Past Speakers

2017-2018 Season

September 13th, 2017

Responsible Nationalism?  Why Economists Are Rethinking the Merits of Free Trade

Erin Bronchetti, Associate Professor, Economics, Swarthmore College

The bipartisan trade agreements of the past three administrations now face bipartisan skepticism.  A leading economist has called for “responsible nationalism”.  Are economists pulling an about-face on the merits of free trade?  Professor Bronchetti will cover the basic view of international trade that almost all economists accept, describe key trade agreements, and discuss gains and losses from trade.  What policies might ensure that domestic benefits are spread widely and costs are shared fairly, as “responsible nationalism” requires?

Bronchetti’s research spans public policy, public finance and labor and health economics.

October 18th, 2017

What Makes Democracy Work?

Ben Berger, Associate Professor of Political Science and Executive Director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility

Idealistic theories of democracy call for informed, attentive citizens.  What if most citizens don’t fit that model?  Worse, what if even informed, attentive citizens fit the facts to match their preexisting loyalties and social identities?  Political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels pose worrisome answers.  This talk will examine the debates, evidence, and arguments surrounding their groundbreaking book, Democracy for Realists:  Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, and will explore the implications for democracy.

Berger’s book, Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement, won the North American Society for Social Philosophy Book Award in 2011.

November 15, 2017

Walls or Bridges? The American Immigration System at a Crossroads •

Thomas Alexander Aleinikoff, Director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility

On what terms will the U.S. immigration system be constructed over the next 20 years? Does an ideology of “America First” presage an era of reductions in legal immigration, a less generous policy on refugees, and tougher border enforcement? Or will the spirit of the Statue of Liberty maintain a central role in the American imagination, supporting high levels of immigration, continued demographic change, and legalization programs for undocumented migrants? We will examine these questions from a variety of perspectives—economic, cultural and global—and ask how a discussion of values might help shape the debate. Aleinikoff, Swarthmore class of 1974, served from 2010 to 2015 as the Deputy High Commissioner in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland.

December 6, 2017

Zombies in the Language of American Dystopia

Jamie Thomas, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Swarthmore College

The word ‘apocalypse’ is being used now more than ever. How does our trending fascination with the zombie connect to our anxieties over difference and our uncertainty about our political and collective future? What clues does language provide? Thomas is an educator and sociocultural linguist focused on human interaction, learning, and communication. As a digital media producer, her interests span popular culture, technology, science fiction, visual arts, language, and education policy. Her current book is Zombies Speak Swahili.

January 17, 2018

Designing for Social Justice

Jules Dingle AIA, Principal at Philadelphia architecture firm DIGSAU • Bon Ku MD, MPP, Assistant Dean for Health and Design at Thomas Jefferson University and Emergency Medicine physician

Tackling the complex challenges of inequity in modern cities through the design of the built environment is increasingly a cross-disciplinary endeavor. Our two speakers, who come from widely differing professions, will talk about human-centered design as a form of social justice and how this approach is producing healthier and more equitable urban communities. Dingle and Ku have each admired the other’s work from afar and are collaborating for the first time on this talk. DIGSAU is the architect for the Matchbox and the new residence hall on the Swarthmore College campus.

February 21, 2018

Whose Democracy? Inequalities in Political Participation

Daniel Laurison, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Swarthmore College

Who does and who does not vote (or otherwise participate) in American politics? Laurison will describe the Pennsylvania Non-Voter Project, a collaborative effort to understand political non-participation, especially among poor and working-class people, and to increase political engagement in communities around the state where participation is usually low. Laurison’s research encompasses political participation and engagement, social class and inequality, and the role of campaign officials and political consultants in shaping American politics.

March 21, 2018

Communicating Science to the Public

Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Dr. Offit, well-known for his advocacy for childhood immunizations, will discuss the challenges to communicating science to the public and the media. In his book, Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, he takes on present-day claims for alternative medicines and therapies. Offit is also the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Award-winning author of numerous books, his newest is Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong.

April 18, 2018

Why Fighting Online Abuse Is Good for Free Speech

Danielle Citron, Morton & Sophia Macht Professor of Law, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Not long ago, cyber harassment was viewed as part of the bargain of online life. Victims were told that they had a choice: they could either ignore the threats, defamation, and privacy invasions or go offline. Much has changed in the intervening years. Now, legislators, law enforcers, companies, and civil liberties groups recognize online abuse’s impairment of victims’ careers, physical safety, emotional health, and self-expression. What can and should law do to combat cyber stalking? Can we reconcile legal developments with First Amendment doctrine and free speech values? Citron’s work focuses on information privacy law, cyber law and civil rights.  She is the author of Hate Crimes in Cyperspace(2014).


