‘Ee eye ee eye oh’ and in that Barn he had some Swatties. To any uninitiated freshmen: on the grueling walk back from Target, as you haul along a stolen cart that will soon be lost forever in the bowels of the Crum, you may stumble upon a massive brown(ish) building. It may look like any other weatherbeaten, misshapen old house, but creep closer and the sweet scent of weed will tickle your nostrils. A small path of beer cans will guide you to the porch, and on warm summer nights, some say you can hear the laughter of residents past who used to sit there and smoke while watching passersby.
(Alternatively, come late enough on a Friday night and you can hear the music blasting out of whatever apartment is throwing a party, get a mouthful of smoke, and walk into a crowd of 5 to 20 people.)
More prosaically, the Barn is made up of six four-bedroom apartments and one terrifying basement; Micozzie Realtors has owned it for years and usually rents to Swat students for around $300 per month. The cheapness, sense of independence, and fairly easy access to campus has made it an attractive option for students coming back from study abroad or trying to get more freedom than a dorm allows. It’s also helped the Barn develop a reputation as a dirty hideout for artsy junkies — those are basically the terms in which I first heard it described during my freshman year. When I visited for the first time, I was half-expecting to trip over used needles. I was surrounded by unknown upperclassmen who actually seemed to know their way around — it was terrifying. Caroline Reynier ’20 had a similar experience.
“Someone invited me to a party freshman year. It was my first week, so I was very intimidated cause there was a bunch of older people… and it did seem like a very different community from frat parties” recounted Reynier, leaning against the kitchen counter in my 3rd floor Barn apartment.
It does take determination to move off-campus in a school where 95 percent of students choose to live in college housing. Colette Gerstmann ’18 has lived in the Barn since her sophomore spring and has seen several people come and go.
“The Barn is different depending on when you get there, the culture keeps changing. You get groups of people who want to live alternatively in some way — by having alternative parties, being able to cook, or having a communal lifestyle, people who want to have cats, who are more distant from Swarthmore.”
In my case, I first knew the Barn as something of an alternative, artsy queer scene — perhaps less so since the class of 2017, which made up a sizeable and very visible chunk of the Barn population, graduated in the spring. Only a handful of seniors and super seniors remain from the last few years.
Throughout my freshman year, a number of longtime Barn residents organized “Liturgy,” a series of alternative queer, and POC-centered parties that introduced my comrades and me to the Barn life. Much like Reynier, I remember the Liturgy parties as slightly terrifying events full of mysterious upperclassmen we barely knew. We stumbled around, uncertain whether we’d be swooped or discover some mystery of life (or maybe I was just drunk and overdramatic). These days, most formal (read: there’s a Facebook page) events are thrown in apartment 3N, home to a group of sophomores who discovered the Barn through the Liturgy parties and were drawn to its “alternative” vibe. But something’s changed.
3N resident Daria Matescu ’20 has unofficially taken over the Barn’s party hosting.
“[The Barn] has a history of having parties that are radically different from anything else available on campus,” explained Matescu.
And she has been working to uphold that tradition. The Barn is definitely still a party space – come by on a Friday or Saturday night, and chances are there will be a few smokers scattered around the yard. But something has changed.
Although she freely admits that the Barn’s nature is ever-changing, Gerstmann expresses hints of wistfulness when remembering its former culture.
“[The Barn is] becoming more cliquey based on apartments — there used to be traces of the Barn co-op, people splitting up groceries and having meals together. That was mostly gone by the time I got here, but there were some traces, people were friends across apartments. I feel like now it’s gone.”
There is no longer a sense of shared responsibility for communal areas, which now seem slightly neglected. While the various residents are generally friendly to each other, we are rarely brought together by common events. Pretty much all residents are in the class of 2020 or graduating this year, meaning there is something of a breach between the two “generations.” The Barn may be made up of several smaller communities, but it no longer has one overarching “theme.”
And yet, in spite of the rodents and the sloppiness and the “gentrification,” over the past few years this crumbling building has meant a lot to its residents.
“I was drawn to [the Barn] because I wanted to be able to have a direct influence on campus party culture […] to try and preserve the Barn’s history of existing as a safer space for queer folks, people of color, and women,” Matescu explained
The year of Liturgy is over, but Barn residents such as Matescu are determined to influence campus culture and offer a viable alternative party scene. And to its residents, the Barn is more than just a party space.
“It made me feel like a real person — living on campus sometimes I felt like I was just going to all these buildings. Walking off campus and crossing the street and passing the church, it made me feel like I’m in a real place,” recalls Gerstmann in a brief moment of nostalgia.
Maybe something was lost in the process of students moving in and out, changing the house’s culture and atmosphere. The Barn is definitely not the vaguely mythical space I once envisioned. But does it really have to be? Fellow sophomores, it’s up to you to decide what this space should be. (Don’t look at me, I just want to bake cookies and make people eat them). An old-fashioned hippie commune where everyone makes quinoa together? A queer arthouse? Bear with me as the year goes on and I discover the newest version of the Barn, meeting residents old and new and exploring what new communities have been created.