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DiscoSwat provides exposure to classes, campus life

in News by

Discover Swarthmore, or DiscoSwat, is an all-expense-paid visit to campus that serves as the primary college access outreach program run by the college. Between Nov. 2 and Nov. 4, the campus was home to over 100 high school seniors, who had been invited by the admissions office to partake in this semester’s second session of Discover Swarthmore.

According to the office of admissions, this highly competitive program received over 2,200 applications this year for both sessions, out of which only 250 applicants were selected, making its acceptance rate a little over 11 percent. Out of the students invited, 205 attended the program. To be considered for selection, students have to be nominated by school counsellors or college access organization advisors, after which they  are invited by the College to complete an application.  Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 commented via email about how the selection process for DiscoSwat differs from the college admissions process.

“Our Discover Swarthmore selection process prioritizes students from traditionally underrepresented groups, students who are the first in their family to attend college, and students from low-income backgrounds or who might not otherwise be able to afford a trip to campus,” said Bock.

However, the admissions office also specified that an invitation to DiscoSwat is in no way an offer of admission to the college, as the actual college application is far more comprehensive than the one required for DiscoSwat. Actual college applications are also viewed in the context of a far larger applicant pool, often with different criteria in mind. There have been cases of students who haven’t been invited to DiscoSwat, only to ultimately get into the college. Even so, being selected for the program does have its benefits.

“An invitation to Discover Swarthmore is not an offer of admission to the College, but based on preliminary information, we anticipate Discover Swarthmore students to be competitive if they choose to apply,” said Bock.

As part of the program, students get to attend classes, eat at Sharples, talk to professors and students, and generally experience what it means to be a Swattie for 72 hours. The program is also deeply beneficial to Admissions. It is through this program that they identify students who would be a good fit for the college who are first in their family to attend college or are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Each student nominated for DiscoSwat is sent information regarding the program as well as information about the college, such as need-based financial aid and what makes Swarthmore different from other institutions. However, the admissions office feels that the biggest benefit is familiarizing the liberal arts for people who might not have been exposed to them.

One of the most integral parts of DiscoSwat is hosting. Each prospective student, colloquially referred to as a spec — short for prospective student — is matched up with a current student with whom they stay during DiscoSwat. This allows the spec to build a relationship with an individual who understands the school and can serve as a resource not only for the duration of the program, but also during the application process in general.

“I love hosting specs because explaining to them how much I love Swarthmore makes me fall in love with it all over again. It also helps prospective students figure out if this is the right school for them,” said Ruth Elias ’20.

Hosts are trained extensively by Danny Wittels, an assistant dean of admissions, who was not authorized to comment publicly on behalf of the office of admissions. According to Henry Han ’20, the training covers the basics required to make sure that the specs on campus have a safe, inclusive, enjoyable visit on campus. Hosts are also paid for an hour of work for each student and each day that they are hosting.

Liz Braun, in her capacity as dean of students, also sends out an email before DiscoSwat reminding students to be mindful of the minors on campus. In her campus-wide email, she stresses providing a legally sound program for the high-schoolers, reminding students that specs are not allowed access to alcoholic beverages or events with alcohol. No party permits were handed out for the duration of DiscoSwat, with even PubNite being cancelled for the week.

“If any prospective students are found to be drinking their application to the college will be in serious jeopardy, so please do not let anyone be put in this position,” said Dean Braun.

While the office of admissions takes steps make the experience enjoyable so that the prospective students submit applications for admissions, it is interesting to note the views of a DiscoSwat alum and current Swattie Tiye Pulley ’19 on how the program contributes to the narrative of diversity on this campus.

In an op-ed published in November 2015 titled “DiscoSwat or DiscoNot,” Pulley wrote the program serves as a “self-congratulatory pat on the back for the school” for their efforts to bring POC and other underrepresented groups in higher education to the college. He wrote that while he believes DiscoSwat is a noble effort, it can be misleading for DiscoSwat students who are then accepted to the college and choose to matriculate from here, as over “43% of the students here identify as white.” The article sheds light on what it is like to attend Swarthmore as a student as opposed to as a spec.

However, it is certain that DiscoSwat serves as a resource both to applicants as well as the admissions office in educating people about Swarthmore while ensuring that as many people as possible in the incoming classes are a good fit for the College.

DiscoSwat or DiscoNot: Diversity not what it seems

in Columns/Opinions by

Ah, it’s Fall at Swat again. Parrish beach withstands the red tide of fallen leaves, the trees across campus light up with colors, punctuating the landscape like an impressionist painting. The Crum boasts New England-like natural beauty at its most picturesque, and families from the Ville swarm the grounds to have their photos taken on the Big Chair or by the extraordinarily crimson Willets tree. It’s Fall, and Swarthmore is arguably at its most beautiful, its most ideal.

It’s no wonder that this is when admissions chooses to run the Discover Swarthmore program.

Discover Swarthmore (or to use the popularized vernacular, DiscoSwat) is self-described as an all-expense-paid visit for prospective students in their senior year of high school. The program invites all who are interested to apply, but notes that it will give preference to those of “traditionally underrepresented groups, students who are the first in their family to attend college, and students from low-income backgrounds.” In other words, admissions is trying to bring “diversity” to Swarthmore.

This is in itself a noble effort, with noble intentions. Swarthmore’s Quaker values, commitment to social justice, trying to save the damn world, yada, yada, yada, — these lofty ideals are meaningless if we don’t commit to them on campus. Recruiting students who represent a variety of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds to campus seems a pretty viable way to do this. On paper, this looks good — great, even. It certainly did to me when I applied for the DiscoSwat program.

