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Summer Housing, Hot Mess

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

As the semester begins to wrap up, students are swamped with a variety of emotions. Some seniors are feeling nostalgic toward leaving Swarthmore, yet excited for what lies ahead. Other students are drowning in final papers but relieved that this semester is finally coming to a close. They are ready for a chance to refresh and new opportunities around the corner. Yet, for many Swatties staying on campus this year, this summer may not look as promising or be as well-organized as they had hoped. Instead, these Swatties are dreading the one option for summer housing and many are unsure if they will have housing at all.

We at the Phoenix find the housing situation for this summer particularly problematic and unfair to the students staying at Swarthmore. All students will be housed in Mary Lyons Dormitory, which is the furthest dorm from campus as well as one of the furthest dorms from the train station. Considering that students will either be doing research with professors on campus, helping with summer camps around campus, working on campus, or completing an internship that requires public transportation to Philadelphia or Chester, ML is the least practical option for students staying on campus. Instead, it provides the most inconvenience and offers the most difficulty for students working at Swat this summer.

We at the Phoenix acknowledge that it would make sense to place students in ML if they had no other dorms available, if the dorm provided housing to the largest amount of students, or if the dorm offered some practical benefits that other dorms can’t. However, ML possesses none of these qualities. Swarthmore obviously has plenty of other dorms on campus for housing students. Even given that Swarthmore hosts many summer camps that require lodging for prospective or incoming students, these camps will not require all of the rooms in Wharton, Willets, Alice Paul, David Kemp, Parrish, Dana, Hallowell, and Danawell. Besides, while many prospective and incoming student camps may take place for two to six weeks, most of the students conducting research, interning, or working on campus will be here all summer, meaning they deserve convenient housing options, considering their stay at Swarthmore for the summer is much more permanent.

ML is also the dorm with the largest amount of singles. While this may sound like a benefit, since ML would offer more students the opportunity to live alone, this means that it houses fewer students. With fewer rooms to offer, more students are left on the summer housing waitlist, potentially without any housing at all this summer. For low-income students or students relying on living at Swat for the summer, this situation is extremely stressful and problematic. Rose See ’19, a student placed on the summer housing waitlist, upon finding out she would most likely not have housing for the summer, stated that she was terrified that she would not be able to carry out her campus job for the summer. She describes how “she had nowhere else to go” and “summer housing at Swarthmore was how she expected to have a place to live until the end of the summer.” When See mentioned this to Residential Life, their response was that they simply could not offer a room because they give priority to students conducting research and only have a limited number of rooms to offer. This situation means that not only are students left to stress about where to live, but they are also made to feel less valued at the college because it is as if they are not seen as worthwhile to the college if they are not serving a research purpose. Luckily, See was able to find housing in the Barn for the entirety of summer and will keep her summer job working in the Peace Collection library, but many students on the waitlist may not be as lucky.

Finally, we at the Phoenix emphasize that ML offers no practical benefits to students that makes it a viable option to house students. The dorm only has one small kitchen in the basement, meaning it will be difficult for more than a few students to consistently cook meals for themselves despite the fact that Sharples is only open for limited hours. The dorm also does not provide air conditioning except in the main lounge, promising an uncomfortable and humid experience for summer students.

Ultimately, we at the Phoenix are disappointed by the summer housing situation offered by the college and believe that Swarthmore should take into consideration both the practical problems of living in ML as well as the concerns and difficulties that the dorm will impose for the students. Students staying at Swarthmore for the summer clearly care for the college and want to dedicate their time toward contributing to the community. The housing situation should provide the same support and concern for the students as well.

ML: a home like no other

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

If you take a look at any of the maps posted around campus, you can generally find where you want to go. The campus is pretty easy to follow – the lower half of campus is student life, the upper half is classes, and Parrish stands in the middle. With the Science Center at the top and the Field House at the bottom, Swarthmore is an easy-to-navigate campus where you can get anywhere in seven minutes.

Nevertheless, when you put a bunch of high-achieving minds together, there are always a few oddballs here and there. It’s never as simple as it seems, and these outliers have fashioned their own distinct reputations. For instance, I’m currently writing this article in Woolman, the northernmost dorm tucked in a residential area. Woolman has a feeling of home unlike any other dorm, partly because used to be an actual home. However, my home is a 30-minute leisurely-paced walk from Woolman, at the very opposite end of campus. Yes, Mary Lyons: the dorm that doesn’t even show up on the campus map. With a reputation as the dumping ground for low lottery numbers and a place for recluses, ML doesn’t quite have the sort of glamour that a dorm like Woolman has. It’s got a fantastic community, but it’s down side is … well, let’s just say ML would be the most popular dorm if it were on campus. But what makes it worth the 15 minutes you lose by having to get up early and lug all your stuff for the day to campus? Because it’s home.

