We will hire an advocate to provide guidance through our systems for survivors of sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment and misconduct.
  • We fully appreciate that respondents to complaints also require assistance, particularly throughout the grievance process. We will hire a hearings advisor for this important function, noting that the U.S. Department of Education clearly mandates a fair and equitable process for both complainants and respondents.
  • We are currently conducting a thorough review of all relevant policies and procedures related to sexual misconduct, including, among many others, the prohibition of sexual and discriminatory harassment as well as gender identity violence; the notice of non-discrimination; sexual misconduct; and Public Safety’s policies for handling sexual assault reports. The College, along with legal experts who specialize in these areas and are well acquainted with the changing regulatory environment, is working hard to draft a comprehensive policy, in full compliance with existing and new regulations and laws, for consultation with the community in the fall.
  • Our prevention, education, and programming devoted to sexual misconduct will be expanded. We will undertake a comprehensive inventory of our current education and prevention efforts in order to strengthen these efforts and ensure we are complying with federal mandates and abiding by best practices. We will engage the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, as well as other student groups, in this inventory. We also intend to provide a new, online course for incoming first-year students and require all students to take it each year. We are currently identifying options for the online course, and we will ask the task force, the SMARTeam, ASAP members, and others to advise us in the final selection of the course. This online course is meant to augment the interpersonal programming already sponsored by ASAP and the SMARTeam, in partnership with Beth Kotarski, among others.
  • Based on best practices, and after careful consideration, we have been advised to separate the roles of drug and alcohol counseling and fraternity advising. We will hire a new position to develop and present educational alcohol and drug prevention programming and provide individual and group counseling to students. This position will work within the health center to integrate our prevention and treatment programs more fully into the College’s health and wellness resources.
  • Support and oversight for fraternities and for the sorority will become more fully integrated into residential life and student activities. Lili Rodriguez, associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and community development, will have general oversight of Greek life; Mike Elias, student activities coordinator, will serve as advisor to the fraternities; and Satya Nelms, wellness coordinator, will continue to serve as the advisor to Kappa Alpha Theta.
  • As has been widely documented and as the MHA report indicates, alcohol and other drug use is involved in the vast majority of sexual assault cases throughout the country. This fall, the task force, in collaboration with the Dean’s Advisory Council, will review the role of alcohol and other drugs in creating an environment that can contribute to sexual misconduct and to make recommendations to create a safer social environment. Community input will be vital in guiding and informing this phase of our work together.
  • I have authorized Mike Hill, director of public safety, to hire an additional investigator for his department and to provide training for other members of his staff and additional members of the campus community on how to most effectively and sensitively conduct investigations related to sexual misconduct. This training is already underway.
  • To further improve our implementation of Clery Act requirements, we will ensure that all of our campus security authorities (CSAs)—who are staff, faculty, resident assistants (RAs), and others who, by virtue of their position, are likely to hear first-hand reports of sexual misconduct and other crimes—are identified and trained on their responsibilities to promptly report all Clery Act crimes, including sexual assault. We will also make sure that we widely distribute this list of CSAs and ensure the campus community knows they are vital, non-confidential resources. Public safety will re-examine the issuance of timely warning notices and make sure the Clery provisions are easy to find on the website. We will make available to all community members a mobile app that will provide quick access to relevant public safety resources, contact information, and other Clery Act information.
  • Next month, we will begin to institute a comprehensive training program with expanded Title IX training for CSAs, including RAs. We will begin with those CSAs most likely to be first responders for victims of sexual misconduct and then expand our training to others throughout the year.
  • This week, MHA has begun a full review of our grievance procedures to ensure that they are readily understood and that they don’t inadvertently create reporting barriers. This work will continue into the fall when students and faculty return.

