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Letter to the Editor: Worried About How You Look?

in Letter to the Editor/Open Letter/Opinions by

I wish that my son could tell his own story, but he can’t, so I will try for him, perhaps to give courage to others who are in the grip of the illness that cut his life short at the age of 24.

“It’s odd,” I mentioned to my then-18-year-old’s therapist. “Nathaniel shaves with the lights out in the bathroom and the door propped open to let in a little light from the hallway.” The therapist’s eyes widened with sudden understanding and alarm.

“It’s BDD — Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” she blurted out.

The moment plays in slow motion in my head, locked in my memory. BDD? Never heard of it. I had no idea what she was talking about, but it did not sound good.

As soon as we got home, I ordered Katharine Phillips’ seminal book about BDD, “The Broken Mirror,” and read it in one sitting. When I finished, I knew this was the disorder Nathaniel had been suffering from since age 11 when he first became anxious, and that we were in for a rough ride. It had already been hard, and it got harder — much harder.

Our six-foot four, handsome, intelligent, and incredibly funny son was wrestling with an inner demon that I could not fathom and could hardly bear living with. If it was torture for us, his family, it was unmitigated hell for him. He hated his appearance and was convinced that his skin was defective — “hideous, disgusting” were the words he used. Yet he had a beautiful complexion, and by anyone’s standard, he was handsome. A shaving nick or a minor blemish would keep him indoors for days, or he would cover them up with tiny pieces of bandage so that he could bear to go out. The focus was mostly his skin, but when he was younger, the worries had shifted: he thought the roll of flesh on his tummy was too pronounced (“But you are a growing boy!” I would say), the shadows under his eyes were too dark (“But everyone has them!”), his hair had to be just so (“Do you need all that gel?”). He compared himself with his younger sister, wanted to be her weight and keep up with her level of activity to satisfy an inner command. He was victimized by narratives in his head that dictated he cover up blemishes, exercise compulsively, or compete with his beloved sister. There is no logic to BDD, so no logical argument or reassurance helped.

Nathaniel was the kind of kid growing up that other kids wanted to hang out with. Inventive, smart, full of ideas for games and imaginary play. He never lacked friends. His teachers loved him because he did his school work to perfection and participated fully in class. A natural athlete, he was an avid soccer player and later cross country runner. And sense of humor? He could mimic anyone and would leave us in stitches. Once he invented an on-the-spot musical that he sang on a family car trip to our endless amusement. He could even turn criticism into comedy. While out driving once, he said calmly, “Mom, it’s a source of great comfort to me to know that if you ever have an accident and lose an arm, you won’t have to change your driving habits.” I burst out laughing, but the message got through; I have been driving with two hands on the wheel ever since.

When he first became ill in fifth grade, it was as if a bomb had dropped from the sky and blown our delightful son into an alternate reality. He ran one, two, then three times a day, virtually stopped eating, and lost so much weight that he had to be hospitalized. SSRI medication helped, and from then on, he began seeing therapists regularly. The diagnoses ranged from anorexia to OCD to school anxiety to social anxiety to generalized anxiety disorder, but he didn’t get the correct BDD diagnosis until seven years later.

BDD, an OCD spectrum disorder, is more prevalent than many realize.  Two to four percent of the population suffer from it, with the highest proportion among college age students, yet many mental health providers do not know of the disorder or how to treat it. Convinced that they are ugly, sufferers often get stuck in the mirror or avoid mirrors completely, compare themselves to others, skip social situations due to concerns about how they look, and spend hours trying to “fix” or cover up flaws that others see as insignificant or non-existent. The focus is most often the face (nose, skin, hair), but sufferers can be paralyzed with concern about any part of the body. Not remotely like vanity, this crushing preoccupation with appearance can disrupt schooling, make employment difficult, and strain relationships. The suicide rate is the highest of any brain disorder — higher than for those with severe depression or schizophrenia.

