common good

All Aboard! College Welcomes New Board Members

The Swarthmore College Board of Managers welcomed two distinguished alumni to its ranks, effective July 1: documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter ’88, H’21, and health care CEO Steven Sell ’89. The full Board approved the new managers during its meeting in May.

headshot of Dawn Porter
Dawn Porter ’88, H’21

The co-founder of Trilogy Films, Porter quickly made a name for herself as a filmmaker after leaving a successful career in corporate law. In 2013, she released her directorial debut, Gideon’s Army, which follows the lives of three under-resourced public defenders in the Deep South as they struggle to represent their clients. The documentary won the top editing prize at the Sundance Film Festival and an Emmy nomination.

Porter’s subsequent films have addressed segregation, anti-abortion laws, and U.S. politics. In 2020, she released John Lewis: Good Trouble, which received widespread praise, winning the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Historical/Biographical Documentary and an NAACP Image Award. Most recently, Porter collaborated with director Nicole Newnham on 37 Words, a four-part ESPN docuseries celebrating the legacy of Title IX on its 50th anniversary.

Porter graduated from Swarthmore with a degree in political science and earned a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.

Steven Sell ’89

Sell is an experienced, mission-based CEO known for transforming organizations through partnerships; product innovations; and talented, collaborative teams. Since June of 2020, he has served as the CEO and director of agilon health, a company that created a new primary care model serving as the basis for transforming health care in communities across the country. Under Sell’s leadership, agilon has experienced rapid growth and, in 2023, will partner with 2,200 primary care doctors in 25 diverse communities across 12 states serving nearly 500,000 senior patients.

Prior to agilon, Sell spent 22 years with Health Net and its related companies. St. Louis-based company Centene acquired Health Net in 2016, and Sell remained with the company as CEO and president until 2019. He also serves as the advisor to several early-stage health care companies.

headshot of Steven Sell

Sell has served on the Council on Presidential Initiatives and worked as an Extern Program volunteer and admissions interviewer.

He graduated from Swarthmore with a degree in economics and political science and holds an MBA from Stanford University.

“I am grateful for and excited by Dawn’s and Steve’s commitment to serve the College as members of the Board,” says Harold “Koof” Kalkstein ’78, who assumed the position of Board chair on July 1. “They each bring unique and valuable experience and perspectives to the Board, from which the entire Swarthmore community will benefit.”

Kalkstein also noted the exceptional contributions of former managers Rhonda Resnick Cohen ’76 and Gus Schwed ’84, whose terms concluded June 30.

“Rhonda’s and Gus’ contributions during their time on the Board have helped make Swarthmore a better, stronger institution of higher learning,” says Kalkstein. “On behalf of the entire Swarthmore community, I extend my gratitude for all that they’ve done in support of the College, and I look forward to their continued engagement as members of our alumni community.”

Book cover of Harry Sylvester Bird; a colorful portrait silhouette

A Bird in Hand

With her new novel, Harry Sylvester Bird, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program Chinelo Okparanta wanted to write a book she had never read before: a story about the Black African experience in America written by an African woman through the lens of a white American who identifies as a
Black African man.

Written as a political satire, Okparanta felt the genre would be the best way to write about the major themes of race and racism while allowing for humor and experimentation. “It was important for me to approach the novel this way in order to show the multiple layers that racism and white supremacy can take, and how even liberalism, taken too far, can lose sight of itself,” says Okparanta.

Campus Quickly

Campus Quickly

Fulbrights Galore

Seven graduates of the Class of 2022 and one from the Class of 2020 were awarded Fulbright grants this summer. The Fulbright program, with its vast academic focus, emphasizes leadership development.

The Swarthmore alumni earned five English teaching assistantship (ETA) grants and three research grants. Alana Ballagh ’22 received an ETA to Laos. Bethany Bronkema ’22 received a research grant to explore “Life Cycle of Iceland’s Aluminum Production Process Using Inert Metal Anodes” at Reykjavik University. Anuk DeSilva ’22 received a research grant to Trinidad and Tobago to investigate “The South Asian Diasporic ‘Third Gender’ in Indo-Trinidad and Tobago.”

Madeleine Palden ’22 received an ETA to Schleswig-Holstein. Lilly Price ’20 received a research grant to Fiji to explore “A Community-Driven Counter to Foreign-Owned Tourism.” Anna Suh ’22 received an ETA to South Korea. Madeline Sutliff ’22 received an ETA to Taiwan. Dulce Ventura ’22 received an ETA to France.

Carbon Fee Takes Off

As the College works toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2035, and based on the recommendation of the College’s Carbon Charge Working Group, Swarthmore adopted an Air Travel Carbon Fee on all air travel paid for by the College, effective July 1. The fee program is based on research by the Office of Sustainability and the Zero Waste Working Group done in coordination with two President’s Sustainability Research Fellows, that included a review of best practices at other institutions. It’s designed to both influence travel behavior and fund initiatives to reduce Scope 3 emissions on campus.
Woman in a blue shirt and glasses smiles, looking upward.
laurence Kesterson
Excellence in Teaching: Eugene Lang Research Professor of Anthropology Farha Ghannam recently received the American Anthropological Association’s 2022 Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in Anthropology. The award is given to one individual annually who has impacted the discipline of anthropology through outstanding teaching and inspiring their students.

