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Finding home

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

Anyone who has talked to me for more than five minutes knows I am from Iowa. I am proud of my Iowa heritage, and I talk about it a lot. But for me, Iowa is more than just the place I am from — it is home. I was lucky to be able to grow up in a place that I can still call home. When I think of Iowa I think of family, laughter, and love. Iowa has taught me the importance of finding somewhere that makes you feel safe and happy. Home is more than a house in which you live or a state where you grew up. Home can be as big as a state or as small as your favorite chair. It is a place where you can go and always know it will make you feel a little better.

I have spent the last few years of my life searching for a home wherever I am. I work to find somewhere where I can feel comfortable, where I can go when I feel sad and know that I will feel safe there.

Like most people, I have a lot of really good days and a lot of really bad days. Recently, I have been trying to do some more reflecting and see if I can find patterns in my good and bad days. I have found that the times I am most happy tend to be in some of the same environments and with the same people. I seem to be the definition of a homebody. I like to find where I am comfortable and stay there, but finding where you are comfortable isn’t always easy.

When I first arrived at Swarthmore, I struggled to find these places. I struggled to find some place where I could go to feel welcomed and comfortable. At first I tried McCabe Second. I felt like a library was a good mix of a welcoming yet productive space. Despite my many efforts to make myself into a McCabe person, I found that not only did I not feel comfortable in the library but my inability to get comfortable mentally or physically prevented me from being productive. It took me approximately my first three semesters at Swarthmore to realize that I was not a McCabe kind of person. I could not study there, and I definitely could not relax there.

By the time my sophomore spring rolled around, I had finally accepted the fact that I could not turn myself into a McCabe person. I spent the semester trying to turn myself into a room-studier. Not only was it the least productive semester at Swarthmore, but I also ruined my room as a place where I could relax.

After two years at Swarthmore I still had not found my home on campus. I had not found that comfortable, welcoming, productive space that I craved so much. Then I realized that I would never be able to find it all in one place on campus.

I have found that for me, there are three kinds of places that I need to make me happy.  My first home is a private space, for me usually my bed. Wherever I am I make sure that my bed is like a home to me, with lots of pillows and blankets and, of course, a comfortable mattress pad.

I like to have a semi-public place like a newsroom where I know I can go and be near people. And finally, I like to have a public place, like a coffee shop, where I can go and know there will always be someone there who can make me feel safe and supported.

Finding a place that you can call home is important. Home is more than just a house in which you sleep. It is the coffee shop where the barista knows your name. It is the lounge where you can always find a friendly face. It is the workspace where you know you can always be productive. It is the bed that you can cry in when you need to. Where you choose to spend your time can play a big role in how you feel and how productive you are. Everyone’s experience on Swarthmore’s campus is unique, and I encourage everyone to spend some time thinking about why they spend time in the places they do, and if it is really somewhere that makes them happy.

The Cornell booths: A frustrated love letter

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I consider myself a reasonably level-headed person. Neither a powdery iced chai nor an especially swampy Mertz field can ruin my day. But two weeks ago, as someone clambered over me to exit a Cornell booth for the third time in 10 minutes, I lost my cool. Why is there no easier way to exit the booth? There’s space available to make a walkway between two booths, so why isn’t it there?

I drew up a couple diagrams of my proposed change and posted an impassioned appeal in the Swarthmore College 2017-2018 Facebook page. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I received and wanted to share more of my thoughts about the Cornell booths and other study spaces at Swarthmore.

When the renovations to Cornell First were announced a few years ago, I waited eagerly to see what it would look like. I sat in the sample chairs and left helpful reviews; I watched as the bookshelves were slowly drained of their books until their wooden skeletons stood empty.

When I finally saw the new and improved Cornell I was blown away — space! Tables! Light! And, most importantly: Booths! The high, lime green backs and the soft cushions looked idyllic. Here was a place where I could sit comfortably with two to seven friends. Gone were my days of sitting in hard wooden chairs or balancing my laptop on my lap in an armchair. I had found the Promised Land.