Having a name for a brain disorder, sadly, doesn’t disarm the demon any more than knowing that you have diabetes improves your insulin levels. But it did lead us to skilled practitioners. Drs. Katharine Phillips, Michael Jenike, Tamar Chansky ’84, and Marty Franklin all had their times with Nathaniel, trying to help his mind find the space and energy to combat BDD’s onslaught. He tried various SSRI medications and many combinations of medications, which sometimes provided relief. Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention strategies — the gold standard of treatment — were only slightly helpful.

As he grew older and his symptoms intensified, he had to leave high school and earn his diploma from home. Some days he couldn’t leave the house, although he managed to work part time and found joy in coaching middle school cross country and teaching in an after-school program. By his mid-twenties, he was still living at home and could see no promise in his future. He watched his sister and friends go off to college, find partners, launch their careers. “BDD is my only companion,” he told me once. “It dictates my entire day, from the second I get up, until I go to sleep — the only time I get any relief. I would not wish this on my worst enemy.” He ended his life in 2011.

Very few people understand brain disorders, and even some people who knew Nathaniel didn’t fully grasp that his condition was not caused by faulty reasoning or an inability to face life’s challenges. Because BDD is under-recognized and under-diagnosed, my family and I have devoted much of our time to raise awareness and funds for research. Recent fMRI studies at UCLA have discovered that the brains of those with BDD process facial images on the left side of the visual cortex instead of the right, like the rest of the population. The brains of those with anorexia show the same anomaly, suggesting that sufferers focus on tiny details of appearance and not the whole picture. More research will determine if this finding is causal or correlative, but it points to anatomical factors involved in BDD and suggests that visual re-training in treatment might help. Genetics and social/environmental triggers also play a role, but the pathway of the disorder is not yet fully understood.

Brain-circuit-based therapies such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, currently in wide use for depression, and Deep Brain Stimulation using implanted electrodes to stimulate areas of the brain — similar to the treatment used for Parkinson’s disease — may hold promise for those with severe BDD, but more research is needed.

If you think you may have BDD, or know someone who might be struggling with appearance concerns that interfere with daily functioning, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist at the college health center. The International OCD Foundation website has a large section devoted to BDD where you can learn more about the disorder. If you want to read more about Nathaniel, the website Walkingwithnathaniel.org details our family’s journey more fully.

Nathaniel knew that after he died, we would wonder what we could have done differently. “Please don’t,” he wrote in the letter he left us. “We were all doing the best we could and there is no regret in that.” No regret, but no silence, and no stigma either. Please spread the word about BDD, and get help for yourself or others who might need it. No one should have to struggle with this devastating illness alone. I know that is what Nathaniel would say.

Judy Nicholson Asselin ’75

Washington DC’s long history of disenfranchisement needs to end

in Columns/Opinions by

Washington, D.C. should be a state. Period.

Taxation without representation has a long history in America dating back to our nation’s inception. After all, it was King George III’s refusal to grant the colonists representatives in Britain’s Parliament that sparked iconic events such as the Boston Tea Party and our Revolutionary War.

Although citizens of the nation’s capital are not subject to such monarchical rule, certain aspects of our story, which I should preface with the confession that I grew up in the district, reveal inextricable parallelism with the aforementioned bit of history.

Washington’s lack of Congressional representation stems directly from the fact that we are not a state. In the House, we possess but a single non-voting delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has fought tirelessly for the civil rights of marginalized people throughout her career. She currently serves on two Congressional committees, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and uses her position to promote enfranchisement for the district.

A direct consequence of this lack of representation also manifests itself in the Presidential elections. Our votes count less than voters in states because congressmen and congresswomen serve as delegates. Seeing as we have only one, our general election vote counts for disproportionately less than that of someone residing in a state.

Many see the district as a constituent of elites and government employees who do not need a vote because they influence policy on a daily basis. This is a complete misconception. Contrary to popular belief, the district possesses a large portion of regular American citizens who do everyday American jobs. The only difference between an elementary school teacher in Washington and one living just minutes away in Maryland or Virginia is that the latter two have a voice in selecting the composition of our Congress.

