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Gearing up

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

As we hit the part of the semester where the second round of midterms are coming up, the weather is getting colder, there are fewer daylight hours, and the end of the semester coming into view. With the end still very far away, many people are beginning to walk around like zombies. Many of us resort to completing each of our tasks just to check them off the list, and we end up moving through our days with a melancholy attitude.

This is the time of the semester where we all need a second little push. During this time, it is important to remember that there are some good things about this campus. It is important to do a little self-reflecting to find what it is about this campus that you enjoy.

Whether it be the salad bar, or the ski lodge-like atmosphere in Sharples, or that one class that you just really enjoy, we should each recognize what here at Swat brings us enjoyment about being here. Zoning in on those aspects of campus can help get each of us through this part of the semester.  

Maybe go back and re-read that dreaded “Why Swarthmore” essay on your college application and remember why you were so excited to come here as a first-year. Yes, you might cringe a little bit at the forced SAT vocabulary or stressed metaphors, but there might be something buried in there. Maybe you wrote about how excited you were to be able to live in such a beautiful arboretum, but when is the last time you went for a walk in the Crum? Maybe you wrote about how much you hoped to take advantage of being close to Philadelphia, but you haven’t been into the city as much as you anticipated this semester.

Misery poker and Swat-bashing are common around campus. Sometimes it can be fun to make fun of ridiculous things that happen on this campus, but going too far can hurt your experience here.

Swarthmore does a lot of things well. It works hard to support their students through externships, accessible professors, access to funding and many other opportunities.

What’s more, being at Swarthmore offers one access to a collective ethos. When something happens at this school, people know, and people care. That can’t be said for a lot of other schools, and we should recognize its value here.

This school has many flaws, many of which are pointed out in our editorials. However, we must remember that this is a place we have all chosen to be. We have the responsibility to make this community the best possible version of itself, because it is ours.


Sometimes, Swatties could use a little SpongeBob

in Columns/Op-Eds/Opinions by

I’ll admit that Swat and SpongeBob, although alliterative, are not at all synonymous. Though maybe, in some ways, they should be.

We are six weeks into the semester, and an aggregate of stress can be found formulating in the basement of Cornell Library. Sleep-deprived Swatties dragging their feet to 8 a.m. classes and running on three hours of sleep frequent the pathways between Kohlberg and Sci, and mumblings of various assignments fly across the long wooden tables at Sharples.

It doesn’t help that we are well into midterms season with tests, papers, and presentations flying at us faster than that yellow sponge on the screen spits out nonsensical phrases while flipping Krabby Patties.

I got here last year, and honestly didn’t know what to expect. When classes started, I worked a little too hard for a pass-fail freshman, trying to balance soccer, school, and the whirlwind that is living on your own for the first time. On the bus ride back from one of our first away games, in true student-athlete fashion, my teammates and I pulled out our backpacks, turned on our phone flashlights, and prepared to power through a few hours of homework.  Five minutes into the ride, someone put SpongeBob on the TV; the reading ground to a halt. As the textbooks and laptops closed, laughter ensued.  

We watched more episodes than I can count on that bus ride, the blaring noises characteristic of  Nickelodeon shows mingling with the suppressed giggles of the team. Did I get any reading done? No. Was it a productive experience? Absolutely.

Productivity, defined by Swatties and economists, is measured by the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. But there is another critical factor that should be included into this equation. Work can be fun — in fact, Swatties can often find the joy in intellectualism — but the mind-numbing ignorance that is SpongeBob makes you smile in a purely uncomplicated fashion. That feeling is often underestimated and far more powerful than most people believe.

In high school, I would plan my time largely around school and soccer; I don’t think I ever considered adding an hour of pure relaxation — in any form — to my schedule.  Ironically, it took coming to college for me to learn the importance of making time to “chill out.”

Coming into Swat, I had seen a few episodes of SpongeBob and had basically branded it as a ridiculous show that probably lowered the IQ of the watcher. When a girl on our team pulled out a DVD of SpongeBob on the bus ride, I was a little confused.  

Did intellectual, highbrow Swatties engage in such childish, rudimentary forms of entertainment? I quickly learned that some of the best ones do.  

Honestly, the world and Swat could use a little more SpongeBob.  Not all the time — ignoring that which is real and critically important is not something for which I would ever advocate. That said, taking a break, when possible, is absolutely necessary.

