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Amazing Talent at the Playwright’s Festival

in Arts by

Last weekend Swarthmore’s Drama Board put on a Playwrights festival in Olde Club. This event featured five plays and writers, six directors, 22 different actors, and also the help of many other students. Walking into Olde Club, one could notice the cozy and packed space and feel excited by the murmurs of anticipation. A completely student-run and  produced event, everyone in the audience was eagerly waiting to see a friend, a hallmate, or maybe a sibling.

The first play Revisionism, was a sweet and hilarious twist on excuses for not turning in your homework. Dynamic and full of the classic Swattie spirit that is slightly strange, quirky, and creative, this play by Rebecca Rosenthal left audience members chuckling and relating. The next play Cohra, by Nader Helmy, was a play about being a black sheep, the cult of FIFA, immigrant masculinity; it was a play about outsiders. It opened with a touching scene between an immigrant father and son watching a football match that struck a chord with many audience members.

The third play New Year’s Spirits was a hilarious play about a ghost who was damned to a home with a quirky old-fashioned couple, a younger frustrated brother, and the curse that the ghost needs them to break. Next was the play Bees by Emma Pernudi-Moon, a haunting play about how swarms of bees constantly seek help with no one– not a bartender, nurse, or psychiatrist– responding to help. Finally The Mortality Play, written by Alex Kingsley ’20 is about how two angels accidentally kill God, and how they try to cover it up. It was both wonderfully poignant and hilariously rich.

Overall, the plays blew up Olde Club. People were laughing and so impressed by the work that everyone put in.

“It was amazing,” said Mariko Kamiya ’19, “I didn’t even realize that there was so much talent in all these students.”

The process too, of creating these productions was one of true bonding and giving. Every play seemed to have a great dynamic, that enjoyed themselves.  

“I felt like I have a new family. We worked so hard and had so much fun doing it,” said Dakota Gibbs ’19 who played God in The Mortality Play, “I couldn’t help but be proud of my fellow Swatties and their amazing talents.”

Madeleine Feldman ’17, one of the leaders of Drama Board who helped put the Playwrights Festival together also felt both awed and satisfied with the two day festival.

“I feel really really happy and satisfied after our two days of performances – after about a month and a half of meeting writers and directors, pairing them, holding auditions, and having rehearsals, the performances each went phenomenally,” said Feldman.

Feldman also expressed that she thought that this was a great sign for theater at the college.

“It makes me feel really hopeful for the future of Swarthmore’s art scene, and theater scene especially, to see how many people were willing to dedicate their time to making a brand-new piece of theater come to life,” said Feldman.

This is extremely exciting since the Drama Board hasn’t been as present in recent years. Feldman expressed that she and the board realized that much of the student body did not know of the Drama Board and its resources. She and her fellow board members dug into Drama Board’s history and found that years ago Drama Board held up to eight shows per year versus the three or four that have been happening in recent years. The birth of the Playwright’s Festival came from the motivation to change that, and push forward the theater scene at Swarthmore.

“We wanted to change that–- see if anyone new was interested in making theater with us,” said Feldman, “The vision was that we could have a low-key, fun learning experience for those interested in getting involved in theater or just trying it out: writers could write a short script, first-time directors would direct them, and along the way we would offer short workshops to introduce those folks to how to make theater at Swarthmore – how to work with actors, schedule them, stage a scene, get props for the show, etc. And for anyone interested in trying acting, this could be a perfect first experience!”

It was a surprise to many that many of these students were first-time performers, and the hope from the Drama Board is that this will inspire other students.

“It was such a beautiful experience,” said Tristan Cates ’20, “and very courageous for the first-time performers, I couldn’t tell at all.”

This type of humorous and playful energy was resonant and one could tell that the festival brought a lot of joy and inspiration to the community.

“The Swat community not only got great performances, lines and laughs, but an example of what we can do when we put our talents together,” said Gibbs, “And what did I get? I got to be God. It doesn’t get better than that right?”

The Playwright’s Festival truly brought people together in a creative, playful and beautifully executed way. Everyone left the event replenished.

“From this experience I personally gained a new love for & faith in Swatties – again, the amount of people who came through and trusted in this idea was amazing, and we were so lucky that they made it happen – and it reaffirmed my love for theater. My best memories of Swarthmore are the times where I’ve connected with other students and collaborated to make something I couldn’t have dreamed of without the other – and this was definitely a time to remember,” said Feldman, “I believe that theater is a necessary and powerful medium here at Swat – for escape into a different world, for meeting new friends, for collaborating and building trust with others.”

 

A Room Full of Spoons: A Review of The Room

in Arts by

As part of the promotion for his new film Best F(r)iends, Tommy Wiseau, known for his 2003 film The Room, made a public appearance at a midnight screening for The Room in Philadelphia. I, eager to see a film that was infamously labeled as one of the worst movies ever by critics during its release, decided to attend the midnight screening unaware of what experiences Wiseau and his fans would offer me.

To my surprise, when I arrived thirty minutes before the screening, the theater had a large line of people awaiting entry. That line only increased over time as groups of people arrived at the movie theater, some carrying footballs and plastic spoons in hand, which I later found out were references to the film used as part of its cult status. As I awaited entry, I overheard people recounting their favorite parts of the film and their excitement to see Wiseau.