The first time sitting in a Cornell booth is a singularly disappointing experience. The booths are a bit like those humane mouse traps that lure the mouse in and trap it in a tube, keeping it alive so that you can release it into a park and feel good about yourself.

You slide into the booth like a mouse following the smell of cheese, drawn in by the green upholstery and the promise of productivity. But then someone slides in after you, and it’s like the door of the mousetrap snapping shut. You are stuck, but you don’t yet know it. From where you sit, it looks like the only way out is through.

But, alas: you scoot yourself off the far end of the booth and find yourself trapped between the booths and a glass wall, nowhere to go, no way to escape. You stumble to the end of the row, hoping to find some small crack to squeeze through or some empty booth to crawl across, but you’re met only with the disapproving stares of the inhabitants of the other booths.

The final words of your friends echo in your head: “Roll thru I got a booth.” You have rolled too far thru. You wander back and forth for what feels like hours, stuck in your glass tube. All the booths look the same. Which one did you come from? Where are your friends? Did they forget about you and leave you here alone? Will some great celestial hand soon come release you into an eternal park?

Even if you do manage to find an empty booth to escape through, getting out is still difficult. You have to choose between awkwardly crawling on your hands and knees like the girl from “The Ring,” sitting down and slowly inching sideways, or walking on the cushioned seat like some kind of barbarian.

Getting out isn’t the only issue with the booths. Sitting in the booths causes one of the hardest decisions of my daily life: do I sit comfortably with my back against the booth, approximately 3,000 yards from the table; or do I sit where I can actually reach my laptop, perched on the edge of the seat, not taking full advantage of all the comfort the booth has to offer? Most often I end up scooting back and forth, reclining briefly and then moving up to the edge of the seat in a kind of perpetual dance.

Despite all of their flaws, the Cornell booths are consistently occupied. Why are Swarthmore students so content with sub-optimal seating? Those tall green walls of fabric contain a seating arrangement unlike any other on campus. It’s hard enough to find soft, couch-like seating with a proximal table, and nearly impossible to find a cozy study space with room for a large group of friends. Despite their flaws, no other space accommodates casual group studying as comfortably as the Cornell booths do.

Additionally, the booths often seem more full than they actually are. Even though they are able to seat up to eight people each, an entire booth is frequently taken by a single person or a pair of people. This means that four to eight people can claim an area that could seat up to 32. Sitting alone in a booth makes exiting much easier, and you’re unlikely to be joined by someone you don’t know. Somehow, a booth with one stranger seems just as full as a booth with eight. Sitting with a stranger in a booth feels much more intimate than sitting with a stranger at a table or in adjacent armchairs. Maybe this is part of the allure of the booths: their high backs and soft lighting give them a feeling of privacy, even in a very public space.

So what do we do about this sub-optimal-but-better-than-everything-else seating? Luckily, the solution to the problems that plague the booths is very simple: compressing each booth by about six inches creates a central walkway between the two middle booths while simultaneously making the tables a more favorable distance from the seats.

The few times I’ve adjusted the booths to this optimal arrangement, they’ve been reset by the next day. As much as I’d love to be Swarthmore’s resident Sisyphus and readjust the booths every day, I am hoping that we as a campus community can come together to agree to maintain the central walkway from this day forward.

This holds true for many spaces on campus: even though individual students may not have the budget to buy soundproof cocoon-chairs, we have the power to change our spaces to fit our needs, or, at the very least, to express our discontentment. As comfortable, nap-friendly armchairs are steadily replaced by lime green and orange furniture with modern silhouettes, the way that we use our common spaces also changes.

I’d like to encourage us to think critically about the spaces we frequent and how those spaces could be improved. Together, we can change the booths.