It doesn’t have to be SpongeBob.  If pineapples under the sea don’t do it for you, then listen to music, go for a walk or a jog or a run in the Crum. Do something with your time that isn’t related to academics, some extracurricular activity you joined, or an internship you are trying to get — something that stimulates zero percent of your brain and possesses no intellectual value.

Personally, I like SpongeBob because sometimes it’s nice to spend a few minutes looking at something so ridiculously laughable you cannot help but grin and giggle.

I’m not sure if anyone actually reads this column, but if you do, please use it as a reminder to take care of yourself. No matter how much is on your plate, you deserve to treat yourself, to engage with something that leaves you unequivocally happy.

The best time to share a striped sweater is all the time. Random? For sure. Pointless? Not at all.


Breaks Large and Small, a Manifesto

in Campus Journal by

In this era of hard-won freedom from the inflexible, linear career paths that so chained the stonefaced baby boomers, a good friend is one who always shoots résumé padding your way. So perhaps I should have been delighted when I received two blue bleeps from my companion and your resident campus Arts Editor, Joe Mariani.

“Hey dude. CJ this week is about ‘taking a break.’ You wanna write about taking a year off?,” read the bleeps.

“Mmm. Probably better not to announce my departure to the whole school,” I thoughtfully responded.

But here I am, blabbing off into a thousand word quota. Part of me feels as though now might be exactly the right moment to bare it all in front of our Quaker-valued community. Maybe mine is a valuable voice right now, since I am taking quite a big break. After all, I will be having myself a rather sizeable slice of self-care this Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Eid Al-Fitr, and the Independence and Labor days. I have not quite wrapped my mind around the scale of the decision yet. In any case, limelight is not too bad with the EXIT sign right at your back.

I did not change my mind to Joe so I could rattle off personal issues, or even a scathing takedown of the administration or the culture it fosters. There are others who do each better, and have more reason to. So I will go ahead and deliberately obfuscate the gritty private-life bits, the big “why” of my taking a break. I don’t really have that answer anyways. As anyone who has taken time off from this lovely little brain-oven will tell you, there is no one reason. I am explaining it in one way to my therapist, and another to professors, and giving my parents something in the middle. There’s a line about adventure for my younger brothers. I have a whole spectrum of reasons for friends, distributed according to position from dearest to least acquainted. Bottom line: I started senior year feeling as though I had tried several times to get the hang of life at Swarthmore. And I haven’t yet. So I am taking time to work and learn extra-bubble, and that’s all the pathos you’ll get off me. Back to the obfuscation.

There are big breaks, and there are little breaks. Long breaks like mine, where its destination is so far off that you wonder if it’s just a horizon-esque trick, have no end in sight meaning no end at all. And following that thought is its alternative, that this is one of those off-the-cliff-of-the-earth situations. Of course, the voyage does end and you arrive in trans-continental port ten pounds lighter and full of regret, three months wasted on card games, hard-tack, and rum when there was the whole open sea to ponder. And then there are the shortest of breaks. A break could be a meditative breath staring up the inner spire of McCabe. Just one cigarette in the Kohlberg courtyard — if you have the nasty habit. A trek with a friend to Science Center for coffee you could really do without but intimacy that you really couldn’t. At the outset of a rather large break, I am here to make the case for the other kind. The small kind.

I am not the only one who has problems correctly sizing and apportioning breaks. Really, it feels like a pretty endemic social problem at this college. It feels like we’re all talking about it all the time, all kind of recognizing at this point, it’s tough here sometimes. We don’t always know how to take care of ourselves very well. There’s the sense that if anyone ever bothered to pore through the Phoenix archive, they would find ample evidence that this is not a new problem. This quaker matchbox is a fire hazard, sometimes.  

The friends of mine who I feel cope best here are masters of the break within work, and are bold and self-expressive in their choices. One seems to have decided that if they are going to be the intellectual powerhouse of a literature department one day, they’ll need to develop a taste in film. So in between crunching up theories of nation and globalization – all the other nations, I guess – they carefully select classics to pop in every third night or so. Another friend delights in the new arts of the internet age and, having learned the hard limits of life at Swarthmore, stows away time at the end of each day for quiet, happy shitposting. A third makes the long trans-crum hike to Media every single Sunday morning, hangover be damned, and has a built-in social calendar because of it. An invite to the walk is a special honor. These people are not the happiest people I know, nor are they markedly more productive. The masters of the break are not the ones who have the most footnotes, always have the answer the professor wants, or who buddy-buddy when the industries descend on campus. Coping is relative anyways. The ones who take coping seriously intend to live and they do not want this school to live for them.

