Prof. Sa’ed Atshan Inspires

Inspire! With Professor Atshan: Teaching Peace

Posted by Anna Weber ’19 January 21, 2016 on her Voices of Youth blog (Reprinted with permission)

Prof. Sa'ed Atshan

Professor Sa’ed Atshan

I walked into my Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies class unsure. I was unsure if I had any of the answers to the conflicts we would study, unsure of the conflicts in my own life, unsure if this class would help me or leave me to continue to spin towards answers I couldn’t name. But the most eminent question once I walked into the class was where I was going to sit—front and invoke the possibility of having to speak or back and hide from the questions.

I changed my seat three times that day. The truth, however, was that it didn’t matter where I sat. Professor Atshan would have reached me all the way in the back corner because his passion is limitless. He quickly walked in the room, a smile spreading across his face, books and laptop in hand, spouting a metaphor about how this class was an airport and once it starts it is as if the plane has taken off. Trust me, you want to be on that plane.

Professor Atshan lives a life of incessant learning. He started college in the same place as me, Swarthmore College. He then graduated from Harvard University for his Ph.D. in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies. Next, he taught at Brown University as a post-doctoral fellow. Now, he is back at Swarthmore teaching students like me. Within his studies, Atshan has won multiple awards and fellowships including the National Science Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Social Science Research Council, the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation, and a Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace. But really beyond his awards, it is kind of inexplicable to detail the impact Professor Atshan has on students. I can’t name it, but he stirs up some notion that tells us to partake in activism for human rights of all kinds; even if we are not personally affected, we have the power to lift the voices of those who are.

So, without further ado, I present you Professor Atshan and perhaps I’m also presenting a passion that he will bring out in yourself.

What do you do, and perhaps more importantly, why do you do it?

I am a professor of Peace and Conflict Studies. I love working with young people and supporting them in thinking about how to make the world less violent and more just.

In the first day of your Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies class, you asked students to tell the class what they are tokens for, what they are often asked to explain or represent. What are you a token for?

I often have to explain what it means to be gay, to be Palestinian, to be Quaker, and am often met with a generosity of spirit, but every now and then I have to deal with all sorts of prejudices. But I do my best to remain patient and compassionate.

Can you explain where you come from and where you are going? This can be literal or metaphorical if you’d like.

I have always been a bookworm. But I try to escape the protective shell of libraries and to be engaged in activism in the real world. I hope to help build bridges between theory and practice.

As a Peace and Conflict studies Professor, can you tell us what the word “peace” means to you?

Peace is not only about the absence of physical violence—it is also about addressing structural violence. Positive peace, in its truest sense, takes intersectionality into account—understanding how all forms of oppression are interlinked.

What is one thing you hope your students will take away from your class, whatever the class may be?

I hope that they find their unique voice. That they recognize their value and their ability to make a difference in whatever domains they are passionate about. That they are the future—and that they give us hope.

As a student at Swarthmore, you scheduled every minute of your day to maximize studying. You then went to Harvard University and then taught at Brown University. How did you find the motivation to accomplish all of this, study so much, achieve success at some of the best institutions for learning in the United States?

I feel so privileged to have had access to these institutions and resources. With this comes a responsibility to help give voice to those who are voiceless. I try to ensure that my pursuit of knowledge is as ethical as possible and that it helps enact change in the world.

What advice do you have for your students beyond college?

I think it’s tremendously important to be true to yourself. Follow your heart, follow your gut, don’t be afraid to be fabulous, treat others with compassion, and recognize your own gifts and power.

 

Meyer_flyer_S2016 fb Copy

Redefining Revolution & Nonviolence: Re-imagining Solidarity Across Race

As part of Black History Month activities, Matt Meyer, organizer, author, and editor of We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism (PM Press) will discuss revolutionary nonviolence, privilege, solidarity, and alliance building in higher education.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Scheuer Room in Kohlberg Hall at Swarthmore College
This event is free and open to the public.
Download a flyer at http://bit.ly/meyerflyer
 Matt Meyer flyer
A native New York City-based educator, activist, and author, Matt Meyer is coordinator of the War Resisters International Africa Support Network, and a United Nations/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. The founding Chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association and former Chair of the Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development (COPRED), Meyer has long worked to bring together academics and activists for lasting social change.