The Q&A before the event was an unreal spectacle as I was greeted with a table that contained merchandise, such as the film’s script, DVD and Blu-Ray copies, t-shirts, and even Tommy Wiseau branded underwear. Next to the table, in a designated area for signing merchandise and photography, was Wiseau. After buying a copy of the script, I managed to get it signed and have my photo taken with Mr. Wiseau, and I admit that I was starstruck upon meeting him.

Upon entering the theater, the audience members were subjected to numerous commercials that tried to entice viewers to buy other merchandise that were connected to the film. When Mr. Wiseau entered the theater for the Q&A, he was met with an uproar of applause by the audience. Following the screening of the trailer for his new film, audience members, myself included, had the opportunity to ask Mr. Wiseau questions about The Room and his career following it. When I asked him if his perception of The Room has changed 15 years later, Wiseau said,

“No, nothing has changed. It was a fun movie, it’s just too bad that some people [misread] me. I learned from my acting teacher, Jean Shelton, that [it’s about] the audience, Hollywood is very tricky, so we did something different, as you now know. You guys enjoy the movie and I love you all.”

Though the experience I had was entertaining and hilarious, the film itself, unfortunately, was awful. The Room centers around Johnny, played by Wiseau, who will marry Lisa. She is financially dependent on Johnny, but she has fallen out of love with him and had an affair with his best friend Mark, played by Greg Sestero. The film has been criticized for its acting, screenplay, dialogue, production values, score, direction, and cinematography. The film itself faced numerous issues during its production, including rewrites of the script, actors walking off set, and damages to sets, all of which are mentioned in a book by Sestero titled The Disaster Artist. I had issues with the film’s overall execution, particularly its acting, cinematography, direction, and script. I felt more like a parody of the drama and romance genres than belonging in them. There were many instances where the acting was wooden or over the top, giving off different emotions than the plotpoint, and the dialogue was incoherent. Granted, there were some good scenes, particularly with the role of the fiancee’s mother, but that is overshadowed by the iconic “You’re tearing me apart Lisa” line Wiseau’s character delivers.

The cinematography was very questionable, as the film not only displayed visuals that added nothing to the story, but were often out of focus. One response I heard a lot in the theater, as part of The Room’s cult following, was the audience yell “focus” every time the visuals became blurred. There were also scenes on the roof where the background is completely blurred, making me feel like the movie was shot on a green screen rather than a roof in San Francisco. There were also questionable visual choices as the film included three instances of the camera following the bridge, to which the audience chanted “Go” repeatedly followed by a cheer or disappointment whether or not the camera captured the entire bridge. There were also instances of the same scene being used multiple times in the movie, furthering my disappointment in the waste of the visuals. Considering the fact that Wiseau had a camera set-up that required two full crews to operate, I felt the visuals needed to be run through the editing phase again.

The directing and screenplay by Wiseau were difficult to follow, with the main story often getting lost in unnecessary visuals of the San Francisco area and underdeveloped characters and subplots. There are pieces of information that come up and are never again mentioned, such as the mother having cancer. A multitude of characters that are brought in without a proper backstory that supposedly know some of the main characters. Two such examples are Chris R., who is part of a subplot in which the character Denny owes him drug money, and the main character Mark, who has an affair with the fiancee of Wiseau’s character Johnny. The script itself, which I later read through, was also incoherent and poorly written. The main plot got lost in numerous subplots and lengthy sex scenes, during which some audience members purposefully left the theater as part of the behavior for its cult followers. It was also very detering to have one of the previews before the film indicate to the audience that there was a script made for the movie followed by numerous photos as proof, partly due to the criticism about the film’s script upon initial release.

Despite the questionable story and uneasiness I felt while watching the film, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience in regards to the real reason I attended the midnight screening, which is its cult status and dedicated fans. I thoroughly laughed at seeing hundreds of plastic spoons being thrown by audience members at the screen every time a spoon appeared on screen, which occurred often, and at a football being thrown amongst the audience whenever one was thrown in the film. The aforementioned chanting by the audience was prevalent throughout, including one scene where the character Denny eats an apple for no apparent reason, and people in the audience shouted, “It’s a metaphor!” Overall, it was the audience’s comments and actions done during the film that made me enjoy the experience.

Though I would not advise watching The Room for a film class or by yourself for entertainment, I would highly recommend watching it at a Midnight premiere or with some of the film’s cult followers because watching this film as a cult film made it a memorable and worthwhile experience. After thoroughly enjoying this experience, I would see Wiseau’s new film, but I would hold off until it has amassed a following and culture similar to The Room.

Groups work with Swarthmore Conservatives

in Around Campus/News by

CORRECTION: The title of this news article previously read “Lobbying groups work with Swarthmore Conservatives.” “Lobbying” has been removed to more accurately reflect the content of the article.

Recently, the Swarthmore Conservative Society was distributing materials belonging to the organization Turning Point USA, which is known for its documentation of professors with liberal values.

TPUSA is a youth group that promotes principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government on campuses across the country. The organization was the subject of controversy earlier in the year when students at Santa Clara University attempted to establish a campus chapter and were denied official status after a group of students vocalized their criticisms of the organization. According to an article in the Washington Times, the students in opposition attempted to link the organization to white nationalist groups, but they could not provide evidence when another student asked for reasoning.

President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society Gilbert Guerra ’19 doubted the validity of the students’ claims with regards to the organization.

“In my experience, [TPUSA has] been a pretty ethnically diverse group, so I don’t see where the whole white nationalism claim would be,” said Guerra.

