You Can’t Spell Scripps Without ‘C’ and ‘S.’ So Why Is There No CS?


Ella Lehavi ’24

“That’s so cool that you do computer science. I could never — I’m not made for computer science.” This is a response I have gotten from many of my peers at Scripps when I mentioned that I am majoring in computer science (CS). There seems to be this notion affecting even the smartest and most capable women and nonbinary people I know. Why do so many of us on this campus believe some people are not “made” for CS? Why does there seem to be a wall of separation between Scrippsies and CS? Much of this stems from a lack of a CS department at Scripps.

I am writing this article as one of the two CS majors in my graduating class at Scripps and one of the four declared CS majors at Scripps. As it stands, Scripps College does NOT have a CS major. All of us are majoring off-campus through Harvey Mudd’s CS department. To get into this program, Scripps students must go through a lottery for an extremely limited number of spots in the major. While many Scrippsies are interested in this path, the lottery prevents them from majoring in CS.

What options do Scrippsies interested in CS have outside of Harvey Mudd’s major? Many choose to major in data science or 3-2 Engineering. However, those majors are also off-campus and difficult to get into. Data science is done through Claremont McKenna, so many Scripps students struggle to get into the classes they need to complete the major. The 3-2 engineering program involves three years at Scripps and another two at another college with an engineering program. Because of the transfer requirement, this program of study requires a lot of planning and can be difficult to go through.

Scrippsies interested in CS can also pursue a math major. However, Scripps’s math department is underfunded. And while both data science and CS are offered as minors, few classes are offered on-campus for either minor.

Currently, there are no CS professors at Scripps. While there are faculty within math and media studies with computational interests, no faculty member at Scripps so far has been hired whose primary field of work is CS. This means that there are very few computational courses on campus and that many of these courses are tangentially computational. They might focus on another field and explore some computational aspects, but very, very few teach foundational CS skills and knowledge. And because no professor at Scripps focuses on CS, the courses that teach those skills are less robust than those offered by schools with CS departments.

Two of the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges have CS departments and offer CS majors: Pomona and Harvey Mudd. Pomona’s CS major is exclusive to its students. Students from Scripps, CMC, and Pitzer can major at Mudd if they pass the lottery. Furthermore, outside of a few seats in elective courses and certain colloquium talks, Harvey Mudd and Pomona’s CS departments don’t interact much. The result is that even within the Claremont Colleges with CS majors, these majors are usually focused within their home campuses.

All of that is really messed up, right? “But Scripps is a liberal arts college! We don’t need a CS major at Scripps!” Except we definitely do need a CS department, and by all means, we should have one.

For one, there is a HUGE demand from Scrippsies for a CS major or at least more CS course offerings. As a leader of Scripps Code, I’ve met many students across graduating classes and backgrounds who are interested in majoring in CS or learning to code while in college but aren’t able to do so because of limited opportunities.

There’s a cycle stemming from majoring in CS as a Scrippsie being near impossible. As a result, few Scrippsies are CS majors. Then, there is no perceived demand for a CS major because so few students are majoring in it. We need to look past those numbers and understand that many students on this campus would major and take classes in CS if it wasn’t so hard to do so.

As a historically women’s college, a lack of STEM offerings sends a certain message about what our school expects its student body to be interested in and capable of. CS is a male-dominated field. Giving non-male students the opportunity to engage with the field at an HWC will bolster their confidence and give them role models who defy traditional expectations of what CS students look like.

“But Scripps is a liberal arts school! We should focus on liberal arts!” And we can! But there is space to study STEM at a liberal arts college. In fact, STEM professionals benefit greatly from a liberal arts background, and the world as a whole benefits from bringing liberal arts thinking into STEM.

Scripps College students are taught to consider not just how to make money, but how to make a difference. They are required to take Gender Studies and Race and Ethnic Studies courses. Even outside of the classroom, the student body at Scripps is firmly committed to social justice. We stand at a point in time when technology produced by CS is often used to harm, oppress, and widen existing inequalities. Having CS professionals who are critical thinkers and committed to building ethical technology is essential, and a liberal arts education will bring about more professionals like this.

Additionally, opening a CS major at Scripps would provide more opportunities for existing CS majors at the 5Cs to become more intercollegiate. More CS faculty across the 5Cs means a wider variety of research interests and more elective offerings in a wider variety of fields. There would also be more networking and social opportunities for students within the major.
One of Scripps College’s strongest draws is that it offers an interdisciplinary education. However, it often feels as if “interdisciplinary” means within the humanities and stops short at STEM.

Now, I am by no means saying that a history major should need to take Differential Equations to get their degree. But in an era where computers are everywhere, students need a basic understanding of how they work so they can safely interact with that technology. How do you protect your data online? How do you maintain the computer you own? How do you use basic word processing and editing software? These are skills anyone who interacts with technology could benefit from, yet most of us have to learn them on our own, assuming we do learn them at all.

Beyond that, CS is built on logical thinking skills that can be applied across subject areas and fields. Representing data as bits, loops and recursions, and translating an idea in your head into instructions for a computer aren’t just basic CS skills but mental exercises that strengthen us as thinkers.

What should Scripps do? In the long term, I strongly believe that Scripps College needs a CS department. The school would benefit greatly from faculty hired from CS backgrounds to teach CS. By extension, these faculty should be committed to supporting female and nonbinary students in CS and fostering a learning environment that elevates students from underrepresented demographics. Ideally, a CS major at Scripps would draw on the school’s liberal arts philosophy by integrating CS ethics into the major and teaching students to think critically about the impacts of the technology they build.

In the short term, Scripps should better support departments with CS course offerings. Two visiting professors in the media studies department, Xin Xin and Oscar Moralde, are teaching courses that touch on CS topics. Having more tenured professors in media studies with computational interests would create more opportunities for Scrippsies to learn CS on campus. Similarly, Scripps could provide more funding to the math department.

Additionally, Scripps could provide more support for students studying CS and related fields off-campus. As an off-campus CS major, I’ve often found myself running around like a headless chicken trying to find specifications and requirements for graduation, thesis, major declaration, etc. More communication between our registrar and the departments where Scrippsies major in CS would make being a CS major easier.

And, of course, offering CS courses at Scripps and making them accessible to Scripps students will help break down the idea that some of us are “made” for CS and some of us aren’t. Everyone is capable of learning CS!

As computers have become a bigger part of our academic and everyday lives, the need for CS education continues to grow. We as a college have the opportunity to provide that education to a demographic of students who are usually pushed away from the field. Let’s take full advantage of it.

Photo Courtesy of Ella Lehavi ’24

Don't Miss