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First years going on embittered, cynical seniors?

in Campus Journal by

As orientation fades more and more into a distant memory, the class of 2021 finds itself at an important crossroads. The once-chipper and easily discernable first-year faces are already blending in with the usual looks of cynicism that plague Swat’s upperclassmen. This forces us to ask the question of whether the class of 2021 is doomed to follow the same trends of the classes before us.


Are we trapped in some neverending cycle of obnoxiously shouting our class year every chance we get, jaded at the system and the fresh faces that will come after us? Are we destined to complain about pasta bar, attacking anyone who speaks positively of pasta in any context? Are we going to respond with Misery Poker when asked what our favorite game is?


The end of orientation marks the end of a lot of other things. Dry Week has ended. Constantly having talks about all the things your parents warned you about before coming here is long gone. Being able to shamelessly sport hickies and not have to worry about your professors judge you for them is unfortunately finished. Luckily, trying to remember what creature of the sea you are gone away too. Does the end of orientation also mark the end of optimism on Swat’s campus?


Looking around, the answer is seemingly mixed.


The Sharples rush is getting slightly lighter as first-years discover that there are, albeit limited, other options than eating Sharples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. The first-years left in Sharples are harder to pick out, as their once deer-in-a-headlights look that was identically painted on all their faces has become one more of acceptance as they’ve realized that a peaceful corner seat at Sharples and a meal alone can at times be more of a blessing than a curse.


“I had rather dreadful expectations over how the quality of the food [from Sharples] was going to be just on various different things I had heard people say about Sharples, but now that I’m actually here the food is absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I don’t know why people were overreacting … I think they just wanted something to complain about,” says Timothy St. Pierre ’21.


Outside of Sharples, there are far fewer lost first-years trying to squint at the far-too-small signs on buildings. It appears as though first years have been able to figure out how to get to the same five buildings they need to get to on a daily basis.


“It’s just as small as I was expecting it to be,” says Sue Kim ’21.


So class of 2021, what’ll it be? First-years, are you already feeling jaded by the system, hate pasta, envy the plants for being better labeled than the buildings, participate in Misery Poker every chance you get, and all in all are just envious and cynical? If so, you’re not alone. But if not, hold onto your pure and pristine optimism! It is much needed on Swat’s campus.


Being a low-income student at Swarthmore

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

College had always been part of my life plan. My parents were working-class high school graduates. I was the oldest of four and a straight-A student with a love of science and an intense drive to get a college degree. For my entire school career, college had been the goal. It was the reason I went to math tutoring during homeroom in middle school so that I could pass the pre-algebra test to get placed into the 8th grade accelerated track. It was the reason I stayed up studying AP Biology for hours after the rest of the house went to sleep. It was the ultimate end goal, but suddenly it was actually time to apply to college and to get accepted into college. It quickly became obvious just how many obstacles stood between me and that degree I had dreamed of for so long. The money was a big one, but more than that, the college application process was a maze of confusing forms and illogically conflicting deadlines. My mom always used to joke, “You practically need a college degree to apply to college!” and she wasn’t wrong.

Then, one day, at the start of my senior year of high school, there was QuestBridge. My school guidance counselor had one brochure which he could give to one teacher who could give it to one student; that student happened to be me. My English teacher handed it to me saying, “I thought you could use this,” so I took it home and showed it to my mom. We thought it was a scam. Who in their right mind would give someone that much money? Full-rides were reserved for outstanding, certified geniuses, not ordinary people like me. As it turns out, it wasn’t a scam. But this incredulity at the immense generosity of other people returned again and again throughout the process of applying and getting accepted to Swarthmore College. Why would a school like Swarthmore choose me? Why on earth would they give me that much money? It was something I had never experienced before, and it never ceased to amaze me.

I fell in love with this school the day I first saw it. When I attended the admitted students overnight event (called Ride the Tide back in the day), I knew without a doubt that this was where I wanted to be. Orientation psyched me up for four great years of pure learning, new friends, and impactful experiences. Then, three weeks into the semester, doubts came racing back, the doubts of someone who worked for years to prove their excellence only to begin to think maybe they were only ever competent. Maybe I was only a good student because it was easy. Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I don’t belong here.

