Peripeteia Gains Momentum with Second Symposium

Students learning to knit

Peripeteia offers the Swarthmore community an opportunity to learn outside of a traditional classroom setting, promoting the liberal arts idea of free, unpressured learning from anyone who has something to teach. Above students learn to knit in an "Introduction to Knitting" course. Photo by Sarah Tupchong '17

A year after its successful inaugural weekend, Peripeteia returned with a second flurry of mini-courses taught by students, faculty, and staff. 

Taking its name from an Aristotelian term for a reversal of circumstances, Peripeteia – which founder Victor Gomes ‘17 has refers to as “academic jazz” – offers the Swarthmore community an opportunity to learn outside of a traditional classroom setting, promoting the liberal arts idea of free, unpressured learning from anyone who has something to teach. This year, Peripeteia hosted 28 courses on a wide variety of topics, including “Modern Black Hair: An Instruction on the 3 Strand Twist-Out,” “The Metamyth: Form and Texture of Fiction,” and “Mushrooms! Mushrooms! Mushrooms!” 

Martin Gagne
Visiting Professor of Computer Science Martin Gagné leads a class on cryptology.

The weekend opened with a lively roundtable discussion entitled “Genius." Students, faculty, and staff joined Assistant Professor of Psychology Stella Christie, Associate Professor of Classics and Associate Professor of Philosophy Grace Ledbetter, Professor of Linguistics Donna Jo Napoli, Associate Professor of Theater K. Elizabeth Stevens, and students Amelia Erskine ’17, a history major from Paxton, Mass., and Irene Kwon ’17, a sociology & anthropology major from Seongnam, South Korea, to share ideas and experiences regarding the idea of “genius.” Participants questioned the extent to which genius is innate, debated how social circumstances affect whom we deem to be genius, pondered whether the idea of genius is important to society, and discussed how different cultures treat intelligence and talent.

Saturday and Sunday were devoted to the mini-courses that are the hallmark of Peripeteia. In “Paradoxes and Other Problems (in Philosophy and Elsewhere),” Professor of Philosophy Peter Baumann covered a variety of paradoxes that philosophers discuss. The class began with an introduction to paradoxes of logic such as the phrase, “This sentence is not true,” and concluded with a discussion on whether or not we should fear death, offering students a crash course in a number of diverse philosophical problems. In her interactive class “Effective Stretching,” Gabriela Brown ’18, a computer science major from Mountain View, Calif. and a ballet dancer, taught attendees about the science behind stretching and walked the class through several useful stretches. 

Members of the Peripeteia Planning Committee regarded the weekend as a success. Emma Remy ’18, a mathematics and computer science major from Costa Mesa, Calif., notes that they held more courses and had a higher attendance this year in comparison with their first year. “We also had more professors and staff teaching courses," she says, "which was a particular goal of ours from last year.” 

Gomes, a cognitive science and psychology major from Gulf Shores, Ala., describes this year’s Peripeteia weekend as a “smoother experience all around,” because the planning committee learned a lot about how to approach the planning process after last year. 

“Based on the feedback we've gotten so far, a lot of the people that participated seem to really enjoy the weekend as a part of their Swarthmore experience,” Gomes says. “I hope it continues to grow and serve as an experimental space for the community to engage with each other comfortably.”