Nobody I know here who copes at all has not learned to find some joy in the upkeep tasks. Laundry as regularly as you can, hygiene and dental care, cleaning the room, the program of flu-alleviation that always involves some mix of home and pharmaceutical remedies. Today I have received my first and last round of Swat plague of the year, and I find myself reflecting on what I’ve seen better-copers do to heal. We do not learn to take breaks alone, and isolation is the best way to forget to take any break at all. Sometimes, of course, these small tasks must be treated as to-dos to be crossed off, because we are busy people. We intend to be busy our whole lives, even those of us who are fighting the hard fight against slender and even neoliberal notions of success. So we must learn to take breaks, especially the small ones. I certainly have to.

So maybe taking a break could be anything. Does this render the phrase meaningless? This is the most common and most dull criticism of another term that stands in for all of this: self care. There are self-care thinkpieces that valorize conspicuous consumption as the key to healthy independence. There are also self-care thinkpieces that remind us that intimacy, vulnerability, and care of the body are necessary aids to any resistant subject. And, by the way, if you already think that Foucault pops up everywhere with the power/resistance bit, one of his influential later books is titled ‘Care of the Self.’ So the mad Frenchman really is lurking behind every corner, it’s not just your imagination. I think he may have defended the thinkpiece had he lived to see its rise.

All that aside, the phrase, “to take a break,” does actually hold a lesson for me that “self care” does not. Self care seems receptive to all kinds of normativity about healthy and unhealthy life. And then health becomes another link in the endless offerings to productivity. Four times a week at the Matchbox (gym, not metaphor) to stay sharp and achieve more. Taking a break is not about health, breaks represent our physical limits. We have to take breaks. If you do not find a way to take a break, the break finds a way to take you. They will happen whether you want them to or not. If you do not respect this law, it may not be a break in just your schedule, in the end.

So I will go back on my decision again, and end the piece with a bit more confession. I have not been stellar in the breaks-department throughout my time at Swarthmore. I do not mean to say that I have studied as hard as I possibly could, put academics above all else, and managed my time with the end of productivity in mind alone. That is certainly not true. There are walks to Wa-Wa that were justifiable and spirit-raising. And there were walks to Wa-Wa that I just did not have time for and were also, in the moment, spirit-raising. I did not take seriously, at any point here, the necessity of breaks. And that if they are necessary, that we must be very careful, and caring, about them.

Without this sense of respect, I found myself in a cycle that feels very pathological and just-me right now, but perhaps will sound familiar. Arrive each semester with a sacrosanct New Plan for life at Swarthmore, carefully forged in the anxious last week of summer or winter vacation. Believe truly that a new approach will allow me to feel like myself here without giving up any commitments. Power through the first half of the semester, kicking old bad habits under the bed all the way to midterms at least. Accrue all kinds of positive and negative reinforcement along the way, construe both as confirmations to the Plan. Yet find by the time finals come around that my knot has not miraculously unwound, and I am exhausted, exhausted, exhausted. Go home tired, finish up a late paper or two, and crash hard. Then I crawl through winter or summer break to the next grand planning session. The big vacations, by the way, are long breaks, the kind that lie to you, a little bit.

What I wish I knew when I came into this place was that nobody was going to tell me to take a break. In a sense, that’s not true at all. Professors here, who have seen the students rise-and-grind-and-graduate time and again, tend to be quite adamant in telling you, “seriously, take breaks.” But they write the syllabi, and they have no access to your Google calendar. Friends, because they are the best thing you have here, will encourage you to put down the pen and come live a little and share their presence. But friends cannot know what you need unless you learn to tell them, and that’s awfully hard. And sometimes even a good friend might get a little confused, their needs crossing sneakily over into yours. Nobody is going to be able to teach you how to value the break. Taking a break is not selfish, and taking a break is not actually even for you, unless you think that your life is yours alone. Breaks are not an antidote, a life hack, or some kind of indirect mode of self-improvement. Breaks are the unplan within the life of any young productive type. Breaks permit the whole.