One of the first things incoming students are told at Swarthmore is, “You do belong here. There are no admissions mistakes.” While it may be difficult to believe them, especially as a low-income or first-generation student, they really do mean it. This school wants us here, and we worked so hard to make it. The same compassion and encouragement I felt from QuestBridge was waiting for me at Swarthmore as well. The administration and faculty at this college are some of the most decent human beings I have ever met.

This year I declared a Biology and Psychology double major. Obviously, it was mostly because I am interested in those subjects and want to eventually go into a career in both, but I also feel at home in those departments. During my first year at Swarthmore, I doubted myself a lot. There were many days where I thought that surely I was the first and only admissions mistake, but the professors and the upperclassmen in the Bio and Psych departments reassured me that I could excel. This school is full of truly amazing people who genuinely want us to succeed. They care about us, not just academically; they are genuinely invested in how we are doing in our day-to-day lives.

An upperclassman Bio major once told me that they didn’t feel at home at Swarthmore until they had cried in their professor’s office. I told myself that wouldn’t be me. I got here on my own, and I would do college on my own. But isolation did not make me a strong student or a good scientist. It took me a long time to get over my fears of asking for help, but when I finally managed it, there was a support system waiting for me.

My advice to incoming Questies, low-income students, or any student doubting themselves is the same advice I was given. Ask for help. Go to your professor’s office hours. Lean on your fellow low-income classmates. We are all going through the same things. We all have the same doubts, and if we don’t admit it, we end up feeling like we don’t belong. I promise you that even though the rest of the student body seems to “have it all together,” everyone has that one class where they wonder if they’ll make it to the end of the semester. Everyone struggles to sit through what feels like the 4000th lecture. It took me way too long to realize I wasn’t alone and to finally listen to the people telling me to reach out when I needed help. My advice is to listen sooner than I did.

I also want to remind every student at this school of what orientation repeats again and again. You are all amazing students and people. Swarthmore College is a fantastic school and an awesome community. They choose their students very carefully. You made it, and that was not a mistake. Remember how hard you worked and how much you wanted this. Don’t believe the voices, whether they be internal or external, that say you don’t belong here or that you somehow deserve less than this. You are going to do awesome things, and your professors and classmates will be thrilled (and not surprised) to see it happen.

In response to feeback, more collections added to calendar

in Around Campus/News/Uncategorized by

There will be a collection on Friday, September 16th at the Friends Meetinghouse as part of the college’s effort to hold more collections throughout the school year. The goal of the collections is to sustain a sense of community, and for that reason will be held as often as two to three times a semester. They will be spaces where students, faculty, and staff can come together to share their thoughts.

The history of collection is rooted in Quakerism. Collection was a time aside for a variety of activities, which could be anything from reading the Bible to listening to a speaker. When the school was first founded by the Quakers in 1864, all students were required to attend Collection.

A collection, however, is distinct from a Quaker Meeting for Worship. Chris Densmore, the curator of the Friends Historical Library, specified the difference between the two. “Collection was never like a church service,” he explained. “There wasn’t a minister there telling you what to think. It was a time for collecting — collecting your thoughts, getting some information.”

As the school became larger and more secularized, it continued to reduce the number of collections held until only two remained: First Collection, for when new students first entered the college, and Last Collection, for when students graduated. However, a time for collection from 1:00pm  to 2:00pm on Friday afternoons was always reserved in the official college calendar.

Former President of Swarthmore College Rebecca Chop’s administration expressed interest in bringing back some of the school’s old Quaker values and traditions, one of which was collections. Action on this interest was never taken up during her tenure, though. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Joyce Tompkins explained the renewed interest in collections.

“We certainly understood why we weren’t saying ‘Everyone must come every week [to collection]’ because it would be very hard to do that today,” she said. “But we thought that the idea of bringing the community together, at least sometimes, was a good idea because it builds community. It gives us the sense of coming together around a particular issue, or sometimes not any particular issue at all. It’s really just an opportunity for people to raise things about what they’re feeling and thinking.”

While collections were never consistent, they have regained a presence on campus in recent years, functioning as a space for students to express their thoughts and feelings in the wake of campus-wide, local or global events. One was in the spring of 2013 when issues such as the reporting of  sexual assault and fossil fuel divestment were being discussed. The most recent collection was on September 2nd in response to the swastika graffiti in McCabe Library. Densmore noted the way in which this type of collection is conducted.

“It’s not supposed to be an argument,” he said. “You don’t need to come in with pre-arranged thoughts in response to the issue. You’re supposed to be listening to one another, not try to grandstand, and address this issue in the spirit of ‘we’re all together, even if we’re divided by a lot of things.’”