Students dive into home decorating

in Campus Journal/Dorm Dive by

One of the many hardships that first-years face is the task of creating a comfortable living space. And no, I am not talking about the dilemma of finding extra-long mattress padding in department stores. Let’s scratch Webster’s definition of a dorm being “a building, as at a college, containing a number of private or semiprivate rooms for residents, usually along with common bathroom facilities and recreation areas.” Blah — Your dorm isn’t just a building or a room, it’s a space uniquely ‘you’. And it will never again possess that same uniqueness as when you and your dormmates occupy it. But let’s be honest, making a space your own is easier said than done. It is an art form with the power to evoke warm tributes to home and childhood nostalgia. Depending on what you chose to hang on your walls, your decorations may also generate lively debates about sports teams or much-needed motivation when midterms come. Home-making in a dorm is quite a gift, and some students have it down to a science —

Edward Jones ’19, a resident of Parrish Third West, is one of those people. Jones put a classic spin on his dorm décor by decorating according to his passions and interests. One poster, a framed Picasso rendition of a scene from Don Quijote, is mounted slightly to the right above his bed.

“I read the book in 7th grade,” he said. “I had come across the poster and picked it up, thinking it would make for a nice tribute to my favorite book.”

In addition to the Picasso, he also boasts his favorite T.V. show through a poster of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

He also decided to showcase something a little different…

He led me out into the hall where a life-sized cardboard cutout of pro-wrestler John Cena stands at the hall entrance in his legendary pose with arms crossed and fingers splayed in front of his face. Yes, John Cena. This peculiar hall décor has become a hub of hall bonding on Third West, where residents frequently crack jokes about its presence.

Another resident of Parrish, Valerie Blakeslee ’19 of Fourth East, decided to go a different route with her dorm decor by decorating her walls with images of her hometown, Seattle. She proudly displays an 11×17 poster of the city’s most prominent attraction, the Space Needle, adorned with a pinkish-lavender skyline and the esteemed Mount Rainier in the background. “When I look at it, it reminds me of the skyline I’m familiar with; I recognize a lot of the buildings in the poster from whenever I go into downtown Seattle,” she says. But her tribute to home doesn’t end there. On another wall hangs a poster of a 747 Boeing with the inscription “I’m In!” in her football team’s blue and lime-green colors.

“I received the Seahawks poster from a job shadow I completed in Seattle,” she shared. When asked what prompted her to bring it all the way to Swat, she immediately began to talk about the upcoming football season, saying:

“I want to be ‘twelving’ for Philadelphia. Which basically means being supportive of the Seahawks wherever I go — even if I’m not in Seattle!”

She then turned to the far wall where an inspirational banner hangs against the closet door. In the center of the banner is the Chinese character, fu, meaning good fortune and blessings.

“It was a gift from my family,” she explained.

Our homes away from home at Swarthmore are so much more than what we may see them as at this present moment. They are not places where we simply rest our heads after a long day, but where we dream of the many wonderful things to come as emerging citizens in our communities. They are not just where we hurriedly finish up a reading before an 8:30AM class, they are the places in which we conceptualize our thoughts and find ways to apply our newfound knowledge to our passions. Nor are they spaces for brief encounters with acquaintances, but the foundational setting for the creation of binding ties between folks we once called strangers, but have come to call family. From Jones’s quirky method of bonding with hall mates over John Cena jokes, to Blakeslee’s hometown repping by way of her posters, students are finding their own ways to represent old homes and create new ones. It’s your turn now, create your unique space!


Making a home, despite institutional directives

in Campus Journal/To Serve by

Part of the challenge of college, in my experience, is how to conceptualize school as home and not as a giant machine that is out to get you, as a machine that forces you into its patterns and crams you into its molds. The machine tries to convince you that Swatties at Swarthmore oil only certain of its cogs. Its secret is that it is, in fact, a many-faceted machine with secret cogs!

This idea of Swarthmore The Machine incites a very real, desperate sense of panic in me. It’s something I’ve been working on, first of all by remembering that one of the secret cogs of life here — one of the most essential but also one that we don’t always remember is in our control — is the way we live in our bedchambers. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am living off campus this semester, so using my bedchamber to make a home distinct from Swarthmore’s institutional directions feels a lot easier than when I lived in a dorm. But I maintain that the following discussion is applicable to life in a dorm room, and is especially important as a conscious effort there. In an apartment, the simple factor of distance and the unfortunate presence of dirty dishes in the sink serve as a solid reminder that the Institution isn’t in control of the space; in a dorm, the fire evacuation notice on the back of your bedroom door can force its presence down your throat.