Meyer’s work in K-12 public education and teacher training included ten years of service as Multicultural Coordinator for the NYC Board of Education’s Alternative High Schools & Programs, as well as a stint as Union Leader of a local section of the United Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. He helped found and direct a mini-school in collaboration with St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital’s Child and Family Institute (CFI), and led a psycho-educational CFI research delegation on re-integration and treatment of child soldiers in West and Central Africa and related work in “inner-city” USA; he also helped in the early development of the Harvey Milk High School, the first US “safe space” school for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Twice-decorated as “teacher of the year” by two Community School District Superintendents, Meyer’s continuous efforts as a high school-based historian and peace educator have spanned over 30 years.

Matt is an outstanding scholar-practitioner and leader in the field of peace and justice studies and is an accomplished Africanist scholar and educator, and has done much to bring critical race theory into dialogue with peace and conflict studies. You may read his recent co-authored piece “Refusing to Choose Between Martin and Malcolm: Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and a New Nonviolent Revolution” at Counterpunch.org.

We Have Not Been Moved

Co-sponsors: Peace and Conflict Studies, President’s Office, Black Cultural Center, Black Studies Program, Intercultural Center, History Department, Educational Studies Department, Sociology and Anthropology Department

This event builds on a theme the Peace and Conflict Studies program initiated last semester with the American Friends Service Committee poster exhibit in McCabe Library, “All of Us or None: Responses & Resistance to Militarism.”

AFSC Exhibit Fall 2015

Cooper Series: BalletX (January 27 – 29)

BalletX: Philadelphia Premier Contemporary Ballet
Friday, January 29, 2016
Lang Performing Arts Center Pearson-Hall Theater
8PM
Free and open to the public without advance reservation
For information: 610-690-3489 or lpacevents@swarthmore.edu

Additional workshops:
January 27, 2016 (Wed)
11:30AM – 1PM
LPAC Boyer Dance Studio
Ballet class taught by Christine Cox (Director)

4:30PM – 6:30PM
LPAC Boyer Studio
Repertory workshop with Associate Artistic Director Tara Keating

January 28, 2016 (Thurs)
4:30 – 6PM
Lang Music Bldg., Rm. 407
Lecture/Workshop with composer Rosie Langabeer

Internationally-recognized composer Rosie Langabeer will lead a discussion about music and dance collaborations between herself and BalletX choreographers. Langabeer is an award-winning composer and experimental musician who creates music for dance, theater, and musical ensembles and splits time between the States and New Zealand. Langabeer collaborated for over a year with BalletX Founder Matthew Neenan in the creation of “Sunset, o639”, an evening-length work created for BalletX and premiered in 2014. Her score and musical performance garnered rave reviews from The New York Times Dance Critic, Alastair Macaulay.

https://www.facebook.com/events/530667663779781/

AUDITIONS for Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL (12/10)

Come audition for the Theater Department’s Spring production of  THE SEAGULL by Anton Chekhov!

THE SEAGULL dramatises the artistic and romantic conflicts between the following figures: the famous middlebrow writer Trigorin, the eager ingenue Nina, the fading actress Arkadina, and her passionate and frustrated son Treplev. It is an ensemble play that emphasizes the pain, beauty, and humor we can find in life’s conflicts and desires.

Auditions will take place in the Frear Ensemble Theater, Thursday 12/10, between 3-6pm.
Sign-up sheet and monologues can be found outside of the Theater Department Office (lower-level of LPAC)

Any level of experience and walk-ins are welcome! You can use the monologues provided or present one of your choosing. However, prepared monologues are not necessary.

Feel free to email Michelle at mjohnso4@swarthmore.edu with any questions!