Today, I’d like to share with you the ten things that make this place home for me.

Sophomore singles. There is very little on campus that is more stressful than trying to learn the housing system after your first year. I loved my roommate, but she had gotten a GA position and was moving to Wharton. I wasn’t very close to others of my own gender, and I had no idea who would be willing to spend a whole year with me. I was missing the privacy of my own space, too nervous to room with someone of a different gender, and had no desire to bumble my way through the lottery system. ML is one of the few places that has singles open to sophomores. I was lucky enough to block with my friends, and we have become closer since living farther away from campus.

In-dorm breakfast. What’s better than waking up to the smell of breakfast in the morning? How about being able to get breakfast without stepping outside? Well, every Saturday and Sunday, the breakfast room throws open its doors and serves anyone craving a homemade meal. Between crepes, omelettes, pancakes, and the continental spread of cereal and bagels, ML Breakfast truly has a decadent selection for everyone.

Private bathrooms. Most of ML is suite-style rooming, which means private bathrooms. Private bathrooms means fewer awkward interactions between people when going about your business. Besides having to negotiate a suite-mate contract and knocking on the door to prevent accidentally walking in on someone, it’s great to have your own space.

A different party scene. Random board games! Nerf wars! Screenings of random movies/anime/whatever we want to watch at the time! Whether it’s the constant game of pool that never seems to stop or the group of friends sharing stories on the couches until 3a.m., ML truly is an alternative sanctuary for anyone who enjoys a different kind of party.

Space, and not just from campus. Rivaling the size of most doubles, ML’s third floor singles are some of the most spacious singles on campus, rivaling the size of most doubles. Leaving ML is hard because it feels like I have my own apartment sometimes. Granted, I can’t complain about the dorm’s distance from campus either. I use this to put away school work and just focus on destressing after a long day. It’s also nice to be able to sleep in on Worthstock Weekend.

The walk. This is particularly relevant in the fall and spring. On that trip to campus, you get to see the trees in all their colors. In the spring, there’s a cherry blossom tree off of Harvard Avenue that makes everything smell wonderful. In the fall, you get to see the Crum turn different colors. Every so often, there’s a really heavy fog that covers the campus and looks stunning from the bottom of campus. Plus, it’s nice to have the extra bit of exercise.

The Shuttles. If you have never experienced a ride in the van with Mr. Robert, then you’re missing out. We have a rotating cast of characters, all wonderful people, who drive us in the morning and back at night. Each driver has loads of stories and their own music preferences. The shuttles are also super helpful when it’s cold outside.

Proximity to amenities. We may not be close to the Sci Center, but we are close to the Matchbox and Sharples. It’s been easier for me to make sure I have dinner and to start a habit of going to the gym. ML also feels closer to the Ville, which has its own perks.

Amazing RAs. There’s something about this dorm’s RAs. RAs in ML tend to get together for dorm-wide events, which are just amazing. We have a game of Assassins nearly every semester. I have a habit of crashing other halls’ MMKs within ML.

ML froshlings. Now admittedly, I’ve only seen it happen once, but ML has a long, long history of developing tight-knit communities. This seems especially true for our first years. There are a handful of first years in ML that seem to find each other and bond wonderfully, each with their own personality.

It’s hard to explain why ML is such a great place to live. There’s just something that makes the place its own unique experience. I wish I could tell you more, but it’s one of those places for which you have to be to understand. So consider this an open invitation to come check the place out, poke around, and make your own.

Sex and Nerf guns? Trying to move past our vision of ML

in Campus Journal by

Like most people on campus, I’ve always had a well-defined idea of “Mary Lyon culture,” and, like most opinions on campus, this conception was based mostly off conjecture and rumor rather than facts or actual experience. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve visited ML, and I can’t name more than a few people I know who have actually lived there. Yet for myself and many others — including the editor who gave me this assignment — those two little letters have always connoted a land where nerds, nudists, and Nerf gun warriors run wild, a mysterious dorm far away, geographically and culturally, from the main campus.