Another common misconception regarding backlash to the district’s attempts at statehood includes the idea that Washingtonians have more influence over the executive and legislative branches of government because they are geographically closer to the people calling the shots. In reality, most federal officials spend the majority of their time on their own constituents or national and international affairs. The district’s issues usually get overlooked, proving that proximity to power does not augment actual influence.

Others still argue that granting the district statehood would be illogical due to the tradition of the 50 states. “What would we do with our flag?” skeptics speculate. During the westward expansion of our nation, the flag’s formation was constantly in flux and only stopped changing on July 4, 1960 to include Hawaii’s star. A flag with 51 stars would look just as good as one with 50.

Logically, Congressional republicans do not want another blue state and thus will continue to refuse to pass a statehood bill for the district. In the last Presidential election, 90.9 percent of voters in the district went for Clinton. Were the district a red region, would Congressional Democrats make the same call? According to the Constitution, political belief is not indicated as a protected class. Regardless, the enfranchisement of American citizens should not be a partisan issue. The argument for the district’s statehood is one overflowing with positive statements: its citizens pay full federal taxes, they pay higher per capita taxes than Americans in any of the 50 states, yet they are American citizens who do not possess Congressional representation.

The best traditions are built to adapt. As it was written in 1787, the Constitution was formed during a time when only white, landowning men were able to vote. Over time, the Constitution has adapted to incorporate more of its citizens, evidenced by the amendments; the electorate has expanded and must continue to do so.

The cyclical nature of historical mistakes is a deadly path this country has followed regarding a lot of different issues, and the fundamental fear of change has kept and continues to keep many from voting.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, permitting nine predominantly Southern states to determine their own election laws. In her dissent to the Supreme Court decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claimed the law to be essential in preventing barriers to voting such as racial gerrymandering and the requirement of at-large voting in areas with higher populations of Black people. Some argue that the effects of this Supreme Court decision were seen in the last election.

America was founded on “a city on a hill” promise of government by the people and for the people. However, for the nearly 700,000 American citizens residing inside the district’s nearly 70 square mile radius, that is not the case.

Organizations such as DCVote have been fighting tirelessly for years with no tangible progress to date. Due to the current composition of Congress, it doesn’t look like much will happen any time soon. Maybe we should start dumping tea into the Potomac River. At the very least, it will send a message.

To learn more about DC statehood, visit dcvote.org

The McCabe experience

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Often referred to as “The Cage,” McCabe library inspires a wide range of feelings among the student body, many of which are far from positive. As someone who spends a large portion of my time in McCabe, I can easily see why my fellow students harbor varying degrees of animosity towards this library. As an initial critique, the walls are lined with narrow windows, reminiscent of a medieval prison. Furthermore, sometimes, when I am here late at night, friendly McCabe mice will scuttle past me, and although these small rodents are a cute reminder that there is life beyond my essays, it would be ideal for them not to be in an academic building. The seats of the carrels lining McCabe’s exterior walls are stiff and uncomfortable enough to keep even the most exhausted Swatties awake during a late-night study session. Combine all of this with bleak and colorless walls, everything serves to set a glum mood that fails to lend comfort or inspiration. Whenever I am studying on the ground floor for extended periods of time and the inevitable need to journey up to the second-floor restroom to empty my bladder arises, I am struck by how purely ridiculous it is that the designers felt no need to include a restroom on the main floor.

But all these issues aside, the defining characteristic of McCabe, the one that truly cements the name “McCage,” is the chronically dim lighting. While I was at one of the campus visioning sessions last semester, one of my friends declared, “As soon as I step into McCabe, I instantly feel depressed.” Sitting, as I am now, in a gloomy study room on the third floor, my computer screen is almost brighter than the two meager lights flickering on the ceiling. These poor lighting conditions, combined with the other structural problems of McCabe, make it difficult for the space to promote effective studying and improve the emotional, mental, or social wellbeing of students.

