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College to make plans to build new dining hall, update Sharples

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Next semester, the college will begin the planning process to build a new dining hall and renovate Sharples as a student union space.

In the last few years, the college has created two comprehensive reports about necessary improvements to the campus and student life in general: the Campus Master Plan in 2013, and the Student Experience Visioning Study Report in Feb. 2017. These two reports cover a wide variety of issues and include input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

The reports includes recommendations ranging from “adjustment in faculty members’ teaching load,” to making McCabe more open and limiting the “fortress-like appearance.” Both reports also included much about the need for a change in the way food is served on campus, and the need for a student union space. The new construction project is meant to address these problems.

“We engaged both a dining consultant and an architect last summer just to give us some ideas and I’d say sort of the key findings there was that the existing Sharples building has outlived its useful life as a dining hall,” said Greg Brown, Vice President for Finance and Administration.

Sharples was built in the 1960s and was designed to hold around 900 students. As the college has grown and student preference has changed, the building has seen different limitations. Both the design and the size of Sharples lead to limitations. The small size makes it difficult for students and faculty to find a place to sit and enjoy themselves while eating.

“In my experience meal time is one of the few times where students really give themselves permission to [give themselves a break], and if we don’t have enough space where students feel like they can linger a little bit and have those conversations about the seminar or what’s going to be happening this weekend, it really takes away from one of the most important opportunities for those kinds of connections that we think are so crucial to [students’] experience” said Liz Braun, Dean of Students.

In addition to the size, the construction of the serving room leads to limitations in how food can be served. According to Brown, many peer institutions are utilizing more individualized cooking methods that are not feasible in Sharples.

The current plan is to continue serving food in Sharples as the new dining hall is being constructed. Once the new building is complete, food service will move, and Sharples will be renovated and turned into a student union space.

This will allow the college to meet the demand for both a better dining facility and a student union. Until it burned down in the mid 1980s, Old Tarble served as a student union space where people could gather in a social capacity. The two reports show that students and alumni believe the campus is missing this kind of space now.

“The space in Clothier that includes Essie Mae’s and [Paces] was intended to replace that and it does certain things well but it really doesn’t function as a student union, and that was the feedback we heard over and over again from students, and then we heard it also when we were talking to alums, gosh what’s really missing from campus is a place. A place where we can gather as a student body,” said Brown.

Planning for this project will begin next semester. Brown stressed that the college has an aggressive plan to try to complete the project as quickly as possible, but estimates that the planning process will take at least one year with the construction of the new dining hall taking approximately one year to 18 months after the planning.This means that the earliest the new dining hall could open up would be in Spring of 2020 with the Sharples renovation following that.

Brown and Braun both recognize the importance of finding a balance between the needs of current students and future students.

“I think we’ve also tried to be thoughtful about a balance of longer term projects and also shorter term projects that can provide more immediate benefits to current students. So when you think about some of the smaller residence hall renovations that we’ve been able to do, the matchbox went up pretty quickly, Sprowl’s going to be open in a year. So I think we’ve tried to create a mix of opportunities, some things that students will be able to access in their time,” said Braun.

In addition to the new dining hall and Sharples renovation, the college is also beginning to think about plans for Martin once Biology moves into the BEP, what upgrades can be done to athletic facilities, and upgrades to the libraries. While designing these projects, the college focuses on designing spaces that can be flexible throughout time.  

“The other thing we have to recognize is what students want today both in terms of classroom space and social space and residence hall space might not be what students want 15 years from now, 30 years from now, so every project that we’re doing we’re trying to build in a level of flexibility so that if in 10 years from now students wanted to use things in a different way it would be relatively easy to convert it or to kind of reimagine how something’s set up,” said Braun.

Students who are interested in getting involved in renovating Sharples and building a new dining hall can join SGO’s Sharples Renovation Committee.

Paces reopens with new OneCard vendor status

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The beginning of March came with the long-awaited reopening of student-run Paces Cafe. On March 12, the cafe resumed operating at full capacity after undergoing an audit, which was resolved in late February.

According to a previously published Phoenix article, Paces was under audit because of its old bookkeeping practices and for accepting cash as a form of payment. The cafe reopened as a newly authorized OneCard vendor, a development that has been a longstanding desire of students.

Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano explained why Paces was added to the OneCard program.

After the audit was completed it was determined that solely accepting OneCard would be best for the program as it would make access and tracking the simplest for all involved to the program,” he said.

Raffaella Luzi Stoutland ’17, the Head Director of Paces, explained what spurred the decision to become a OneCard vendor.

“The biggest challenge was just competing with all the other businesses that were put on the OneCard. While before we were competing almost on the same level with them because we were both taking cash, once they could accept Points we were pretty far behind in terms of marketability. We weren’t very appealing to people who could use their Points elsewhere,” she said.

The move to OneCard, as observed by barista Arka Rao ’18, has proved to be successful in attracting customers. Rao, who has worked at Paces every spring since his freshman year, noticed a significant change.

The OneCard has definitely brought more traffic as a whole. My sophomore year as a barista was certainly less busy than now. The first day I worked this semester, March 12, was somewhat busy but manageable since there’s two baristas during each shift now, and the options were restricted to only $10 deals. However, my second day, March 20, was super busy for almost the entire time. The other Monday night barista and I made more drinks combined than I’ve personally ever seen in one night,” he said.

Paces’ status as a OneCard vendor is tied to the fact that they no longer accept cash or credit cards for purchases. Coschignano briefly mentioned the change made in regards to this restriction.

“Transactions as a part of Paces opening are set to a one-time dollar limit per transaction, and that limit may change based on activity and special events,” he said.

This alludes specifically to the temporary practice of capping transactions at $10 upon the initial reopening. The cap was comparable to Essie’s Late Nite Snack option, where a meal swipe can be used in transaction up to a maximum of $7. However, Paces’s system was organized such that any transaction made would be an automatic deduction of $10 off of one’s Swat Points, and that unlike Essie’s, meals cannot be used nor could the transaction cap be changed.

“Basically, you can only swipe $10 at a time. That’s the biggest change for our consumers. We’ve set up combos that people can choose from in order to reach the $10 value. It’s the same menu, it’s now just that the way you buy from it is a bit more restricted,” Stoutland explained.

With all of the positivity surrounding Paces’ move to OneCard, there are challenges that may befall the cafe. For example, since Paces exclusively accepts Swat points, the cafe runs the risk of being inaccessible to students when they start running low on Points during the latter part of a semester. Stoutland does acknowledge the possibility that issues like this that may arise.

“One challenge that we thought about what people off campus who don’t have a meal plan: could they come to Paces at all? It’s not in the books yet to accept cash at all at the moment, but you can always put cash onto your OneCard. Just like you could before, you can load your card with money. The challenge would be to remind people that that is an option if they really want to come to Paces and are out of points,” she said.

The $10 price cap, too, is an issue of salience as Stoutland explained.

“The price cap is also a challenge, both for us and for customers, since people don’t always want to spend $10. For us, it does skew consumer trends a little bit because we don’t necessarily know what people want to order; we only know what they would order if they had to spend $10. The challenges can be overcome though,” she said.

However, the price cap, though it presented challenges, was the most realistic for the cafe to cover their costs.

“Our main idea was to try to cover food costs as best as possible while giving the highest range of options with the cap. Five dollars or $10 were our two options; with $5, it doesn’t quite cover the cost of sandwiches in the real world. While we used to charge $5 in cash, once we got the OneCard it was important for us to actually charge what the food item was worth, and it’s closer to $6 or $7 … We really wanted something based on our milkshake price that could either be singles or doubles. With $10, you could really get items that evened out pretty well … it was our first try, so it’s not perfect,” Stoutland explained.

The cap was not long-lived. Paces was open for eight days with the $10 cap before the announcement was made that all items on the menu were now $5. Rao observed that students seemed to be reacting positively to the switch.

“The change to $5 options (and the free drink refills) seems to be a popular decision and a good incentive for sure. I think it’s a good change and a sign of the hard work our managers have been putting in, and these decisions have been marked with successes already,” he said.

Another question was raised concerning the type of Points to be used at Paces. The cafe only accepts Swat Points, meaning that it has the technical designation as an off-campus vendor. Stoutland explained that this was the best option for the direction of Paces.