So let’s talk about the bedchamber. I use this term specifically because I like it, but also because chamber (instead of room, etc) connotes for me something enclosed, private, and personal. It also notes the importance of that singular, all-important figure: the bed. Everybody likes a different type of bed. It’s a question of comfort and also a question of style. Many questions come into play, of which the mattress is the first. For me, that’s a firm mattress. I didn’t get a mattress pad when I lived on campus, and now I sleep on a futon. This may be a taste drawn from the rock-hard futon I grew up on, slowly compressed into an increasingly dense mass by my growing body. But I will brag here that my bed is generally considered extremely comfortable, something owing to my favorite part of bed-composition: the bedding. I like a million pillows piled up at the head of my bed, to be molded into mountains of varying shapes, and a giant fluffy comforter thrown with reckless abandon across the mattress, a few sizes too big for the bed. I’ve found it’s good practice to also have a quilt and a wool blanket waiting somewhere in the mix for colder or cozier nights.

You can already see that an aesthetic forms here, a combination of an almost vulgar decadence and an ascetic restraint. To pull these disparate images, or feelings, together, I use warm-toned, mismatched sheets that say comfort, that acknowledge they are a little silly and a little impractical, that are faded from half-remembered reading lamps on a million dark nights.

This bed is mine. It’s a combination of different things that make me feel good and safe for different reasons. It’s something I created. I’m certainly not advocating that every bed look like this. In fact, I mean to suggest the opposite, to point out that the variety of choices you make about your bed build up together and create a space that looks and feels a particular way to a particular person —  namely, most importantly, you.

But the space isn’t complete yet, is it? You don’t see YOU yet. And of course there are other ways to make your bedchamber a space you feel you own, a space you saunter out of rejuvenated with the things that you love, that you value, that make you feel like yourself. This is where clothes come into play, as what you take with you out of the room. I’m not talking about daily clothes here, not yet, because they build a larger bridge between the space of the bedchamber and the space of the Bright Clean Friendly Institution outside it’s doors. I’m talking about pajamas, and loungewear, and warm fluffy robes, the items of clothing that let you preserve your at-home emotions when you walk around your room and down the long hall to the bathroom.

I have always loved negligees. When I envision myself at home, what I see is a delicate silk negligee trimmed with lace swishing around my thighs beneath a long wool robe that pools at my ankles. So you see how personal this fantasy of private comfort is. I imagine that most people have different images of what is truly comfortable in a private, intimate portrait of rising from bed to bedchamber. But that is why the style of the bedroom is so precious, and such an important space of resistance to the sometimes soul-crushing world of School, which does not belong to any one person’s style, which moves at a pace and a rule that was made in some place and time that feels very distant to you and the people you may love here. But your style can infuse even an institutional bedroom and make that space a bedchamber, with a bed, with loungewear (I’m sorry, I really like this term, it makes me laugh) —  but also with the other choices. These choices are aesthetic certainly, personal certainly —  they are responses to all the physical and mental desires and needs and fleeting fancies that make things your own. I know for some people, that doesn’t entail this enclosed concept of the chamber — that a wide open door, and a constant flow of friendly faces in and out of a room is what makes it a personal space, a loved space, a home; for others, a bare wall and a plain t-shirt speak home more poignantly than a mess of colors and posters and fluffy garments.

It doesn’t matter what the aesthetic is, what feeling it creates, but I will say that I would recommend that that aesthetic and that feeling evoke comfort and even home, because as we try to make Swarthmore a larger home for ourselves, a little base can give us the bit of ground we need from which to leap.


Rediscovering safety in their own space

in Campus Journal by
Lee Kucic with her two pet rats
Amit Schwab has many religious items in his room
Photo by Ian holloway

What makes a room feel safe? This question is especially pertinent here at Swarthmore, where the high-stress environment reinforces the need to create a space where one is comfortable: an escape of sorts from campus life. In building a home away from home, Swatties have various tools at their disposal, and many are able to construct a wholesome environment to escape to.