I often ask myself why I return to this library, night after night, to sit in these uncomfortable chairs, surrounded by narrow windows, drab walls, and dim lights. Considering the plethora of problems I have just listed, my presence here seems almost a contradiction. Yet I think that for all its flaws, McCabe has been a defining part of my Swarthmore experience, and is a space that I have grown to love, and that I believe has potential to better serve the student experience. I love the sense of community in McCabe, which I think is most clearly manifested in the collective migration that happens at 10 P.M. for snacks and coffee. Meandering over to the snack line at 10 P.M., being either delighted by the presence of Oreos or disappointed by the presence of those oatmeal-cookie-things that pop up to the collective dismay of assembled McCabe-goers, has become an integral part of my Swarthmore experience. These snacks and coffee, in and of themselves, really aren’t anything extraordinary, but the invigorating social atmosphere created by the nightly 10 P.M. study break tradition is what makes it so important. Despite its flaws, and despite the problems I, and many other Swatties, have with McCabe, it is an important part of communal structure at Swarthmore both socially and academically.

Considering the importance of McCabe, and considering that many Swatties spend a large percentage of their time on campus in libraries, the importance of these spaces cannot be overstated. While those who do not enjoy McCabe have alternative libraries they can turn to, including Underhill and Cornell, the fact remains that McCabe is the largest library on campus. While my experiences with this library cannot be said to represent the entirety of the student body, I think it is an important space that shapes social and academic culture on campus. As such, the importance of addressing the innumerable structural issues of the library must be addressed, and I hope that, in the future, efforts, such as the recent visioning process, can be harnessed to make McCabe a space that enhances the student experience. After all, it wouldn’t take that much—just give us some light!

The dangers of insularity

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

President Trump ran on a platform of nationalism, protectionism, and isolationism from both economic and social standpoints; his anti-immigration stances and his proposed pro-tariff policies are salient examples of Mr. Trump’s embodiment of the populist ideals that seem to have taken hold of the U.S. voting constituency. As citizens, it is of great difficulty to look outwards amidst a tumultuous political climate, where unexpected and unforeseen legislation and initiatives are gaining momentum with each day, prompting even the most well-versed and politically literate individuals to find themselves outpaced by rapid developments in their own nation. This propensity to become detached from the ongoing affairs of the world around us is heightened by the tone being set by one’s own national government, devaluing the significance of international relations and interactions between different states, causing individuals to feel that there is a diminished importance of being aware of what is occurring in foreign lands. The disengagement with the international system on both an individual, institutional, and governmental level is worrisome, as we become less attuned to trends that are affecting nations indiscriminately. Populism had begun to create ripples throughout the world in the years leading up to the past U.S. election; this is just one example of how sweeping movements can be traced and predicted, perhaps even staved off and prevented altogether, if we only open our eyes.