Cherishing our Crum Woods

in Columns/Opinions by

Following my morning routine abroad in Hanoi, Vietnam, I am riding the bus from my host family’s house to my classes at Hanoi Medical University. I am mesmerized by the thousands of motorbikes on the road. At least half of the riders are wearing facemasks to protect themselves from pollution. As I exit the bus, I can’t help but notice how difficult it is to breathe as my lungs feel caked in dust and particulate matter.

While I am smiling as I am transfixed by the motorbikes honking at me to move despite walking on the sidewalk, the traffic and horns are a sharp contrast to the peaceful environment I have come to appreciate in the Crum Woods and on Swarthmore’s campus. At Swarthmore, the smell of Japanese honeysuckle and fresh rain accompany me to class each morning, but in Hanoi, the odors of smoke from street vendors, gasoline from motorbikes, and trash from garbage left on the side of the road overwhelm my senses. Back at Swarthmore, when in need of clearing my head, I can stroll through the Crum and get lost in listening to the rushing water of the creek and the chirping of the birds. Here in Hanoi, I am always aware of the motorbike sneaking up behind me and the street vendors yelling, asking me in Vietnamese to purchase something from their stand. I cannot lose myself completely in my thoughts, or else I will not be able to keep up with the quick pace of this city that is unlike any I have ever experienced.

The outdoor space on Swarthmore’s campus, both inside and outside of the Crum Woods, is a precious resource that has become especially dear to my heart these last two years, and even more so now that I must try and seek solace in an area with little to no actual green space. The Crum Woods provides space for students and community members to meditate, reflect, and get lost in their own thoughts. It provides space for students to become the responsible, ethical, and balanced citizens that Swarthmore’s mission demands its students become. In a study conducted last year through the President’s Sustainability Research fellowship, the three most common words students used to describe the Crum were “beautiful,” “diverse,” and “peaceful.” Students discussed enjoying the Crum Woods because they use it for exercise and retreat from the college’s grueling academic atmosphere. Overall, they offered it relieves some of Swarthmore’s pressure that can sometimes become overwhelming. The Visioning Process Final Report the college published last year also found that better use of outdoor space was one of the top desires of students on campus.

Still, students are not taking advantage of the natural spaces that exist on campus because they are “too busy.” However, what if making time to enjoy the natural resources that we have on campus became a priority? After all, studies show that time spent outdoors can actually make students more productive. According to the Huffington Post, two researchers from Stanford University found that walking outdoors boosts creativity, and researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found outdoor activity is likely to improve concentration. Lee and Ingold, in their article “Fieldwork on Foot,” describe the value of the outdoors best when they state, “the rhythms of movement are very different and people draw attention to the specific qualities of the outdoors,” compared to the almost static movements of the indoors.

I challenge you, Swatties, to make embracing the Crum Woods and the arboretum, in which you are all lucky enough to live and immerse yourselves, a goal this semester. Make time to take a walk in the woods, to listen to the sounds around you, and to notice how the natural environment actually improves your wellbeing, and perhaps even motivates you to finish your studies. While you’re at it, use events like the Scott Arboretum Tree Planting and Crum Woods Tours to motivate yourself to enjoy and conserve our woods. I challenge you to let the Crum Woods change you the way that the woods have changed me.

It is because of the Crum Woods that I have come to understand the serenity that exists in the world although our fast-paced and routine-oriented lives attempt to tell us otherwise. I’ll never forget the comfort of the woods last semester when I was practically in tears after failing a paper. I was completely overwhelmed when I realized that I had to quickly recover from that paper because I had a biology exam and other readings to complete. I found myself storming into the woods to walk out my frustration. After a few minutes in the woods, my heart began to slow and my eyes began to dry. Hearing a Carolina wren in the distance and watching a squirrel happily scurry up a tree, a small smile spread across my lips. Though academics are important, there is so much more to the world than one paper. The woods are a constant reminder that there is so much more to explore and so much more life beyond stress. It is because of this peace from the Crum Woods that I have been able to reaffirm my own values and discover where I belong in society.  