The thing with this is that the Ville [Swat] Points allows us to be autonomous. Points on campus are for dining services because of the way they’re processed and because of the fund they’re coming out of. Because we don’t want to be dining services, we want to be something independent, and we want to remain student run and student involved, we’re on the Ville [Swat] Points,” she said.

The future of Paces looks bright, as student workers maintain positive outlooks on the new changes. Henry Han ’20, one of Paces’ two chefs, spoke about his expectations for future service.

“Since switching to the OneCard, we have had a drastic increase in customers. As we advertise more and as all the workers become acclimated to the new system, I expect that our food will be served faster and will be of even higher quality. I also think our customer base will grow a lot more,” he said.

Rao, too, believes that Pace’s new format does good for the business and maintains that challenges can be overcome.

“I definitely think the current format of Paces has a lot of advantages. Having a second barista (shoutout Sergio) really helps us be efficient with drinks, which are turning out to be some of the most popular items on the menu. The most salient challenge that I can imagine would be dealing with the increased traffic, but I believe it’s in our capacity to handle more customers than before. I’m really happy for the team, especially the managers, since Paces is already super popular and I hope it stays that way. It’s great to see the results of everyone’s hard work so soon. I’m looking forward to working the rest of the semester!” he said.

From a management perspective, Stoutland spoke brightly about Paces and what it means to those who frequent it.

Students are really excited to be working at Paces, to have Paces again as an option. I think it’s mostly been morally really great, so even if management is still working out kinks on how to stay open and what to do about that, at least we have it [Paces],” she said.

With the remaining six weeks in the semester, Paces will learn how to navigate its new OneCard transaction policy, as well as the changes made to the menu and format of service. Although it seems that the new additions have been received smoothly, it remains to be seen if the cafe will maintain the increased levels of traffic it has been experiencing.

 

Visioning process report released

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On Wednesday, Feb. 8, President Valerie Smith sent out an email announcing the release of the Student Experience Visioning Study Report that enumerated the conclusions of the almost year-long visioning process.

Starting at the end of the Spring 2016 semester, the college began collecting data and holding conversations with members of the Swarthmore community on how the student experience can be improved. During the Fall 2016 semester, the college began working with Bright Spot consultants to gain an outside perspective on how the college can improve student experiences on campus. Although Bright Spot contributed to the report, it was produced by the college.

According to the report, the study highlighted “key opportunities to improve the student experience and pave the way for future planning activities.” According to Dean of Students Liz Braun, the study focused on the student experience outside of the classroom and its relationship to programs, facilities, and buildings. The report listed three key visions: community and belonging, growth and development, and exploration and curiosity.

Braun further described the student input involved in the visioning process.

“One of the primary ways we’ve been working with SGO is through regular touch points with the senate. [We have tried] to use the senate as a large group of students that come from a lot of different class years [as a way] of testing ideas with them and kind of making sure that they’ve got good information to ideally share with their constituencies. So I think there’s a nice balance between using the senate in addition to all of our regular committees, which SGO appoints students to,” said Braun.

Some of the central committees included the Dining Services student advisory committee and the Space Matters committee.

The report identified 15 “highest impact” emerging strategies and 10 lower-priority strategies.  Of the short-term projects, there are several, such as utilizing flat-screen TV’s across campus to feature upcoming events or create support for student run events, on which OSE has already begun working. It also includes several long-term projects such as addressing overcrowding in Sharples and the functionality of the libraries. According to Braun, the long-term projects have a timeframe between three and five years while the short-term projects have the ability to be completed by next semester.  

“One of the things to me that is critically important about the work that we’ve done is that this isn’t about drop[ping] a shovel in the ground and build some 15 million dollar building before we figure out what we actually want to do. It’s about testing some ideas. The idea about changing out furniture in lounges to see if that was actually what the students were looking for is a really good example of that,” added Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown. He later reiterated the importance of intermediary steps before implementing more expensive, larger scale projects.

One of those large scale projects includes Sharples Dining Hall. Braun recognized that Sharples is too small for the current student body.