Now, populism is not intrinsically bad. Definitionally, populism describes a movement in which individuals collectively band together against a government or institution made of elites. This sounds rather familiar to the spark that can ignite meaningful and successful revolutions, if we contextualize a chain of events as such within the American Revolution, for one. However, what is concerning about populism is the effects it can bring with it, notably a diminishing of domestic institutions that traditionally check the power of executive branches of power and government, particularly those which promote democratic ideals and prevent a consolidation of power within an all-powerful leader. As we have seen in many European nations throughout history, the rise of populism has been accompanied by a weakening of individual liberties, rights, and freedoms. We are now seeing a growing influence of right-wing movements and parties in nations that have long been heralded as beacons of liberal democracy: Britain, Germany, France, and most recently the Netherlands. This development has a few important implications for us as conscious and engaged citizens. We first ought to concern ourselves with the wellbeing of individuals throughout the world, irrespective of the nature of their regime or the state of populism in their respective nations; however, if we are able to recognize what many experts now consider to be an evident trend of populism, we ought to educate ourselves and understand how to reform our political systems or our international order to ensure that the deleterious impacts of populism can be prevented from striking. In addition, we need to ensure that as a constituency, we are pressuring our government to remain engaged in the international system and abreast of the dynamic relationships between and within states that will inevitably impact the future of our world. Not only is this necessary to prevent conflict and promote peace, but such cooperation and collaboration between nations is also the only way in which ongoing and potential global crises, such as global warming and nuclear armament, can be combatted most effectively.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s inauguration and initial actions in office, we have seen marches, walkouts, and protests on issues ranging from immigration to women’s rights. It has been both heartening and inspiring to take part in these movements and to witness my friends, peers, former teachers, relatives, and mentors engage in an impactful way to make a statement. I want to urge each of us, however, to engage with issues that may seem like they are striking less close to home, and remain observant and aware of what is occurring in nations near and far. It is harder to notice a detachment from the arena of international politics when so much is going wrong at home, but the threat of a disruption to the fabric of our international order can have potentially devastating consequences, the ramifications of which may be near impossible to alleviate upon being actualized. What is happening here with respect to a surge of populism is also happening in other countries; our institutions have so far served our democracy steadfastly, maintaining checks and balances and preventing an overreach of executive power when conflicting with constitutional values. This may not be the case for other democracies and nations in which institutions and governing bodies may fall prey to populism’s diminutive effects, à la Hungary.  Now is not the time to turn a blind eye to international affairs, nor is it the time to isolate ourselves from other nations and their affairs. We have a responsibility to hold our government accountable, not just on issues of domestic significance, but on the matters that impact the world around us.

Editorial: Standing Together

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Scrolling through various news sources, one can’t help but sit in terror at the thought of the news on the screen. Trump has created an unprecedented executive order that threatens every value for which America stands, including freedom and the right for everyone to follow their pursuit of happiness. His executive order, posing a travel ban that prevents refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 120 days, is the direct opposite of what it means to be a collective community of Americans.

While we recognize other political ideologies on campus, we at the Phoenix want to make it clear that we will not tolerate this threat to personal freedom. Because it affects many students who are a part of our Swarthmore community, we believe that regardless of political ideology, we can all stand together in rejecting this travel ban; we believe that we can all support those in our community impacted by the ban.

We refuse to forget that America itself was founded and maintained by immigrants. We would not be the United States without contributions of various cultures and we would not be the U.S. without a diversity of cultures to share in the benefits of our advances. Immigrants, and particularly in this context, Muslim immigrants, have contributed far more good than harm to our country. We also reject Trump’s justifications for his actions. The people affected by the travel ban are children, families, and individuals trying to pursue their dreams. They are not evil people and they are not a threat to the United States; they are only trying to live their lives.  

We, at the Phoenix, must further emphasize that Muslim immigrants and refugees belong in this country. To students on campus from international countries or who are affected by the ban, please know that you belong in the United States because you are a person with inalienable human rights and your own set of personal qualities that make you unique. Despite the horrible rhetoric throughout the country, you belong in the United States because you are an individual with your own goals to pursue. Perhaps most importantly, despite the hate speech throughout the country, you belong in the United States because we all want you in the United States. You are part of our family in the Swarthmore community.

While we recognize that political ideologies may differ, we can all agree that every member of our Swarthmore community belongs at Swat and that we must support each member of our community during these turbulent times. This threat to members of our community is exactly why we all need to stand together in fighting against the travel ban, regardless of political beliefs or ideologies.

At the same time, we must recognize that solidarity can only go so far and declaring our support does not eliminate the pain and very real fear from the horrific events around the country. While we always support those in our Swarthmore family who are hurting during these trying times, stating our support does not fix the problems at hand. Nevertheless, we do want to encourage those who can take action to do so, regardless of political party, and we want to provide resources throughout this process for anyone and everyone who is ready to fight against the oppression. There are many small ways to begin taking action and to show support for those hurting. You can call your senators and local politicians, asking them to fight against the travel ban and emphasizing that you will never vote for a politician who supports the ban. If you are registered to vote in Pennsylvania, you can call Senator Vincent Hughes at (215) 879-7777 or Senator Lawrence Farnese at (717) 787-5662. Groups are also organizing pop-up phone banks throughout campus to continue fighting against the ban. Contact political groups on campus to see how you can get involved. Swarthmore is hosting events to provide a voice against the executive orders including a Panel Discussion on Trump’s Executive Orders led by the Intercultural Center at 6:30p.m. on Thursday, February 2nd.