Directing I NIGHT OF SCENES (12/9 & 12/10)

The Department of Theater’sNight of Scenes poster

Directing Workshop (THEA 035) and
Lighting Design (THEA 004B)
present
A NIGHT OF SCENES

 

 

by directors

Derek Graves ‘18
Rex Chang ‘17
Simon Bloch ‘17

with one-acts and excerpts from
August Strindberg
Christopher Durang
Greg Keller

Wednesday (Dec. 9) at 7PM
& Thursday (Dec. 10) at 7PM

Free and open to the public
Info: lpacevents@swarthmore.edu
610-328-8260

Queer Anthologies: Selections from Swarthmore’s Special Collections

From our friends in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection and Libraries

Queer Anthologies: Selections from Swarthmore’s Special Collections

The exhibit will be on display November 17 to December 22, 2015 in the McCabe Library lobby.

Pride Month and QSA will sponsor an exhibit reception at 4:30pm on November 17, 2015.

Queer anthologies poster

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the earliest organized, recurring demonstrations for gay rights in the U.S: “Annual Reminders,” held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia from 1965 to 1969. As part of a city-wide celebration, “Queer Anthologies” explores some of Swarthmore College’s rich archival resources for the study of the history of LGBTQ activism.

Photographs, artist’s books, personal papers, organizational records, ephemera, periodicals, and other materials illustrate the history of queer communities at Swarthmore College, in the Society of Friends (Quakers), in the Peace Movement, and in the wider world.

Included are selections from the Swarthmore College Archives, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, and Rare Book Room of McCabe Library.

Emeritus Professor Harold Pagliaro Reflects on Combat Experience

Emeritus Professor Harold Pagliaro Reflects on Combat Experience

from Swarthmore News and Events
by Mark Anskis
November 11, 2015

Harold Pagliaro

Seventy-two years removed from his military service, the fear of combat still lingers with Harold Pagliaro, Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor Emeritus of English Literature and Provost Emeritus.

“I still have nightmares about being sent to the front,” says Pagliaro, who was drafted into the U.S. Army as a naïve and optimistic 19-year-old during the Second World War. In one particular dream, Pagliaro is redrafted and, when he tells the draft board officer of his true age, his appeals fall on deaf ears and he’s sent back into service.

Pagliaro’s anxiety is similar to that of many who return from combat. In an attempt to come to terms with his experience, Pagliaro turned his memories into a memoir, Naked Heart: A Soldier’s Journey to the Front, which was published shortly after he retired from teaching at the College in 1992.

According to Pagliaro, the book, which is available in McCabe Library, is a tale “of what it’s like to be sent to the front. Thousands like me, boys just becoming men. We went up to the front lines alone.”

Harold Pagliaro_naked_heart book coverThe idea for a memoir came to Pagliaro on a trip home to his parents’ house in the early 1990s. While there, he discovered a box of 200 letters he sent to his parents during the war. The letters were in stark contrast to what he recalls feeling at the time.

“I couldn’t believe how little they said of what I was experiencing,” he says. “I held back, I think, to keep my family from worrying.”

Trained for the infantry at Fort Benning, Ga., Pagliaro was taken from his division and sent directly into combat as a front line solo replacement in a reconnaissance unit, alongside soldiers he did not know. While in Europe, he was sent on high-risk patrol missions, with little guidance from his superiors and often in the dead of night. He recalls the emotions he felt at the time: fear of death from the night patrols, frustration that he knew little of the objectives of his missions, loneliness from fighting next to strangers.

Despite the near-constant danger, Pagliaro survived. He was ultimately sent home after a German shell fragment severely injured his right leg during an attack near the town of Erckartswiller, France. Pagliaro recovered after a long hospitalization. He says that even today, arthritis flares in the wounded leg are more frequent than in the “good” leg.

After being discharged from the Army in 1945, Pagliaro resumed classes at Columbia University, where he earned an A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. and taught from 1948-63. He came to Swarthmore in 1964, where he taught 18th-century English literature and English romanticism. He also served as provost from 1974 to 1980.