In fact, while ML may be a bit of a hike from the rest of the college, the dorm is not exactly “quirky” in the way our dominant on-campus mythology constructs it. Current and former ML residents, in fact (including a nudist and one of the founders of the famed human-vs.-zombie Nerf gun wars) pointed out that the dorm’s most unique and consistent feature is an incredibly strong, involved sense of community, a place where people easily make a lot of friends.

***

Doriana Thornton ’16 lived in ML for a year and half. They spent their first semester of freshman year hanging out in ML every chance they could, and then moved in with a senior for the spring. The following year, Thornton lived in the dorm in a single.

Thornton was drawn to ML largely due to the residents, rather than any “quirky” activities.

“For me, what made ML so special was the people that lived there with me my freshman year and the closeness I had with them,” Thornton said. “Having people that shared my interests in sex positivity and body positivity was so cool.”

Asked how they found their way to ML in the first place, Thornton let loose their signature laugh and said, “It’s actually a pretty hilarious story.” After their Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention orientation workshop, Thornton mentioned to their workshop facilitator that they enjoyed playing strip Apples to Apples (similar to strip poker) at home. The facilitator encouraged Thornton to come to ML that Friday evening, when the game would take place.

“I was just really happy to be around that,” Thornton remembered fondly. Earlier that day, during an orientation ice-breaker, Thornton had been asked what they were most worried about at the college. “I had said, ‘Not being able to be naked, just around, like I can be at home,” Thornton remembered. Thus, being able to hang out naked in ML was “just really funny and really nice.”

The same night of the game, Thornton met someone who would remain their close friend throughout their first semester at the college. “We went and danced naked in the woods, and it was such a great experience. And that was my first time in ML,” they concluded, laughing again.

Thornton also enjoyed the distance between ML and the rest of campus, and said that it made them more likely to go for lengthy walks. “When I lived in ML, I walked a lot more and was a lot more willing to go on walking adventures,” Thornton said (they now reside in the Barn). “I remember doing ridiculous shit and walking to ridiculous places in the freezing cold.”

ML breakfast is also a unique and positive feature of life in the dorm, Thornton emphasized. They worked in the ML breakfast room for three semesters. Anyone can order “kooky” food, Thornton said — “We have food coloring and sprinkles and shit, and we’ll make you something neat, and we’ll sing … it’s pretty nutty … I made dope-ass omelets all day.”

Thornton, like the other ML residents I spoke to, talked about their time in the dorm with happiness and ease. “ML was great, just great people,” they said. “There were always just a lot of people in their hallways, in their rooms — it was pretty easy, most days, to walk around and hear something happening, and to just go into that person’s room and hang out with them.”

I was curious if this was a quality that pertained to the dorm itself, or came more from the people who ended up living there. “I honestly do think it was the people that lived there,” Thornton said. They reflected that their sophomore year was not quite as enjoyable as their freshman year, as many people had moved out. “I did still make really close friends, but I found myself sleeping more often in places that weren’t ML, and kind of bringing a community of people that didn’t live in ML over there to hang out, instead of already having those great people there,” Thornton said.

Thornton remembers too many funny ML stories to tell, they said — for instance, a Nerf gun battle once transformed into an eight-hour cuddle-fest. They also reflected on the way in which ML created a space for them to feel comfortable with and learn more about their own sexuality. “ML was where I got to explore my kinkiness,” Thornton said. During their freshman year, what Thornton referred to as a “high concentration of kinky people” lived in ML, and contributed to this comfortable atmosphere. (For more about kinky activity on campus, check out “Whips and chains excite them, sometimes,” in the first-ever issue of the Swarthmore Review, which mounted an exploration of BDSM at the college.) “I had never had the chance to explore such an important part of my sexuality before coming to college — actually, I hadn’t had a chance to explore much of my sexuality at all — and it was really cool to find people who had similar interests, or at least were not appalled by mine,” Thornton said.

ML culture is by no means static, Thornton pointed out. “I think the culture changes every year based on who’s living there,” they said. “There’s always an underlying culture of people who are into nerdy shit … actually, I don’t know. I have no idea — I mean, athletes used to live there and have crazy parties,” Thornton said, referencing the common story, difficult to substantiate but probably true, that ML was, years ago, inhabited almost exclusively by varsity athletes.

Thornton saw change within the dorm even on a year-to-year basis. “I know that during my sophomore year there weren’t as many sex-positive people … I had fewer friends there because dynamics were just different. For me, at least, every year’s been really different.”