“The dining hall is too small for our student body, and has been for quite some time. We need to come up with a longer term solution. In terms of future planning for the college, there’s a big piece that we have to think about relating to meeting social needs and dining needs,” said Braun.

Brown identified upgrading McCabe as a priority.

“Mccabe is still very much a library of a certain period, but not what students want,” said Brown.

He referenced the recent Cornell Library renovations over the summer as a successful experiment that could be applied to possible future renovation projects at McCabe Library.

In addition to the facilities projects, the report also included several less tangible goals. These including “increasing access to and awareness of mental and physical health resources” and “create ‘social only’ spaces.” The report does not include as many concrete steps for these goals.

“I think that that’s really part of our next steps for really figuring out how to implement that, and again, I think we really have to partner with students. … In terms of the awareness around resources, we’ve been trying some different strategies … — for example, Alice Holland with the introduction of Izzy the very popular therapy puppy. I think that has been really popular amongst students, but also has created a different link between students and different reasons to go to the Health and Wellness Center,” said Braun. “We are trying to do more in terms of programming, getting folks out of CAPS, and out of Health and Wellness into different aspects of the community.”

One thing that the college will be doing to help improve its health services is an external review of Counseling and Psychological Services.

“The other thing we are going to be doing this spring is an external review of CAPS. This is something we had decided to do last year after feedback from the climate study and, kind of, other feedback. Something most departments due every three to five years [is that] outside people come in and kind of take a look [at their programs] and offer recommendations around what we can do to continue to improve the services,” Braun said.

Another goal unrelated to changes in facilities is to increase student access to Philadelphia. Several programs already exist to bridge the 11 mile gap between Swarthmore and the city such as Swat Deck and Lang Center funding, but Braun recognized that there is more to do.

“I think the challenge of that is, this is what we heard very frequently from students, is that they don’t always feel like they have the time to devote to going off campus, [but] they have the desire. So how do we balance that part of the student experience. But I do think modeling off of things like SwatDeck, thinking about are there collaborative ventures that we might engage in with Haverford and Bryn Mawr in Philly. What would that look like and what would attract sudents. So we’re really very actively thinking about that,” said Brown.

In addition to getting students into the city for recreation, Brown is also looking to get students off campus for work or volunteer opportunities.

“The other thing we’re looking to coordinate better, which again I think is really mission-centered, something I think is important to our students is how can our students volunteer more to help people in Chester, for example, or neighboring communities, and what does that look like? How do we make sure those opportunities are clear and available because I think there are plenty of things to do, but I don’t think it’s always clear how to find them,” said Brown.

For more information, the full report can be found on the Swarthmore webpage under Re-imagining the Student Experience.

Overcrowding causes concern on campus

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The college has been gradually increasing the size of the student body population over the past five years. The increasing number of students presents the potential issue of overcrowded spaces on campus, especially in regards to dining and studying spaces. Students are concerned that the larger student body is straining the college’s spaces and services.

Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun said that the growth of the student body is part of the college’s strategic plan. In the last five years, the college has added 100 students to the student population, and it plans to add 100 more in the next five years.

“Over the last five years, the college has increased in size by 100 students,” said Braun. “This growth was outlined as part of the strategic plan that was completed in 2010-2011. That plan called for Swarthmore to increase by a total of 200 students over the course of 10 years.  We will be continuing to evaluate and assess timing, pacing, and implementation of continued student growth.”   

Sharples has difficulty running efficiently during peak meal hours, causing many students frustration. Due to the large number of classes that end simultaneously, a lunch rush generally occurs at around 12:30. Although peak meal hours have always been crowded at Sharples students have expressed concern that the dining hall is more crowded than ever this year.

“I was surprised because I’ve never seen so many people,” said Xena Wang ’19. “Last year, maybe because there were fewer people or because I went at more opportune times, I felt like there was always somewhere to sit. But now, I feel like, during peak hours, you can’t really find anywhere without being crowded,” said Wang.

Linda McDougall, head of dining services, discussed how Sharples has worked to increase capacity and meet student needs. McDougal said that the Sharples to-go option greatly reduced crowding, and incremental increases in staffing have helped to keep Sharples running smoothly. Furthermore, she stated that increased seating has been added within the dining hall, and Sharples has increased its capacity to provide for students.