In addition to his memoir, Pagliaro is the author or editor of numerous other books and articles, including Selfhood and Redemption in Blake’s Songs (1987), Henry Fielding: A Literary Life (1998), and Relations Between the Sexes in the Plays of George Bernard Shaw (2004). At 90 and a longtime Swarthmore Borough resident, he continues to work in his Parrish Hall office most days. Over the past few years, he has written and published sonnets.

Since its publication, Naked Heart has drawn praise for its honesty and unique perspective. Along with the praise, Pagliaro admits that he has also received letters from baffled readers who cannot believe he found his wartime service less than ennobling.

Looking back, Pagliaro agrees there were positives to his war experience.

“I did a lot of growing up fast,” he says. “If anything, war left me cherishing life all the more, maybe because I came close to losing it. But the experience of war is overwhelmingly destructive – war is a loser. Hitler and Mussolini had to be stopped, of course. But there remains the question many ask: why are humans so ready to go to war?”

Senior Company 2016 presents AUNT DAN AND LEMON (12/4-12/6)

The Department of Theater and Senior Company 2016 present Wallace Shawn’s AUNT ADposterforwebDAN AND LEMON

There’s something inside us that likes to kill…Welcome to the mind of Lemon, a reclusive young woman with an unspecified chronic illness, who sits in her apartment reading books and reliving her life story from inside her head. As she struggles to contemplate a world that thrives on genocide, she regales us with tales and memories of Aunt Dan, who applies Kissinger’s doctrine of ‘realpolitik’ to her private life – a life where all relationships are complex power games played out through an amoral, ruthless filter. Are you comfortable? Sit down. Odds are, there’s blood on your hands.

Co-directed by Aaron Matis and Eileen Hou. Performed by Derek Graves, Chris Malafronti, Lila Weitzner, Max Marckel, Michelle Johnson, Madeleine Pattis, and Michaela Shuchman. Set by Emma Kates-Shaw, Lights by Amanda Jensen, Sound by Elizabeth Atkinson, Costumes by Rebecca Kanach.

LPAC Frear Ensemble Theater
December 4 (Fri) at 8PM
December 5 (Sat) at 2PM & 8PM
December 6 (Sun) at 2PM

Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa

We would like to share the following announcement.  Prof. Elliot Ratzman, who has taught in Swarthmore’s Religious Studies Department and the Peace and Conflict Studies program, will interview Dr. Albie Sachs and the film’s Director after the screening on Saturday Nov. 21, 2015.

SOFT VENGEANCE: ALBIE SACHS AND THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA

CLOSING NIGHT!
Date:
Saturday, November 21
Time: 7:30 pm
Location: Kimmel Center for The Performing Arts –  TICKETS

We close out this year’s Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival – Fall Fest with the 2015 Peabody Award-Winner, SOFT VENGEANCE: ALBIE SACHS AND THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA.

In this powerful documentary about the fall of apartheid and the rise of a free South Africa, Director Abby Ginzberg takes a different, but no less rewarding, route than most who have tackled the subject. A great many apartheid-related documentaries tend to focus on the larger-than-life Nelson Mandela, while simultaneously simplifying the conflict into a “blacks are good; whites are bad” scenario. Ginzberg moves this film in a more compelling direction, introducing us to the incredible true story of Albie Sachs.

Sachs, a Jew of Lithuanian descent, was born in South Africa and as a young man used his law degree to help those suffering under South Africa’s harsh racial laws. This made him a marked man to authorities, which directly led to his imprisonment, exile, and a brutal near-death experience. But this was only the beginning of Sachs’ life-affirming journey, which is told by Sachs himself, along with other notables, including Desmond Tutu and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Soft Vengeance

Official Selection of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Australia Jewish International Film Festival, DocNYC, International Women’s Film Forum, Movies That Matter Film Festival, Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, Reframe Film Festival, South African Jewish Museum – Cape Town, Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Special Guests: Film followed by Tikkun Olam Award Presentation and discussion with Albie Sachs and Director Abby Ginzberg. All guests are invited to attend PJFF’s Closing Night Party at Hamilton Hall, The University of the Arts.