2016-2017 Season

September 21, 2016

Academic Freedom: The Whole World is Watching (for five seconds) 

Tim Burke, Professor of History, Swarthmore College

“Academic freedom” has been invoked and attacked with furious intensity in the last five years, generally connected to reports of what someone said on social media or a video gone viral. What happens when one person’s free speech is another person’s threat to a safe or moral community? Burke will explore the history of this concept, its contradictions and wider contexts, including its relationship to autonomy in other professions and workplaces. Burke teaches and writes about culture, politics, and academia, often in his well-known blog “Easily Distracted” and in Facebook conversations.

October 19, 2016

Dealing with Difference: Lessons from the Liberal Arts 

Valerie Ann Smith, President, Swarthmore College

How does a liberal arts education prepare students to navigate conflicting ideas and distinct identities? A tradition of engaged inquiry and interdisciplinary exploration lies at the heart of a liberal arts education. President Smith will discuss the ways in which these practices can cultivate the skills of democratic citizenship, including an ability to respectfully express dissent, to demonstrate curiosity when met with difference, and to work alongside those from diverse backgrounds and cultural experiences. Dr. Valerie Ann Smith, a distinguished scholar of African-American literature and culture, was Princeton’s Dean of the College before coming to Swarthmore in 2015.

November 9, 2016 

What’s Different about the 2016 Election? 

Carol Nackenoff, Richter Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College

Beginning with the primaries, the 2016 presidential election brought into question some key assumptions about American elections made by political scientists. What has to be rethought? Nackenoff will explore some of the out-of-the-ordinary politics at play leading up to the July party conventions and consider their impact on the November presidential election. Nackenoff’s current research examines the relationship between reform movements, law, and the American state from 1875-1925, a period that witnessed conflict over the terms of political incorporation of women, African Americans, Native Americans, workers, and immigrants.

December 14, 2016 |

The Curse of Bigness: What Louis Brandeis Means Today 

Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO, National Constitution Center

On the 100th anniversary of Brandeis’s Supreme Court confirmation, Rosen asks what Brandeis can teach us about the future of free speech, freedom from government surveillance, and the dangers of big banks and corporations that take risks with what Brandeis called “other people’s money.” Rosen makes a case for why Brandeis matters and what he can teach us about current questions involving the Constitution, monopoly, corporate and federal power, technology, privacy, and free speech. Rosen leads the National Constitution Center, chartered by Congress to disseminate information about the Constitution on a non-partisan basis.

January 18, 2017 

Failing States and the Delusions of U.S. Policies 

William Reno, Professor of Political Science & Director, Program of African Studies, Northwestern University

How do US policy makers respond to the collapse of governments in foreign countries and the proliferation of violent groups in a complex international context? What are the stakes for US citizens and for various actors in failed states? Reno examines current policies, such as counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism on behalf of governments that lack commitments to these, and the growing tensions between US civilian and military policy makers. Reno’s research takes him to Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and Washington, D.C.

February 15, 2017

Sustainability: How to be a Catalyst for Change 

Aurora Winslade, Director of Sustainability, Swarthmore College

How do you create an environment where sustainability becomes part of the mission for your organization? Drawing on her experiences with large universities and an energy company in Hawaii, Winslade will share strategies for how to lead groups – communities, businesses, and other organizations – to adopt new ideas and go beyond doing less bad to actually doing good. Winslade brings to Swarthmore College more than a decade of experience in higher education and in the private sector, where she has helped to translate visionary ideas into on-the ground reality.

March 15, 2017 

Capturing Moments That Last a Lifetime 

David Swanson, Photojournalist, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Photojournalists create images that impart truth, understanding and context. Swanson, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, has covered war and conflict, natural disasters and the happier moments of our national life. Hear how news and events of the day are seen through the eyes of a photojournalist, how he frames and sees moments that last a lifetime and contribute to the national discussion. Swanson’s work has appeared on the front pages of The NY Times, The LA Times and The Washington Post. In 2012 he won the Pulitzer for his work on the Inquirer series, “The Assault on Learning.”

April 19, 2017 

Fusion Energy: How to Make a Star on Earth 

Michael Brown, Professor of Physics & Chair, Physics & Astronomy, Swarthmore College

Nuclear fusion is the process that has kept the sun hot for 4.6 billion years and fuels the stars. Scientists have been working on creating a sustained fusion reaction focusing on primarily two schemes — one involving magnetic fields and the other lasers. Professor Brown will summarize the latest results from both schemes, and show some results from his own SSX lab that uses a hybrid method. Brown is interested in fusion energy science and laboratory astrophysics: the idea of performing laboratory experiments with connections to space.


2015-2016 Season

September 16, 2015

Who should claim credit for the economy in 2016?