Beyond these immediate action steps, there is much more to be done in the fall semester and beyond. MHA will return to campus to meet with many more members of our community and to write their final report, which will provide recommendations meant to serve us well into the future. In their final report, we can expect specific recommendations about ways to improve our grievance procedures, how best to provide training to all CSAs, and how to continue to expand our prevention and education programming, among others. If you are interested in meeting with Margolis Healy, please contact them at swarthmore@margolishealy.com or watch for announcements of public sessions after the fall semester begins.

Our commitment to combat sexual assault, abuse, gender identity violence, and harassment must be strong and indefatigable. I ask every member of this community to commit and to remain committed to this work. I urge you to join the internal task force and many other community members as we strive to create an atmosphere on our campus that does not tolerate sexual assault or harassment and that continually reinforces our commitments to personal safety, living in academic community, and treating every individual with respect and dignity.

I welcome your response to this interim report, including suggestions you may have and any questions you would like Margolis Healy, the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, taskforce@swarthmore.edu, or any member of the administration to address. Please don’t hesitate to write me at president@swarthmore.edu.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Chopp

President

BREAKING: Robbery Near Old Tarble; Student Sustained Minor Injuries

Message from Swarthmore Public Safety:

Dear Community members,

Tonight, May 17, 2013, at approximately 10:35 pm, a  robbery took place on campus, in the vicinity of Old Tarble.  Two unknown males approached a male resident student and inquired as to what he had on him.  At that point one of the subjects struck the student and took approximately $30.00 in cash from him.  The subjects fled on foot in the direction of the train station. The student had only minor injuries and was transported to the hospital for evaluation as a precaution.

The suspects were identified as one white male in his late teens to early twenties and one black male, also in his late teens to early twenties.  No further description was provided at the time of this message.

Swarthmore Police Department was notified and are investigating this incident.

All members of the community are encouraged to use the campus shuttle at night.  Travel with friends whenever possible and report any suspicious individuals or activities immediately to Public Safety or the Swarthmore Police Department.

Should you have any information that might aide in identifying the responsible parties please contact Public Safety at 610-328-8333 or contact the Swarthmore Police Department at 610-543-0123.

Cooper Union, Long Free, to Charge Tuition

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a selective university in New York City, was founded in part on the principle that “an education should be as free as air and water.” Opened in 1859, Cooper Union has since paid every cent of the now-$38,00 annual tuition for any student unable to pay. Though the school has at some points had paying students, not a single student has paid any tuition in the last 100 years.

Yesterday, the university announced that students applying this fall could pay up to $20,000 to attend.

Cooper Union’s vision is that most students will not pay the full $20,000. Financial aid will be available for the large majority of the student body, putting the university in the same boat as colleges like Swarthmore that rely on revenue from students who can afford to pay in order to subsidize those who cannot. In other words, the change may not be revolutionary for the majority of Cooper Unionites. But many students, alumni, and community members who have spoken out on the issue over the last year say the change fundamentally alters Cooper Union as an educational institution.

Here’s a portion of the statement from Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees:

After eighteen months of intense analysis and vigorous debate about the future of Cooper Union, the time has come for us to set our institution on a path that will enable it to survive and thrive well into the future […]

Under the new policy, The Cooper Union will continue to adhere to the vision of Peter Cooper, who founded the institution specifically to provide a quality education to those who might otherwise not be able to afford it […]

Maintaining the highest standards of excellence means that we must constantly aim to improve through investment […]

Although we appreciate that these decisions are difficult for everyone to accept, we look forward to working together with all of you to building a future that will ensure the preservation of Cooper Union as a great educational institution that remains true to Peter Cooper’s founding principles.

Why tuition, and why now? The school is running a $12 million deficit, the Board says, and was unable to find realistic cuts in other parts of the budget, such as faculty, facilities, administration salaries, and so on.

But as blogger Felix Salmon argues in a Reuters opinion piece, the Trustees are to be held personally accountable for the deficit, and they’ve made many errors—in spending, in investing, etc.—that should be partly to blame for the $12 million hole.