Sponsors: The Carole Landis Foundation for Social Action, David and Helen Pudlin, Pam and Tony Schneider, Sterling Trustees LLC

Danny Hirschel Burns ’14 on his special major in Peace and Conflict Studies

This piece by Anna Gonzales appeared in The Phoenix on November 12, 2015
Danny Hirschel Burns was the 2014 recipient of the Peace and Justice Studies Association Undergraduate Thesis Award for the thesis he talks about in this article.

Special majors forge own innovative academic paths

While most students at the college choose to major in one or more of its nearly fifty academic departments, some forge their own path. Pursuing their intellectual passions and often generating innovative interdisciplinary work, a handful of students graduate each year with special majors in subjects ranging across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Some students with special majors can follow a relatively well-established existing curriculum, one created by previous special majors or with programs at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, or the University of Pennsylvania. Others, such as Claudia Lo ’16, who is a special honors major in gender and digital culture, design entirely new programs, working closely with faculty mentors.

Lo’s special major seems to have grown naturally out of her life experience and her penchant for academic analysis. As a child, Lo spent much more time playing video games than watching movies or television, or listening to music.

“That’s what I did, and so for me it was unthinkable not to study them,” Lo said. Growing up queer and Asian, Lo added, increased her desire to study video games — in which these representations are rarely included — and figure out her relationship to these works.

Lo first got the chance to take an academic approach to her fascination with video games during a film and media studies department seminar entitled Women in Pop Culture during her freshman year. The next year, Lo took another class in the department, the History and Theory of Video Games, and realized she could actually pursue video game studies as a potential major.

Video game studies, Lo explained, do not really exist at the undergraduate level in the area in which Lo is interested — these tend to cover game design rather than the theory-based critical approaches Lo takes. This was one of the challenges of designing Lo’s special honors major, she said, since besides the History and Theory of Video Games class, there were barely any courses which specifically related to what Lo wanted to study.

To meet the requirements for designing a special honors major, Lo combined a wide variety of different courses in film and media studies, sociology and anthropology, and gender and sexuality studies. She also conducted an independent study and is in the process of writing a double-credit thesis, looking at the relationships between video game players and the controllers they use and thinking about digital bodies, drawing on feminist theories of embodiment. Lo is also writing her thesis using a text adventure game engine called Twine.

Though the process has been complicated, Lo’s special major has allowed her to guide her work in her classes towards exactly the topics in which she is most interested. She greatly appreciates this flexibility and freedom.

“A large part of my major has been, ‘How far can I get away with this?’ It turns out, pretty far,” Lo said.

Lo has found the different departments her major fits under extremely supportive of her plan of study and her interests. All of her professors have been very excited, she said, by the prospect of reaching out to contacts who might have knowledge about the different areas Lo has studied in order to find Honors examiners.

Now, Lo is searching for and applying to graduate school programs relevant to her area of study. Part of this has been a hunt for the departments under which critical theory approaches to video game studies are housed — Lo says that these can range from “New Media” departments to “Screens, Arts, and Culture” to English literature and sociology departments.

“It’s incredibly interdisciplinary, on account of no one knowing what they’re doing. You can get away with anything, and that’s part of what makes it really exciting,” Lo explained.

Students can also create special majors in established programs, such as Black Studies, for which many courses are specifically cross-listed. Kara Bledsoe ’16 spent several semesters as a chemistry major before declaring a special major in Black Studies.

“I took a Black Studies course just on a whim, because I thought, I’ve never taken a class like this before,” Bledsoe said. She took both an introductory and a history class listed as Black Studies courses.

“I just really enjoyed the material and it felt like it was relevant to my life,” Bledsoe said. “I really felt like it informed my life experience and it gave me the framework I needed to actually study what I was interested in.”

