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What the Arts Means at Swarthmore

in Arts by

As the year comes to an end, most of us are left to reflect on the time we have spent at Swarthmore College and what we have been able to do so far. One of the most amazing things has been the rise of the arts and activism through art on campus. Groups and individuals have been empowered this year to use their creativity to give themselves voice and agency.

The Visibility Magazine published its third issue this year with the most submissions it has ever had. It was filled with poetry, photography, and art meant to empower traditionally marginalized voices.

This was accompanied by the Rise Up Now: Zine Festival, a three day event put on by Intercultural Center interns and sponsored by Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association, Kitao, Latinx Heritage Month and the Intercultural Center . On Friday, April 27, Visibility Magazine was released in collaboration with a Day of Silence Rally. Day of Silence is dedicated to raising awareness of the bullying of LGBTQ+ youth. The following days consisted of a pop-up shop for artists to sell their work, a zine-making and earring making workshop, and a gallery reception at Kitao Gallery.

Zines have been part of a long legacy of activism both in our nation’s history and on Swarthmore’s campus. Zines were traditionally self-published works to empower the voices of people of color. That history was shared and emphasized during this year’s Zine Fest where people were encouraged to share their stories by making their own zine.

Alongside giving students more agency in their time at Swarthmore, art has had a persistent role in campus activism from the Spring of Our Discontent to today. From S.J.P.’s wall to represent Israeli apartheid to the poetry people shared at Revolution Festival last semester, students have worked to enact positive change on campus.

Just as important, art has played a role in developing the personalities and traits of many students on campus.

AV Lee-A-Yong ̕ 21, a prospective peace and conflicts  studies major, is one person who has been greatly impacted by the arts at Swarthmore.

Lee-A-Yong had been active in theater zir whole life but wasn’t formally trained until coming to Swarthmore this fall. For Lee-A-Yong, theater has become an important part of zir identity.

“Theatre has always been a way to express myself through someone else,” Lee-A-Yong said. “And it’s nice to be at Swarthmore and see those someone-elses share things in common with you.”

Along with playing an important role in identity, the arts at Swarthmore also provide a family to many people.

“Being a first-year originally came with its own set of nerves, but I think that I came in at such an opportune time — when there was a role I could audition for that, was perfect for me,” Lee-A-Yong explained. “I do think, however, that at Swarthmore, theatre is a family, and being adopted into it in my first year gave me a sense of belonging I don’t know if I would’ve found anywhere else. I definitely feel more secure in myself and my presence at Swat because of theatre here.”

As the year comes to a close, and we are left most recently with the S.J.P.’s wall and Organizing for Survivors’ posters that cover the halls of Parrish, but we can’t forget the family that the arts creates for so many.

Well, That Was a Mess

in Campus Journal by


Wow. Just like that, my first year at Swarthmore is almost over. The days of claiming innocent naivety, being the baby on the block, and being able to ride the train of not knowing what the heck to major in are unfortunately coming to a close. The coming of Swatstruck marked the final nail in the coffin for the class of 2021’s reign. As soon as the class of 2022 stepped foot on campus, our youthful charm was sucked right out of us.


I speak for myself and many other first years when I say that this year was both the shortest and longest year of my life, the most joyful and most traumatic, the year in which I shed the most happy tears and the most not-at-all-happy-oh-God tears. While I feel as though I’ve been at Swarthmore for years upon years at this point, it also feels like it was just yesterday I was waving bye to Mom and Dad as they left Ben West. As a result, I feel as though it would be cathartic to go through all of the stuff that has taken place this year – to torture myself, or at the very least to get a pity chuckle or two. I also realize that this campus is small, and any vague rendering of something that could be related to someone somewhere will get connected. Thus, I will attempt to ride the line between honesty and respecting the fact that Swatties are intuitive enough to connect the dots.


Rewinding, we will go all the way back to orientation – yes, the mess that has been freshman year started all the way back in orientation (or, if we want to get into technicalities, the day before orientation, as I took part in Tri-Co).


Orientation was an interesting time for me. I was bright-eyed and not at all cynical for what was to come. Not only that, I was determined to try new things and take inspiration from Shonda Rhimes with my “year of yes.” Yes, I would smoke that drug. And that drug. And that drug. Yes, I would drink that drink. And that drink. And that drink. Yes, I would make out with that boy. And that boy. And that boy.


