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Why I Left Swarthmore

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I was studying for finals in Cornell basement when the email came. It was one of 50 emails I received every day, but this one was different. Almost afraid to click on it, my fight-or-flight response kicked in as my heart raced faster and my body tensed up as if I were about to take an organic chemistry final. After a few seconds, I finally clicked on the link:

“Congratulations! It is my pleasure to offer you admission…”                                      

I wanted to scream but instead let out the smallest squeal, quickly remembering that I was in a library. After a weird look from a student sitting near me, I calmed myself down and kept reading.

I had been accepted into Brown University, where I am now.

That acceptance letter made me feel happier than I had in awhile, maybe even that whole year. The funny thing is, that feeling of happiness was all too familiar. I had felt almost the same way when I got into Swarthmore. Actually, I was even more excited about my acceptance to Swarthmore because college decisions felt like a much bigger deal back then. So what changed, and why did I leave Swarthmore?

Maybe my high expectations of Swarthmore had something to do with it. I loved the idea of going to Swarthmore and looked forward to it more and more during my gap year. But a few weeks after arriving on campus, the initial excitement wore off, and I started to realize that Swarthmore really wasn’t the perfect place for me.

While academically I was enjoying classes like Bio 1 and Narcissus and the History of Reflection (a first year seminar), I couldn’t help but think I wanted more classes to choose from. I wanted to study neuroscience as well as science and society, which involves studying how science interacts with society through different lenses.  Last semester at Brown, I absolutely loved Introduction to Neuroscience not just because of the class t-shirt, but also because I learned about neuroanatomy, vision, pain, addiction, mental illness, and more.

Just as importantly, I wasn’t happy at Swarthmore. I often felt trapped and frustrated, partly because of the small campus. Being from LA and having taken a gap year, I missed the energy and excitement of cities, and I found myself on a train to Philly every weekend. It was also clear to me that not many of my friends felt the same way—when my friends and I returned from Philly one evening, they told me how nice it was to be back on campus. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to get back on the train.

By the time I went back home for winter break, it was clear that I needed a different environment. So for the next few months, I worked on my common app and wrote essays about why I wanted to transfer. The hardest part of the process was asking my professors for recommendation letters because I knew they loved Swarthmore. Thankfully, all of my professors were fully supportive and understood my decision. It was particularly reassuring when one professor told me that some students feel the same way when they come back from studying abroad.

After receiving decisions in May, it took me a while to decide to come to Brown. What if Brown wasn’t right for me either? Ultimately, I decided to take that chance and am happy to be where I am now. I love being in a bigger school with a lively atmosphere (even though it’s much colder here). I love that my roommate is a dual degree student studying anthropology at Brown and furniture design at RISD (she even made a table for our room), and that I can shop classes like Death, Health Care in the US, and Cognitive Neuroscience of Meditation. And of course, Brown gets bonus points for having a Starbucks two minutes away from my room instead of 20 minutes.

But at the same time, there were definitely some things I took for granted at Swarthmore, like my relationship with my professors. Ironically enough, leaving Swarthmore has made me appreciate it even more. Yes, it’s definitely not the best school for me personally, but I feel incredibly lucky to have gone there for a year. In fact, I talk so highly of Swarthmore that it’s a top choice school for both my sister (a senior in high school) and brother (a freshman trying to transfer). When I tell my friends at Brown about Swarthmore, even they agree that they would love to have the kind of professor interactions that Swarthmore students have—they’re amazed that my intro biology and chemistry professors not only knew my name but also helped me write my papers and showed up to problem sessions three times a week. Now that I’m at Brown, I understand how incredible and valuable those interactions were, especially for a freshman.

I also had an amazing job as a graphic design associate at the Women’s Resource Center where I got to design posters and plan events. I loved working with an amazing team in such a calm, beautiful space. Though I didn’t always appreciate it while I was there, the entire campus, for that matter, is just magical in the fall and spring . When I made my final decision to go to Brown, my mom even said, “But Swarthmore’s so much prettier than Brown! I’d stay at Swarthmore if I were you.”

