Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

community

Importance of social spaces

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Where are your Swarthmore memories? McCabe or Paces for late nights, Sci Commons or Essie’s for lazy afternoons, maybe even the occasional live show in the WSRN Big Room? The experiences we have here at Swarthmore, and indeed anywhere, are often inextricable from the spaces in which they take place. At Swat, as our specific communal spaces and the culture surrounding them change, our relationship as a community changes as well. For example, the recent redesign of Shane Lounge has made the room’s layout more flexible. The countless whiteboards spread around campus have allowed for both more collaborative work and more stress-relieving doodle breaks during study sessions. On the first floor of New PPR, a sprawling lounge with sliding blackboards, intimate wooden booths, and sleek design all around now serves as a gathering space among friend groups. These renovated spaces now promote creativity while students study and socialize.

We at The Phoenix appreciate these renovated spaces, especially as they foster a more connected community. However, with stricter enforcement of certain policies that affect social events and activities, students have felt inhibited from gathering in large friend groups or to engage in party games for fear of being shut down or cited. It is important to have the ability to hold social events that students would like to attend. Students should feel welcome and relaxed at social events such as Pub Nite, but the potential for Pub Nite to be shut down because of common activities such as beer pong impedes the sense of relaxation that Pub Nite should provide. This type of rule enforcement seems to dictate student behavior in a way that has minimum benefit but is a significant restriction on student autonomy. This type of policy make us students feel that we do not have full freedom of choice over our social lives.

Maximizing use of social spaces at Swarthmore takes creativity — we as a campus community can better make use of spaces by reimagining and stepping out of the rigid roles that we have set. Of course, beer pong and drinking games are fun, but so are nights spent playing cards with friends in a dorm room over a bottle or two of wine. There are a lot of ways to consume alcohol in fun social ways outside of classic drinking games. Expanding our social horizons has the potential to lead to new friends and great memories to look fondly on after we leave Swarthmore.

Particularly as new spaces continue to be developed on campus, it is important that the Swarthmore community recognize how influential place is to campus culture. Administration and staff need to recognize that students need to be respected and trusted in their use of spaces for gathering and events. With a little bit of creativity and collaboration, students can reimagine the spaces in which we socialize — to make them more inclusive, more varied, and more conducive to the positive interactions that foster a stronger and healthier community.

Thank you to those who keep Swarthmore going

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

In the past week we’ve experienced more snow than Swarthmore has seen in the past three months. As we all began to mentally prepare ourselves for spring break, it managed to get the coldest it has been all year. Friday’s winter storm damaged power lines, cutting off the power to the college and the majority of homes and business in the Swarthmore area. Massive trees fell near Willets, in front of PPR, and many other trees went down campus. Power was not restored to campus until around 9 p.m. on Friday, powered by a generator. PECO power was partially restored on Wednesday.

Yet Winter Storm Riley was a powerful reminder of the amazing and supportive community which we are a part of here at Swarthmore. As students gathered in Sharples, the only building with power on Friday evening, the atmosphere was not one of dread, but of liveliness and fun. Students were taking advantage of the power outage by coming together through playing cards, enjoying games, and engaging in light-hearted conversation. The outage became a cause for unity rather than frustration. We at the Phoenix are honored to be a part of such a compassionate, encouraging community.

We also recognize that this compassionate, encouraging community is not just created by the students. The gathering in Sharples on Friday night, the quick restoration of power, and the vibrant energy on campus wouldn’t have been possible without the staff and faculty that devoted themselves to ensuring a positive experience for students.

We want to express our appreciation for all of the staff and faculty who kept the campus running for us despite the lack of power at their homes, the icy roads, and the fallen trees and power lines.

Thank you to all of the Sharples staff who continued to provide us with food and a welcoming place to sit, charge our phones and computers, and spend time as a community despite the crazy weather. They came in and had the same upbeat attitude they always have while greeting students each and every day.

Thank you to facilities for working tirelessly to connect campus back to power in only five hours on Friday night, while nearly everywhere else in the area remained without power. It is impossible to express enough gratitude for keeping us connected to the generators throughout the weekend, even switching out the generators over the weekend to ensure campus remained provided with electricity. We are grateful for Ralph Thayer, director of facilities, for keeping students updated on the process through email chains and for making the switch to generator power as seamless as possible.