The Self-Study Action Committee’s spring 2016 report also brought up interest in collections. The committee conducted the Study on Learning, Working, & Living at Swarthmore. After vetting the results, members suggested holding regular collections to promote community engagement.

These regularly scheduled collections will be voluntary, all-campus events, and, in contrast to the ones held in recent years, will not be organized in response to a specific issue. They will follow the format of First and Last Collection, in which everyone is welcome to speak their thoughts at any time.

President Valerie Smith articulated the administration’s hopes in implementing these changes in an email statement.

“Hosting regularly-scheduled Collections throughout the year cultivates a habit of reflection and contemplation, providing members of the community with a time to share their ideas and feelings or to share a time of silence,” she explained over email. “Collections can also serve as a meaningful way to bring the community together and draw strength from one another during times of crisis or struggle.”

However, Director Tompkins emphasized that the policy change was not an iron-clad directive.

“We’re suggesting [collections] as something to try this year, and we want to see how it goes. Do people like it? What suggestions do they have?”

Emma Walker ’20 thinks more collections will have a positive effect on the college. “I think Swarthmore is already a tight-knit community and having these collections would build an even stronger sense of community, which can only be a good thing,” she said.

Taha Onal ’17 offered his perspective as a student who has observed the student-body change over his time here. “I think it’s changed a little bit throughout the years because I am a senior now, so when I got here it was a lot smaller and full of pretty disparate types of people,” he said. “In some ways it’s homogenized, and I think that there’s community in ways we haven’t seen before. But there are also things people get outraged by, so there’s a lot of tension on campus sometimes. I think an initiative like this could be a good way to get people to stop resenting each other as much, if issues are addressed in a way that’s healthy.”

The next collection will be on October 28th, and it is open to all members of the Swarthmore community.


Swarthmore admits 963 students to Class of 2020

in Around Campus/Around Higher Education/News by

Swarthmore College has sent letters of admission to 963 prospective members of the Class of 2020. Twelve percent of the 7717 students who applied were offered a position in the first year class. Based on previous admissions patterns, Swarthmore expects this group of admitted students to yield a first-year class of about 420 for next fall.

“Swarthmore received another exceptional pool of applicants from all over the United States and from all corners of the world,” says Jim Bock ’90, vice president and dean of admissions. “The admitted class represents a diverse set of students who value residential liberal arts education in this ever globally interdependent world. They are committed to an intellectually rigorous education while understanding the importance of giving back to their communities and leaving the world a better place than they found it. Many have recognized our commitment to an affordable and accessible education, and we look forward to welcoming them to our campus and seeing their impact on our community.”

Fifty-nine percent of the admitted students come from public and/or charter schools, 20 percent from private independent schools, 11 percent from parochial schools, and 10 percent from schools overseas.

Twenty-three percent of the admitted students are among the first generation in their family to attend college.

The admitted students come from or represent six continents, 70 nations, and 49 U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. California is the most highly represented home state of members in the newly admitted class. Following, in order, are New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Illinois, Texas, and Florida.

China and India, each with 10 students, are the most represented nations among non-U.S. citizens in the admitted class. Eight are from South Korea, seven are from Mexico, six are from Canada, and four are from Hong Kong. Three each are from Brazil, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Two each are from Australia, France, Greece, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, and Vietnam. One each is from Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Botswana, Colombia, Congo (Kinshasa), Denmark, Egypt, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Macau, Macedonia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Somalia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Taiwan.

Additionally, there are many students who carry dual citizenship with the U.S. or who have permanent residency whose nationalities are not included in this summary.

Of the admitted students attending high schools reporting class rank, 95 percent are in the top decile.

Engineering is the most popular intended major among the admitted students. Next, in order, are political science, economics, biology, mathematics, computer science, English literature, physics, psychology, and environmental studies.

First years begin to make friends and make out

in Campus Journal by

From finding condoms in our orientation packets to finding new friends in our halls, orientation was a week not soon forgotten. Orientation had time to socialize but also incorporated workshops focusing on drugs and alcohol, identity and inclusion, healthy relationships and consent. The general format of the workshops consisted of an hour and a half to two hour talk from a faculty member followed by an hour long breakaway session with smaller groups to discuss the subject presented and how it pertained to us as individual members of the incoming first year class, and as new members of the Swarthmore community. After getting a warm welcome from our RA’s, deans, and advisors, we received an equally warm welcome —  in the form of the Wharton courtyard party and Disorientation.

