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The Internationalist

Marcia Grant ’60 takes a global view of liberal arts

One of the reasons Marcia Grant ’60 applied to Swarthmore was the Peaslee scholarship, which allowed students to spend a junior semester abroad in Peru. Not only did she get into Swarthmore, but she got the Peaslee—not to mention the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of her maternal grandfather, who had gone on an expedition to Iquitos in the 1920s. 

This experience opened the world to Grant. Invited to Cuba as part of the National Student Association in the summer of 1959, she and other youths met with Fidel Castro and witnessed the dawn of the Cuban Revolution. 

“I missed my junior honors exams because of the Cuba trip,” she says, “but Swarthmore allowed me to write an article for the Bulletin about my experience there.” 

Learning how to innovate while absorbing a different model for learning through the liberal arts, Grant credits Swarthmore’s honors program for giving her structure and direction. After graduation, Grant spent the summer as an Operation Crossroads Africa volunteer in Cameroon. She went on to earn a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a Ph.D. in African politics from the London School of Economics. 

Swarthmore, however, was never far away, and her experiences here and at Oberlin College—where she taught African, Latin American, and international politics—came in handy in 1999, when Grant was invited to serve as the founding dean of Saudi Arabia’s first liberal arts college for women.

“When I was asked by Princess Lolowah al-Faisal to start a university,” Grant says, “I was surprised to find a liberal arts university in my head already, an architecture that was established at Swarthmore.”

The result was Effat University in Jeddah, which has changed the landscape of higher education for Saudi women. Unlike the coed national university, where women must sit in separate rooms from their male classmates and professors, the all-female Effat aims for an atmosphere of conversation and collegiality, including the first-ever college sports program for women in Saudi Arabia. 

More recently, Grant’s international expertise in establishing liberal arts colleges in developing nations brought her first to the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, then to Ashesi University near Accra, Ghana, where she is now provost. 

“Liberal arts education is of such interest to the rest of the world at the very time it is under attack in the United States,” says Grant.

Ashesi is an institution with deep Swarthmore ties. Founder Patrick Awuah ’89 was a scholarship student from Ghana who worked at Microsoft after graduation. He then returned to Ghana with the dream of building a world-class liberal arts university—and opened Ashesi in 2002.  

“I thoroughly believe in Patrick’s vision to transform Africa by educating ethical and entrepreneurial leaders,” Grant says. “This is possible using the liberal arts model that we experienced at Swarthmore.”

As a resident of Ghana and France (where she set up her home base in 2001 after leaving Saudi Arabia), Grant continues to cross-pollinate ideas internationally. In October, Grant traveled with the president of Ghana, John Mahama, to sign accords between French and Ghanaian universities. She also hired Nathalie N’Guesson, a Franco-Ivoirian, to teach French at Ashesi so that its students will be able to move freely between Anglophone and Francophone Africa. 

“Sometimes the most creative academic work I’ve done,” she says, “is simply taking an idea from one context and planting it in another.” 


+ read Marcia Grant’s address to Swarthmore’s Class of 2007