Peripeteia Offers Liberal Arts Experience at Inaugural Weekend

Students drawing in "Everyone Doodles"

Kira Simpson '18, Emma Puranen '18, and Sarah Parks '19 took part in David Holmgren ['18]'s Everyone Doodles course. Photo by Angelina Abitino '18.

After more than a year of planning and preludes, Peripeteia arrived on Swarthmore’s campus with an inaugural three-day symposium.

Borrowed from Aristotle and used in literary analysis, the term peripeteia refers to a reversal of circumstances or a change of fortune. Fittingly, the weekend saw a change or reversal in the way learning happens on campus through a weekend of mini-courses taught by students, faculty, and staff. With course titles such as Everyone Doodles, Art = Fire + Algebra, and Carbon Pricing, the courses embodied the liberal arts experience of unimpeded, unevaluated learning from anyone who has something to teach. In total, students and staff taught 20 individual classes and over 100 were in attendance, offering the Swarthmore community a chance to learn easily and fearlessly.

David Holmgren '18 and Sarah Parks '19
David Holmgren '18 leads the class Everyone Doodles.

Peripeteia Weekend is the direct result of a Community Development Grant, which was awarded to the planning committee in 2015. Members of the planning committee include Victor Gomes '17, a special major in cognitive science and psychology from Gulf Shores, Ala.; Irene Kwon '17, a sociology and anthropology major from Korea; Owen Weitzman '17, a sociology and anthropology and Spanish major from Newtown, Mass.; Zoey Werbin '17, a biology major from Davie, Fla., Emma Remy '18 from Costa Mesa, Calif.; and Jake Mundo '18 from Morristown, N.J. Faculty members involved in the planning include Professor of Philosophy Peter Baumann, Associate Provost and Professor of German/Film and Media Studies Sunka Simon, Associate Professor of Art History Tomoko Sakomura, Associate Professor of Biology Nick Kaplinsky, Associate Professor of Physics Carl Grossman, Associate Professor of Psychology Dan Grodner, and Associate Professor of Political Science Ben Berger. 

​​Peripeteia is the brainchild of Gomes, who came up with the idea in 2014 after a radio interview with Baumann. Referring to the idea as “academic jazz,” Gomes hopes Peripeteia “allow[s] Swarthmore community members to share knowledge on any topic they believe is worthwhile.” Read more from Gomes in the Swarthmore Bulletin.

Following a year of preludes, which tackled topics such as What is Perfection and Love, Romance and Attraction, Peripeteia Weekend was ready for its launch.

The inaugural symposium began on Friday with a roundtable discussion on Breaking Barriers: Sharing Knowledge Within, Across, and Beyond Disciplines. A panel of students and faculty with interests in interdisciplinary work headed a room-wide roundtable discussion in Science Center 101 on the benefits (and drawbacks) of mixing disciplines. The evening culminated with an examination of the college admissions process and evaluations of the use of standardized testing.

Students in Everyone Doodles
Students study illustrations during Everyone Doodles.

Saturday and Sunday were devoted to the 20 different courses taught by community members. The courses offered a wide variety of topics, from examining how racial minorities have been portrayed in television sitcoms, investigating what can be made with Origami, learning how to share knowledge through Wikipedia, and understanding the basics of improve comedy.

At a Storytelling and Radical Empathy workshop, audience members watched a clip of NPR’s Ira Glass speaking about the elements of storytelling and discussed narrative strategies. Led by Abby Holtzman ‘16, a psychology major from Newton, Mass.; Mira Revesz ‘17, a special major in educational studies, literature, and spirituality from New York, N.Y.; and Aaron Wagener ‘17, a mathematics major from Burlington, Vt., the course culminated with a “radical empathy” story exchange, a technique developed by writer Colum McCann and Narrative 4. The audience split into pairs, each told a story, and then related their partner’s story to the other students in the class from the first-person perspective. At Everyone Doodles, taught by David Holmgren ‘18 of Meadville, Pa., attendees at all levels of drawing experience practiced their skills in an attempt to incorporate art into their daily lives. Read more coverage of Peripeteia from The Daily Gazette

According to members of the planning committee, the inaugural weekend was a success and the hope is that Peripeteia can become a yearly tradition. ”I am always amazed by the variety of passions and interests of people in the Swarthmore community, and I think and hope that Peripeteia provided an opportunity and a means to share those passions with other members of the community,” says Mundo. “Based on the conversations I’ve had with people who attended the courses, I think that goal was achieved.”