“We added some new tables this past summer, which has increased our seating capacity,” said McDougal. “This is a two phase process, which will commence this coming summer and will transition all the tables and chairs. I believe, at that point, we will have reached our maximum capacity.  I truly have not heard any complaints, to date, about the lack of seating when students come for meals.”

Some students, such as Wang, will avoid going to Sharples at peak meal hours altogether in order to avoid fighting through the crowds. Because she gets out of class at 12:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays Wang avoids the peak meal time  overcrowding in Sharples, and she tries to go to the Ville or the Science Center instead.

“On Tuesday and Thursday, I don’t bother going to Sharples because I know it will be crowded, because that’s when everyone gets out ,” said Wang, describing the necessity of intentional planning of meals to compensate for overcrowded dining options.

McDougal described how the addition of Sharples to-go and the expansion of the meal plan to include Ville Points has decreased the crowding at peak meal times. Although many students have voiced complaints about Sharples overcrowding, McDougal claims that the diversity of dining options under the new meal plan leads to fewer students coming into Sharples and decreases the lunch rush.

“I do not feel as if we are any more crowded during peak hours as we have been in the past,” said McDougal. “I feel, with the addition of take out as well as additional points and the grab ’n go options, that the counts are about the same and sometimes a little less than in the past.”

Although these additions have been positively received by the student body, many students believe that they haven’t eliminated the problems associated with Sharples. Wang shared her appreciation for the increased diversity of dining options while pointing out that problems remain with Sharples and the campus dining experience.

“I think people don’t realize they can explore other options with this new meal plan. Now, it’s a lot easier to go to other places because, if I see that Sharples is really crowded, I can go somewhere else,” said Wang. “Last year, Sharples was the only option, so I’m not really disappointed … but I think Sharples is over its capacity.”

As part of its strategic plan, the college is working to renovate and expand many buildings and services on campus. Provost Thomas Stephenson identified the need to increase academic spaces on campus as one of the key concerns of the college, especially in light of the increasing population. The college is currently planning out the construction of a new Biology, Engineering, and Psychology  building. This construction will create new academic spaces  for these departments as well as free up spaces, such as Martin Hall, to be renovated and used by other departments.

“This new facility will provide new labs for these three departments as well as space for the expansion of each,” said Stephenson.  “There will also be a common space that will enhance opportunities for interdisciplinary connections between the departments, and that will serve as a new gathering area for the Trotter – Pearson – BEP – Kohlberg quad that will be formed around the Nason garden.”

Several renovations are underway to cope with the growing student body. The Human Resources Department will be moving out of Pearson Hall, so it can be converted into a full academic building. Over the summer, the former bookstore space of Clothier was converted into a computer science lab, and spaces in Beardsley and Old Tarble were renovated as studio art space. Furthermore, Cornell first was redone in order  to increase the quality and capacity of student study space. These changes are part of a push to expand and improve campus space.

“We are also currently building the new residence hall, which will add 120 beds and open in the Fall of 2017; the Whittier Place building and the Biology, Engineering, Psychology building,” said Braun. “The Sproul expansion of the Intercultural Center will help accommodate the growth of students engaged in the Intercultural Center, the Interfaith Center, and International students.”

Despite the renovations and construction projects planned by administration, students remain concerned about the current overcrowding of spaces on campus. Beyond Sharples, the Science Center is seen as overcrowded by many students. These concerns are especially strong in respect to the coffee bar. Because of the tight turnaround time between classes, a long line at the coffee bar can be problematic. Daniel Lai ’17 discussed how the increasingly long line causing difficulties with getting to class on time.

“During my four years at Swarthmore, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Science Center coffee bar line this long between classes,” said Lai. “It’s hard to wait on line to get things without being late to your next class.”

In addition to complaints about the coffee bar line, students have also expressed frustration with how crowded certain academic buildings and study spaces get on campus. Science Center is a popular spot for students to study throughout the day, but the number of people going there often makes it difficult to find study spots. Even with the recent renovations, Cornell has become very crowded, making it difficult for students to study there.

