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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.

 

Noémi Fernández wants to give you a pep talk

in Campus Journal by

If you’ve never been to her office in the Matchbox, you may know her from her supportive posts to Yik Yak, or her recent appearance in your inbox. Together with Josh Ellow, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor, and Nina Harris, the Violence Prevention Educator, Noemi Fernández joined the College’s wellness education team last year as the student wellness program manager.

 

Translation? Noemi Fernández wants to give you a pep talk.

 

Fernández was born in Mexico to American and Mexican parents, but moved at a young age to Yuma, Arizona. Yuma’s population is heavily influenced by the presence of the military as well as by migrant workers, who follow crop harvests across the West Coast into California’s Central Valley. As a teen, Fernández left the small Southwestern city to attend boarding school in California. From there, she went to Williams College, where she studied Military History and Spanish.

 

Fernández’ commitment to education began after her undergrad experience, when she became a Spanish teacher and basketball, soccer, and lacrosse coach at a New England boarding school. There, she was also deeply involved in dorm life, working with young women in the dorms and in her advisee group. She then became an admissions counselor at Wellesley, traveling the country to promote women’s education in communities like the one she grew up in.

 

Fernández explained her decision to move away from the classroom and into other work in education, saying, “I loved the interaction with students in between class. The moments in the corridors or in my office hours, where we weren’t talking about Spanish grammar, but rather their hopes and dreams, their fears and desires and aspirations in life.”

For Fernández, whose arrival at Swarthmore coincided with the opening of the Matchbox, the desire to help students navigate their education has manifested in work with both physical and mental health. Last year, she and Fitness Center Coordinator Eric Hoffman collaborated on a series of Matchbox education sessions, which aimed to introduce students new to the gym to the potentially intimidating high-end equipment in the facility. These events culminated in the now-annual Couch to 5K event, which invited students and community members to set a goal for a 5K run around the border of campus. Runners raised money for the Philadelphia domestic violence prevention group Women Against Abuse. She has also assisted with organizing the annual SwatLift competition.

 

Of course, for many Swatties, physical fitness is only one obstacle in a laundry list of challenges facing their general wellness.  This is what makes Fernández’ position on campus unique: in one-on-one consultations with students, she provides advice on stress management, sleep habits, and yes—social life. She describes most students practices, saying, “We binge, we cycle. All or nothing. Ten hours in the library, ten hours of Netflix, ten hours in Sharples, ten hours in the lab, ten hours with our friends, ten hours without seeing anybody.”

 

The best steps for breaking this cycle? Fernández points out that during moments of stress, we lose our ability to analyze a situation rationally. To prevent this, she recommends taking sixty-second breaks to reflect on your habits and how they manifest throughout the day. She also encourages students to learn how to delegate: when working in groups or in extra-curriculars, she emphasizes the importance of trusting others to do their share of the work and not stressing over things that are outside your control.

 

Fernández is also committed to helping students understand the resources available to them for further help. The hazily defined roles of different campus administrators can make it confusing for a student seeking help to know where to turn during a time of personal crisis. Part of Ferández’s mission is not only to advise students herself, but to help them understand what resources are available to them as they move through the challenging environment Swarthmore provides. She’s able to interpret the slew of acronyms students are thrown when they ask for help (RAs, SAMs, SAs, WAs, S2S, CAPS), as well as to elucidate the roles of different deans and administrators who can help.

 

“Wellness itself is pretty straightforward. Self-care? Not complicated. Our lives are complicated. And that’s what makes self-care and wellness so hard. You can’t take care of yourself in every single way, every day, all the time; it has to be in pieces,” she notes.

 

For Fernández, self-care means a monthly manicure and cooking dinner for her family at night. If you can’t figure out what it means for you, then she might be the person to turn to.

@Swarthmore: remember to take care

in Columns/Opinions by

It’s been a rough week. Whether or not you keep up with current events -whether or not they affect you as strongly as they do others — it’s undeniable that everyone at Swat has felt the impact of these events at home and abroad, and it’s important to recognize that for some, “abroad” is home. We have “racial tensions” at Yale, domestic terrorism at Mizzou, the bombings in Beirut, in Baghdad, in Kenya, in Paris. Sure, these things happen every day in some places that the mass media dares not uncover. But the fact is that the world, in some way or another, has been exposed to these tragedies — and in some way or another, has to deal with them. Put that on top of the general, everyday stress/anxiety/weight that comes with being a Swarthmore student … it’s a lot to take in. Especially in such short amount of time.

And let’s not forget with these events come (oftentimes all too quickly) with conversations. Here at Swat we love the collection, it’s practically our lifeblood. And collections are generally great and healthy things. They’re a way for communities to come together and reflect and share our feelings on what’s been going on. It’s a way to breathe together, to exhale, and get things off our chests. But the danger here lies in reacting too quickly. We come, we see, we rant; trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers in minutes, seconds. An article about the Paris attacks pops up on a Facebook news feed. Scroll down, Facebook recommends a profile picture change. A click and several keystrokes later, le tricolore acts as a filter over your proudest selfie.

I was going to write this article about the implications of social media activism, about the reactions to these attacks across the globe, about the right-wing backlash against Syrian refugees, and the liberal rat race to sympathize with BlackLivesMatter. I was going to turn my column (as I have done before) into my own personal struggle against these things that enraged me, against those who would threaten and kill the innocent and against those who would retaliate in ways that only aggravate the situation. I would use my bully pulpit, however small, to denounce empty allyship, to call out those who would turn their sympathy into the struggle itself, to rant and tirade and scream with each keystroke that too often we focus on the wrong implications of a problem, and forget to look towards the root of the tree that bears such strange fruit.

But I’ve decided to do something else instead. It has been a rough week, a really rough week, for Swat students and the world in general. And in these times of tragedy, when we feel weak, when we feel powerless, when we are convinced that nothing is right in the world, perhaps we shouldn’t always rush to make sure our voices are heard first, and most loudly. We need time to think, to process, to self-collect, and to heal. Self-care is equally important.

To the social justice warriors of this world, this may seem a selfish and individualistic claim. Self care? What about the victims of the bombings in Beirut? Who will be taking care of them? And the students at Mizzou? They certainly don’t feel safe… How can we be so self-centered and selfish when people across the world don’t have half the things we do? And it’s true, even in our darkest hours at Swarthmore, we will never understand exactly how the globally victimized feel. We are all, relatively, better off. I remember my mother, an African immigrant, saying on many occasions, “You feel stressed? Try running from lions — that’s stress.”

And no, I can’t really deny that. But it’s ignorant to assume that just because we live in a relatively safe environment that these events don’t affect us all, in some way or another. And being a martyr for a cause halfway across the country — or the globe — doesn’t help anyone’s condition. Sacrificing well-being for a cause is what creates organizations like ISIS, and gives them strength. We don’t need more martyrs in the world, not for terrorism and not for counter-terrorism, not for racism and not against racism. Putting the full weight of a cause on your shoulders — especially if it’s not a cause specific to you in the first place — is unhealthy. And people shouldn’t have to die to prove that.

So I urge you, Swarthmore students, take care. Drink some tea. Cuddle up in a blanket. Finish watching Master of None on Netflix and take a good, long nap. Spend time with your loved ones, and cuddle with them too. Feel good about yourself; try and find some inner peace before tackling the world’s problems.We have to take care of ourselves before we can try and take care of world. Otherwise, we risk manifesting our inner turmoil into reality, and only worsening the situation.

Gandhi is famous for his saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I was surprised to learn that this is not true; Gandhi never really said this. The quote is actually something a lot closer to “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

I’ll leave you with that. As-Salaam Alaikum.

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