But I fear Discover Swarthmore becomes, more often than not, a self-congratulatory pat on the back for the school. Yay! We did it! People of color and low-income students have arrived on campus! We’re DIVERSE, goddammit! And for prospective students, this weekend daydream feels like Swat reality. Surrounded by other young people who come from places they can relate to, it feels like a dream come true. A small liberal arts school with Ivy-League standards of education, bomb financial aid, and hella POCs? What’s there not to like?

I certainly felt this way during my short time at DiscoSwat. Like so many before me, I quickly latched on to a group of like-minded specs, and we spent most of our time trying to avoid going to panels and playing late night games of pool in Mephistos, before passing out in AP lounge because our hosts were already asleep (or fully engaged in the debauchery of Pub Night) to let us back into our respective dorms. We killed it at the Open Mic, got kicked out of Sharples, explored Crumhenge  (before its recent demise *sniff*), made the midnight run to Renato’s, and even dropped by the WSRN (peep my previous article on Freestyle Fridays).  One of these specs I met again at a similar program at Amherst. We continued to keep in touch, and now Min Kim ’19 and I spend most of our time in Willets basement. DiscoSwat was an undeniably great time, and I, too, was lured to apply by the promise of a campus that would satisfy my thirst for culture and diversity, parched as I had been for 17 long years in a white-ass town in Nowhere, New Jersey.

And I’m having an undeniably great time here now. But damn did DiscoSwat fool me.

Coming back to Swarthmore this year, I had high expectations for the spectrum of students I’d find on campus. I thought that the people I connected with and befriended at Discover Swarthmore would return with me — or at least that that community would be represented on campus as much as it was during the program. I was wrong. I recognized a handful, handful, of freshmen from DiscoSwat — and by handful I mean that I could count them on one hand, these few students out of the two hundred or so specs that came the year before. And of the students at Swat, what of them? A quick search on the college’s website lets us know that a whopping 43% of students here identify as white. A quick up and down of Sharples, Kohlberg, or hell, the Matchbox, will quickly confirm that statistic.

While I can’t speak with authority on the causes of this diaspora of “traditionally underrepresented groups,” I have my suspicions and they mostly have to do with Ivy League acceptance. And to the homies that made it there, mad props. But my beef ain’t with them. It’s about the false pretenses under which I applied here. Are the people of color, people from underprivileged backgrounds, and first generation college students here at Swarthmore? Yes there are. Do we have a bomb new DPA program? Yes we do. Do we have a black president? Ya damn skippy. But just because we have those things doesn’t mean we have a continued and thorough commitment to bringing diversity to campus. Just because we have Obama doesn’t mean we can forget Black Lives Matter. We can’t continue to congratulate ourselves for small steps forward when the bigger problem still exists. Students from these underrepresented groups are not coming to campus as much as DiscoSwat would have specs and Swatties think, and we need to change that.

Why this is happening again? How we can solve it? I’m all ears. But the fact is that Discover Swarthmore delivers a false promise to those hoping to come to campus next year, and those hoping to see more people like them arrive as freshmen. Or, as my roommate Colin Pillsbury ’19 said on the matter, “They brought back Indian bar just for DiscoSwat. That’s just not right.”

We say the more DiscoSwat, the better

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

The Office of Admissions has recently decided to expand Discover Swarthmore, an all-expenses-paid overnight program for high-achieving high school seniors to visit campus. In previous years, Discover Swarthmore was held for only one weekend in the fall semester, but two will take place during Fall 2015: one from September 17-19 and the other from October 29-31. Combined with the recent uptick in the percentage of students at the college who are receiving financial aid (up to 57% this year), the Phoenix applauds the College’s continuing efforts to promote socioeconomic diversity and equal access to a Swarthmore education.

Expanding the Discover Swarthmore program will allow the college to double its exposure to students of lower socioeconomic status who would otherwise be unable to afford a plane ticket or hotel room required to visit an elite institution far away from home. Several media outlets, including the New York Times and NPR, have published pieces discussing how many high achieving, low-income students simply do not apply to elite institutions that they have a high likelihood of being admitted to because they think the cost is too high, they simply don’t know how the application process works, or the problem that DiscoSwat tries to address: they can’t afford to visit and decide if the school is right for them. By breaking down the barriers these students would otherwise face in the pursuit of a high-quality college education, the college is taking the first of many much-needed steps towards greater equality in higher education and deconstructing the system of privilege that elite institutions often help to reinforce.

Despite these moves towards promoting greater socioeconomic diversity on campus, the college could be doing even more to make Swarthmore a more accessible place. Instead of designating just two weekends out of the entire academic year as opportunities for socioeconomically diverse students to come to campus, the entire admissions process should be geared towards ensuring the greatest number of low-income, high-achieving students as possible apply, get admitted, and succeed at Swarthmore. Alternatively, to ensure that students who visit during DiscoSwat and eventually come to Swarthmore as students actually end up being successful while they are here, the College should be doing more to make day-to-day life at Swarthmore as affordable as possible. The cash-free campus is a great example of the good Swarthmore does in this regard, but regularly requiring students to purchase textbooks valued at hundreds of dollars each semester is ludicrous.

While we applaud Swarthmore’s initiative towards promoting greater access to a Swarthmore education by adding another weekend of Discover Swarthmore, the college still has a lot of work to do in order to make campus a truly equitable place.


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