The ML environment is also subjective, Thornton pointed out. “The culture also depends on where you are — like, how you feel at home in a place depends on where you’re at and what you need,” they said. “So I don’t know if any dorm has a culture … I pushed myself over there and spent all my time there because I felt so at home, but I haven’t been back this year. I’m not scared to go back or anything — it’s just that that place had so much meaning to me my freshman years and then a very different meaning my sophomore year … I don’t know, I just haven’t been back.”

***

Josh Ginzberg ’15 was placed in ML as an incoming freshman, and was initially nervous about living in the dorm, but, after sophomore year on campus, came back to ML as a SAM and now serves as an RA.

Ginzberg’s favorite feature of ML life is the strong sense of community. “I think a lot of dorms have difficulty with this, maybe because of the structure or because of the people in them, with cross-hall interaction, but ML has no problem with that,” Ginzberg said. As a freshman living on the second floor, Ginzberg’s friends were on different floors and of different class years.

“It was just a really great dorm community,” he said. “It really does tend towards a real dorm community, and then people find their groups of friends and everything, but there’s definitely a lot of interaction across all halls and class years.” Ginzberg thinks this stems in part from ML’s distance from the rest of campus. “I have no doubt that’s a function of being so far away from everyone else, but it’s also a lot about the people,” he said.

I asked Ginzberg about fun ML activities, and he mentioned movie screenings in the first-floor lounge, along with ice-cream parties. But I told him that what I really wanted to know about were the Nerf wars. To my surprise, Ginzberg revealed that he was actually one of the creators and first participants in the Nerf wars, which many on campus think of as an ML institution, but is actually a recent (and recently lapsed) phenomenon.

Ginzberg treated me to a brief history of the brief tradition. “I came to college, and I was like, ‘Oh, college means Nerf guns,’” Ginzberg said. As someone whose well-meaning yuppie parents did not allow them to possess any fake weaponry as a child, including Nerf and water guns — I was given a spray bottle instead, which was, needless to say, immensely dissatisfying — I can see the appeal and also the logic behind this statement.  “A couple of other people thought the same thing, including my roommate,” Ginzberg recalled. The purchase of several cheap Nerf guns, and then the they ran around the dorm “pursuing and hunting each other,” Ginzberg said.

The Nerf wars rapidly grew in size, averaging twenty five to thirty participants each week (if only I could get this many people to write for the Phoenix or play women’s rugby…), until, at one point in Ginzberg’s sophomore year, 65 people showed up. “That was way too much — we had to restrict it to ML-only at that point, because it’s a residential space,” Ginzberg said ruefully.

Usually, Ginzberg explained, Nerf wars are conducted in what he called “humans-vs.-zombies mode,” which removes some of the competitive aspect of the game, as the zombies inevitably emerge as the victors. “There’s less cheating that way,” Ginzberg explained, “less of people saying that they didn’t feel a Nerf dart, because when you’re running with adrenaline you don’t feel a Nerf dart.”

In humans-vs.-zombies mode, humans shoot at zombies, who, if hit, must “go down” for thirty seconds. If a zombie tags a human, however, the human must become a zombie for the rest of the match, meaning that the number of zombies is constantly increasing. “You get some really creative people hiding behind doors, some humans trying to camp out in really open spaces so that they can see where people are coming from,” Ginzberg recalled.

Seeming to further prove the idea that ML culture changes from year to year, however, Ginzberg said that the Nerf wars have tapered off this year, due mostly to seniors’ lack of interest. “There hasn’t been as much enthusiasm, but there’s still a box of Nerf guns, so if people want to do that, they definitely can,” Ginzberg said.

Ginzberg thinks that the design of ML contributes to its communal feel, specifically the first-floor lounge. “You walk in and you’re in the biggest gathering space in the dorm, and that makes it very easy to join whatever’s going on — there’s always lots of hanging out, and we’ve got a TV in there and I think a PlayStation or something, and people just gather.”

So if ML is so great, why does it get such a bad reputation? Ginzberg thinks this is mostly because of the distance. “I can’t imagine why else it would get a bad rap,” he said. “It is far, for people who aren’t used to the walk or don’t like rolling out of bed and running to class, but I got to class a lot later when I lived on campus — it teaches time management pretty well, because you pretty much have to learn.”