The question remains whether they have needlessly violated the mission of the institution or are simply being subjected to the same extreme education inflation (and the effects of the 2008 financial crisis) that is helping to push the cost of the most prestigious liberal arts and Ivy League educations to as high as $60,000 a year.

A recent article in n+1 goes into great detail about that mission. The school’s founder, Peter Cooper, the article says, was a rags-to-riches man who abhorred debt, resolving his own accounts every Saturday night and speaking out against a federal deficit. The article goes on to say:

In an era in which air and water have become increasingly commoditized, education at Cooper Union until now has been spared the fate of the University of California. This small art, architecture, and engineering college, with a student body of fewer than one thousand students, is dealing not only with a financial crisis but also an existential one. What is playing out at this East Village institution speaks both to the national debate about debt, labor, and the affordability of higher education and to Cooper Union’s history, which in its early years was so closely tied to the desires of the nation.

Continuing, the author, Sangamithra Iyer, writes:

[Some students] fear that if tuition is implemented, and the school is reliant on a certain amount of revenue from tuition, it will then become dependent on a certain percentage of its students being able to pay.

[...] Rather than invest in fee-based programming, what if Cooper instead focused on strengthening its roots and giving back to the community, spreading the culture of free education and illustrating that Cooper’s benefits are not just for the few who merit entry?

President Chopp Announces Independent Review of Sexual Assault Procedures

In her latest campus wide email, President Rebecca Chopp announced the College will seek an external review of its policies and procedures surrounding sexual assault. The Daily Gazette published the first in a series of articles devoted to sexual assault earlier today.

We’ve included her email in full:

Dear Students,

I want to state very plainly something that Dean Braun and I have
consistently said for the last three years–we have zero tolerance for
sexual assault, abuse, and violence on our campus. It is against the
law, it is wrong, and we must all continue to reinforce the message that
even one such incident is too many on our campus. It is important to
recognize that these issues are not unique to Swarthmore, and in fact
reports from other campuses have repeatedly been in the news this year.

But my concern now turns to what it is we can and must do here at
Swarthmore. Based on the significant concerns that students have raised
about sexual misconduct on our campus, and, in particular, about how
sexual assault cases are handled, I have decided to seek an external
review of all of our policies, procedures, and sanctions related to
sexual misconduct. This review will begin as soon as possible and will
continue into the fall in order to ensure that students have every
opportunity for input. The review is ultimately meant to improve our
processes and programs to prevent sexual violence, and to have strong,
sound processes in place when we must contend with cases of sexual assault.

As Dean Braun and I have outlined in communications addressed to you
these last few years, we have made important strides in addressing our
policies, expanding support personnel, and improving our practices. But
it is very clear to me based on the continuing concerns expressed by our
students that much more work is needed. I, along with Dean Braun,
Director of Public Safety Mike Hill, Title IX Coordinator Sharmaine
LaMar, Deputy Title IX Coordinator Joanna Gallagher, Director of Worth
Health Center Beth Kotarski, and many others on this campus, remain
deeply committed to creating a violence-free campus.

Our SMARTeam students and many others are invaluable partners in helping
to prevent sexual violence and providing support to survivors. We have
and will continue to support crucial programmatic initiatives related to
consent, RAD classes, and domestic violence. We want to continue to
educate and publicize available resources in the community including our
anonymous reporting forms and phone lines. We will also continue to
educate faculty and staff so that they can be helpful to students who
turn to them for support.

I am deeply concerned and troubled by the lack of trust that exists
among some students about our reporting procedures, our judicial
process, and other aspects of our approach to addressing sexual assault
on campus. In spite of efforts to improve in these areas, there remains
an apprehension about our processes that we must remedy in order for
survivors to feel comfortable coming forward. We want to and need to
hear from students about what is, and what is not working in our current
policies, practices, and support services.

Swarthmore is a community that is thoughtful enough and self-critical
enough to continue to improve itself by embracing our shared
responsibility–we all have a role to play in making this a community
that we are proud to claim as our own. I look forward to our continued
work together and to making Swarthmore a safe, caring, and supportive
environment for all students.