We are immensely grateful to the facilities staff and arboretum workers who gave their time to shovel snow and clear paths in the storm so that we students could safely navigate campus. We are aware that these workers have even more work ahead of them as they clean up fallen trees and other damage from the storm. They are extraordinary for the effort they exert every day just to keep campus functioning and beautiful.

Finally, thank you to all the professors, living in and out of the town of Swarthmore, that have powered through the damage brought by Riley, coming on to the campus to continue to teach despite the rough conditions and lack of power.

We at The Phoenix have written many articles which criticize and hold various divisions of the college accountable. However, we also recognize the importance of showing gratitude for the people and services we take for granted everyday both those classified as “essential” in the emails, and those who simply improve the lives of students everyday. In the context of this storm, we cannot express how much we appreciate and recognize the hard work that came from all the staff that keep the college running. Swarthmore has room for a lot of improvement but this storm has demonstrated and made us ever more grateful for the staff who work tirelessly to make Swarthmore a place where students, faculty, and staff can find a dedicated and hardworking community of people.

The Board of Managers needs greater transparency with students

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

This past weekend, approximately 35 business people gathered in the Scheuer room of Kohlberg to discuss matters relating to the college. These people, also known as the Board of Managers, convened behind closed doors around conference tables for one of the four meetings they hold each year. Their main purpose was to make decisions regarding the endowment and, alongside President Smith, set a direction for the college.

Yet, if students did not pass through Kohlberg Hall this weekend, or even if they were in Kohlberg but not during a break in the Board of Managers meeting, they may have been completely unaware that the meeting was taking place. Even if students did know the meeting was occurring, they remained unlikely to know the purpose of the Board of Managers, much less anything about their current agenda. For students, the Board of Managers appears to be an obscure entity of business people in suits, sitting in a dark room, drinking coffee, and discussing which fund the endowment should be invested into next.

We at the Phoenix believe this relationship between students and the Board of Managers is disheartening and unproductive. Especially for an institution like Swarthmore that prides itself on supporting student efficacy and responsibility, we believe students have a right to know the issues and solutions on which the board is actively deciding, especially since those decisions will have a direct impact on our lives as students.

For example, students are left completely unaware of the board’s agenda and the topics they discuss at the meeting, both before the meeting and after it.  While there are archives of records from the Board of Managers’ meetings online, these records seem to be from over 30 years ago and still state that  “Permission to this material is restricted and requires the permission of the Office of the President of Swarthmore College.” There is no explanation of who is allowed to request these documents.

The minutes from past Board of Managers meetings should not be restricted and the minutes should be made available to students within a week after the meeting. The United States government posts an outline of Congressional meetings, along with extended remarks from members of congress who spoke.

We recognize that Swarthmore College is much smaller than the U.S. government and operates much differently as a private institution. Still, since Swarthmore has fewer students than the U.S. government has citizens, and arguably much less highly classified information than the U.S. government, it should be easier for Swarthmore to be transparent with students, not harder. If citizens have the right to hear about the government making decisions that will affect their lives, shouldn’t students be extended this same right as members of the college community who are impacted by the decisions board members make?

We at the Phoenix also recognize that the board may not mean to appear so secretive. Most board members were Swarthmore students themselves, so they likely are able to understand our perspective. We also recognize that limited efforts have been made by the board to breakdown some of the barriers between them and students, such as allowing two observers from SGO to attend this weekend’s meeting. Part of the meeting for the board this past weekend was applauding and supporting the work of current students, such as listening to Lang Social Impact Scholar presentations and considering the project proposals from the President’s Sustainability Research fellows. We commend the beginnings of a relationship between the board and students, but we also believe that these small-scale connections are not enough.

The Board of Managers should allow open meetings in which any student who wishes to observe the meetings are allowed to attend. Minutes from the board’s meetings should also be made easily accessible online, so that students can be informed about the concerns, changes, and decisions that will ultimately affect them. After a Board of Managers meeting, President Val Smith should send out the minutes from the meeting through email, along with the major announcements she makes, like the new provost.