Of course, as I am away from the Crum Woods this semester, I still wouldn’t trade exploring for Hanoi for anything. There are aspects of Hanoi that I love and that I could never find at Swarthmore. I can’t even begin to describe how astonished I am by the simplicity of life many people follow, eating pho for lunch on a little blue stool resembling that of a four-legged children’s seat from my childhood. I love the vendors who opt for pedalling around a bike to transport their fruit and goods in baskets, content with wearing a rice hat to cover themselves from the beaming sun. At Swarthmore, we complain about having to sit in our dorm rooms without air conditioning, never mind pedalling a bike in the 100-degree hot, humid weather, but that argument is for another article.

Even so, there’s something to be said about valuing a luxury that many of us students don’t fully realize we have on campus. My experience in Hanoi has showed me how lucky we all are to not have to walk around campus with facemasks or smell garbage and toxins every time we leave the indoors. This privilege must motivate us to cherish and protect our woods even more, and we should make a conscious effort to appreciate and care for our natural environment the way it cares for us every day.

Draw a picture, take a break!

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Midterm season is upon us and it’s easy to become too stressed or overwhelmed. However, we at the Phoenix want to stress the importance of self-care and the need to take a break every once in awhile.  We want to encourage you to focus on the bliss that will come from spring break after midterm season. Draw a picture of what you are doing over break and submit your drawings to the Phoenix! We will feature the winning drawing in our next publication!

Coping with Trump’s presidency

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

We unlocked the door with our twisted imagination. Beyond it was a dimension with sounds, sights, and perspectives that we had never seen before it. Shadows descended upon our senses and judgment to nullify any real substance, and since November of last year we’ve been living in a 21st century Twilight Zone. Most people on this campus didn’t expect Trump to win the presidency. I was one of them; in my mind, I was convinced that the America that I knew growing up, despite its contentious and problematic history, always strove for progress and inclusion. The country wouldn’t, in the span of an election, voluntarily decide to go back to the America of the 1950s. Although in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was with the outcome. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are the daughters of bigotry and hatred. They’ve been woven into the fabric of America since its tortured beginning. I knew this already, so I don’t understand why I’ve been so infuriated by Trump’s presidency.

It’s been about two-and-a-half weeks since his inauguration, but each day feels like an eternity. Each day he (or maybe Steve Bannon at this point) declares a new executive order from his little box of horrors. From reinstating the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to instructing federal agencies to weaken Obamacare, he’s already shown complete disregard for the communities that are most vulnerable. Since his inauguration, he’s signed more than twenty executive actions. While he’s been busy turning D.C. on its head, I’ve been trying to ignore him but to no avail. Whether it be on TV or on the internet, I’m frequently stressed out as the consequences of his actions loom over me like the clouds did the day after he won the election.

With the prospect of declaring my major relatively soon, applying for research and study abroad opportunities, and dealing with back-to-back 8:30 classes for a heavy course load, Swarthmore has been difficult for me. Maintaining mental health takes just as much work as maintaining physical health and the last thing I needed was to get enraged over something which I have no control over. There’s a limit to how much you can react angrily on Facebook. Besides, at this point nothing that he says or does really surprises me.

That changed about a week ago when I20 hosted the Immigration Panel Discussion regarding the possible repercussions as a result of his executive orders changing the H1B/H1B1/work visa programs. As a natural-born citizen, I was privileged about not having to worry about this, so I didn’t go to the Immigration Panel Discussion. In retrospect, I’m ashamed that I didn’t go since shortly afterwards I realized for every problem that didn’t directly affect me, it would affect someone I knew. He/She/They would have to carry that burden with them, only for the cycle of fear and anxiety to repeat itself each day. There’s a difference between dedicating time to yourself and being selfish, and I’ve erred on the wrong side for too long.

Of course, Swatties already know about the multiple ways to resist Trump’s fascism: protest, call your senators, donate to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, etc. and yes those are all wonderful courses of action to take. However, there’s something else that I want to suggest for those who are currently afraid of our increasingly uncertain future.