Bledsoe has greatly enjoyed the professors, classmates, and material she has encountered in the course of pursuing her special major, in which she has combined courses from history, sociology, and English. A highlight included her independent study with Professor of History Tim Burke, in which Bledsoe and Burke researched and discussed Black American scientists throughout history.

“We talked about the implications of race for scientific discovery,” Bledsoe said. “Not just biological race and all of that nonsense, but asking, how has race shaped who does science? Who is science done for? Who has access to what science says and who defines it? That was really illuminating and wonderful.”

Bledsoe is currently working on her thesis, which has taken a nontraditional form. As Bledsoe’s interests in Black Studies lie at the intersection of science and historical and public representation (such as museums, libraries, monuments, archives, etc.) she is working to create documentary shorts and curating an exhibition focused on the historical experience of Black Americans working in science.

“I’ve been very, very satisfied just as a baseline but also pleasantly shocked by the support I’ve gotten,” Bledsoe said of her proposal to create a multimedia exhibition rather than writing a paper for her thesis. “Everyone has been like, ‘Great, this is a great idea,’ and then they challenge me to do it well. The relationships I’ve formed with the professors that have been mentoring me have been really positive, and that’s been nice.”

The challenge for Bledsoe has not been to find Black Studies courses but to find those that relate specifically to her interests. While some education courses and sociology/anthropology courses, for instance, address some aspects of the intersection of race, representation, and science, Bledsoe has not found the exact perspective she is looking for in these. Thus, she has had to broaden and make more abstract her interests, taking classes which she must work to make applicable to her major.

“It has been difficult to find classes, but the classes that I’ve chosen I think have been really compelling and interesting, even if they aren’t directly related to Black Americans in science,” Bledsoe said.

A large part of Bledsoe’s decision to declare a special major came from her desire to develop the specialized skills and knowledge she needs in order to achieve her eventual goals of curating a museum, where she hopes to engage with the creation of official memory and access the ways in which people interact with historical information.

In the immediate future, Bledsoe hopes to work at the new Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“They’re really shaping what history is going to be like in that museum,” she explained.

Overall, Bledsoe has no regrets about declaring Black Studies as her major. She believes that her experience of creating her own academic program has taught her advocate for herself and thinking through exactly what she wants to study.

“I’ve had to really concentrate on what it is that I wanted, and I’ve had to articulate that, and I think that’s going to be really useful going forward,” Bledsoe said. “You have to have a plan — you can’t just be like, ‘I want a special major,’ and then fuck around.”

As a special major, Bledsoe feels she has learned to continually push for the chance to focus on her academic interests, rather than allowing professors to steer her in a different direction.

“You have to be willing to say, in the face of professors, ‘These are great ideas, and I respect what you’re saying, but this is what I want to do,’” Bledsoe said.

As Bledsoe explained, much of the advantage of declaring a special major can come from the chance to do innovative interdisciplinary work and to focus more narrowly on exactly the courses and subjects one is interested in rather than fulfilling a more general established set of major requirements.

Daniel_Hirschel-Burns

Danny Hirschel-Burns ’14, for instance, found that the biggest benefit of designing his own major in political conflict was the opportunity to write an interdisciplinary thesis on nonviolent strategies civilians could use to survive mass atrocities.

Hirschel-Burns knew going into Swarthmore that he was interested in international politics and mass violence.

“A big part of it is that my grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, so I’ve been hearing stories about those things as long as I can remember,” Hirschel-Burns said.

At the college, Hirschel-Burns took a class on nonviolent resistance which sparked his interest in social movements, and after taking classes with Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Shervin Malakzadeh, he became intrigued by broader forms of contentious politics. Additionally, Hirschel-Burns’ desire to think more deeply about violence developed through his membership in Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, a student-led movement to end mass atrocities, he said.

Hirschel-Burns’ decision to design a major in political conflict, which was housed in the Peace and Conflict Studies department and also incorporated classes from the Political Science and History departments, was motivated by his desire to take the exact set of classes he was interested in and ultimately apply them to his thesis.