These are just a few methods in which the Board of Managers could become more transparent and develop a stronger relationships with students. The secretive arrangement between students and the board that currently exists undermines student trust in the institution and portrays the current student perspective as unimportant, even if this is not the intentions of the board. By taking steps to foster a more open relationship between the board and students, Swarthmore can foster a greater community while upholding their goals as an institution.

The Phoenix: A Commitment to our Community

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Here at the Phoenix, we may not appear to change from semester to semester as our product appears the same. We continue to print and publish pieces online every Thursday and we continue to produce sections that highlight news, arts, sports, and opinions within and affecting the Swarthmore community.

Yet, behind the scenes, the Phoenix is constantly evolving. From section editors to staff to writers, we at the Phoenix are constantly striving to innovate and transform the paper to represent the Swarthmore community in the best ways possible. Not just that, the people that make up this organization are constantly changing. Each semester, we have new editors, writers, and staff. Each semester, our editorial board has a slightly different approach. What doesn’t change, though, is our belief in the importance of sharing our goals and aspirations with the Swarthmore community. It is our mission to uphold the value of transparency in journalism. As a student publication serving the Swarthmore community, we believe that students have the right to know our objectives and intentions of the Phoenix.

Below are section-specific goals written by the respective sections editor(s).

News

The news section isn’t exactly “new.” The Phoenix has been covering campus news since the paper’s first issue in 1881, in which an unnamed student wrote about a fire that destroyed Parrish. Generations of news writers have broken stories on campus, from civil rights protests to to the dissolution of the football program to fossil fuel divestment. We aim to continue their tradition, a tradition of representing and commemorating the wide span of clubs, political causes, social events and student-led initiatives that characterize our community, both on campus and around our campus, in a new way every week. We also understand and document Swarthmore’s role in the local community, socially and politically.

This semester, as the news section, our goal is to take what we hear people whispering, discussing and shouting about, everywhere from Cornell 1st at 1 a.m. to Hobbs on a Saturday morning to the Facebook meme group (literally all the time), and get to the bottom of it. Inherent in that goal is a commitment to be a trustworthy and representative resource for the student body. We are independent from the administration, but we hold ourselves to a high standard of credibility and a longstanding tradition of journalistic ethics. We are a small campus, so many of the stories we tell are deeply personal, and we wish to respect that. By speaking to you, we extend our publication past the perspectives of our writers to capture an account that represents all students.

Arts

The Arts section aims to highlight the beauty and diversity here at Swarthmore College. We want to give students the opportunity to showcase their art of all types in our publication and give them a forum to discuss their passions.

Opinions

The Opinions section is a place where campus discourse happens. It is rarely the start or the end of the discussions in this community, but it is the space where Swatties can put their perspectives out to the entire campus community. The Opinions section itself is a conversation, an exchange, a back and forth, where we challenge and inspire each other. All students are welcome to submit pieces and responses to those pieces as a way to express ideas, especially those that are complicated, important, and just too good for a Facebook status. Opinions sections in Swarthmore publications have been the source of controversy in the past, and we acknowledge the power that we have in shaping campus discourse. Writers have the ability to assert, dissent, and defend their ideas in a manner that advances productive discourse. The opinions section is a way to engage with one another, respectfully, with the power of words.

Sports

The Sports section is the most staffed section at the Phoenix. With 15+ contributing writers, we bring together varsity athletes, club and intramural athletes, as well as non-athletes who are passionate about covering the sports world both at Swarthmore and in the professional realm. As a section, we pride ourselves on covering sports news that matters to students, whether that be a preview on our Men’s Basketball team, or an article on Tiger Woods’ return to the professional golfing world. A hallmark of our section in the past semester is that we encourage a pursuit of sports articles that have connections to the non-sports world. Anthem kneeling in the NFL in response to police brutality and other systemic racism issues. Structural inequality in the U.S youth soccer system. Swarthmore athletes and their service work during their time off from athletics. Our section prides ourselves on being a place where sports coverage can be more than just a simple scorecard from a baseball game, as many sports sections in American newspapers have historically been.