I asked a good friend of mine how he was going to live through Trump’s presidency and his response stunned me. Even though he firmly believes everyone should have and should continue to fight for equal rights, we can’t expect to live the same life as those with privilege do and we have to reconcile with that. My grandparents who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement believed that one day we’d live in a more equitable and just society. They carried that hope with them until they passed away, gave that same hope to my parents who in turn passed it on to me. Whenever all feels lost, through this hope I find the strength to persevere. Hopefully, someday my future children and grandchildren can find the same solace. Regardless for now, I suggest that there are two actions you should perform:

Find Joy. It doesn’t matter how but this is important. Whether it be through your friends and family or socializing, making it a priority to find joy in your life is one of the greatest acts of self-love that you can do for yourself.

Be content in who you are and live your life. No matter what Trump does, he can’t determine how far you go or the dreams you make for yourself. The fact that you exist and there can be no other human being like you is proof of your uniqueness. Just by doing what you already do on a daily basis is the ultimate form of resistance and signals how powerful and indomitable you already are.

The next four years will be difficult for sure, but that doesn’t mean your life has to be made any worse. Whatever you decide to do, I hope that you can find your own peace and happiness.

Mental health is not a joke

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

All across the nation, we are facing a mental health epidemic. According to the American College Health Association, colleges and universities have reported over 50 percent of their students feeling overwhelming anxiety and 32 percent of their students reporting feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.” Yet, despite its widespread effects, mental health remains an under-addressed issue that is often ignored or left in secret. Even at Swarthmore, despite our liberal arts mission to encourage students to “prepare themselves for full, balanced lives,” mental health and self-care are often the ignored components of this mission.  We at the Phoenix believe it is the responsibility of the college to take on the task of ensuring all students can equitably access their educations and lives.

We cannot pretend Swarthmore students are immune from these mental health issues.  One can easily see this epidemic by looking at the full capacity issues within our Counseling and Psychological Services, as reported by Leo Elliot ’18 on March 17, 2016 in the Phoenix. Even with resources like CAPS, the campus still struggles to understand the severity of these problems or the need to increase our services for these issues. The Swarthmore community has students making emergency appointments with CAPS, only for these same students to return to studying in McCabe until 2am. The community has students crying in the bathroom and then returning to a seminar an hour later. Some students can barely get out of bed in the morning, yet still force themselves to turn in their problem sets or else face horrible self-criticism for not completing their assignment on time.

We at the Phoenix must emphasize that this is not healthy. It is not healthy to push one’s body to the breaking point, to recognize when one’s body and one’s mind needs to rest, but to keep forcing oneself forward anyway. Yet, students continue to push themselves past the breaking point because, on this campus, having a mental illness is not an excuse to miss class. Many students won’t even take a sick day for the flu, let alone a mental health day to take care of themselves. It is imperative that college staff and faculty recognize that feeling unsafe is a valid cause for academic accommodations. Students also need to recognize that not doing work due to serious mental health problems is not irresponsible as it is different from skipping class because they stayed up too late procrastinating. Too many students on campus feel embarrassed to admit they cannot finish all of their assignments and readings and push themselves too far. We at the Phoenix emphasize that our campus needs to reach a point where students with mental health problems feel comfortable seeking the treatment they need, even if that treatment is a simple break. Just as importantly,  the broader community needs to be able to respect these decisions.

While we at the Phoenix recognize that the college has made a lot of progress with regards to increasing conversations about mental health on campus, we also recognize that many more actions need to be taken and that we are not yet a supportive and accommodating campus for people with mental health concerns on campus.

We at the Phoenix urge the college to take action in several capacities. First, the college should provide professional development for faculty and staff on supporting the mental health of students. While many professors have created individual policies for accommodating mental health issues, a professional development training would standardize this process, decreasing the frustrations felt by students when one professor may make accommodations and another is unwilling to do so. This would also help instill confidence within the student body. If students know that their professors are aware of how to handle these issues, they may be more willing to approach them with their problems instead of suffering in silence.

We at the Phoenix are aware that professors are not counselors and we are not asking for them to serve as one. Rather, we are asking that professors understand the significance of mental health issues and are able to point students to appropriate resources and self-care practices.

Furthermore, we at the Phoenix urge the college to implement more open-campus discussions around mental illness. The college should work more closely with existing mental health groups, like Speak2Swatties or support groups led by CAPS and Worth Health Center, to share these resources with more students or expand the programming provided. They could also implement more discussions through better educating Residential Assistants, Diversity Peer Advisors, or Student Academic Mentors on how to discuss mental health. Finally, mental health could be featured as a special topic during campus initiatives, like a Coffee Talk, to help bring the issue to the forefront of campus.