Sometimes, I really do miss being a student there. I miss the walk from the Science Center to Sharples in the evening, having discussions over tea and snacks at the WRC, and most of all, seeing my friends at Swarthmore every day. The way I feel about Swarthmore is similar to how I feel about Korea—even though I spent most of my life in LA, I still consider Korea another home, with family and people I care about. That’s why, even as a student at Brown, I still love Swarthmore and consider myself a Swattie.

 

Printing is free, so why aren’t tampons?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I’m sitting on the toilet, thinking this is going to be a typical trip to the bathroom. I had the urge to pee, and without hesitation, I quickly located the nearest restroom to fulfill my need. I remain seated for a time, overcome by the senses of relief and alleviation that we are all too familiar with. I feel good; I am at peace. As I’m getting ready to exit the stall, I feel a sudden pang of discomfort from my abdominal region. In that instant, my heart has dropped to my stomach; a sense of panic immediately ensues. After precise calculations and efficient monitoring, courtesy of my menstrual cycle calendar app, I definitely had a week left before my period was supposed to come. Rising from the toilet seat and timidly looking down at the bowl, I am deeply disconcerted by the sight of an awful color, red. Accepting the fact that I am quarter-less and terrible at math, I deeply exhale and begin to employ my engineering skills to construct a makeshift pad from the finest of materials, one-ply toilet paper.

While I wish I could say these moments are rare, menstruation cycles are notorious for their unpredictability. No matter how “regular” you think you are, periods come and go whenever they please. With that being said, I applaud Brown University for providing free hygiene products to its students. Students at other institutions, like Columbia University and UCLA, are also calling on their administrators to provide free hygiene products. One student at Grinnell College went as far as prying open pad and tampon dispensers in restrooms, making the products readily available for anyone who needed them. From open letters to online petitions, students from all over the nation are desperately trying to convince their administrators that hygiene products are necessities. Tampons are absurdly expensive, with some boxes costing close to 10 dollars. Let’s not forget that individuals who have menstruation cycles may also purchase pads, panty liners, and pain medication, which adds up to a whopping 18,000 dollars in a lifetime. One would be naive if they did not also consider the expenses of purchasing new underwear and clothing due to spotting or bleeding. Still think hygiene products are “luxury items?”

To further educate readers who may object to the notion of free hygiene products, it’s only fair that I elaborate on the discomfort of periods. While it is no secret that menstruation is naturally occurring, the thought of bleeding through clothing terrifies even the most “regular” members of society. How will people react if they see a red stain on the back of your pants? What if you don’t have a jacket or sweater to tie around your waist? For those individuals with debilitating periods, a common concern is getting out of bed in the morning. Midol may work to alleviate minor cramps and backaches, but what do folks take if their cramps mirror labor pains? Bloating, fatigue, and headaches also accompany periods. If the message wasn’t clear, periods are annoying inconveniences. Even with that being said, do not be fooled by menstrual myths. Individuals who experience menstruation are still the same badasses on and off their periods.

There is no reason why Swarthmore College should not join the expanding list of schools involved in this movement. The college provides printing, laundry, and condoms for free, so what’s stopping it from adding hygiene products to the list? You can abstain from sex; you can’t abstain from menstruation. Menstruation cannot be limited to female-identifying students either; we must remember that this fight is inclusive. With an endowment of 1.8 billion dollars, it’s absurd that hygiene product dispensers cost money. As a supposed “cash free” campus, why should anyone be expected to have a quarter on them? I would rather continue to create my toilet paper pads than pay the school every time I need to quell my flow. For those individuals reading who have never had to experience the excitement of periods, think back to the embarrassing stories told to you by friends and family who have been gifted with menstruation.