Sincerely,
Rebecca Chopp

President Chopp Asks For Community Building During the “Spring of our Discontent”

This morning President Rebecca Chopp sent an email to the entire Swarthmore campus reminding students, faculty, and staff of Swarthmore’s commitment to intellectual freedom, political and ideological diversity, and compassion for differing perspectives. Her letter comes in the midst of heated discourse on campus around Greek life, Robert Zoellick ’75′s withdraw from Commencement, and even how the press report on Greek life and Robert Zoellick. We’ve included the letter in full:

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

This is the spring of our discontent. Acrimony, hurtful accusations, and distrust have been expressed all around the campus. We are all tired. The community we love, at least most of the time, is fraying at its edges.

Let’s begin by together acknowledging that these past few weeks have been a painful time for many of us.

Some of you have asked the administration to make clear its support for various student groups. Let me do so. We support students who suffer the painful, damaging effects of sexual assault. We support students who participate in Greek life. We support our athletes, our debaters, our students of color, our artists, our activists, our LGBTQ students, our students who express their talents and in so doing make this a vibrant, productive community.

Some have asked that we express again our support for a truly diverse, inclusive, and fully-engaged community committed to intellectual freedom, exchange, and debate. Let me do so. We support students, faculty, staff, and alumni from every conceivable background, who hold vastly different political points of view, who are doing amazing things to change the world for the better, and who enrich our community by sharing their opinions and experiences, including those that differ dramatically from our own. We aspire to be the kind of campus community in which students with liberal, conservative, and every-point-in-between political points of view will not only feel comfortable, but will also flourish. I am proud of students, staff, faculty, and alumni who express a variety of political perspectives. I don’t need them to reflect my own. In fact, I value—every day—the opportunity to learn to see the world in a different way. Let’s express our diversity and inclusivity through empathy, openness, and curiosity.

At Swarthmore we tend to wear our values on our sleeves. And the ones we are proudest of, the ones we hold in highest regard, include those which professors Barry Schwartz and Ken Sharpe described so clearly in a guest column in theChronicle of Higher Education last year. They contend that “intellectual virtues”—including the love of truth, honesty, courage, fairness, and wisdom—are the virtues one needs not only to be a good student, but, ultimately, to be a good citizen of the world. I completely agree.

Loving truth means being open to new ideas, new opinions, and new concepts. It means that the desire to understand something in a new way trumps the way we view the world right this minute. Above all else, it means the ceaseless exploration of ideas, discovering, seeking, finding, uncovering—learning.

Honesty translates into honesty about ourselves, about our own points of view, about our own limitations, about our responses to others, and about the reasons behind those responses. Honesty also requires us to be judicious and thoughtful. We must recognize that words have consequences; they can sting and harm just as quickly and powerfully as they may soothe and inspire. We need to be sensitive and generous when engaging in heated conversations. We need to recognize that sharp and targeted anonymous postings (of any kind, posted anywhere) are antithetical to building a community of trust and cooperation, one that values open exchange and honest reflection.

Courage means being willing to speak up and, when necessary, to question the perspectives of others. It means acknowledging when we are wrong. It means trying and testing new ideas and habits. It may mean submerging our egos for the greater good.

Fairness is about how we treat one another. What are our community standards for civil discourse and debate? How do we empathize, even with those with whom we disagree most vehemently? How do we create safe spaces to question one another and to challenge the prevailing wisdom? How do we express our passion, yet not at anyone else’s expense? We are all unique individuals, but we live in community, striving to share this space and this place together. This means finding ways to be true to ourselves while also caring about how our words and actions affect others.

Wisdom, or practical wisdom as Aristotle termed it, is the final arrow in our quiver of “intellectual virtues.” It allows us to navigate all of the many complexities of life with grace and fidelity. It informs how we discern right from wrong, fact from fiction. It enables us to learn to distinguish between two different ideas—even two different value systems—that may be in conflict with each other.

