Get Out and Vote

By Chloe Lindeman, Co-Editor-in-Chief

In case you haven’t heard, it’s election season. For most students on campus, this will be the first opportunity to cast a ballot for the next president of the United States of America. But will they do it?

Historically, the Tri-College has had a less-than-stellar voting record. In the last presidential election, only 35% of Swarthmore students voted. According to Haverford College President Kim Benston, low student turnout is the result of a number of factors, including a general lack of understanding as to how important each student’s vote will be.

“As you get older, … and you start to realize your relationship to the taxation system, your relationship to the public infrastructure … you get a keener sense of how the political world affects that,” Benston told The Bi-College News.

At the same time, there are physical obstacles outside of students’ control.

“Students… have had their voting rights suppressed, to some extent,” Benston added. “Now, there’s as many of you as in my neighborhood, but I have a polling place that I can walk to and you don’t, so what’s that about? To me, that’s a political problem … It has not been made as easy for students, actually, as it could be.”

This year, however, there’s no excuse. Special Assistant to the President Franklyn Cantor has been organizing nonstop to ensure students can make it to the polls.

“The last two [voting] cycles have relied pretty heavily on students to get folks to the polls,” said Cantor. But this year, faculty and staff will be driving to ensure a constant flow of transportation, making the trip as convenient as possible.

“It’s a five-minute ride to the polls,” Cantor stressed. “We’re going to make sure folks have a chance to get there … I hope that we’ll have improved turn out, I really do.”

He’s not the only one interested in seeing an increased student turnout.

“I will be very interested to see what happens in this election,” said Benston. “This is honestly the most consequential election I’ve ever lived through. So if Haverford students don’t vote, I’ll be very, very saddened by that … It’s your world that’s going to be affected.”

It’s not just administrators who are working to get the vote out. Students have been tabling in Haverford’s Dining Center for weeks to register voters, and there have been a number of efforts to increase awareness throughout the election season.

Now that the campaigns are finally coming to a close, the only thing left to do is cast your ballot!

Edwidge Danticat Comes to Bryn Mawr

By Nina Inman, Staff Writer

On Wednesday, October 26th, Edwidge Danticat presented a reading as part of the Bryn Mawr Creative Writing Program Reading Series. For more than thirty years, the reading series has brought various accomplished writers to Bryn Mawr. Danticat’s visit continued this tradition.

Danticat’s readings were framed around the current disaster in Haiti. Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti on Oct. 4th, and the nation continues to struggle with the effects. Danticat pointed out that destruction of livestock and crops will make living in the already impoverished country even more difficult.

The author also spoke on the Haitian cholera outbreak, which was carelessly caused by doctors and other peace workers while providing humanitarian aid during the Haitian earthquake in 2010 and then further exacerbated by Hurricane Matthew. She connected the outbreak to slavery, the United State’s occupation of the Dominican Republic and America’s role in the creation of suffering worldwide.

The death and sadness created by the two natural disasters, her personal experience and American occupation of numerous South American nations led Danticat to select readings from her works, Claire By the Sealight, Farming of Bones, Create Dangerously and a currently unpublished memoir, The Art of Death. In these works, she explores the idea of bearing witness to events both sad and beautiful and learning how to honor and remember them.

Danticat explained the Haitian tradition of honoring someone a year and a day after their death. Some believe that when an individual dies, “the souls of the newly dead slip into rivers and streams and remain there, under the water, for a year and a day. Then, lured by ritual prayer and song, the souls emerge from the water and the spirits are reborn.

She discussed the year and a day tradition in reference to her mother and those who died in Haiti as a result of the hurricane and earthquake, as well as American occupation of the Dominican Republic and other South American nations. “It is unbelievable how horrors repeat themselves,” Ms. Danticat said, outraged by the amount of suffering that takes place in the world.

Finishing her readings, Ms. Danticat recognized the difficulty of thinking about such heavy topics and urged the audience to do its best to provide humanitarian aid to those currently suffering in Haiti.


Astrophysicist Andrew Skemer Brings Distant Planets Close to Home

By Chloe Lindeman, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The question of whether life exists on other planets is one of the most fundamental questions humans ask. It is also one of the most difficult to answer.

This week, Swarthmore College alumnus and Astrophysicist at the University of California Santa Cruz Andrew Skemer came to Haverford’s campus for a talk and informal lunch, both revolving around his research on exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars other than our sun. The first was found in 1995; as of now, more than 3000 have been detected.

“When I started grad school, there was like one exoplanet paper a week, and now there are like 10 a day,” said Skemer. “It’s a really exciting 10 to 20 years coming up in exoplanet imaging.”

Skemer’s work relies on something called adaptive optics, which take earth’s atmosphere into account to improve images coming from telescopes. In addition to teaching us about our own solar system, studying exoplanets lets us answer questions about the wider universe, including how common these orbiting bodies are.

“Planets around stars are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere,” said Skemer. This includes our nearest neighbors – earlier this year, neighboring star Proxima Centauri was found to have a planet orbiting it in its so-called ‘habitable zone.’ Exoplanet imaging and other detection methods promise to give us more information.

“In the next 20 years, we’ll have a spectrum of [Proxima b] and we’ll know if there’s oxygen and methane on it,” said Skemer, noting two atmospheric gases whose presence may be one indicator of life.

Arjun Khandelwal (HC ’17), a physics and astronomy double major who does exoplanet research of his own, highlighted the importance of Skemer’s work and studying exoplanets in general.

“[Exoplanets] help us answer one of the grandest questions in the world: whether we are alone in the great enveloping cosmic dark,” said Khandelwal. “Most exoplanet work focuses on finding them in indirect ways because imaging them is really hard, but adaptive optics … is a wonderful technique to actually get pictures of alien worlds. It’s amazing that we have the ability to do that!”

Alien life or no, exoplanets promise to be important in the future of astronomy. Skemer pointed out that, when it comes to some areas of astronomy, like stars, we have answered most of the basic questions. We can observe a star and determine things like its mass, age and composition.

“With exoplanets, I promise you, we’ve answered almost none of the questions.” And that, Skemer says, is exactly what makes this such an exciting field.

For now, we can’t say much about the possibility of life on even the planets around the closest stars, but stay tuned.

“The next two or three decades will be the first time in human history that we’ll be able to detect life on other planets, if there is any,” said Khandelwal. “I was always fascinated by that question growing up, and it’s absolutely incredible to me that it might be answered in just the next couple of decades.”