TPUSA was also the subject of criticism when it launched its Professor Watchlist in November to monitor professors the organizations it believes promote anti-American values, according to an article in New York Magazine. As of then, the list included 197 names of professors whom the organization pegged as discriminatory against conservative students and whom the organization claims advocate “leftist propaganda” in the classroom.

Ben Stern ’20, the vice president of the Swarthmore Democrats, believes that the organization is not representative of SCS, but does not feel that the society should be exempt from criticism.

“I don’t think we shouldn’t be critical of Swat Conservatives for having any involvement with TPUSA, … but I don’t think it’s representative of them. I think that you can work with other organizations without endorsing their policies,” Stern said.

According to Guerra, SCS is partnered with Students For Liberty, Turning Point USA, the Leadership Institute, and the Foundation for Economic Education. He refrains from using the word “endorse” when describing the group’s partnerships with outside political organizations.

“I wouldn’t use the word ‘endorse’ necessarily; it’s a different relationship than that. I think we share lots of common values … we’re not going to have a perfect overlap with their agendas and activities, but in terms of a general support for things like free market economics,” he said.

According to assistant dean and director for student engagement Rachel Head student groups choose to partner with external organizations on their own terms.

Guerra emphasized his goal for SCS to maintain some independence from the organizations.

“It’s always been important to me personally to maintain independence from those larger groups, so that we don’t necessarily have to answer for things they may do that we don’t agree with,” Guerra said.

According to Guerra, SCS receives promotional materials such as books and stickers from the organizations, but they do not actively engage with them. Rather, Guerra prefers to plan events and hire speakers independently.

“So far under my own reign, we haven’t brought in any speakers affiliated with [the organizations] … When I’m inviting speakers, I’m really looking for someone who can bring interesting and convincing arguments to Swat students in a way that Swat students will understand … I’m looking for someone who can actually make arguments that could reasonably sway someone in the middle or at least make them more open,” Guerra said.

In the fall, the American Enterprise Institute sponsored a talk by Charles Murray, a political scientist who has been accused of advocating a white nationalist ideology. Stern noted that AEI is separate from SCS and that it has an independent executive council on campus.

Other political groups on campus are not affiliated with outside organizations. The Swarthmore Democrats are independent and are not chartered or sponsored by outside groups.

“We choose to be independent partially because, at this school, a lot of people aren’t particularly fond of the Democratic party, and we want to be independent. We don’t want to be representative of the Democratic party,” Stern said.

Professor of political science Benjamin Berger urged students to think before questioning student political groups with regards to their connections to outside organizations.

“Suggesting that student political groups not connect with outside political organizations is a very slippery slope. Students should think twice, and then a third and fourth time, before descending it,” wrote Berger.

 

Does Swat Protect Rapists?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Content Warning: sexual assault

Yes. Given that it is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I believe it is appropriate to shed light on the ways that Swarthmore College has and continues to protect sexual predators at the expense, especially of survivors on campus, but also of all students who call Swarthmore home and expect the administration to enforce its stated guidelines on proactively protecting its community from sexual violence. This article is primarily intended for Swatties who have not interacted with the Title IX reporting process and are not aware of the specifics of the problem on campus.

Many students are familiar with complaints made during the spring of 2013, most notably the fact that Tom Elverson, Swarthmore’s alcohol education and intervention specialist as well as Greek liaison, was known to intervene in favor of Delta Upsilon members during Title IX investigations.

As an alum of the fraternity himself, his biases towards protecting the organization’s members resulted in his removal by the college on June 28, 2013, but not until an expansive national campaign was launched by survivors to plead their case. During his tenure at Swarthmore, DU members were actively protected from the consequences of their violent actions by a member of Swarthmore’s administration, creating a hostile environment that permeated the reporting process.

The federal Title IX investigation regarding these events (which was supposed to be completed within 180 days) is still ongoing.

Swarthmore has since made facial changes to its policies and staff involved in responding to complaints of sexual violence, but the skew towards protecting the interests of rapists over survivors remains to this day.

To avoid allegations of hearsay, I will first illustrate issues I personally faced after being raped by an intimate partner and reporting the incident to the nascent Title IX Office, before moving on to more recent examples without personal identifying information. The following paragraphs will include graphic depictions of sexual assault and victim blaming language.

The bias against survivors in my case began as a trickle and ended in an overwhelming deluge that exacerbated my PTSD and still impacts my day-to-day life. All complainants during the hearing process have access to the college’s “victims’ advocate,” a policy which was initally encouraging. However, I received no proactive help or advice in arguing my case, and my assigned advocate was frequently unable to answer my questions because she was unfamiliar with the college’s new procedures. Many other survivors have expressed feeling similarly isolated and forced into a position of self-advocacy in an adversarial system, while already dealing with trauma and a rigorous Swarthmore course load.
While the process of the investigation was exhausting, isolating, and all-consuming, those issues pale in comparison to what I faced during and after the hearing. Because my assailant was also my boyfriend at the time of the assault, I was met with insulting and degrading questions from the external adjudicator, such as “You are so articulate, why could you not verbally say ‘no’ to your boyfriend?” This was in response to my explanation that at the time I realized that I could not stop the assault I began to panic and could not verbalize my distress. Instead, I remained limp as the assault continued, visibly crying and shaking my head. This was considered insufficient to constitute a “withdrawal of consent,” although I argued that I was crying as hard as I could after my body chose to “freeze” rather than fight or flee— something that the adjudicator should have known is common among victims of rape.