So how do we reconcile where we aspire to be with where we have recently been? Each of us needs to ask ourselves if we have been faithful to these virtues. Have we made efforts to speak the truth and use facts correctly? Have we been open to the ideas of others? Have we encouraged those with whom we disagree to express their points of view in a safe and open setting? Have we listened carefully? Have we brought the practices we so treasure in the classroom into our out-of-the-classroom lives? In short, have we practiced our intellectual virtues in all that we do?

I think we can and must do better. Swarthmore is defined by intellectual freedom, diversity of thought and expression, empathy and compassion, and the perpetual examination of new ideas in pursuit of truth. Let’s not squander our gifts. Let’s not ignore our shortcomings. Let’s work together to restore our sense of pride in these values and to reimagine and restore our sense of community. This is our challenge and our quest. I invite you to join Dean Braun and me next Wednesday evening, April 17, at 8 p.m. at the Kohlberg Coffee Bar to continue this important conversation together. Please also feel free to write to me expressing your own thoughts and suggestions on how we can heal and move forward together. I am hopeful and confident that we can improve Swarthmore during our time together and also for those who follow us.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Chopp

Two Teenagers Sentenced on Charges of Rape in Steubenville, Ohio

Two teenagers were convicted yesterday in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case that has garnered national attention. 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty of raping an intoxicated teenage girl at a house party last August and were both sentenced to at least one year in the state juvenile system.

This case has been particularly notable for the central role of social media. Last fall, news of the assault spread quickly among Steubenville teenagers via text messages and social media updates; these were the primary sources of evidence considered during the trial. The New York Times reported yesterday:

Judge Lipps described much of the evidence as “profane and ugly.” […]. He also said the case was a cautionary lesson in how teenagers conduct themselves when alcohol is present and in “how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today.”

The trial also exposed the behavior of other teenagers, who wasted no time spreading photos and text messages with what many in the community felt was callousness or cruelty.

Even now, social media influence continues to burgeon at the fringes of this case. This afternoon, two teenage girls were arrested in Steubenville for allegedly posting threatening messages to the victim over Facebook and Twitter.

Some national media coverage of the trial has met considerable public backlash.  A report by CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow has been criticized in Gawker and in The New Yorker for its sympathetic portrayal of the young men and for its failure to mention the victim of the assault.

Response to media coverage has sparked discussion of national attitudes toward rape and rape culture on websites such as Feministing.  Some discussion has focused on the role of athletic teams in cases of sexual assault. Ohio State University’s The Lantern published an opinion piece in January criticizing American sports teams’ cultural ties to assault.  Sports writer for The Nation Dave Zirin also commented this week on the influence of “jock culture” on sexual assault, and on the changes he and many others hope to see, in locker room conduct as well as in national attitudes:

In thinking about Steubenville, thinking about my own experiences playing sports, thinking about athletes I’ve interviewed and know, I believe that a locker room left to its own devices will drift toward becoming a breeding ground for rape culture. […] As such, a coach or a player willing to stand up, risk ridicule and actually teach young men not to rape, can make all the difference in the world. We need interventionist, transformative coaches in men’s sports that talk openly about these issues. We need an economic setup in amateur sports that does away with their gutter economy. But most of all, we need people who recognize the existence of rape culture, both on and off teams, to no longer be silent.

Westboro Baptist Church to Protest at Vassar Today

The Westboro Baptist Church (of funeral-picketing infamy) plans to protest at Vassar College this afternoon from 1:45 until 2:30 p.m. Citing the college’s LGBT-friendly attitude as the “satanic zeitgeist” it aims to protest, the Topeka, Kansas-based church (WBC) announced its intentions to picket at the Poughkeepsie, New York campus on its website earlier this month.