“I am humbled and delighted to receive this wonderful recognition,” says Ghannam. “To have the privilege to teach amazing students like ours is an honor in and by itself, but to know that my students and colleagues appreciate my pedagogy and courses is the true honor.”

Her areas of expertise include anthropological theories, globalization, urban life, embodiment and gender, food and taste, and class politics in the Middle East. She is the author of the books Live and Die Like a Man: Gender Dynamics in Urban Egypt and Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo. Her research has also been published in several academic journals, including The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, and American Ethnologist.

Building Collaboration

The College’s Board of Managers approved a comprehensive renovation of Martin Hall to create a reimagined home for both Computer Science and Film & Media Studies, two growing departments with increasing demands on space.

The project will also create new opportunities for creative collaboration across the departments.

Through the renovation, the campus will also gain an outdoor arts plaza, an auditorium, and an event space to use for lectures and film screenings. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2023

Lives Well Lived

Associate in Dance LaDeva M. Davis died Thursday, Sept. 8, at age 78. With her passing, Swarthmore has lost a revered, Grammy-nominated educator, choreographer, and performer.

Davis was born and raised in South Philadelphia, the daughter of LaDeva and billiards champion Edward “Chick” Davis. After graduating from Germantown High School, she attended the Philadelphia Musical Academy (now the University of the Arts), where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education.

Davis’ many interests manifested themselves in everything jazz music to the movies and national ad campaigns she worked on, including The Cotton Club, Trading Places, and a Snapple commercial with Spike Lee.

She became the first Black woman to host a nationally syndicated cooking show on public television, which led to her inclusion in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Davis devoted 57 years to teaching in the Philadelphia School District. For 31 years, she contributed new works Swarthmore Dance program’s annual fall and spring dance concerts.

This year’s fall concert on Dec. 2 and 3, will be dedicated to her memory. Davis and her business partner Ira Tucker, Jr. produced Still… Keepin’ It Real: The Last Man Standing for the Philadelphia-based Dixie Hummingbirds. Their efforts garnered a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Gospel Album.

LaDeva Devis stands and gives an applause
sasha fornari

LaDeva Davis

In 2015, Davis received the National Council of Negro Women’s Mary McLeod Bethune Award for leadership, excellence, and achievement in education. The same year, CAPA surprised her with a tribute program featuring current and former students in honor of her 50th year of teaching. She also received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, awarded annually to Philadelphia’s best educators. In 2019, Davis was honored at the Mann Center’s “Voices of Hope” Black History Month Celebration as an iconic educator whose “work and determination have greatly impacted the lives of the city’s students.” “LaDeva was a diva — a consummate professional, a star,” said longtime colleague and friend C. Kemal Nance ’92.

headshot of Esther Leeds Cooperman

Esther Leeds Cooperman ’48

Esther Leeds Cooperman ’48, who served on the Board of Managers from 1979 to 1982, died on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Chester County Hospital at the age of 95. Born in 1927 in Philadelphia to Hadassah Joanna (née Moore) and Morris E. Leeds, Esther grew up and lived most of her life in Philadelphia’s West Mt. Airy neighborhood. In 1957, she married Harris L. Cooperman. In 1980, they moved to Baltimore, and then to Easton, Md. She and Harris last resided at Kendal-Crosslands, a Quaker Lifecare community in Kennett Square, Pa. Harris died in 2016.

Esther was a lifelong Quaker and member of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. A graduate of Germantown Friends School, she earned a B.A. in political science from Swarthmore College, and an M.A. in the same field from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951. As a Swarthmore Manager, she made the recommendation, which the Board ultimately acted upon in 1981, to divest itself of more than $2 million in stock of corporations that dealt with South Africa. Esther is survived by her three children, a granddaughter, and five step-grandchildren. (See pg. 77)

headshot of Janis Page Hodges

Janis Page Hodges

Janis Page Hodges, who went by Page, died on July 3. She was 67. Page, a longtime member of the Swarthmore community, worked at The Inn at Swarthmore prior to joining the Dining Services team in 2015.

“Page was a treasure and will be missed by so many students, faculty, and staff,” says Linda McDougall, director of Dining Services. “Page made people feel appreciated,” says Carol Nackenoff, Richter Professor Emerita of Political Science. “She took enormous pride in her work, and the College was a very special place for her.”

A lifelong resident of Wallingford, Pa., Page was a 1972 graduate of Nether Providence High School. Prior to joining the College, she had a varied career and was passionate about expanding her horizons. She was also a talented artist who took great joy in sharing her work with others.