The issue of withdrawal of consent would not have even emerged in the hearing had the adjudicator not invented the concept of “initial consent,” which I apparently indicated by getting into bed with my boyfriend to sleep. The fact that the college handbook explicitly states that affirmative consent must be attained for each individual sexual act did not seem to be of concern the adjudicator or the dean that handled my appeal. The adjudicator also did not take into account the undisputed fact in the hearing that between whatever initial consent may have existed and the assault, my assailant hit me and I was obviously distressed.

When I appealed on the grounds that the adjudicator had failed entirely to implement the definitions and requirements in the handbook, I was told that a “difference in interpretation of the handbook” was not grounds for appeal and that I had exhausted my options for seeking justice from the college. My rapist graduated in 2015 with a Swarthmore diploma and no mark on his transcript indicating he was involved in a disciplinary hearing at all.

Moving on to cases besides my own, Swarthmore even protects rapists that are found guilty during the hearing process. An individual found responsible for rape of an ex-partner remained on campus during his suspension. He was invited back to stay on campus by a fraternity brother and attended parties in utter disregard for the terms of his frankly lenient punishment. The administration was not planning on levying any further sanction until a veritable swarm of women confronted Dean Nathan Miller in his office. Furthermore, the accomplice was asked by his fraternity to appear on a panel exposing “toxic masculinity,” rendering the entire event dangerous for survivors and a disingenuous attempt to rehabilitate the organization’s image. Both men have been invited back for their five-year reunion, forcing the survivor in question to skip the event.

Lest anyone believe that these are issues of the past, this semester an individual who was found responsible for his second count of rape was only sentenced to two years of suspension. This means that he will be allowed to return to campus after his victims have graduated, and will continue to pose an active threat to all other students who will not be aware of his violent history.

Swarthmore also protects rapists by silencing survivors. An ongoing lawsuit alleges several cases of Public Safety officers discouraging reporting, in one instance by telling a victim to go to bed and think about things differently in the morning. Survivors are told not to talk about the “experience” in order to “deescalate the situation,” framing safety from retaliation as the survivor’s responsibility rather than the school’s. Recordings of any part of the process are forbidden, and the college frequently outright lies about encounters with survivors, gaslighting them and making them doubt their own sanity. The college has also scaled back awareness events that would reflect poorly on itself, including promising to hold a Take Back the Night rally and then rescinding the offer. Additionally, they shut down anonymous means of protest— many survivors’ last resort —by canceling the Clothesline Project and removing posters and chalkings critiquing the administration. Their excuse for this behavior is that the information is triggering to some survivors, and that is true; however, the administration has repeatedly refused many suggestions of compromise, such as moving the CLP to a less central location and removing the traditional color coding of shirts. Any time a new incident occurs, the college seems to react as if it is the first such infraction on campus, further isolating survivors and providing an excuse for the inconsistent enforcement of the handbook.

I have demonstrated that Swarthmore protects rapists throughout every step of the investigation process: creating an environment hostile to reporting, failing to follow stated procedures during the hearing, refusing to adequately punish even students they know to be a danger to campus, and silencing survivors. One can only speculate as to why the system works in this way, but many Swarthmore survivors have remarked that while they lacked the resources or capacity to threaten legal action following their mistreatment, respondents have a much higher rate of expensive legal retaliation against the school. I believe that Swarthmore protects rapists in order to protect its financial interests and its national reputation.

The administration isolates survivors from each other, making each individual feel as if they are alone in their struggle against these repeated injustices. They make survivors feel powerless to change their situation in much the same way that rapists attack their victim’s agency. The importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month to me, therefore, is to publicly disclose the wrongdoings of the college such that it begins to balance the harms Swarthmore might incur when rapists threaten expensive lawsuits. Common decency and the law are both on our side. The entire student body must continue to hold the administration accountable and to demand better for the sake of all current and future Swarthmore students.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Letters and opinion pieces represent the views of their writers and not those of the Phoenix staff or Editorial Board. The Phoenix reserves the right to edit all pieces submitted for print publication for length and clarity. The Phoenix does not edit op-ed or letter submissions for content or factual accuracy.*

A comprehensive analysis of athletes and their majors

in Columns/Sports by

Do all athletes really major in Economics? Conventional wisdom at many Division I schools might lead us to believe that yes, they do. Economics at most colleges and universities is perhaps the most popular major among athletes, with many Division I athletes following traditional business paths. A 2015 study in the Bleacher Report of the “Big Five,” the five power Division 1 Conferences for football (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and the Pac-12), found that an overwhelming number of football players participated in business and related majors. Other popular majors included sports administration, communications, and kinesiology and exercise sciences. However, some famous Division I athletes have followed much more non-conventional paths. For example, Dikembe Mutombo, the former NBA star, majored in Linguistics and Diplomacy in his time at Georgetown. Michael Jordan majored in Geography during his time at the University of North Carolina. This is all to say that particularly in the Division I sphere, majors are more often centered around pre-professional tracks: those that create a direct path into a job in finance, sports administration, consulting, or for athletes like Michael Jordan, a side-career in mapmaking!

What is different about the Division III scene, particularly Swarthmore College? Are there discernible differences between a student-athlete at Swarthmore College and their educational experience versus a football player at the University of Michigan? The Phoenix Digital Ops team put together a comprehensive analysis of male and female athletes in the 2015-16 sports season, and their declared majors. We aimed to hypothesize what a top-tier liberal arts education pushes for our student-athletes. Do our athletes follow similar tracks to the ones Division I athletes are on, or does Swarthmore push a different type of academic creativity that transcends the traditional pre-professional tracks?