Copy Editing

We copy editors work behind the scenes to make sure stylistic conventions consistent throughout the Phoenix. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and all that jazz is within our purview. We want to ensure you focus on content instead of a misused “your.” Should you find one, please notify editor@swarthmorephoenix.com.

We at the Phoenix are excited to explore new methods toward achieving our goals. We promise to work toward representing the Swarthmore community with integrity.

Grow up: community and entitlement don’t mix

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Last Friday I woke up at 6:30 a.m. I like to make my breakfast before I catch the train to Philly for my student teaching placement. When I groggily traipsed into the Danawell kitchen where I keep my smoothie ingredients and blender, I walked into what appeared to be the scene of a middle school food fight. Food scraps, napkins, paper plates, and red Solo cups were strewn about the communal space, and sticky liquids had dried in a stream dripping down the counters onto the floor. Disgusted, I stepped gingerly around the floor, careful not to slip on the puddles of god-knows-what moist gunk. I didn’t have to get my blender out of the drawer because it was already out and used by a stranger who didn’t ask permission and didn’t wash it when they were done. This is what I wake up to at least three times a week, and I have encountered similar instances throughout my three-and-a-half-years at Swarthmore.

As enraged as the abuse of common space and utter disregard for fellow students makes me, this is not half as bad as what EVS must tolerate. It’s time that more people begin to call out peers for this intolerable disrespect. I am not the first to raise this issue in our community, and I hope I will not be the last. There are three issues I see with students leaving messes for EVS to clean up.

  1. The disrespect and utter disregard for EVS workers and other students resulting from a lack of empathy (you can argue for laziness, but when it affects others, it’s just selfish).
  2. The entitlement and immaturity these acts communicate. It’s okay to be immature, but it’s not acceptable to act it out.
  3. This is a racialized, classist, and sexist issue.

 

1) The EVS page on the Swarthmore website states, “The Environmental Services staff is dedicated to keeping campus facilities well managed in support of students, faculty, staff, and visitors,” not “dedicated to cleaning up after careless students who make a mess and expect someone else to clean it up.” If you cook something in a communal kitchen or party in a communal space, consider the people who have as much right to the space as you, who will inhabit or use it next, and respect those in our community who do so much and get so little appreciation, such as the marvelous EVS staff.

We live in a community. If you lived alone, you would be welcome to leave your crusty pots in the sink for years, and no one would care. However, we all elected to be a part of this special community and the reality is that most spaces on campus are shared spaces, so we should do our share and clean up. Didn’t anyone listen to Barney when they were younger? What about the Golden Rule? Treat others how you want to be treated? This is the definition of empathy. This is what we teach our children—why I teach.

Libertarians would have us believe that individuals in society are free agents. But belonging to a society means that you relinquish some of your freedom in exchange for the benefits of belonging. People need roads and bridges to get to work and pay taxes to maintain them. We like order and leadership, so we consign our voices to our elected representatives, however corrupt and dysfunctional this system may be. If society as a whole operated the way students at Swarthmore act, it would be detrimental to everyone! Aloof intellectuals may sip wine and diagnose, “This cannot be helped, it is the tragedy of the commons,” but just because it’s a social trend doesn’t mean we have to acquiesce to it. Swarthmore, we can do better.

Learning social responsibility is part of growing up. You can’t do whatever you want with no consequences. This is no longer high school where we live at home and someone takes care of us. This is college and we are responsible for ourselves. Growing up is intimidating, but you cannot act out by disrespecting and harming others.

2) The entitlement communicated by these selfish acts represents a complete lack of regard for others and the privilege not to care about them. The privilege an individual must possess in order to disregard the reality that your actions impact others indicates a profound disconnect from the people doing the labor of cleaning. Would you like to be the person who has to dig soggy pasta out of the drain of the sink in Parrish? In her book “Why Grow Up,” Susan Neiman explains the process of growing up as “reconciling the way you want the world to be with the way the world is.” It would be nice if we didn’t have to clean up after ourselves, but that is childhood. And if you are saying to yourself, “But I was going to wash my plates in the sink, I just had to finish my paper then I was gonna come back!” I would call BS.