Before I knew it, I was three days into orientation week, filled with weed, hickies on my neck, and regret in, on, around my everywhere. Not only that, I found myself in a love triangle I wanted no part of, but that I was single-handedly orchestrating. Days were spent alternating between two boys who were some of my best friends on campus. Overnight, my chest became a battleground for who could most dramatically stake their claim.


The honeymoon stage of being in a hot and steamy love triangle with two boys who each thought very negatively of the other was short-lived though, as one day before classes officially started the love triangle became a love line. With one boy out, I brushed it off initially and told myself that this was better for all parties involved. For said breaker-upper, I figured that it was inevitable anyway, and that we would function much better as friends than whatever the heck we had been over orientation week.


Two weeks later, we hooked up again.


Because of course we did!


It’s Swarthmore. It wouldn’t be Swarthmore without the breaks, the agony, the awkward smiles, the even more awkward everything elses.


And thus marked the beginning of the “oh-wait-I’m-not-at-all-over-this-actually-am-I?” This would last from roughly mid-September to mid-November. Lots of tears would be shed during this time – in the bathroom, in my room, in Sharples, in the amphitheater, in McCabe. Just like that, I was unintentionally going through every single spot on Buzzfeed’s “Where to Cry at Swarthmore College” list.


During this time, more boys entered and exited the scene. The previous love triangle became more of a love web as this boy hooked up with that boy who hooked up with me who hooked up with him who hooked up with you. The Swat Seven seemed as though it was coming naturally to me, as in two weeks I had already crossed off the Class of 2021 and Class of 2019.


This, of course, resulted in a long mess that I will not go in the details of, but again, lots of tears, frustration, anger, etc. etc. etc. ensued. As first semester continued – yes, all of this still took place in first semester – I decided to branch out of Swarthmore and look elsewhere. Feeling as though my options were already running thin after a few months, I knew that if I wanted to get anywhere I would have to try new things, be willing to make mistakes, go to… Penn.


Of course, in retrospect, this was a huge mistake. But either way, I whisked myself off to Penn and there I met a boy who gave me a chin hickey among other things. I was in awe of his shaved head, his cool, nonchalant personality, and the fact that he wasn’t a Swattie. (That’s all it takes, boys!) Sadly, when he was trying to come over on a Monday night, I realized he just wasn’t attuned to the Swat lifestyle, and it just wasn’t going to work out.


My body count was increasing, so I decided I needed to take a break. From new men. Past hookups were fine – they wouldn’t add to the body count, and I could justify them with the fact that I was simply trying to relive my days of youth at Swat. (Again, I was still in my first semester; the life cycle of a Swattie is interesting to say the least.) So, stupidly, I decided to go back to hooking up with boys who, I should’ve left as first-month mistakes, but instead had now become central characters in the story. Haha! Bad, bad choice. But I was a first year! I had my innocent naivety to fall back on! My unassuming smile! My I-just-watched-Fight-Club-and-thought-one-of-you-was-just-a-figment-of-my-imagination!


Sometime early on in second semester, I finally came to the realization that getting Matchboxed to one of these love web boys was futile. Thus, I decided to look elsewhere.


I found myself in the process.


Haha. Just kidding. Wouldn’t that be cliché! No, I found a closeted sports bro instead.


Anyway, the specifics of that aren’t really important. Funnily enough, even though this first-year has been a mess in every definition of the word, I wouldn’t have chosen to alter it in any way. Yes, mistakes were made over and over and over again, but I feel ready to take on sophomore year wise, unafraid, and ready to laugh at myself when I inevitably make new mistakes. So here’s to sophomore year! Here’s to growth! Here’s to laughing at our mistakes and growing from them! Here’s to the friends who are there for you throughout all the mistakes!


Here’s to another mess!

The power of low expectations

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

When I arrived in Stockholm a month ago for study abroad I suddenly found myself with a lot more free time than I was used to. Even though I am still in four classes I didn’t have my extra-curricular activities and wasn’t constantly surrounded by the “If you aren’t studying, what are you doing?” attitude that plagues Swarthmore’s campus. It was possible for me to do well in my classes and not spend all of my time studying. I was confused, everyone had told me that study abroad is the chance of a lifetime. When else are you going to have the opportunity to the opportunity to spend four months living abroad? I began to feel like every second of my day had to be filled with life-changing experiences.