For the ten varsity male sports in the 2015-16 season, there were 103 declared majors among the juniors and senior classes of each team, which includes double majors. For example, if a Men’s Varsity Tennis athlete double majored in Engineering and Psychology, this would be counted twice in our tally. 26% of male athletes majored in Economics. Men’s Lacrosse had the highest percentage of Economics majors on a single sports team, with 52% of the players having declared Economics majors. The second highest declared major for male athletes was Engineering, at 14.5%. This was followed by political science, computer science, psychology, and math. Majors that were not represented among men’s athletes during the 2015-16 year included Environmental Studies, Greek, German Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies (many being regularized special majors).

Ian Cairns ’20 responded to the data compiled by the Phoenix Digital Ops Team, and added his own experiences as an athlete choosing his prospective major.

“I’m from Detroit, Michigan and I’m a member of the Men’s Varsity Soccer team. Currently, I’m an intended Economics major, with an undecided minor. I’m not surprised by the amount of Economics majors on some of the male sports teams. That being said, at a place like Swarthmore, there are a lot of abstract and non-traditional majors that are offered too.”

Cairns went on to comment on the difference between a Swarthmore education and once at a bigger university.

“I would definitely say at Swarthmore, there is encouragement for athletes to go outside the traditional majors. I know at larger institutions, it is common to apply to a certain school within the university for your major. I had a lot of friends who went to the engineering school at the University of Michigan, where the distribution requirements make it much different from a liberal arts school like Swarthmore. That being said, both have their benefits; I don’t really have a bias to either.”

This sentiment reflected by Cairns is largely backed up in the data. Some varsity athletes end up going outside the traditional majors, while many do major in traditional majors like Economics, Biology, Engineering, etc.

For the ten women’s varsity sports in the 2015-16 season, there were 85 declared majors among the junior and senior varsity athletes. Interestingly enough, the data compiled was vastly different in comparison to the male athletes results. The most popular major among female athletes was biology, which accounted for 14% of the declared majors. This was followed by psychology at 11%, political science at 10%, education at 8%, and economics and history at 7%. Majors that were not represented among women’s varsity athletes included cognitive science, and Chinese.

The data shows us that Swarthmore varsity athletes are really not that much different than the average Swarthmore student. The most popular majors across gender were Economics, Engineering, Biology, Psychology, Political Science, Computer Science, and Math. This almost directly mirrors the most popular majors among the Swarthmore student body as a whole. The largest majors discrepancy for athletes versus the student body was Economics, as 18% of athletes majored in Economics, as opposed to 13% for the student body, which isn’t particularly  significant. Is there something about a Swarthmore education that differs from a larger institution? For one, our data shows us that while Swarthmore varsity athletes follow many of the traditional majors that athletes and students across the country declare, there also exists a diversification in the data that we might not necessarily see at a non-liberal arts school. Out of every major in the school, every single one is represented by at least one varsity athlete. From gender studies to economics, a critical analysis of the data reveals that the varsity athletes at this school are just as academically diverse as the rest of the school. While many traditional majors are represented, athletes are declared majors in every single major on campus. It is clear that the stereotype that all athletes are some type of Economics or business major is transcended at Swarthmore. Our academic mission promotes intellectual curiosity and the liberal arts as a tool to discover your passion. Swarthmore varsity athletes and the student body at large embody just that.

OneCard Reviews: Pace(s) Yourself for This Dish

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Did you miss me, CJ readers? I hope so. After running out of OneCard restaurants to review, I’ve felt a little lost this semester. My reviews were once a bi-weekly testament to how much I love food. Now that Paces Cafe has OneCard, I have one last review, and thus one last chance to solidify myself in food review history. Sure, the Phoenix’s Campus Journal might not have the journalistic clout of the “New York Times” food section, but here we are.

Student-run and operating out of the same space that hosts keg parties on Thursdays and Sundays, one would expect its ambience to range from sad to non-existent. Created almost solely by fake flowers in empty wine bottles, the overall atmosphere feels slightly contrived, but so do these reviews, sometimes. The blue walls and bright red mural behind the bar are familiar sights to most Swarthmore students, but when the lights are on and there isn’t any alcohol being served, Paces is bright and chipper under the presumably fluorescent lighting. Paces’ two stairs divide it in half, and the two sides create vastly different spaces for sipping on milkshakes and eating the closest thing to homemade food Swatties can get on campus.

I hadn’t been to Paces until after spring break, when some of my friends had the idea to go. Initially reluctant because I still wasn’t sure how their pricing worked, once I got there I discovered that I had been missing out. With seemingly infinite milkshake options, I realized that my future had been fundamentally changed. Rather than relying on Sharples ice cream for my dessert needs, I can create my own milkshake destiny at Paces.

Paces Cafe’s menu appeals well to their target audience, the late night snacker. They have breakfast foods as well as savory dinner options for those who just can’t eat breakfast after dark. My first time at Paces, I ordered the pancakes with berries and white chocolate chips, hold the white chocolate chips. While waiting for my pancakes, I pondered just what to call the meal that I was about to eat. Combining breakfast and lunch is brunch, but what does one call combining breakfast and dinner? Binner? Dreakfast? Breakinner? Dinnerfast? These are the kinds of questions that I am completely unprepared to answer simply because there is no good answer. Having breakfast for dinner needs no title besides ‘delicious.’ My pancakes thankfully came before I spent too much time trying to create a new word for the extra meal that I was adding to my day.