“It’s very hard to find a spot in Science Center to study during the day,” said Lai. “While I do love the recent renovations to Cornell first and the additional study space that has been created, I don’t feel as though it is enough to address the overcrowding of good study spaces during peak hours.”

Although the college is working to expand campus spaces, the steady growth of the student body and the overcrowding of current spaces continues to be a concern for students.

 

Meal points to be accepted in the ville next fall

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As part of a new OneCard system, the college is planning to implement a new flexible meal service that would allow students to use meal points at certain businesses in the Ville.

The college is currently in the process of selecting a merchant to work with to create a different ID program. The meal programs cannot be designed before the ID system is put in place.  Greg Brown, Vice President for Finance and Administration, explains that the new ID technology is key to changing the meal plan.

“What enables us to be more creative is having better software … So if the ID card is smarter we can be more flexible. [Y]ou know the old system really didn’t have the ability to do more,” said Brown.

The college is planning on choosing a company to work with in the next few weeks. After the company is chosen, the college will begin working to develop the new IDs with the goal of piloting the project in the fall of 2016.

According to Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano, the plan is to add local merchants to the meal plan next year and have the meal plan completely redesigned by the fall of 2017.

After the new ID cards are designed, the college will start working with local merchants to allow students to use meal points in the Ville. This is part of addressing student’s requests to make meal plans more flexible. Sharples and Essie’s opening hours have little flexibility, and this project will allow students to have more meal options and control over their points to meal ratio.

Coschignano says the college is hoping to make the meal plan more adaptable by expanding meal number options and possibly allowing an option for meals per semester instead of meals per week.

“I think we’re responding to what the community really wants. I know I’ve heard from students and Dean Braun has heard from students that they’d like to have the ability to go downtown more and I can tell you the merchants would welcome that too,” said Brown.

In order to help in the redesign of the meal plan, the college has formed the student-run dining committee. The goal of the committee is to help integrate student opinion into the process.

“Sometimes I use my meal points at the end of the semester just because I have them left. And sometimes I go to Hobbs or the Co-op because I want something. It would be nice to be able to use my points on things I need instead of just using them up” said Serena Sung-Clarke ’19.

Students on the committee are also concerned with increasing options for students with dietary restrictions.

“I definitely think we need more variety, healthier options, greater awareness and inclusion of those with dietary restrictions, and additional hours of operation. I am hoping for changes that allow for these things and give students more of an opportunity to make choices about what they are eating,” said one committee member who requested to remain anonymous.

The Dining Committee and members of the administration will continue to meet during the semester to finalize details of the new meal plans.

Finding comfort and adventure in Philly

in Campus Journal/Columns/Philly Beat by

Geographically, I like to believe that Swarthmore is the best of both worlds —  the serene beauty of the gorgeous arboretum and the proximity of several major cities. As we are all aware, Swarthmore’s population is home to a plethora of backgrounds, too. It is home to people who have grown up eating different foods, celebrating different cultures, and engaging in a multitude of activities that the “Swat bubble” is unable to fully provide. Many of us have grown up in large cities, and miss the sense of dynamism the city exudes, and sometimes we forget that in our own vicinity there are so many places to go and things to see — that surprisingly make us feel completely at home.

I am a Kenyan national, with South Asian roots, and spent my whole life growing up in Dubai. I chose to write this column because Swarthmore’s proximity really aided my transition to college. It surprised me that when I first got to campus as a freshman and asked a few others around me what they would recommend in the area, there were little to no responses. I took the initiative and spent a significant portion of my first year exploring the region, dragging friends along with me, whether it was to a South Asian restaurant that provided me with the closest thing I would get to a home cooked meal, or finding a Middle Eastern restaurant or lounge that culturally made me feel like I was back in Dubai for the night. Along the way, we found some incredible hole-in-the-wall restaurants, karaoke lounges, salsa bars and more. Whatever we wanted to do or try was right there, we just had to find it.