The protest plans have inspired massive response from the Vassar College community. Within hours of the WBC’s announcement, 2008 Vassar alumnus Josh De Leeuw had started a fundraising effort on CrowdRise.com, a web tool for charities, aiming to raise $4,500—$100 for every minute of the protest—to benefit The Trevor Project, an organization aiding at-risk LGBT youth.

As of yesterday evening, De Leeuw’s initiative had raised over $91,000.

Social media have propagated widespread awareness and response among the campus community. Over Twitter, students and alumni expressed pride in their school’s having gained recognition as an LGBT-friendly institution, and encouraged donations toward The Trevor Project.

Current Vassar students, including Cory Epstein ’13, organized the group Do Something VC in the spirit of countering the protest’s efforts. According to its website, the group “takes peaceful and thoughtful action to promote equality, acceptance, and social justice through dialogue, outreach, education, art, and the media.”

According to one Vassar student who asked to remain anonymous, the campus community, especially the efforts of Do Something VC, have reflected a response “supporting [Vassar College] values and not about bashing WBC.” Do Something VC has organized a variety of counter-protest initiatives, including theater and visual arts pieces to reflect faith-based values of love and acceptance. They intend for this afternoon’s counter-protest response to be “peaceful and inclusive.” Indeed, the events slated for the day, including keynote speakers, forming a human chain around Vassar’s Main Building, and a collective “joyful scream,” reflect a community-oriented attitude.

The possibility stands that the Westboro protestors will not show up at all. Some of their past plans never materialized. If they do protest Vassar today, they will not be allowed on campus, and a recent editorial by Vassar student April Levins in Vassar’s Miscellany News advised students to expect a “lethargic protest” featuring few protestors and not much panache.

Regardless, response both on- and off-campus to the possibility of a protest has reflected the Vassar community’s dedication to the very values to which the WBC objects. With over $91,000 raised for The Trevor Project and the establishment of a campus group to facilitate discussions on acceptance and awareness, recent weeks have served as a reminder to Vassar students of the strength of their community.

LIVE BLOG: Bathtub Debates Devolve into Porn Jokes

The annual Bathtub Debates, which pit representatives of the three academic divisions against each other in a battle for primacy, has begun in Sci 101.

Tonight, Philosophy Prof. Krista Thomason is representing the humanities, chemistry Prof. Josh Newby is representing the natural sciences and engineering, and political science Prof. Servin Malekzadeh is representing the social sciences. Here is a description of the debate scenario, as explained in an email to the sophomore class:

At the end of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane won and the world as we knew it has ended. Because the Swat Bubble is impervious to evil, Swarthmore College stands as the last bastion of academia and justice. To make matters worse, the Joker has broken out of Arkham Asylum, invaded the sacred Swat Bubble, and taken several hostages. Each of the three divisions is being held in separate warehouses in Philadelphia.  You are Batman- the world’s greatest detective and the hero Swarthmore needs right now. You have six dollars and 30 minutes to take SEPTA to one of the warehouses and rescue the books and professors of only a single division before the Joker sends humanity’s entire academic legacy up in a fiery inferno. The safety and future of academia lies entirely in your incredibly just and capable hands. Which division do you choose?

7:36 David Mok-Lemme, President of the Peaslee Debate Society, opens the night.

7:39 Alina Wong, director of the Intercultural Center and Dean of the sophomore class, will be moderating tonight’s activities. Wong seems to bring her affinity for Batman wherever she goes these days.

7:41 First question: “Night comes to Gotham.”

7:43 Prof. Newby makes the case that Batman–a superhero without any powers of his own–would succeed best in the division of natural sciences and engineering. After all, they have the best tools.

7:48 Prof. Thomason says that students of the humanities dress better than everyone else. She also claims that most academic disciplines have their roots in the humanities, and that in an apocalyptic situation, the humanities could begin the regeneration of human knowledge. She says chemists are just “a bunch of pissed off philosophers with a lot of lab space.”

7:54 Prof. Malekzadeh says that the social sciences are superior because they lie at the fault line of the other two disciplines. He has a slideshow with him, and it’s killing in the room.