I imagine this feeling of “Why am I not having the time of my life?” is what many people feel when they first go off to college. In a way, starting college is similar to study abroad: college is often touted as the best four years of your life, so when people get to college and realize that it isn’t all fun they probably have similar issues.

But I arrived at Swarthmore with quite low expectations. Before I left for college one of my older cousins told me “everyone tells you college is the best four years of your life, but no one tells you it takes time to get to that point.” She was referencing the fact that it takes time to settle into college and find a routine that works for you; for whatever reason, this really stuck with me.

When I arrived on campus, I was prepared for low points. I knew that I would spend most of my time studying. and it would take time to be able to find the things on campus that really made me happy. It was probably these low expectations that helped make my first semester at Swarthmore bearable.

Unfortunately, I did not have the same expectations going into study abroad. I was determined that this was going to be my chance to have fun and be adventurous. I first realized this wasn’t true when I woke up on my first free Saturday morning after orientation and realized I had no plans for the daytime. I started panicking that I was wasting a whole day. What was I supposed to do with all this time? At Swarthmore I would sleep in until 11 a.m., eat Sharples brunch, and study before Saturday night, but all of those activities seemed like an utter waste of time. After all, I am only here for four months. I can’t spend all my time ~studying~.

After some forced self-reflection (i.e., talking to my mother) I realized that this mindset was not sustainable. My mother reminded me that I am here for four months, and if I am going to survive this experience, I need to pace myself. I need to sleep, relax, study, and do things that I enjoy at home or at school as well as abroad. I need to find a balance between taking advantage of opportunities here that I don’t have back home and making sure I am taking care of myself.

For the past two weeks or so, I have been reminding myself of this fact every time I worry that I am not doing enough. Yes, I am abroad and yes, this is a fantastic experience. But this isn’t an extended vacation. I am here to live and learn about another culture. It is important to realize that even the everyday things here are an opportunity for me to learn and immerse myself in the culture. Taking my headphones out while on my morning commute and listening to mumblings in Swedish or sitting in a coffee shop observing those around me may not be the kind of exciting study abroad stories I thought I was going to get, but that does not mean they are not valuable. Taking the time to slow down and experience all the new things around me will help me get the study abroad experience I want.

I know that everyone goes into study abroad with different goals, but I want to know what it is like to live in another country for four months. I want to know what my life would look like if I lived here. And I don’t need to have every minute of every day filled with life-changing events for me to achieve that.

For those of you who are worried about whether or not you are getting enough out of study abroad or even college in general, it is important to take a step back and think about what your goals are and what you need to do to reach them. Everyone’s goals will be a little bit different and therefore everyone’s experience should be different. You don’t need to try to mold your experience to match someone else’s or to look like what you think society says it should look like.

Swat-sgiving, and why thankfulness matters

in Columns/Opinions/Words of Wagner by

Swarthmore can be overwhelming and tiring. Classes are often difficult, and sometimes campus feels like a rat-race. Sometimes, I get to Sharples and just cannot bring myself to wait in the line for the bar I want, and so I settle for a less satisfactory alternative. Sometimes I miss the shuttle from PPR to campus by less than a minute. Sometimes I do make it onto the evening shuttle, only to be taken to Mary Lyons and then back to campus before going back to PPR. Waking up in the morning is hard after staying up doing work. There is an endless litany of complaints about Swarthmore, far beyond the ones that I have listed here. But I was recently reminded about how lucky I am to go here by a pizza delivery driver at 1:00a.m. on Halloween weekend. When I met the delivery driver in the PPR circle, he mentioned how great of a school Swarthmore is and how I am fortunate to get to go here. I looked up towards campus, took it all in, thanked him, and agreed that I am so, so lucky.

As the holiday season progresses, I think it is important that we, as a community, take a moment to take stock of what we’re thankful for. Thanksgiving itself can be tough, travelling with family can be difficult, and returning home and seeing people from high school is often awkward. And presumably, there are some first-years that tried to make a long-distance relationship work who are going to be both victims and perpetrators of the infamous dump-sgiving festivities. Despite all of that, it’s a built-in day of the year to look around and take in the best parts of life. Thanksgiving is one week from today, but thankfulness should be something we practice every day.