Aside from offering a sense of homelike comfort — wherever that may be — the cities around us have so much more to offer: the incredible cosmopolitanism, people, restaurants, scenic views, parks and much more. Venture out and meet other students from neighboring colleges and universities through a mutual interest, and create new experiences. Explore and cross something off your bucket list. I truly believe that new experiences instill a new sense of appreciation for life, the things we enjoy, and a never-ending curiosity for everything we have yet to see and do. Ultimately, these experiences will affect the way in which we view and understand things. I urge all Swarthmore students to escape the somewhat repetitive social scene once in awhile, try something new, and explore the area around us. We are incredibly fortunate to be in the northeast, and it is up to us to really make the most of where we are.

After exploring and ultimately falling in love with the region, I am now taking it upon myself to recommend a few places to go around the area. I will be writing about restaurants, concerts, activities, events, museums, parks, historic monuments, and even some networking events. Many of these will be some of my personal favorites, along with recommendations given to me by others.
It is tough transitioning to a new ‘home’, but the little things you can do by getting off campus can keep you connected to your home and culture, as well as expose you to new ones. Get together with friends and go out and enjoy a meal that one of you misses eating at home, or engage in an activity you have always wanted to try. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and travel around, whether it is a mere 15 minutes into Philadelphia or further. Even travel itself provides time to think and observe new things such as culture, food, and history, ultimately giving rise to an incredibly enriching experience.

 

An Expert’s Guide to Eating Alone in Sharples

in Campus Journal by

There’s a magical hour every day when Sharples is almost empty, but still serving food. During this time, a small group of upperclassmen appears, each individually laying claim to a coveted date or circle table. They know each other, but they only rarely say hi. They choose their side of the table carefully so that they don’t have to look at each other as they dissect their grapefruits. This strange act is called “eating alone” — and it’s wonderful.

The beauty of being alone in Sharples is, of course, that you’re not actually alone. There are people to watch or greet if you’re so inclined, and the comforts of coffee and tea are readily available. The bright, open space is a welcome venue for reflection and daydreaming, compared to the bleak, often anxiety-inducing dorm room setting. With a little low-key music in your headphones, would-be wallowing is transformed into a mix of melancholy and bemusement. Also, sometimes you get to see somebody trip or drop something.

 

But if you’re an underclassman — especially a first-semester freshman — heading to the dining hall can be intimidating. Sure, you’d love to have the confidence to just sit down somewhere and stare off into space emotionlessly as hundreds of your peers look on. But for those of you who aren’t quite there yet, it’s okay: we broke down how to handle it when you don’t have (or want) any friends. Trust us: stepping up to the challenge will be way better than that Clif Bar you bought in Sci Commons yesterday.

The trick to eating alone without feeling like a loser or being approached by well-meaning classmates is often the timing. The subtle influx of students, determined by class and team schedules, creates a regular flow. To get the most out of your alone-time, you should plan accordingly.

 

Best Quiet Times

Perks / Warnings

Breakfast

after the early birds leave for 8:30 class until the lunch rush at 11:20

Perks: Sunshine through windows, grapefruits and melon, sometimes donuts

Warnings: no hot food until 10:30

Lunch

the tail end of breakfast, or after about 1:15

Warnings: People are most likely to try to come talk to you during this window

Dinner

grandma-style at 4:30, or between 6:45 and 7:15, before the in-season athletes arrive

Perks: Get there early for your best chance of snagging a booth.

Warnings: You may have to sit uncomfortably close to other people.

 

Once you’ve selected your time frame, it’s time to choose your seat. For fans of the Big Room, the most coveted spots are the sunlit date tables or the circle tables, which offer optimal people watching as fellow students come in and out of the dining hall. In the side rooms, the booths offer the most privacy.

Another crucial factor here is making sure you’re not awkwardly face to face with someone at another table. Take, for instance, our breakfast seniors: they all sit on the same side at their date tables, facing the same direction. That way, there’s no risk that they’ll have to spend a potentially hours-long Sharples session trying not to make eye contact with someone as they bite into their bagel.

The final step? Take out some fake work. If your reason for eating alone is because you couldn’t manage to find someone to eat with, taking out work will help you avoid any unwanted attention for flying solo. If you’re one of the confident few who actually wants to be left alone, an open book almost always gets across the hint. Don’t worry, though — you don’t actually have to read it.

 

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