The tools that we received during orientation were put into practice less than a week later when the party scene went into full swing. Disorientation, hosted by Phi Psi, is traditionally the first official party of the year. This year there was a bit of a change that took many by surprise; a large party was thrown in Wharton courtyard less than 24 hours before Disorientation. Some people prefered the atmosphere of the courtyard party, and the fact that it was outside rather than inside the frat house that Disorientation is held in.

“Court night was better than disorientation, I enjoyed how it was outside and felt more social,” Elizabeth Balch Crystal ‘19 remarked.

The question that I wanted to answer was whether orientation and the workshops it included impacted how first years interacted with one another and with upperclassmen during their first parties at Swarthmore.

Those I interviewed had very mixed opinions when it came to this topic, many students thought that the workshops were well-intentioned but may not have held the full attention of the incoming class. Killian McGinnis ‘19 found there to be a lot to take in during her first week on campus, which diluted the importance of each talk and made valuable takeaways less likely.

“The workshops were very appropriate and applicable but there were quite a few,” McGinnis commented.

Another opinion shared by Ganeesh Setty ‘19 was that the messages about consent and healthy living weren’t very unique to our campus, which made many of the drawn out presentations quite unengaging despite attempts to involve the students through polls and student generated responses.

“I’d say that the discussions were interesting in terms of getting to know my class and hearing different views, though I feel like most of my class already knew the basics of the talks,” said Setty. “Overall, I think the workshops are a necessary and constructive part of orientation, despite being boring at times.”

Though not everyone found the talks particularly riveting, many still found them to be quite informative and necessary as a majority of students have just moved into a new environment with fewer restrictions in terms of substance use and parental control.

“The online course, the workshops, and orientation had made it clear that the school felt strongly about trying to create a safe environment on campus. However, by the time dry week had ended I still didn’t know what to expect from the typical ‘College experience’” explained Pavan Kalidindi ‘19. “Once the parties started I realized that, though the workshops and talks we had didn’t completely discourage people from consuming alcohol and drugs or hooking, it did succeed in one aspect—  lines were clear. We knew what to expect at Swarthmore.”

Kalidindi elaborated, explaining that our diverse backgrounds inevitably lead to a wide range of varying social norms that students bring from their home communities to Swarthmore.

“From our diverse backgrounds we might have had dissimilar norms, expectations and boundaries relating [to] these activities. What might have been okay to some of us may not have been for the rest,” Kalidindi said. “The sense of boundaries we have may be different and Swarthmore succeeded in helping us understand them better and what is socially acceptable and not.”

Taylor Morgan ‘19 agreed that the workshops were very necessary but could have been delivered in a manner that would have made students more receptive to the information.

“Overdoing a consent education could become dangerous; if a room full of exhausted first-years roll their eyes at the excessiveness of Swat’s ‘consent’ speeches, when the time comes, how can we expect them to take this topic seriously? A more effective plan for the next incoming class would be to simply show the “Tea Video”,” said Morgan.

Truthfully no one will forget the Tea Video, which explained consent using tea as a metaphor for sex and exploring multiple scenarios in which you would obviously not try to force someone to drink tea, and should therefore not try to have sex with them in the same scenario. While first-year students will not forget the tea video, can the same be said for the other activities and talks that were facilitated during orientation? For the students I spoke with, the general consensus was that orientation was filled with very good information but was long winded, which inhibited freshmen’s take away from the workshops. While this seems worrisome especially when talking about such important topics as consent, Balch-Crystal mentioned the importance of upperclassmen and their role in upholding our community expectations. “The upperclassmen put an emphasis on always doing the right thing and constantly reiterate the importance of consent,” Balch-Crystal said.

Overall orientation did a good job of introducing and preparing incoming students for social life at Swarthmore. Orientation succeeds in addressing topics that are hard to talk about in a safe environment that allows students to get acquainted with their fellow classmates and the expectations that we’ll have while we live at Swarthmore. While it is worrisome that for one reason or another the talks did not captivate the attention of the entire freshman class, it is consoling to hear that upperclassmen are reinforcing the message delivered during orientation week as we move forward through the year as a community.