I asked Ginzberg about people who might not enjoy or participate as fully in ML’s community. He again chalked this up mostly to distance. “It’s not like other dorms — you can’t just walk to the dorm that’s twenty feet away,” Ginzberg said. “You actually have to make an effort to get on campus, and it definitely is hard for some people.”

Others, though, Ginzberg remarked, like the distance, particularly those people who might want more alone time or space from the rest of campus. “You do get a bunch of different sorts of people in ML, some who really love the community and some who try to make or join another community,” he said. “It just takes some time to settle in, maybe a month or two, or there are some people for whom it never really clicks.”

I kept pressing, though — what about ML’s reputation as a nerd haven? “There’s definitely a very large contingent of people who do like some of the more classic nerd stuff — I would say I’m one of them — but I’d also say that there are plenty of people on campus who get attracted to that stuff who never live in ML and honestly never visit,” Ginzberg said.

So where does the stigma come from? “It would be unfair of me to say that ML gets its rep from people who haven’t been there, but a lot of proponents of ML’s more negative reputation have never been there, or have gone once and have had some bad experience and concluded that that encapsulated the dorm,” Ginzberg said.

Ginzberg expressed concern that this incorrect perception might frighten first-years who were assigned to live there. “There are things that are true — it does appeal to people who are comfortable being far from some of the social centers on campus and sometimes that does include a greater than average proportion of science-fiction/fantasy fans, more classic nerd people … I personally don’t see why it’s a negative but otherwise I don’t think it deserves much of what it gets,” Ginzberg said. “A lot of the reputation is from years ago,” he added, referencing ML’s history as a gathering space for the Swarthmore Warders of Imaginative Literature, the precursor to the modern-day science fiction/fantasy club which organizes the annual Pterodactyl Hunt and campus-wide live-action role play, Psi Phi.

“It changes every few years,” Ginzberg concluded. “The fact that it used to be a place where so many varsity athletes gravitated towards, and then became a place for SWIL, and in the years I’ve been here has been neither, and has been a very community-oriented space … I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but that’s been my experience of it.”

 

Mary Lyons Basement To Undergo Renovations

in Around Campus/News by

Next year, the college hopes to increase the incoming freshmen class size from this year’s 379 to approximately 391. As gradual expansion occurs, members of the administration are seeking to capitalize on any available dorm space that could provide extra housing.

As a result, the Mary Lyon Hall (ML) basement is being prepared to house students next year. Vice President for Facilities and Services Stu Hain said that work would be completed prior to the beginning of the fall semester.

“We are indeed making the garden level (basement) rooms in ML ready for use next fall,” he said. “They do not need a lot of work, as when we took them out of service, they were in good shape. We will paint them, put in new flooring material, replace lights and replace furniture where necessary.”

Additional lighting will be installed in each hallway and all rooms will be painted and patched. Plans for a new student lounge located next to the laundry room, equipped with a TV, cushioned seating, and bar stools are also in the works. Additionally, another resident assistant (RA) will be hired for the hall.

Current plans are to offer six different blocks in ML to anyone from the rising senior, junior, and sophomore classes.  Renovations and updates to ML’s lower level will continue through the spring and summer in preparation for opening the floor.

However, the basement, according to some, is in a questionable state for living quarters.

“I think the main problem is simply that no one has lived there for a while,” said Mercer Borris ’16, an ML resident. “It’s dusty and smells vaguely of mold, and the hallways are dark and eerie.”

She also mentioned that the rooms are filled with old mattresses, and a few of the ceilings have deteriorated over time.

But Borris said it was still inhabitable. “It isn’t terrible, though,” she explained. “I’’m sure that after a few months of being inhabited, the basement will seem like a decent living space.

She also mentioned that because Mary Lyons is built on a hill, the basement is only half underground. The space has numerous windows that allow for natural light to enter.

John Lim ’16, another ML resident, echoed Borris’ sentiments.

“It’s very old and kind of grungy,” said Lim. “But it mainly has the same feel of the rest of the building. There are cracked walls but its also pretty well lit. I only go down to do laundry, but it’s not too bad.”

Varying annual class size can create strain on administration, and only so much dorm space is available.  Dean Jim Bock, the head of admissions and financial aid, explained that there would always be enough space for the amount of students accepted, and that in terms of annual class size, the college essentially “looks to replace the exiting senior class.”

“Last year,”  he said, “There was less room, and we admitted a smaller class, and this year there will be more room, and we are looking to fill to capacity. The renovations in ML allow us to address both issues of current housing tightness and the slightly larger class.”

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