The pancakes looked thick and fluffy, not unlike an edible version of the adorable dogs that run up and down Magill Walk on weekend afternoons. The berries added a slightly tart dimension that balanced the sweet pancake. Nearly perfect — except for being slightly burnt on the bottom — the pancake was filling and tasty. Lightly dolloped with whipped cream, I had to fight off some well-intentioned friends who wanted to get in on the goodness topped on my meal. The dish was a good capstone to a long day but did not quite fulfill my wildest breakfast dreams.

In my two subsequent trips to Paces, I ordered the avo-toast. The first time, it came out on a thin piece of toast with halved cherry tomatoes, and the second time it was the nightly special and came on a thick piece of toast with lots of small, diced tomatoes. I found the variety within the same dish ordered on different days to be intriguing and unique. Both toasts, however, had the same fundamental elements. The avocado smeared on the crunchy toast was quite thick and at times overpowered the tomatoes. However, at the key moments of the dish, the crunch of the bread, the savory tomato, and the avocado combined to create a trifecta of delicious flavors. All of the elements have vastly different textures and flavors that make each bite different. The differences between the elements of the dish contrast each other and make a meal that is not too exciting, but also not too boring. A late night snack has to strike a balance between not having enough flavor and being overwhelming late at night.

Paces Cafe is a great way to spend your Swat points without having to walk all the way to the Ville. If you can figure out their red-tape riddled pricing system, you are on your way to a decent meal. More relaxed than Essie’s, smelling slightly more like beer, sitting in the dingy but cheerful room is a fun and tasty way to end your day.

The Great Philadelphia Comic Con!

in Arts by

It took two and a half hours, three buses, and a minor accommodation crisis, but I made it to the 2017 Philadelphia Comic Con just in time for my first volunteer shift on Friday afternoon. Having neither volunteered at nor attended a fan convention before, I was almost vibrating out of my jeans and official “Geek Crew” T-shirt with nervous excitement for the three-day-long event. The convention was set up across two halls in an expo center, sectioned off for artists, vendors, exhibitors, actors and panel rooms, respectively. The whole place was quiet and empty when I first saw it the night before during the volunteer training session, as if the building itself was holding its breath in anticipation of the thousands who would soon crowd in through the doors in a celebration of collective nerdery.

I’d signed up for a significant number of volunteering hours and so scored a free meal per day and a complimentary weekend pass to the convention. The only downside was having less time and freedom to wander around as a guest. Still, the less cool stuff I saw, the less I’d be tempted to spend, and I was slated for a cushy job helping out in the panel rooms, so I’d get to attend all of the talks and Q&As anyways.

But Beth Kovacs, Volunteer Coordinator and all-round superwoman, threw me a curveball barely five minutes after I walked in the door. As it turns out, the panel rooms were running fine on their own. I was promptly transferred to Celebrity Row.

This was, without doubt, 100 percent as awesome as it sounds.

I imagine it would be quite an emotional rollercoaster if meeting half of your nerdy heroes, not to mention your celebrity crush, was the experience that popped your Comic Con cherry. It was definitely more of an emotional apocalypse for me to get to work alongside mine all weekend. It all began about halfway through that first shift, when I was pulled from floating around keeping an eye on things and assigned specifically to LeVar Burton’s table. You may have heard of him from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or “Reading Rainbow”: between keeping his rapidly-lengthening line under control, taking photos of him with fans on strangers’ iPhones attempting to squash the fangirl in me screaming, “Oh my stars, it’s Lieutenant Commander Geordi La-freaking-Forge!” and the overall novelty of being at Comic Con, I was way too overwhelmed to actually do my job well. On the one hand, Burton spoke to me directly a few times and was aware of my existence for a full hour and a half. On the other, I was constantly distracted, which must have annoyed him. My mortification was only mildly alleviated when he left for his Q&A and I could finally groan, facepalm at myself, and slink back to the lower-stakes duties of general line management.

I made it a point to avoid Burton’s table for the rest of the convention. I may never be able to look him in the eye again.

The highlight of my day, though, was attending Jim Shooter’s panel on comic book writing. Now, this man began writing Superman for DC Comics at the tender age of 13, worked his way up through the ranks to become Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, founded Valiant Comics, and cemented his place as a legend in the comic book industry. Despite technical difficulties and what had clearly been a long and rough journey to get to the convention, he delivered some of the best advice I’ve ever heard on writing with impeccable eloquence. His incredible storytelling abilities shone through in his speech, captivating the audience the same way his comics do.

I got to meet the man himself at his table afterward, though I found myself completely tongue-tied in the presence of someone who clearly knew just how much his skillset was worth, yet retained a deep sense of humility and honesty that so many talented individuals lose. He was incredibly sweet and kind enough to give me an autograph on a small scrap of paper containing his rough doodle of the Defiant Comics logo without so much as raising an eyebrow. When I came back to him on Sunday to ask for his autograph again, this time on a Doctor Solar issue that he wrote, I’m sure he remembered me as the odd, awkward child who could barely stammer out that she loved his work, but he signed the comic for me just as readily as he’d signed the scrap of paper two days before. Plus, anyone who visited his table got to look through a compilation of letters, articles, comic books and photographs documenting his journey in the comic book industry, dating all the way back to the ’60s. Needless to say, I was there for awhile, flipping happily through his personal history and listening to his occasional commentary on certain pages.