3) This is a racialized, classist, sexist issue. Women, most often women of color, and poor people are always cleaning up the messes of more privileged people (but I’m also not saying you have to be privileged to be an asshole). The majority of EVS staff are African American men and women. The EVS workers who clean the dorms and communal spaces are frequently women. I don’t know what an EVS salary looks like at Swarthmore, but when my mother was a house cleaner in L.A., she told me she made shit wages and from talking to the janitorial staff at my high school I know they did too.

African Americans, especially Black women, have historically been pegged as domestic workers and caretakers and have never been respected for this challenging and compassionate labor. It’s time the culture that devalues this invaluable labor stops. I challenge any individual who went to Jungle Party this past weekend to try and do what EVS does every day. I highly recommend reading the opinion piece published in the Huffington Post titled “Do We Care For The Black Women Who Care For Us?”by Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, about women of color who care for us, specifically in the care industry, but many of the same themes apply. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/alicia-garza/do-we-care-for-black-women_b_9272422.html )

In conclusion, get your head out of your ass, and wake up and smell your own garbage. Being an adult isn’t so bad, and no one expects college students to be grown-ups (I am certainly not yet one). The college takes care of us as we figure out what adulthood means, and part of our job is to try to be decent human beings to each other. This is a small community—talk to people who are different from you! Get to know them, and forge connections that may make you uncomfortable initially. One might even argue that human connection across differing social groups would solve some very important problems in our nation, and it’s not the job of the people doing all the labor to start the conversation.

Sharing Stories, Creating Solutions

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

As my study abroad experience is beginning to reach its end, I can’t help but reflect on the scenes I have encountered and the stories I have heard from such a diverse spectrum of people. On one hand, looking back, it seems easy to feel despair about the current state of the world. In Vietnam, I was struck by how people had to wear air masks outside each day because of the contaminants in the air. But I was even more struck by how Westernization has caused people in Vietnam to be ashamed of their skin, wearing long sleeves and jeans in the 100-degree weather in an attempt to make themselves more “white.” In South Africa, I witnessed the very real effects of apartheid, including black communities remaining significantly more impoverished and faced with more crime than white communities; never mind the fact that there shouldn’t have been a separation between black and white communities in the first place, since “apartheid is over.”

Even in Argentina, there are so many injustices linked to global issues that cause an unimaginable amount of human suffering. Argentina also faces a huge disparity in living conditions and access to basic resources between the rich and poor. Similar to immigrants in the United States and South Africa, immigrants in Argentina face struggles of obtaining citizenship or assimilating into the country. Recognizing how these disparities have been issues across the world, I find moments where I can’t help but feel hopeless. How can problems of human suffering and lack of basic human rights even begin to be addressed when the problems seem so universal? How does one remain optimistic about creating change when there is so much politics or negativity against oneself?

Yet, while studying abroad has given me a broader perspective on the scope of world problems, it has also granted me insight into how to be part of the solution. It has demonstrated to me that, while one person can not eliminate an entire global problem, creating local solutions can make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people and begin to inspire other communities around the world to create change. Through the power of story and sharing the successes of one community in addressing a problem, a global movement can begin.

When visiting a community impacted by environmental injustice, I witnessed the power of narrative firsthand. Isla Maciel is a low-income neighborhood in the Greater Province of Buenos Aires. It is located next to the Riachuelo River, one of the most polluted rivers in the world, and houses petroleum companies and a power plant. In Isla Maciel, not only are members of the community exposed to high amounts of environmental toxins, but they are also plagued with inadequate housing and lack of access to jobs. As one member of the community described, people live in this community because “the poor are forced to have the land that no one else wants.”

Nevertheless, the community of Isla Maciel has not succumbed to their hardships. Instead, they continue to implement their own solutions. The Isla Maciel Foundation has  established “the micro-credit program” to tackle inadequate housing, “El Comedor,”  a soup kitchen, and “Casa de Maria,” a “problematic substance consumption” intervention, to ensure access to basic needs.  They have even created a job training program for youth, which includes a computer repair workshop, a screen printing workshop, and a healthy baking program.