Finally, we encourage you to share your energy and frustration with the outside community by organizing and attending protests and marches. This week alone there will be a March Against Discrimination, Canvassing to Stand with Muslims, and a March for Humanity. Check the Reserved Student Digest and Facebook events to stay informed about how you can speak out against this threat to our community.

We, at the Phoenix, take pride in our community, including our diverse cultures, and we will continue to provide support and encourage action against any actions that threaten any individual in our community. As part of our effort as a news organization to stand by our community, we have decided to begin publishing a new feature series, “Life under Trump.” We are interested in hearing from members of our community who have been affected by Trump’s recent executive orders and, if they feel compelled to do so, to send in testimony of their experiences to editor@swarthmorephoenix.com. We hope to collect stories of community members who have been, or have family members who have been, directly affected by the actions of the Trump administration and publish a collection of this testimony each week. Our goal is to humanize the dangerous implications of the executive orders, to give a platform to those who are increasingly denied a voice, and to prevent the creation of an othered or erased victimhood in light of the current political climate.

Musings of Mariani

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Fire alarms go off at odd times in the Willets dormitory, where I sleep and clean myself and occasionally work and socialize. Late one night near the end of the last semester, the alarm sounded, and we all filed out. It was a forlorn period, when the sinking, impending reality of Trump’s election and the travails of finals seemed to be conspiring together to produce the maximum feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. The residents of Willets filed out in their pajamas and stood together outside the doors. But instead of annoyance, a feeling of cheerful bemusement and calm resignation seemed to pervade. One girl walked out of the door with a lit cigarette and a mischievous smile as if she had set the alarm off herself, and was proud of it. We all knew that that the alarm would be deactivated soon, that in the meantime we could commiserate with our friends, and that this nocturnal excursion would make our beds all the warmer and cozier when we returned.

America is like Willets: beloved by a bacchanalian few who make it nearly unlivable for the rest, the site of many recurring crimes and infamies and injustices which go unaddressed and unresolved.

Like I live in Willets, I live in America and despite its flaws I love it deeply and I feel very dedicated to it. This is obviously a very bad time for our country, or at least worse than usual, but I’m not sure if it’s unprecedented. The government has often been corrupt. We’ve had incompetent, disturbed leaders before (Nixon, Reagan, W. Bush, Andrew Jackson, to name a few), and the immediate problems facing us have seemed intractable and hopeless. Our nation has been more divided before (we had a civil war!), we’ve had a worse economic crisis (the Great Depression!), we’ve faced extremely grave internal injustices whose solutions seemed totally out of reach.

I think what is different about the crisis we face today is the widespread total hopelessness felt about the impossibility to solve any of the problems facing us. I do not think this lies solely in our traditional national values, institutions, and ideals failing to solve the problems we face and the systemic flaws they have. The radical alternatives offered seem to me to be equally unlikely, insufficient, and futile.

This point is trite and obvious, but I still want to make it because I feel that it continues to be overlooked by many. I think that at least part of reason the political problems in the United States seem so intractable is because no one examines the basis of their fundamental values. People constantly talk about the responsibilities we have to other people in our country and then simultaneously question the legitimacy of our country itself. Or, like Trump, they talk about protecting our country without examining how the fundamental nature of the country they are protecting precludes doing the types of things they want to do to defend it.

Even in the era of globalization, the political institution which connects us the most is the nation-state. If you state that the United States of America is a hopelessly flawed country in which revolutionary changes need to take place, then you can no longer appeal to American values or the responsibilities Americans have to each other because of our national history, because then you are only contributing to the continuation of something which you say should not exist. If you say America needs to protect itself and in its interests in the world, but that to do so entails violating one of the country’s core principles of religious freedom, then you go further and actually destroy the thing you are trying to defend. You make the defense of America the thing that destroys America, you eliminate any value there is in defending America.