Following that, a series of events ended with me befriending a Nyota Uhura (a character from the Star Trek franchise) cosplayer named Joelyn, whom I’d seen at Burton’s table, and her staying with Rachel Davis ‘19 and myself at a hotel near the convention center for the rest of the weekend. Rachel joined us at the convention the next day, cosplaying as Nurse Joy (and later Hoothoot) from the Pokémon franchise. Plus, I ran into several other Swatties who also decided to join in on the fun at the beginning of my Saturday shift, when the crowd was still slowly trickling in … and then the madness of the emotional apocalypse on Celebrity Row resumed, when I got roped into helping out with Brianna Hildebrand’s line.

(Remember what I said earlier about a celebrity crush?

Yeah.)

It was her first day at the convention and fans were showing up in droves to speak to the young Deadpool star. I was on my feet for six hours total that day and did not regret a moment of it, as watching Brianna interact with her fans was absolutely adorable. Ian Garrison ’18, bless his soul, kept texting me from where he was standing in Alan Tudyk’s line to just “Take the plunge and go talk to her!” She ended up leaving the convention before I could pull myself together enough to warrant interaction, so I found myself repeating both the six hours of standing and the not daring to go up to her on Sunday, albeit by then her line had dwindled down enough that I didn’t have to stay rooted to the spot six feet away from her to keep the crowd under control. I did eventually screw up enough willpower to approach her near the very end of the convention and obtain her autograph, along with approximately half a minute’s worth of conversation. She goes from girl next door to badass superhero in about half a second—talk about a girl who can do both.

I also had the honor of meeting her Deadpool costar, Jed Rees, and complimented him on how uproariously hilarious he was in “Galaxy Quest.” He recognized me as a volunteer and gave me two autographs for the price of one. Bless his soul—I wish his character had some chance of reappearing in the upcoming Deadpool sequel, but alas. Hildebrand, however, confirmed at her panel that Negasonic Teenage Warhead would return. Cue more internal screaming and a mild existential crisis over the revelation that Marvel owns a disturbingly large portion of my life now.

But at last, it was time for the climax of Comic Con: the Cosplay Contest. The halls were packed with cosplayers from every fandom under the sun, some of whom were in it for the trophies, some of whom were just dressed up for the fun of it. From an eerie Fiddlesticks complete with voice modifier to an actual Iron Man suit of armor, the competition was fierce and the crowd lost its collective geek minds whenever a particularly impressive contender strutted across the stage. In the end, a Game of Thrones group in armor that one of the cosplayers forged himself took home the prize for Best Overall. If the rumors are true, it was a well deserved win: I was told that each of the men’s outfits took several months to make, and on top of that, there was the task of creating the girls’ dresses.

Sunday made for a pretty uneventful volunteering (i.e. people-wrangling) experience, so I managed to wander a little farther than I’d done the previous two days and browsed the artwork, costume accessories, comic books and other fandom paraphernalia for sale. Most of what I ended up purchasing was artwork, most notably a gorgeous Tommy Castillo piece that I would totally show off in a photo, except I didn’t want it to get squashed on the bus ride back to Swat and his lovely wife Sammy offered to ship it to me for free. I’m left counting the days till I can pick it up at the post office and it will be the first thing I unpack when I move into my new room next fall.

Before I begrudgingly dragged myself onto the train back to Swat, I didn’t quite get to say goodbye to everyone I’d gotten to know, as, unfortunately, time and public transportation wait for no one But this prompted the realization that what really surprised me about Comic Con wasn’t the fact that I got to meet some of the biggest names in the fandom, or the abundance of terrifyingly realistic costume weaponry on sale. It was the people. I got to spend precious time bonding with my friends: I wandered the halls with Rachel, hung out in the lounge with Joelyn and attended panels with Ian during breaks. And, while I was on the job, I got to know and work with a group of selfless individuals who would stay on the ball all day to make sure the guests had as great of a Comic Con experience as they could possible have. Adam inducted me into the fine art of arranging people in line into, well, a neater line, Greg hung out with me during the mundane periods of just standing around, Michelle chatted with me about zombified Disney princesses and Crystal, who managed all of Celebrity Row, was a boss both in the sense that she’s bleeping good at what she does and in that she was pretty much the boss of me for the duration of Comic Con. More than the celebrities or the cosplayers, the “Geek Crew” were the real superheroes to me. It was an honor to get to serve amongst them and we’re all already making plans to do it again together next year. (We even started a Facebook group, so you know we’re serious.)

The thing is, Comic Con is more than just the culmination of years of obsession over a beloved franchise. It’s a space for nerds to geek out unabashedly without fear of judgement. There’s very little judgment to be found at Comic Con (unless you count the Cosplay Contest judges) and the fantastic nature of the fandoms represented at this event allows fans to stretch the boundaries of their imagination far beyond the four walls of the convention center. It’s not a perfect space, of course, but for many guests, it’s a refuge, and they empathize too strongly with the need to occasionally escape from their daily lives to want to ruin this shared haven for someone else. The convention’s mere existence has the potential to change lives for the better by providing a hard-won place for us geeky misfits to belong.

And, if you ever encounter that one jerk who just has to rain on the brightly-costumed parade: have no fear, the Geek Crew is here.