Rick Valelly, Claude C. Smith ’14 Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College

An election without an incumbent running for re-election, the 2016 presidential race may feature a decision by the Democratic candidate to run away from President Obama. There is political science literature that explains why this would be a mistake – and it is very simple to understand. Hear what most political scientists would advise the Democratic (and the Republican) candidate, and why that advice might be ignored.

Rick Valelly has published award-winning books, among them American Politics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2013) and The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement (University of Chicago Press, 2004. He is Swarthmore College Class of 1975.

October 21, 2015

Taxes, spending and the fine art of the deal (maybe)

John L. Micek, Opinion Editor of PennLive, Patriot-News of Harrisburg

What have Gov. Tom Wolf’s first 10 months in office taught us about Pennsylvania politics? Has the man who promised to change the tone in Harrisburg succeeded? And what does his first budget season say about the way he plans to lead Pennsylvania for the next three years or so? Veteran political journalist John L. Micek takes an in-depth look at the Wolf administration.

John L. Micek has covered Pennsylvania politics for two decades. He’s kept tabs on five governors, tailed four presidential campaigns and survived 16 budgets. He’s contributed insight and analysis to NPR, the BBC and CBC as well as statewide and broadcast television outlets and is a regular Sunday panelist on “Face the State” on WHP-TV in Harrisburg.

November 18, 2015

How does the U.S. immigration crisis affect Pennsylvania?

Aurora Camacho de Schmidt, Professor Emerita of Spanish, Swarthmore College

In this century the nation has seen a new level of public attention to the presence of 11 million undocumented immigrants within its borders. Dr. Camacho de Schmidt will focus on how national events have played out in Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia, looking at the role of grass roots organizations led by immigrants, the agencies that provide services to the community and act as advocates for their rights, and the religious groups that have formed tight networks to oppose the new nativism.

Aurora Camacho de Schmidt, a Mexican citizen, has lived in the United States since 1968. She is a teacher, translator, editor, and poet. Mexico, her country, is still an important center of gravity for her family and her.

December 16, 2015

Telling the story of Mayor Nutter’s Philadelphia

Desiree Peterkin-Bell, Director of Communications and Strategy and City Representative, Philadelphia

Drawing on her work with “big city” mayors Cory Booker, Michael Bloomberg, and Bart Peterson, Desiree Peterkin-Bell has helped to realize Mayor Nutter’s plan to revitalize Philadelphia. From the annual convening of the Forbes “30 Under 30” conference to the hosting of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia now leads in use of new technologies and job opportunities. “We have work to do” sums up Desiree Peterkin-Bell’s get-down-to- business approach.

Desiree Peterkin-Bell, an ABC Strath Haven scholar and Swarthmore College Class of 2000 and a former National Urban Fellow, is a strategic planner and savvy public administrator driven by purpose, not a position.

January 20, 2016

Knife fights: modern war in theory and practice

John Nagl, Headmaster, The Haverford School

What new approach is needed when it becomes obvious that using conventional combat methods don’t work? Dr. Naglrealized early on that America’s greatest future threats would come from asymmetric warfare—guerrillas, terrorists and insurgents. 9/11 and the botched aftermath of the Iraq invasion gave counter-insurgency urgent contemporary relevance. Dr. Nagl helped General David Petraeus write the US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual and served as military assistant to two deputy secretaries of the Department of Defense.

John Nagl is a retired Army officer with combat service in both Iraq wars.  A West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar, he earned his doctoral degree from Oxford University.

February 17, 2016

Ending extreme poverty

Stephen O’Connell, Gil and Frank Mustin Professor of Economics, Swarthmore College

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to work with developing countries and other partners to end extreme poverty within a generation. In January 2014, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) formalized this pledge by adopting the Mission Statement “We partner to end extreme poverty and build resilient, democratic societies, while advancing our security and prosperity.” Dr. Stephen O’Connell will discuss the nature of extreme poverty, its shifting global geography,and its challenges.

Stephen O’Connell has served as Chief Economist of USAID since January 2014, on leave from Swarthmore’s Economics Department.

March 16, 2016

The reality of Civil War medicine

Robert D. Hicks, Director, Mütter Museum, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Of the American Civil War (1861-65), poet Walt Whitman observed that “the real war will not get in the books”: the story was found in the hospital. The war claimed one citizen in ten killed, wounded, or sick, but it created the modern system of emergency care. Dr. Hicks examines specific wounded soldiers as lenses to understand the larger medical war, from the battlefield to distant hospitals.

Robert Hicks developed a permanent exhibition at the Mutter Museum: Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia. He is the author of Voyage to Jamestown: PracticalNavigation in the Age of Discovery (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2011).