I do not want to make this sound like a Fourth of July speech. I do not forget that the crimes of slavery and the genocide of the natives peoples of this continent are as foundational to this country, and in many ways more-so, then the Bill of Rights. I know that is impossible for me to understand how difficult it is for many people to simply exist day to day in this country. But as long as a great deal of the American radical left totally eschews patriotism or even vaguely patriotic rhetoric, then I do not see how it is going to get anywhere in national politics. How are we going to criticize Trump for silencing the media or the continuing Republican efforts to take away the right of low-income people and people of color’s right to vote unless we appeal to the Constitution? How can we appeal to the Constitution unless we espouse some sort of dedication to the American national project?

The Democratic party is deeply flawed and has an awful policy record in many areas, but at a certain point the disengagement from the party stemming from the belief that it is hopeless to attempt to improve it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, almost got the nomination. I feel that if the left had made greater attempts at consensus and coalition building, he could have won. This would not have solved all of our national problems, but it certainly would have put us on a fundamentally better path.

What is indisputable is that everyone, especially people like myself who have tremendous privilege in our society, needs to do more to engage politically. Trump is the personification of the worst aspects of this country, but I believe, perhaps foolishly and romantically, but sincerely, that the good aspects of this country can defeat him and what he represents.

Establishing community: is there hope?

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As a Swattie, I think it’s pretty much understood that while students enjoy exciting events on campus. Getting people to attend the event, however, is a challenge in itself. Between the impossible hours of readings and problem sets, campus jobs, and extracurriculars, we rarely have the opportunity to put down our homework, let alone convince ourselves to attend yet another commitment. This makes sense; why would we go to a lecture or study break for an hour when we could devote that time to sleep instead?

While this is accepted as normal, always attending to our own individual needs takes away from our sense of community. It forces us to think too much about ourselves instead of getting to know, or at least appreciate, the other amazing individuals who contribute to Swat. Add our divided opinions about issues like affirmative action, our differences in income or race, and even our diverse interests in academics, and we run the risk of modeling factions rather than a collective whole.

This is an issue at Swat that’s often easy to ignore. Everyone assumes that since we are a college of only about 1600 students, with only one dining hall, and all students collectively drowning in assignments, we must be a tight knit community. However, I think the events of the last few weeks, such as the feelings of the low-income population after the need-based admissions article in the DG and the Jewish members of our community in the aftermath of a series of Swastika-related incidents, have served as examples of how we must make more of an effort to come together in appreciating differences and understanding them, rather than denouncing them.

The college has taken actions to reinstate a sense of community, through collections every Friday and more vigils after tragic events. With the relatively low student turnout, however, we can’t help but ask ourselves: is it even possible to foster a more collective campus? If students are too consumed with academics and don’t have the time to devote to creating an intimate campus culture, what’s the point of trying?

After watching the presidential debate on Monday with hundreds of other Swatties in the Lang Performing Arts Center, I can say that Swarthmore has more of a community than I think many of us have ever known; we must continue to find ways to bring this community together more often. Never in my time at Swarthmore had I felt so connected with everyone, and so proud to be surrounded by a group of people who were so engrossed in the same issues, coming together to engage in the same important cause. In the United States, we are currently experiencing an epidemic of some of the lowest political participation rates in history. Yet on Monday night, I witnessed more civically engaged Swatties voluntarily in one room than I had ever seen. Everyone was glued to the screen, actively listening to each candidate, watching their every move, and waiting to see how they would respond to the issues. Everyone was well aware of the fact that we will all be affected by the issues discussed in the debate, and thus all have a role in the situation and some level of responsibility for the outcome.