While every person faces a unique set of personal challenges ranging in magnitude, thankfulness is something that many people can benefit from. I forced myself to become an optimist in my early teens by filling a jar with at least one good thing that happened to me that day written on an index card, and my outlook on life changed permanently. Being thankful for the most trivial things in my life made me happier. Was I lowering the bar for things that brought me joy? I quite possibly was, but getting excited about small accomplishments and casual events increased my average level of joy. Thankfulness is not a panacea; it cannot improve situations that are outside of one’s immediate control, but it can be comforting to many, and is something that we often forget. Thankfulness can change the way we see the world, and in its best form, can soften the blow of disappointments and increase the joy of success. Even on my worst days, I am trained to look for one good thing and harness it so any day can be positive. There is no one person, thing, or activity that we should be thankful for, so we should all look for many things that we can be thankful for. Life is not just the big successes, life happens in the small moments, so when we don’t let ourselves enjoy the small things that make us happy because they don’t fit in with what we typically see as success, we can lose out on life.

Life is messy, and it is often full of surprises. Sometimes, we don’t do as well as we wanted on assignments; other times we do better than expected. We have bad weeks, good days, rough moments, and happy times. There are certainly times when we don’t have to be thankful, people that we don’t have to be grateful to, and experiences that just really bring us down. What makes graditude beautiful is that it is entirely determined by an individual and is for that individual. Of course, those that we are thankful to appreciate graciousness and many deserve it, but the real benefits of thankfulness are inherent in our own selves. Determining one’s own thankfulness helps fill the soul with warmth and lets a person create their own happiness, regardless of outside expectations and naysayers.

I am thankful for every time that I wake up and start a new day, and every time I make it to the morning shuttle in time and can skip a chilly walk to campus. Any time that Sci Center still has my favorite kind of bagel when I get to the front of the line fills me with a sense of contentment that I have trained myself to feel and enjoy. I like to look on the bright side of life because, if I don’t, my life would be taken over by problem sets and papers, and while there is no one way to cope with the rigor of Swarthmore, we’re pretty damn lucky to be here, and reminding ourselves of that, right along with the tiny successes and moments of bliss, can maybe help us all keep it together just a little bit more as the second round of midterms hits right before Thanksgiving.

Finding empathy

in Columns/Opinions/Staff Editorials by

This Sunday, the country witnessed yet another instance of mass violence. The shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas left 26 people dead and many more injured. Once again, we saw headlines of including the phrase “one of the most deadly attacks.” News publications increasingly use this line to describe massacres, such as the Las Vegas shooting on October 1 leaving 58 people dead or the October 31st New York City attack that killed eight people.

Around campus, however, this line seems to have lost its gut-punch feeling. Monday morning, for most of us, was just another day on campus. Students, staff, and faculty followed their regular routines. Some community members were unaware of the terrible attack that occurred just 24 hours prior, and few lost breath over it. These attacks have turned the lives of thousands upside down and scarred towns. Yet for us, life keeps going.

Anyone who watches the news will be able to tell you that it will often leave you feeling hopeless or depressed. This has caused many of us to lower our news consumption or compartmentalize the extreme things that we read about. This is dangerous. We cannot let these things become normal.

We cannot let these events paralyze us but we need to recognize the magnitude of what this country, and world, is experiencing. We need to recognize that the 26 people who died on Sunday and the countless victims of other attacks are more than just a CNN notification that pops up on our phones.

We need to find a balance between pretending these events never happened and letting them control our lives. This may look different for everyone. Some people may choose to get more involved with politics. Others may want to get more involved on a personal level and find some way to support the victims. Both of these options are valid responses to the terrible events that we keep seeing.

We know that it is impossible to give each news story the attention it probably deserves. You cannot donate to every fund or spend all day calling your congressman. That isn’t reasonable. What is reasonable is to take a few minutes every day to recognize the impact that these events have had on people and think about what you can to do help.

This college prides itself on being a social justice campus. We hold protests and vigils for many events, yet ignore so many others.

We recognize that, unfortunately, holding a collection or a vigil for every mass death would be impossible. But having a conversation about what happened with a friend at dinner is not. Reading about the stories figuring out what happened humanizing the victims is possible.  

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