April 20, 2016

Why we work

Barry Schwartz, Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action, Swarthmore College

For three centuries, industrialization has been guided by the false assumption that people are basically lazy and only work for pay. This assumption is built into the modern workplace, in which work is soul-deadeningly routinized. Employers use incentive schemes to get employees to work hard. Less than 15% of workers get satisfaction from their work. Creating a workplace in which workers find challenge, autonomy, and meaning in what they do will produce much happier workers and much better work.

Barry Schwartz has taught at Swarthmore College since 1971. His books include The Battle for Human Nature (1986), The Costs of Living (1994), The Paradox of Choice (2004), Practical Wisdom (2010), and Why We Work (2015).

2014-2015 Season

September 17, 2014

The Philadelphia School District’s Financial Crisis from an Economist’s Perspective

John Caskey, Professor of Economics, Swarthmore College

What long-term factors lay behind the school district’s financial crisis, and why was there not a slow financial adjustment to prevent a crisis atmosphere?  Dr. Caskey will also examine how the governance structure of the school district relates to the development of the crisis.

John Caskey’s research focuses on financial and urban economics, in particular, financial services to lower-income United States households and urban economics in Philadelphia.

October 15, 2014

Ghosts of Gaza: Life, Death, and Humanitarian Intervention

Sa’ed Adel Atshan ‘06, Postdoctoral Fellow in International Studies at Brown University

“If you want to understand Palestinian society and contemporary politics, you have to understand the impact of the humanitarian aid regime. It’s fundamental.” (Sa’ed Atshan, 2014)

Dr. Sa’ed Atshan, a Postdoctoral Fellow in International Studies at Brown University, will discuss the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the response of the international community in the Palestinian Territories.

Sa’ed Adel Atshan ‘06, holds a PhD (2013) and an MA (2010) in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University. He is the recipient of a Soros Fellowship for New Americans and a Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace.

November 19, 2014

Changing Lives in Africa: Community Radio

Bill Siemering, Founder, Developing Radio Partners

What happens when African subsistence farmers learn how to increase their income? When they hear debates on political issues for upcoming elections? When they learn how they can prevent getting sick? Bill Siemering has enriched community radio programming and text messaging (SMS) to those hardest to reach in Africa.

William Siemering is one of the most important innovators in the history of American radio. He helped to establish National Public Radio in 1970 and Developing Radio Partners in 2004. He received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1993. 

December 17, 2014

Endangered Languages

K. David Harrison, Associate Professor of Linguistics, Swarthmore College

The world’s 7,000+ languages are in drastic decline and most are predicted to vanish before they will be recorded or documented. Dr. Harrison argues that language extinction leads to intellectual impoverishment in all fields of science and culture. Concerted efforts to sustain, value and revitalize our linguistic diversity are now underway in indigenous communities worldwide.

David Harrison is Co-director of National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project.  His fieldwork includes projects in Siberia, India and Mongolia.

January 21, 2015

How Meteorologists Will Help to Save the Planet

William H. Hooke, Senior Policy Fellow and Associate Executive Director, American Meteorological Society

Seven billion of us struggle daily to relate to our Earth—as a resource, as a threat and as a victim. Meteorologists are trained and well equipped to cope with chaos, disasters, and extraordinary events, but they also can take a long-term view. Bill Hooke will discuss how weather forecasting can be used to find solutions for many of our pressing 21st century challenges.

Dr. Hooke has a B.S. in Physics with Honors, Swarthmore College, 1964, and a S.M. and Ph.D. in 1966 and 1967 from the University of Chicago.

February 25, 2015

The Right Way to Lose a War

Dominic Tierney, Associate Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College

Since 1945, the United States has suffered a string of military failures and stalemates in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In this talk, Dominic Tierney will discuss his new book The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts, and explain why the United States struggles on the battlefield, how Washington can draw failed campaigns to a close and how the country can avoid future quagmires.

Dr. Tierney is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a correspondent for The Atlantic.

March 18, 2015

Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education

Liliana Rodriguez, Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Development, Swarthmore College

We say social progress is the responsibility of higher education, but how do we prepare college students for the social challenges of our times? Liliana Rodriguez suggests that we embrace diversity and inclusion in the educational mission of colleges.  Hear how she would like to integrate this practice at Swarthmore.

Dr. Rodriguez has a B.A. from Williams College, and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

From the talk:

Op-Eds cited:

April 15, 2015

Mind the Gap: Gender and Voting

Rosie Campbell, Reader in Politics, Department of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London

There is a gender gap in American presidential elections. No such gap is evident in Britain; women and men vote for the two main parties in roughly equal numbers. Rosie Campbell asks why gender politics might differ in these two democracies.  You will be asked to reflect on what this might mean for future political trends in the United States.

Dr. Campbell has written extensively on British politics with a focus on public opinion, political participation and representation.


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