Swarthmore funding free hygiene products should not be a question. Free products should be available in every bathroom on campus. For dorms, RAs could re-stock bathrooms or give the responsibility to someone who lives on the hall. The school could also employ a program similar to that of the Sexual Health Advocates, where supplies are available outside of designated rooms. Unlike Brown, this should not be funded by a student-run group nor should it be limited to a single academic year. While Brown is paving the way for other schools, I know that Swarthmore can do even better. The school’s top priority should be the health and wellness of its students. We launched the world’s first fossil fuel divestment campaign, what’s next?

Free Market Fairness

in Columns/Loosely Liberal/Opinions by

On Monday, I attended Brown Professor John Tomasi’s talk on his book “Free Market Fairness,” where he attempted to offer a theoretical framework for uniting libertarian theories on free markets with theories of social justice. I had anticipated a predictable talk, outlining the magic of the invisible hand and how the removal of the government would solve problems of racism, sexism and class mobility would be solved. I was wrong. Certainly Tomasi is a fan of free markets, but he is not an ideologue. Instead, he tries very deliberately to bring together traditions guaranteeing economic liberty and Rawlsian distributive justice and in doing so offers a space for real compromise and dialogue.

Tomasi put forth a lot of effort to demonstrate that this was not always his view. For most of his life, he was almost exclusively a fan of Hayekian morality, following the economic logic of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. It was only over time, after remodeling his understanding of society, that he came to value social justice, a central tenet of the left. He remodeled his view to “see society as a public thing, the basic institutions of which must be justifiable to the people living under them.” (pg 88,“Free Market Fairness”) From there, he began to modify his views. He places economic liberty and social justice on similar pillars and constructs a loose vision of a market-based economy, but one with a government that takes an active role to ensure some level of equal opportunity.

Throughout his talk, Tomasi used the case that while a market democracy would be less equal than a socialist society, it would better preserve economic liberty. More significantly, it would better satisfy Rawls’ standard that society provide for the least well-off as well as it’s able. He borrowed from other liberal philosophers the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats” An unequal market democracy will grow faster than an equal society, so that eventually, people will be better off, regardless of their place in society. This sounds like a classical liberal argument and initially it seemed to me, that despite his claim of embodying social justice, he was just rehashing old ideas.

I was offered a chance to speak during the question and answer session. My criticism of this model was that it offered an oversimplified vision of economic liberty. Sure, anyone can hypothetically start a business, but what does that mean for someone with kids and two minimum wage jobs? Or someone who did not receive a good education and was therefore severely limited in their career choice? In these examples, idealistic economic liberty does not account for how inequality limits individual’s options.

To my surprise, Tomasi’s response was not further hand waving that the free market would address this. Instead, he advocated for a welfare state, one that provides a minimum income for everyone, regardless of their economic decisions. He said “the hope is that they will decide to use [the money] to participate in the economy,” but that if “they decided to spend it all on Night Train” that is fine; “next month, they get another check.” On the subject of education, he advocated for a “meaningful voucher system,” hoping to prevent vouchers from just becoming a discount ticket for wealthy kids’ private education. Finally, he is a fan of progressive taxation, claiming that “it’s hard to see how economic liberty is violated for those making a couple million dollars.”

On the fundamental level, what I liked about Tomasi was that he tried to build bridges not by just compromising his positions, but by thinking through what the “other side” values and incorporating those into his system. He tried to address social determinants of economic results, offering answers that, while I disagree with them, get to the heart of the disadvantages people have in an unequal society. Somehow, he offered a viewpoint that I did not have to either fully accept or fully reject, but that I could consider and modify based off my prioritizing of the same values of liberty and fairness. This is how dialogue is done.

Dialogue has been the main buzzword on campus, but it seems to occupy more a conceptual space than a practical space. Lots of emails, events, and columns have talked about what dialogue on campus should focus on how and how it should be conducted, but rarely do we see examples of how to do it well. The realization I had when watching Tomasi was not that I agreed with him or that he had moderated his positions so he agreed with me, but that by realizing the importance of the central virtues on both of our sides, we could find common ground where worthwhile decisions could be made. It was not a magic solution to political gridlock, but it was a good place to start talking.

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