For some, safety takes the form of another life, as is the case for Lee Kucic ’15. Her two rats, Pickles and Digby, live in a cozy cage across from her bed. They declined to comment when asked for an interview.

“They’re not technically pets, they’re companion and comfort animals,” said Kucic. “Like most people at Swarthmore, I have issues and it really helps me to have living beings with me, especially at night.”

The animals help Kucic remain calm when she’s alone; with them, she’s able to distance herself from campus life whilst avoiding the anxieties of solitude.

“I get easily freaked out,” she explained. “It’s really helpful for me to have them here, to know that I can get away from people and know that I’m not completely alone. They make me feel a lot more secure being by myself.”

Lee Kucic with her two pet rats
Photo by Ian Halloway

Kucic is not alone in appreciating animal company. Over at the Barn, Amit Schwalb ’17 has a pet of his own.

“That’s Lola … She’s the star of the show,” he said.

Rested on his desk, Lola the betta fish swam around her “Diva” signpost, calmly constrained in her glass fishbowl. Unfortunately, she also declined to comment when asked for an interview.

“Having my fish, another living being to take care of and care for, is really important for me,” Schwalb said, “to have a responsibility of, ‘Wow, I get caught up in school work but I have this other living being to keep alive.’”

As opposed to Kucic, whose animals provided a comforting presence, Schwalb seems to be grounded by his fish, a recurring aspect of how Schwalb constructs his space, as exemplified by the importance he gives to his religion and ethnicity in his room. You can see it in the ritual objects scattered around his room, and perhaps most prominently in the prayer written on his wall, surrounded by lights. His favorite prayer, it reads, “The soul that God gave to me is pure.”

“For me it’s is a reminder that I have to strive to wholeness,” he said. “It’s easy at Swarthmore to get caught up in academics or drama and it’s nice to have a reminder that’s grounded in thousands of years of tradition and culture.”

Ritual, for Schwalb, has a wider meaning than just the purely religious: objects imbued with personal significance find their place and bring comfort. A particular favorite of mine was his altar to Vaginal Davis and Madonna, but they aren’t limited to queer iconography.

“Amongst [ritual objects are] funny objects that have become sacred to me, like this turtle shell I got in Tennessee,” he said.

Michelle Myers has made a shrine around her mirror to become used to the idea of self-care
Photo by Ian Holloway

Other Swatties’ conception of ritual goes further — Michelle Myers ’15 has recently erected a shrine to herself in her Hallowell dorm room. Scattered lipsticks and other beauty products surround a full body mirror leaning against the wall. At the base of the mirror lie cozily placed rocks and cotton.

“I wanted to create a space where I felt comfortable using a lot of things I associate with vanity and self-care like makeup,” she said. “To do self-care like plucking my eyebrows and doing my nails whilst looking at myself in the mirror is way to get more comfortable with myself.”

Her goal was to create a space where she could confront her image safely and learn to associate it with a positive attitude.

“I used to hate looking at myself in the mirror a lot, which was related to a lot of mental health problems,” said Myers. “It was a project to make myself enjoy looking at myself in the mirror by making it safer.”

Physical safety is also important to Myers. Her camera was recently stolen from her room, and redecorating allowed her to become comfortable alone in that space again.

“I moved furniture around to make myself feel as cozy as possible and feel comfortable again,” she said. “I definitely am getting there, getting more comfortable with myself and spending time with myself alone.”

Her sentiment echoes Kucic’s, who also worries about outside intruders into her comfort.

“What makes me feel the safest is the lock on my door,” she said, “not because I don’t trust everyone on my hall; I just don’t want anyone coming into my room who’s not from the dorm.”

Both Myers and Kucic find solace in items that remind them of close ones — Myers keeps a note from her mother on her wall, the Kucic keeps her “funny awards” from the women’s rugby team. Sara Blazevic ’15 takes it one step further: most of her room is comprised of others’ belongings.