But it wasn’t just the fact that everyone was watching and practicing an aspect of participatory democracy that gave me hope for our community. We were all laughing, commenting, and simply appreciating one another’s presence. Each person in the room contributed to a sense of energy and excitement (even a sense of disgust at times), which made the debate that much more interesting and enjoyable. I felt as if I were part of a bigger cause, one that is ambitious, driven, and inspirational; I felt that I was where I was supposed to be.

Of course, this is far from where we need to be in establishing a stronger Swarthmore. Campus Republicans would have felt completely ostracized at the debate, and even outside of political events, conservative students are constantly disparaged for sharing their views. Moreover, this event failed to demonstrate diversity of thought, instead depicting the power of group polarization rather than the excitement we all ought to have felt in being around one another. But it was a symbol of hope. The debate watch party demonstrated that we have the power to create a much more positive energy on campus if we just have a stronger foundation. It showed that Swarthmore is a body of students who care—we just need to find more effective ways of coming together to remind one another of this more often.

Swarthmore is nowhere near as strong of a community as it has the potential to be, but it is a group of amazing, passionate people who want to make a difference. We need to invest more time and resources into bringing everyone together into a family of supportive changemakers.

President Val Smith and the importance of Swat athletics

in Columns/Sports by

Recently, my friend and ex-baseball teammate from high school shockingly decided to transfer out of Oberlin College, a liberal arts school in Ohio. While he seemed perfectly content during his freshmen year at Oberlin, succeeding academically, as well as athletically as both a goalie for the soccer team and catcher for the baseball team, he felt that the Oberlin student body socially shunned student-athletes on campus. Although unfortunate, this shunning atmosphere is contrary to the diverse community that similar institutions, like Swarthmore, attempt to foster. This phenomenon has manifested itself far too commonly, particularly in liberal arts colleges in America.

     This division within the student bodies of liberal arts colleges is dangerous, and  Swarthmore President Valerie Smith has decided to take a stand. Recently, President Smith was seen on the sidelines of a Women’s Soccer game as an honorary coach. In her tenure thus far, the athletics program at Swarthmore is growing in its successes. The act stood as a sign of unity and respect, as the esteemed President felt compelled to show her support and appreciation for the athletics department. Whether cheering for the Garnet in the baseball stands or along the track, Smith certainly has had an impact on the way athletics are viewed here at Swarthmore.

      Her actions have not gone unnoticed. This past year, the Women’s Volleyball team held a  Faculty and Staff Appreciation Game, creating invaluable connections between the administration, athletes, and the student body. This appreciation for athletics has followed Smith throughout her career, even as far back as commandeering a movement for equality for women in athletics during her undergraduate studies at Bates College, another prolific liberal arts school. In an interview with local news station NBC10, Smith went as far to say, “I’m happiest when I’m able to get a lot of exercise…” Smith also discussed in that same interview the need to address and include the voices of all students, especially in an era of such social change and awareness. In her example, we all should strive to appreciate the culture, community, pride, and competition that athletics contributes to our community.

      I went to a small, all-male private school in the heart of Washington, DC, that mandated all students participate on some sports team for almost every season of their high school career. This requirement certainly benefited the school,  teaching students the importance of physical education and health; however, it also meant that sports played a major role in the social weave of the school community. This created a lack of people with unique and diverse interests outside of sports. Those who did were labelled as effeminate or inept. Arriving at Swarthmore, I have already been struck by the sincere diversity of interests and talents that we, as a student body, possess. However, it is imperative that we not ostracize the athletes, thereby cultivating a student body of only one type of student.

      Here at Swarthmore, we pride ourselves on opening the macroscopic dialogue to people of all backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, and cultures. It is this strong interwoven sense of community that allows us to succeed both individually and as a whole. In this day and age where stereotypes prevail, we cannot regard all athletes as sports-first-school-second, insensitive jocks. It becomes all the more imperative that college communities support the endeavors undertaken by our colleagues and classmates. Particularly, when certain athletes at other schools have been the focus of so much controversy in the media for their involvement in misogynistic behavior and breaches of integrity, it is important that we recognize that athletes are members of the Swarthmore community as well, accomplished, intelligent, and important in their own right.

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