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Peripeteia Rising

Students create a platform for meaningful discussion

A year ago, I invited Peter Baumann, professor of philosophy, to be interviewed on Not Public Radio, a WSRN show I co-hosted with another student. Professor Baumann accepted and, after we talked a bit, asked me a question. Did I have any ideas for saving the liberal arts? I’m not professing that I have a solution, but I do have a proposal. That proposal is Peripeteia, a communitywide opportunity for intellectual engagement. Its name, borrowed from Aristotle, means a sudden reversal in circumstance, or turning point, in a work of fiction.

Peripeteia, held for a set period of time during the academic year, would allow Swarthmore community members to share knowledge on any topic they believe is worthwhile. The structure of Peripeteia would give the community a platform for discussion, education, and entertainment. I envision students teaching alongside professors, professors teaching alongside staff, and alumni teaching alongside students in classes, seminars, and workshops that are built and organized with, by, and for the community. I also hope that activist groups will see Peripeteia as a platform to educate members of the community as well as one another—thinking and sharing critically along the way.

The proposal is a big one, but I think that it’s not only possible but necessary, because (and I say this as a millennial), our age is one of specialization—only some disciplines and pursuits are deemed valuable. The idea of the liberal arts is more necessary than ever. We need renaissance people; we need jacks of all trades (or masters of at least one). Now is the ideal time for Peripeteia.

During the yearly Peripeteia, community members could engage voluntarily in various and novel disciplines without the pressure of grades, instead exercising the chance to learn something new. This means that one could take a class in a discipline that he or she found intriguing but hadn’t pursued for fear of disrupting one’s GPA or sophomore plan. Everyone who is a part of the Swarthmore community would be invited. Hopefully, after a few years and a lot of work, we also could invite outside community members (be they from Chester, Media, or elsewhere) to attend Peripeteia.

An array of people have volunteered for the Peripeteia planning committee. Students participants are Karl Palmquist ’17, Owen Weitzman ’17, Irene Kwon ’17, and me. Besides Baumann, faculty members are 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. A Community Development Grant supports our effort.

This past academic year we began laying the groundwork with the warmly received Prelude to Peripeteia discussion series events debuting in the spring and fall semesters. Hoping to model possible seminars and discussions for Peripeteia, we explored perfection, love, and television with participation from faculty members representing various disciplines. We’re on the path to formally launching Peripeteia in January 2016. If you’d like to be involved, or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at

Victor Gomes is majoring in psychology and honors cognitive science but would like to major in everything. He was born and raised in Recife, Brazil, and immigrated to Alabama (and was also raised there) at age 5 because his mother loved the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.

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