Most people would consider Swarthmore to be a small school, with a student body of only 1,500 students. While this small population makes it harder to avoid the people you have awkward relationships with, it can still be hard to meet new people outside of classes, sports, or other activities. Most students consider themselves quite adventurous, tackling rigorous workloads and seeing how close they can come to a paper deadline while still optimizing their grade. Despite this love for adventure, many students find themselves staying on campus while they could be exploring the amazing city of Philadelphia only 35 minutes away by SEPTA, with a station right on campus. As an opportunity for Swatties to connect and to explore Philadelphia at no cost. Brennan Klein ’14, Isaac Opoku ’14, Emma Kates-Shaw ’16, and Raven Bennett ’17 created SwatDeck. SwatDeck is a program where students are matched with other Swarthmore students in groups of four. Once in a group, they are given money and SEPTA day passes, then are given free range on how they would like to spend the day together.
“I would say that the genesis of the idea for SwatDeck was from a SwatDeck-esque scenario. Emma, Isaac, Raven and I were all serendipitously hanging out, talking about definitions of “space” and got onto this idea of Swatties-not-hanging-out-with-Swatties-enough. This was timed well with the Community Development Grant, and we ended up winning it that winter (2014),” Klein said.
Eriko Shrestha ‘19, who is a part of the team organizing SwatDeck for the 2016 year, shared how students are split up into groups based on their responses to questions when filling out the informational sign up sheet for SwatDeck.
“We look at their responses and then try to even out groups out based on their year, majors, etc. Five of us do it together so that we have a better idea of the friend circles and we try to put people into groups of strangers,” said Shrestha.
“We wanted to build an easy way for students to learn from and listen to one another. We wanted to inspire new perspectives through unexpected conversations. In the end, we wanted to transmit a mindset that probably checks all the boxes of Millennial Cliché Bingo: embrace serendipity, meet new people, carpe that diem,” Klein said.
Bilige Yang ’19 participated in the program for the first time this year and fell in love with the serendipity and was happily surprised to have the opportunity to explore Philadelphia.
“I did not know there are so many amazing places in Philly. I like Philly more after this trip … we got to see places all of us had always wanted to see, the Magic Garden and the Old Street and it was also relaxing since it was like a day off. It is not much different compared to going out with friends,” Yang said.
Yang said that he signed up for SwatDeck to meet people he would not have met otherwise.
“The three other people in my group were all seniors and hanging out with them made me feel connected to the Swat community … It is indeed hard to meet people outside my friend group and I joined SwatDeck to make more friends,” Yang shared.
Hanan Ahmed ’19 enjoyed how SwatDeck allowed her to hang out with Swatties while also distracting her from her work in a very fun and guiltless way.
“I remember thinking, this is ridiculous … I’m in the middle of the city with a group of people I just met. I should be doing work today, what am I doing? No, it’s okay, I’m not spending any money on this trip. Oh, let’s get boba tea,” Ahmed said.
Daniel Dellal ’18 enjoyed how SwatDeck enabled students to meet people outside of their own friend group and embark on new adventures in Philadelphia.
“I thought it was nice to be allowed to participate in a program where I was with people I’d never met before, which is something you don’t experience often at swat, and also that there was no set plan to it, they pretty much hand you a train ticket and $20 and let you do anything you want,” Dellal said.
SwatDeck was a huge success this year, with a lot of students giving positive feedback and over 100 students signing up to take part in the program. The large number of participants even surprised the program’s original founders.
“I think from Emma’s reaction, she didn’t expect that level of participation. We were only planning to do it for two days, but there were so many people we added a third,” Shrestha said.
In the midst all of our work as we near the end of the semester, SwatDeck provides a fun and accessible way to escape the Swat bubble while making new friends and going on new adventures. SwatDeck continues to grow and has done a wonderful job bringing together students who would have otherwise not met and providing them with a great opportunity to delve into Philly without worrying about who will be there or what you will do. It’s the adventure almost every student wants constructed, organized, and funded by the SwatDeck committee.