A mental illness is not something that can be beaten with sheer willpower. It is not something that can be wished away, but instead takes time and effort to work through. By the college taking mental health issues more seriously, not only will the students who suffer benefit,  but so will the community at large. One cannot fully contribute to the campus around them if they are struggling with health issues. In order for students to receive the best education possible, and to contribute the most to campus and society, they must first have the resources to best care for their own mental health without feeling guilty for doing so.

Questioning the ‘elite’ education

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I’ll never forget the bursting excitement I felt when leaving home last year, anxiously anticipating life-changing college experiences to come. As I looked over my shoulder toward my family one last time before passing through airport security, I had tears in my eyes at the thought of leaving everyone I loved behind. I consoled myself with the fact that I was off to change the world. I was about to enter an environment where everyone cared about working toward building a better community and where I would be supported in both learning and practicing how to create these positive changes.  

Flash forward a little over a year later. Sophomore Brittni sits in McCabe overwhelmed by work, contemplating how on earth I’m going to complete all my readings and stressing over whether I studied enough for my next test. Letting out a sigh of frustration, I can’t help but notice everyone around me staring lifelessly at their laptops as well, probably considering similar fears. While I should take this social cue as motivation to get back to studying, this observation only drains me more. Everyone’s expressions are a cross between boredom and withdrawal from their surroundings, as if this studying is the defining element of their everyday routines.

I’m instantly overwhelmed as I feel suffocated by work and disconnected from everything around me. Suddenly, it seems that my ability to complete my academic work to the highest standards is the defining quality of my worth at this institution. Moreover, since Swarthmore is where I live, and therefore, my main community, this reality quickly translates into academic success defining my self-worth as an individual. It symbolizes my ability to succeed in the real world. This one-size-fits-all definition of success is both detrimental to mental health and unrepresentative of life in society.

At an academically intense, elite institution like Swarthmore, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that the person who studies the most and sleeps the least is the most successful. There is this perpetual illusion of “if I am sleeping, I must not be studying enough” or “the more time I spend exercising, the less time I have to do my readings.” I don’t think I’m alone in stating that this type of atmosphere is unhealthy and does not properly prepare students for post-graduation reality.

Part of Swarthmore’s mission statement describes the goal of teaching students to prepare themselves “for full, balanced lives,” to make them “more useful members of society,” and to help students “realize their full intellectual and personal potential.” Unfortunately, as it stands, we are not meeting this goal. To live a balanced life, self-care needs to be prioritized, and part of self-care is learning that self-worth is obtained from more than just grades or studying.

To be more useful members of society and realize our personal potential, students need to accept that college is a time to explore more than just academics; it is a time to engage with extracurriculars and the outside community. College is where we are meant to begin discovering our passions. It is impossible to find that passion without not only exploring not intellectual subjects, but also joining extracurriculars that engage with the community, attending lectures by professionals in a field, and allowing yourself unstructured time to see where the mind wanders when it is allowed to be free.

This is not Swarthmore’s fault and may not even be unique to Swarthmore. As students, we have a tendency to engage in the unspoken competition of being the most intellectual or to strive for perfection, but we need to begin to ask ourselves how we should be defining perfection. Is perfection obtaining straight As and studying as much as possible, or is it creating a balanced life, engaging with the community, and becoming a role model for others?

David Orr, the author of “What is Education for?” states it best when he says “the plain fact is that the planet does not need more ‘successful’ people, bit does need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form.” In our current pursuits of academic and intellectual perfection to get into the perfect grad school or land the perfect internship, how much are we preparing ourselves for less conventional models of success, like change-makers, through actively supporting one another and mending issues in the community?

Leaving for Swarthmore last fall, I knew that I was signing myself up for an academically rigorous experience, and as an intellectual with a love of learning, I embraced this. However, I never agreed to let the academic intensity of an elite institution replace my love for community engagement. This an aspect of identity that ought not to be compromised. As Swatties, we have the opportunity to create a new vision for success. Through self-care, embracing our own talents, and sharing them with the community, we can transform the campus atmosphere and model a new definition of an “elite” institution that means so much more than academic rigor.


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