“I’ve lived in this apartment for three years but change rooms every year, and I’ve gotten to absorb a lot of random objects from other people who’ve lived here,” she said. “All the furniture in this room comes from different people who’ve lived in this house.”

Blazevic ran through some of these items: a plant left by her ex-roommate Anjali, couches left by other residents, motivational cards gifted by an artist friend. She shares her apartment with Schwalb, and drew me from room to room to show off trinkets left behind in this shared home. In the living room, a plug-in snow-scene that played winter classics, in the kitchen the advertisement for a toothpick-embellished Christmas tree. The apartment’s charm stemmed mostly from these artifacts of graduated friends and strangers, in a sense of continuity which would be impossible in a dorm.

“This room in particular and the apartment as a whole is a reminder of these people that have been important in my life,” she said.

From animals to shrines, Swatties show admirable versatility in how they construct safety in their rooms, balancing a retreat from campus life with mementos of important values and close ones within the space, one that is both connected and disconnected from the campus as a whole.

SMART Holds Consent Workshops

in Around Campus/News by

Since the issuance of Title IX guidelines in 2011, Swarthmore has worked to revise and improve its sexual misconduct policy and provide better information and access to resources for issues regarding sexual assault and misconduct.

As a part of this revision in policy, last week the Sexual Misconduct Advisors and Resource Team (SMART) held workshops for students to discuss issues regarding sexual misconduct at Swarthmore. One workshop focused on dating culture at college and another on campus culture. Sharmaine LaMar, Title IX Coordinator, said in an email, “The most recent SMART events have focused on how individuals can build a culture of support and empowerment for those affected by sexual assault.”

Lisa Sendrow ’13, a member of SMART, said participants talked about feelings of discomfort in campus situations.

“The workshop on campus culture focused on feeling uncomfortable during class, at the library or at Paces and so on,” she said. “We talked about ways to make the campus safer. Whether it’s a classroom, at a party, your bedroom, wherever you may be.”

As the events were considered a safe space, the personal stories and experiences shared by students who attended cannot be reported in detail, but Sendrow singled out communication as an important topic of discussion at the workshops. She said, “We talked about the importance of communication and the importance of talking to each other before you do anything with the other person. We also discussed the idea of the ‘nice guy’ personality and what that means.”

Alexander Noyes ’15, a member of the Sexual Health Counselors (SHCs), spoke about the role SHCs play in issues concerning sex and sexual health.

“Any questions about issues like consent, making consent sexy, how gender identity and gender expression interact with a healthy sex life, etc., are all questions that people can bring to us as a group,” he said, “We would be happy to collaborate and assist in any events which do address these topics.”

Mayra Tenorio ’15, another Sexual Health Counselor, said that it was important to have approachable resources on campus for sexual assault and health issues. “Not everybody in different countries and cultures thinks it’s okay to talk and learn about sexual health. A lot of how sexism starts is how sex and sexual health is talked about. For women it’s not encouraged, open, etc. It’s a privilege to know and be educated about such things,” she said. Tenorio highly approved of SMART’s efforts to facilitate such dialogue.

LaMar and Sendrow were both pleased by the success of the workshops and the number of students who attended. While LaMar confirmed an approximate attendance of 70 students, Sendrow was particularly pleased by the fact that the workshops created a dialogue between the students, SMART members and Beth Kotarski, Director of Worth Health Center and Patricia Fischette, a Counseling and Psychological Services staffer, who are both SMART advisors.

The referendum on Greek life was a popular topic of conversation at these workshops, though SMART members have not reached a consensus on their view of Greek life.

“The main thing is we care about the safety of the student body. I think it’s important for SMART to find out what makes people feel uncomfortable and work with the brothers to improve on it,” Sendrow said. “We just want to keep people safe and prevent assault. SMART and the brothers have worked together in the past and received positive feedback. We’ll continue doing so.”

Now that the workshops are over, SMART members are looking forward to planning for approaching Genderfuck party. They will be holding workshops, training members of Delta Upsilon, Phi Psi and Kappa Alpha Theta to be sober hosts at the party and working closely with members of the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team, in preparation for the event.

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