Who’s that girl?

in Campus Journal/Hi! Fashion by

Sadie Rittman - Nora Fashion webIn the summer months before freshman year, all I thought about was “college” (in scare quotes because, to me, college was basically a scare-y quote). I was incredibly stressed and I channeled that stress by focusing on the only things I knew how to deal with — material college preparations: the possessions and the clothes I should bring, the perfect profile picture I should post before I friended my roomates. All these things would supposedly contribute to making an infinite series of perfect first impressions. I remember bursting into tears in the living room when my mother said she didn’t think I needed to buy new twin XL sheets – I could just tuck in the sides of a full sheet. She took pity on my very real distress and immediately ordered me a bright pink flannel sheet.

My ferocious need to prepare everything perfectly culminated in planning my move-in day outfit — an updated version of what had been a yearly first-day outfit debacle. I’ve asked several other sophomore Swatties about their move-in day outfit, and almost all of them remember it — even the reasoning behind it. A common concern seems to have been balancing approachability and coolness, for both people who are normally cool and people who are normally approachable — and everyone in between. In the end, I just made my brother (my most trusted fashion advisor) choose the outfit for me.

You can exercise a genuine measure of control over the first impressions you make through something like a move-in day outfit, but everyone who agonized over theirs looked back on it woefully, if affectionately. One friend wore leggings and a flowy top – nothing special, she thinks now. It was something she would wear on any regular day, and yet she spent so much time running back and forth from the hotel room mirror! Another friend wore a jean dress with black sandals. Again, this is something she would wear on a normal fall day — and yet, it required so much more effort and thought and indecision than a normal Tuesday look.

The day after move-in day, and the day after that, we all continued to make our first impressions, and we ended up wearing the things we always wore: the things we liked and were comfortable in. Our worry was perhaps unavoidable, but also almost certainly useless. After all, how much attention did anyone pay to those outfits, wrapped up as they were in their own and the sensory overload that overwhelmed those first days and weeks of freshman year?

This second time around, I’ve learned my lesson about first day outfits. But I’m still just a sophomore — a wise fool. The lesson about first day outfits doesn’t mean I’ve learned my lesson about preparing all my other material and emotional racks of stuff for a new year. This year, it is more fun than fraught, and I get to share the planning with the roommates and friends I know and love. There is less shopping involved, and more sorting through piles of bad-decision items from last year and every other year of back to school shopping before that.

In anticipation of packing and leaving my bedroom to fill up with my mother’s storage again, I relentlessly sorted through my wardrobe with the aim of purging it of those things that stopped looking good after 9th grade or never looked good; of those gifts I had to keep for at least a few years; and of those dumb things I bought for some inexplicable or deplorable reason. But in the process, I rediscovered some fun items that I haven’t worn in years. Boxing things up for school became harder than ever. What did I want to wear into my new school year — who did I want to be?

This year I would plan, but have fun with my planning. For me, planning a look, whether a single outfit or a collection, is most fun — and successful — when it starts with a concept of how I want to behave and feel. This year, my concept was this: I am returning from a bohemian summer filled with carefree sunshine, and although I’m ready to embrace the fall and the seriousness of academic work, I will carry that summer energy with me into the new season. By focusing on something broad and therefore more forgiving than that single first day outfit, I gave myself more to work with, more to play with, and, of course, more leeway. And so I avoided that dreadful threat of imperfection.

I ultimately learned that, my vague concept of “that girl” who I wanted to be this fall does not really reveal itself in a wardrobe. As I looked at both my well-worn old favorites and considered forgotten treasures, each item either played a role in my narrative or not. “That girl” that is a mix of fantasy and reality, planning and dreaming, doesn’t wear a white tennis tank top. But she does wear a pink bomber jacket, and she does wear a soft draped Grecian blue dress to Sunday brunch.

Envisioning “that girl” I will be in the new semester is easier as a sophomore, knowing something about daily Swat life and having already formed some of my Swarthmore habits. But it was also really fun to look forward to the new year with a more imaginative and playful attitude. Last year’s neurosis may have been unavoidable, but even in the midst of that neurosis, I think I could have looked at things in a less absolute, more flexible way: there is, and was, no “perfect” involved with first impressions, or first year wardrobes, or first day outfits. So, my advice to everyone looking forward to a new year of new fashion and new friends: have some fun, take some risks, and don’t try to “get it right.” This is Swat – we’re all just a bunch of weirdos anyway.

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