When referencing the Swat bubble, you’ll generally hear a mix of groans, scoffs, sighs, muted screams, and nails on chalkboards. Often seen as inhibiting, the Swat bubble stands for the sense that Swarthmore is, in many ways, a bubble. This wild, imaginative, ultra-liberal echo-chamber that we find ourselves in quite obviously differs greatly from the rest of the country, let alone the rest of the world. While it can be limiting to be in this bubble of sorts, for many it is a safe haven.
Christian Galo ‘20 however claims that this “liberal bubble” we find ourselves in isn’t quite what it appears to be.
“While many conservative students on campus feel as if Swarthmore is very much a liberal echo-chamber, many leftist students have also expressed disappointment with what many of us believed would be a more leftist and politically active campus community. It may seem as if Swarthmore often tries to sell itself as a liberal campus with a vibrant activist community but that isn’t necessarily the case all the time,” says Galo.
While the Swat bubble has some obvious positives, such as a comfortable sense of security on campus, the bubble is generally looked down upon. Students validly feel that it’s easy to get trapped in the day-to-day minutia of Swat and forget that a huge world exists beyond the Swarthmore train tracks. Many students are anxiously awaiting their chance to step foot in the “real world,” as if the past four years at Swat have been spent in some alternate reality where being nerdy is cool and being involved in 1,000 things is normal.
This fragile bubble doubles as a seemingly indestructible suit of armor for many, often allowing Swat students to feel uninhibited to be their true selves and not worry about feeling judged or unsafe. Green hair, tattoos, and piercings are all a part of the quintessential Swat experience. People are free to dress as flashily or conservatively as they wish, to present themselves as disheveled or as put together as they please, and to live a life that, outside of the bubble, might garner confused stares or muffled whispers.
“Personally for me, the bubble has not been as much about echo-chambers of political discourse as much as it has been about being open about my identity without having to care much about being accepted as a person because of who I like or what I believe in. At Swarthmore, I don’t have to try to figure out whether the person I am talking to is gonna think differently about me should I allude to my sexuality, religion, or ancestry,” says Galo.
Naturally, Swat has its imperfections and is in no way perfect when it comes to protecting its students, but comparatively Swat really does a great job of providing a safe, inclusive environment for students to live their lives as they choose, so long as they aren’t hurting themselves or others in the process. It’s a breath of fresh air for many and a shock to even more, especially the students who are coming from generally more conservative areas.
In the midst of the upper-middle class Philadelphia suburb, Swat is a unique amalgamation of students coming from all stretches of the world. From the class of 2021 alone, there are students representing Australia, Austria, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Palestine, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Rwanda, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela, and Zambia.
As fall break quickly approaches, there is a mix of emotions on campus. Almost everyone is in need of a break, and a good portion of students look forward to going back home and seeing family for the first time since the fall semester began. For some Swat students, the break isn’t viewed as positively. Going on break and as a result going home can have some negative effects that aren’t as easily identifiable.
Talking to Dylan Charter ‘21, this so called “bubble” is, if anything, a creation that Swat students impose on themselves.
“I mean, it’s not something I think about even abstractly,” says Charter. “I don’t think for me it has as much to do with there being a bubble here that keeps people from going out — it’s more the fact that I don’t like change and adapting to new places, but whereas I’ve had to adapt to Swat, and I can keep avoiding adapting to the rest of my surroundings as long as I want.”
So although there might be some sort of bubble in place here, it isn’t so much a handicap as it is a way to help cope with the new environment. The adjustment to college is a scary one, and this so-called bubble can help make the transition just a tad bit easier.
“I guess I just stay on campus because the campus has become familiar to me, and the Ville, Philly aren’t familiar to me, although I also have my own bubble within the Swat bubble which is just the places I go, and I try to avoid going anywhere else on campus even,” says Charter.
While the bubble can be limiting, in many ways it is self-inflicted. The “real world” that many are so eager to dip their feet into is the world that elected Donald Trump, is ignoring the crises that the Caribbean islands are currently going through, and believes that pineapples on pizza is a viable thing to consume. What’s the rush to enter that world? For now, I’m content with this bubble, grateful for the opportunities it gives me, and it appears that at least a few Swat students would agree.