During my visit to Isla Maciel, I had the opportunity to talk with the teenager who manages the screen printing workshop. It is impossible to describe how incredibly inspired I was by the light in his eyes as he discussed how the workshop made him excited for the future. Not only did the workshop mean he had an employable skill, but it also meant he had a passion that he could continue to share with other teenagers in the community.

But the narrative of resilience did not stop there. As I continued to learn about the community, the Isla Maciel Foundation continued to describe their work by telling me about the lives of community members or children whose lives they had changed. In doing so, they utilized the power of story to illustrate how local solutions can contribute to a global movement. At the end of my visit to Isla Maciel, the coordinator told us that the foundation encourages people to visit their community so that they may “defeat barriers, destigmatize communities, and form relationships with people who wouldn’t otherwise know.” In doing so, they spread knowledge of interventions and serve as a voice for similar communities around the world. And I can guarantee that they succeeded. Upon leaving the community, I told everyone about the strength and solutions of Isla Maciel, and I am still motivated to do so because I find Isla Maciel a story of hope and a testimony that meaningful change is possible.

Through Isla Maciel and my time in Argentina, it has become evident that Argentina is only one place in a global network where social justice movements begin. Around the world, communities are implementing solutions for injustices, sharing those stories through the power of narrative, and therefore creating global movements. It is also an example of why communities need to continue to advocate for their own rights and create new solutions, even if it feels as if the problem is simply too great to be solved.

As Swatties, it can be easy to become disheartened by our fight for social justice, especially as we learn about the scale of a problem or the barriers to creating change. However, it is important to remember that every action toward making a difference counts, no matter how small. By creating change locally, you are not only helping the lives of people in that community, but you are also implementing innovative solutions of change that can be scaled up across the world. Through the power of narrative, a dialogue of solutions is created, allowing innovative programs to be replicated in a larger context.

What do you want in a provost?

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

The student body has a chance to make huge amounts of change this semester and next. No, it’s not necessarily through a new walk out or protest, and Election Day has come and gone. Instead, we can guide essential programming of our academic program here at the college.  

A panel of faculty has come together to begin selection of a new college provost. As leader of faculty and director of curriculum, the provost commands a great deal of power over the academic program and a huge portion of our lives here as undergraduates. We think that most students do not have direct contact with the provost, but the student body should be very conscious of the decisionmaking process. Because the provost has the power to define academic programming for years, we should think on what our academic priorities are and voice support for candidates that will be receptive to those proposals.

Consistent considerations students bring up are a social justice distribution requirement, Credit / No Credit reform, and the expansion of programs that center on marginalized groups to majors. This selection gives students a more timely reason to discuss these issues as a campus more wholeheartedly and redefine our objectives for these potential programs instead of relegating these discussions to random roundtables on Cornell first or in committees.

These discussions could accomplish three goals. First, it will outline a student proposal to present to the college for potential change, the opportunity to connect wide and narrow interests, and give us a unified voice to negotiate with faculty and administrators. Second, it also gives us qualities and motivations we want to see in a provost. Lastly, it could also give the student body points of conversation with the incoming provost about ways to better incorporate student initiative in academia. These considerations and potential benefits are not the only things relevant to the selection of provost, and provosts do much more than just cater to student wants and motivations. However, we engage here as students most everyday, and if academic policy will be shaped for years to come, we should take initiative to have as much space in the room as we can.

As this long term process proceeds, students should reach out to professors they know or learn how to be on the selection committee. Let them know what you would value in a provost and what you want to stay the same or change about the academic program here. How can your time as a student here be made better?

Things here don’t change in a matter of a year, and usually not in a student’s time at the college either. We should take the opportunities we have to make change when the institution, which historically does not barrel through decision making, is in a changing mood.