Take the Plunge: Works of Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner

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The newest exhibition in McCabe’s lobby shines a spotlight on the works of Professor Donna Jo Napoli of the Linguistics Department and three-time Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator David Wiesner. In conjunction with the newly released “Fish Girl,” a collaborative work by Napoli and Wiesner, “Take the Plunge” features Napoli’s first draft of the manuscript of this graphic novel, original paintings by Wiesner, and notes between Napoli and Wiesner during the creative process. The exhibition also highlights some of Napoli’s other work, ranging from picture books to young adult novels, with drafts of the books and email exchanges between Napoli and various editors on display next to the published editions.

“About a year ago, Donna Jo [Napoli] told the library director Peggy Seiden about her new book ‘Fish Girl,’ and they discussed doing some kind of programming around it,” said Susan Dreher, Visual Resources and Initiatives Librarian at McCabe, about the process of organizing the exhibition.

Dreher worked closely with Napoli in this endeavour to set up the exhibition and schedule the book signing and writing workshop.

“There was a lot of collaboration with [Napoli] in terms of the materials and focus of the exhibition … Once the exhibition was installed, she and I walked around it together so she could provide contextual information on the materials, which I turned into the labels that are in each case. As for David Wiesner, we told him how many paintings of his we could fit in the space, and he selected the ones to be exhibited,” said Dreher.

“Fish Girl” is the first graphic novel for both Napoli and Wiesner and is also their first joint project. Napoli described the creative process behind this book as being far more collaborative than her previous interactions with illustrators, which were usually limited and conducted entirely through the publisher. This undertaking also involved a more visual approach than she was used to. Napoli, who had been friends with Wiesner for many years before working with him on “Fish Girl,” was first brought on board when Wiesner showed her his paintings of fish swimming inside houses, a mermaid, and an octopus while at her home. Wiesner had been painting these pictures for about 20 years by then, but he couldn’t envision a cohesive narrative, so he asked Napoli about it.

“He said [to me], ‘Do you see a story here?’ And I said, ‘Go away,’ and I sat with his drawings for awhile. And it took me a few months … I came up with this manuscript and gave it to him and he said, ‘This is it, this is what we’re going to do,’” recounted Napoli.

Napoli’s initial draft contained textual descriptions of how she imagined the pictures alongside the actual text that she wanted to include in the pictures, and Wiesner took it from there to create the graphic novel accordingly.

“David [then] had to block it all out, what went where, where did these words fit, what are all the pictures, and he wound up with more than 300 pages … That wasn’t possible. That would’ve been a book that cost $50 and you can’t ask the public to spend $50. So that was the most deciding moment,” said Napoli.

According to Napoli, the finished work retains much of the original narrative arc, and she worked closely with Wiesner in making the necessary cuts.

“We negotiated constantly and it was so much fun. It was really interesting,” said Napoli of the experience.

“Fish Girl,” in its finished form, is the story of a mermaid who grows up in a boardwalk aquarium with no one but the fish, her beloved octopus, and her human captor for company. Her life changes when an ordinary visitor to the aquarium strikes up an unlikely friendship with her, and the Fish Girl begins to challenge the boundaries of her tank and her independence.

The hybridization of being half-fish and half-human, having a foot (or fin) in either world, is something that Napoli felt young adults could relate to as individuals undergoing a transitory stage in life that is often overlooked or dismissed by adults.

“We say, ‘Oh, they’re just going through adolescence,’ but, in fact, the questions that you face as you start growing up are not foolish questions, and they stick with you your whole life. And you keep changing, and the world changes around you and you keep having to adjust to it and so these are not matters that go away,” Napoli said.

These themes of change and adjusting to change are prevalent throughout “Fish Girl.” A key difference between this work and a previous young adult novel by Napoli featuring a mermaid protagonist, titled “Sirena.” Much of the research Napoli conducted on ocean life for “Sirena” was carried over to “Fish Girl,” though “Sirena” is the tale of an unlikely romance whilst “Fish Girl” is a tale of an unlikely friendship.

“I saw [‘Fish Girl’] as a very personal journey … Romance can be a wonderful way to come to understand things about yourself, but in a romance, sometimes the issues go not necessarily in the same direction that friendship goes,” said Napoli.

To celebrate the launch of “Fish Girl” and the opening of the “Take the Plunge” exhibition, a joint author talk and book signing was held in McCabe on Wednesday, March 15.

“My parents read me books by Donna Jo [Napoli] and David Wiesner when I was young, so it was really nice to get to see them both talk about their writing and artwork,” said Jacob Malin ’18, who attended this event.

Napoli and Wiesner were both present at the signing, and Napoli also held a writing workshop in McCabe on the following day.

“Although I’ve had Donna Jo [Napoli] as a professor, I was really interested to hear her talk about her creative writing, and the ways in which she adapts fairy tales and mythology.  It was also great to be able to see some of David Wiesner’s artistic process in creating his surreal drawings and stories.  And I loved getting to read the book they had made together afterward!” said Malin.

When asked about her personal writing process when she’s not collaborating closely with someone else, Napoli stressed the importance of just sitting down with a pencil and paper and getting it done.

“I do not believe that writing happens out of inspiration, or out of talent, or out of brilliance. I believe that writing happens out of hard work … You just have to keep going, you have to treat writing like it’s a job,” said Napoli.

Evidently, Napoli follows their own advice: She’s already working on several more books, one of which is slated for publication next year.

“It’s called ‘Hunger’ and it starts out in 1846 in the west of Ireland … So it’s after a whole year of the potato famine,” said Napoli.

Apart from that, we can also expect another novel and a picture book from Napoli in the near future.

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