“I knew my interests didn’t lie squarely in history,” Hirschel-Burns said.

Hirschel-Burns added that there were many classes he could have included in his major that he chose not to in the end because of the college’s 12-course limit on credits towards a major.

The interdisciplinary focus of his special major gave Hirschel-Burns the flexibility to write the thesis he had been thinking about since his sophomore year, he said.

“I think it would have been challenging to write that thesis as a history major, because of the lack of archival sources,” Hirschel-Burns said. “Even political science probably would have wanted a smaller scope and more rigid structure.”

The content of Hirschel-Burns’ thesis has guided his post-graduation experience as well. He spent one year working at a human rights foundation, conducting research on theories of atrocity prevention, which he said he would not have done without the familiarity with extant literature that came out of his thesis work. Now, Hirschel-Burns is applying to PhD programs in political science to study violence, governance, and state-building.

“Basically, my thesis was a scholarly jumping-off point to what I imagine I’ll be doing for the rest of my life,” Hirschel-Burns said.

As Lo, Bledsoe, and Hirschel-Burns all stated, special majors can provide students with a more tightly focused and more applicable knowledge for future academic and professional work. Eliana Cohen ’17, a special major in organizational behavior, hopes to pursue a career in business in the future, yet has been able to follow her more liberal arts-focused interests in psychology and sociology thanks to her special major .

Cohen has always wanted to understand how people are motivated, and how these individual motivations affect one’s ability to work together to create organizations, infrastructures, and societies, she said.

“When I came to college, I kept thinking about the question of motivation and its implications and soon found that it was not only central to what I was learning in my psych courses — I originally intended to become a psych major — but also to what I was learning in virtually all of my other courses and to my social interaction as well,” Cohen explained.

Cohen noted that Andrew Ward, professor of psychology at the college, was instrumental in her decision to pursue her special major. During her freshman spring, Cohen took Ward’s class in social psychology, which furthered her interest in organizational behavior.

“I became absolutely fascinated with studying how people work in groups since essentially everything we do as humans involves some sort of collaborative effort,” Cohen said. She also linked her interest in organizational behavior to the small size and emphasis on collaborative learning that are both characteristic of the college, contexts which she feels led her to see the role of individual motivations in shaping people’s ability and desire to work together.

Following her desire to gear her education towards what appeared to be a broad field, Cohen decided to declare a special major which would be housed in the psychology department but would incorporate courses from the economics and sociology departments as well.

Cohen felt that the college provided her with a great deal of resources in order to design her own educational path. The process involved meeting with a special major advisor; researching organizational behavior majors at other colleges and universities; choosing 12 courses that would meet the major requirement, including a course in organizational psychology not offered at Swarthmore but available at University College London, where Cohen is currently abroad; reaching out to a student who had majored in behavioral economics a few years previously and could give her advice on her proposed curriculum; and meeting with the chairs of the psychology, economics, and sociology departments along with the registrar, before her major could be approved.

At present, Cohen is deep in thought about her senior comprehensive exercise, a research project in which she hopes to examine the effect of individual personalities of group members on the efficacy of on-campus organizations and to see if her findings are supported by existing literature.

Despite enthusiastic professors and what seems like a solid amount of institutional support for students who wish to design special majors, there can be difficulties as well. Lo, for example, has occasionally felt isolated as a special major doing her thesis research. Unlike students working on their theses as groups within departments, who might be writing about vastly different subjects but all overlap in some way thanks to sharing a major, Lo relies solely on half hour meetings twice a month with her advisor for feedback on her ideas.

“I don’t have a lot of contact with other people doing similar things,” she said.

For all of this, though, Lo feels that the college possesses unique attributes, such as its size, the liberal arts environment, and the availability of close relationships with motivated professors, all of which enable students whose interests do not fit within established programs of study to pursue their ideal special majors. At another school, Lo added, she might have used her interest in video games to generate paper topics rather than designed an entire major around it.

“This isn’t something every institution has,” Lo said.