A hidden value

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

I am currently residing in a hostel in Cape Town, South Africa, living what most people would consider the dream. Over the course of two months, I have lived in Washington D.C., Vietnam, and South Africa. In a week, I will be off to my last stint of my study abroad experience in Argentina. I have had the once in a lifetime opportunity to experience both rural and urban settings across the world. In the process, I have become a member of three different families, all of which are likely to be lifelong friendships. The experiences I have had this semester are more diverse than what some people may have in a lifetime, and I can not even begin to express how grateful I am for this incredible opportunity.

Yet, even as I am living the so-called dream, I find myself in moments like today, where I can’t help but feel a little lost and uneasy. Roaming the bustling markets of Greenmarket Square and walking along the pier at Waterfront this afternoon, everything seemed so distant, as if it wasn’t really happening to me. So many days on the program, I’ve felt the same disoriented feeling. I’ve gone to bed in the comfort of my Auntie’s (host mom’s) home, and been hesitant to close my eyes because reality already seems so far away, would sleep make it disappear altogether?

At first, I was at a loss for how I could possibly have so many moments of unhappiness despite having such a transformative and unique experience. I felt ashamed of myself because, while I can’t stop acknowledging how incredibly lucky and privileged I am to be abroad, I question whether I am fully appreciating the experience if I still think about the United States, Swarthmore, and home. If I still have moments of missing my life back home, am I truly living in the present to embrace where I am right now?

While these questions still continue to haunt me on days like today, when I feel especially disconnected, traveling to so many places and engaging in conversation with different people has actually taught me how fitting these feelings are.

Some of the deepest conversations I’ve had throughout this program have been with community members in rural villages and with my host families in urban areas about the importance of community. Throughout the areas I have visited, despite differing political or ethical beliefs, and regardless of country or setting, there has been one common thread between everyone, and it has been the love and devotion people feel for their families and communities.

In my neighborhood in Salt River Cape Town, the doorbell to Auntie’s house would constantly ring, and it would always be a different family member, picking up a snack, asking Auntie to watch their kids for 10 minutes, or just checking in to say hello. Auntie’s family all lived on the same street and when I asked her jokingly if she ever got tired of her family, she seemed surprised and responded “of course not!” She had always grown up near her family, they attend prayer meetings together, and life would be dull and purposeless without them.

 

While I was staying in a small fishing village in Arniston, South Africa, the importance of family and community resonated with me more than ever. Listening to a panel of youth who grew up in the village, someone asked the students if they would ever want to move out of Arniston. I was struck when one of the panelists, a 22 year old, responded, “No, of course not. I will never feel connected to any place like I do my mother’s home.” At the end of the week, I thanked the fishing activist who had organized our trip to the village. I’ll never forget the way she placed her hand on mine and shook her head. “No, thank you,” she answered, “thank you for listening to our story. I could never leave my family and home for as long as you all. Thank you for making the sacrifice to hear our story.”

These moments are only a snapshot of the times I have witnessed how deeply people value their families and communities, something that we in the United States often take for granted.

Sure, in the United States, our value of independence allows us to explore new places or to leave home for an elite, immersive education like Swarthmore. We see it normal to leave our friends, family, and home community to build broader social networks and gain a larger perspective of the world. Yet, especially as I am exercising my independence through traveling across the world but am still experiencing emptiness at times, I think it’s important to consider what we lose by choosing independence in favor of collectivist or community values.

Of course, I’m not arguing that we should never leave our family and communities, but I do think it’s important to nourish the relationships we do have and to take the time to talk to family and friends. At Swarthmore, it’s easy to get caught up in studying or campus life, but it’s also okay and therapeutic to remain connected to our community back home. Finally, valuing relationships also applies to on campus. Especially during midterms or finals, we can easily forget about our Swat family, eating a wrap from Essie’s in the library to study instead of savoring a meal with a friend who we haven’t seen for two weeks. But, while studying and homework are constant stressors that can always be done, family and friends last a lifetime and are essential to wellbeing.

Continuing my study abroad experience, I am ecstatic to explore South Africa for one more week and to embrace life in Argentina. But, I will also continue to savor conversations with my family and friends back home, and am looking forward to enjoying the simple moments when I return. Independence offers so much freedom, but community fosters belongingness and support, which are irreplaceable and essential for wellbeing.

1 2 3 5
Go to Top