7:57 The social sciences, he says, lead their scholars through unexpected intellectual paths on the search for real truth. “To paraphrase Beckett,” he says, at first you fail, and then you “fail better.” Along the way, they make challenging concepts accessible and relevant to “the now.” The Social Sciences “get the world to listen.”

8:00 Prof. Malekzadeh comes to a picture of Aristotle in his presentation. Prof. Thomason interrupts him: “uh-uh, I see that!” she says. Prof. Malekzadeh claims that Aristotle called political science “the master science, ya’ll!”

8:01 We now begin the portion of the debate where the panelists get to ask one another questions. Prof. Malekzadeh asks what would happen if the world were filled just with social scientists. “Do you have some data on that?” asks Prof. Thomason. A call comes out from the audience: “Of course not, he’s a social scientist!”

8:03 Prof. Newby asks how the other divisions deal with crisis. Prof. Thomason says that the humanities deal best because the humanities encompass the study of life.

8:07 Prof. Malekzadeh responds to the question about the purpose of social sciences after the apocalypse (when there is no society) by saying that philosophers are ill-equipped to study society because they’re all unhappy loners. Relevance unclear…

8:09 In the midst of the discussion, Prof. Malekzadeh explains that Spiderman’s web is a metaphor for ejaculation that is designed to appeal to middle school-age boys.

8:10 ”You have some time left,” says Wong. “Can I beat-box?” asks Prof. Malekzadeh.

8:11 ”Half of the Batman villains are mad scientists,” says Prof. Thomason to Prof. Newby. “How can we be sure you won’t turn on us?”

8:12 Prof. Malekzadeh wonders if the Batdrive, which Prof. Newby referred to earlier, is not just filled with porn. “It’s only a terabyte!” shouts a member of the audience. Prof. Newby says there’s more than just porn on his hard drive. “If anybody is traumatized after tonight,” says Wong, “I am available afterwards.”

8:15 For some not-entirely clear purpose, Prof. Newby holds up a beer. “Hellz yeah we make drugs. We’ve got booze too!” Apparently the beer is a home-brew.

8:17 Students can now pose questions. Noah Weinthal ’15 asks whether, in the post-apocalyptic society, Prof.’s Malekzadeh and Thomason would “allow Willets Cat to expire in order to save their divisions.” “I’m a dog person,” says Prof. Thomason.

8:20 Sam Sussman ’13 wonders why Prof. Newby didn’t bring enough beer to share with the room.

8:21 A member of the audience asks Prof. Malekzadeh “how you get your porn without all the jobless English majors?” Holding up his Batman mask, he responds: “How do you know I’m not in porn? Oh, nevermind….”

8:30 Closing comments.

8:33 Prof. Newby says that Batman needs science to solve real problems. He says that today’s activists are busy making the case that our society needs to understand science–like climate change.

8:34 “If I had a dime for every superhero taken hostage by a scientist… It’s like you guys don’t even lock your doors,” says Prof. Thomason. “The social sciences may have data show recidivism rates in today’s prisons, but they can predict social problems about as well as economists predicted the 2007 financial crisis. The humanities will do what we have always done, and clean up your mess.”

8:38 Wong’s applause-o-meter (her ears) have decided that the humanities take the cake.

 

Photo credit Andrew Karas ’15

Sophia Naylor ’13 Previews Playwriting Thesis

Sophia Naylor '13, center, conducted the first reading of her senior thesis play yesterday evening.

Sophia Naylor conducted the first reading of her playwriting thesis, “All-One!”, yesterday evening. Naylor enlisted a professional director, 5 professional actors and one Swarthmore student (Nate Cheek ’15) for last night’s reading.

The reading was conducted for the purposes of “clarity and intention,” with a post-reading Q & A session afterwards.

Naylor’s play draws its title from the slogan of “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.” The play touched on themes of nature, religion, the heat death of the universe, and an apocalypse manifested by sheep.