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A call to deinstitutionalize stress

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

“Have you taken care of yourself recently?”

My professor asked me this question a few weeks ago after noticing how enervated I was. As midterms were rolling in, I needed to sacrifice several hours of sleep every day to catch up with all of the homework and revise what I had learned. Such habits a took a toll on my body — the more sleep-deprived I was during the weekdays, the more sleep I had to compensate for over the weekends. Even though I chose to attend Swarthmore because of its rigor, I sometimes anguish over my decision and wonder how my life would have been had I studied elsewhere. Many friends of mine are suffering from similar anguish as well.  We are all burnt out. Why do some Swarthmore students overwork themselves so much that they neglect their physical and mental health?

To answer these questions, I reflected on my Swarthmore experience. To begin with, Swarthmore stresses me out because of its relatively small student body. Although such size allows students to frequently see each other and thus foster tight-knit, meaningful relationships, it can be troublesome for those who prefer solitude once in a while. Moreover, the more students know one another, the easier it is for them to fall into the trap of comparison.

Speaking from experience, I sometimes feel inadequate after learning the impressive tasks my friends are pursuing. When I hear people claiming they are actively involved in three clubs every semester, for instance, I wonder if I am not pushing myself enough as I only write for The Phoenix and SwatStories. When I hear someone is taking four S.T.E.M. classes, I wonder if I am wasting my time by taking several first-year seminars outside of my major. Even some random Facebook posts, such as “I always take five credits, and I’m doing perfectly fine,” trouble me, especially when I am struggling to complete my normal coursework. What traits that allow others to thrive under such academic intensity do I lack?

The expectation that comes with attending a liberal arts college exacerbates this problem. Recall your experience during the college admission process. How do Swarthmore and other liberal arts college advertise themselves? Inclusion. Diversity. It’s easy to stand out. Professors get to know your name. As liberal arts colleges throw these buzzwords so often, people mistake these buzzwords for necessary and sufficient conditions for them to thrive — they are not. In reality, not every student can stand out. In reality, professors sometimes forget your name. In reality, unless one strives for opportunities, one will not receive them no matter which college one attends. It seems attending a small liberal arts college such as Swarthmore sometimes grooms us into believing we have sufficient resources to succeed and be happy. When we do not, we internalize the blame.

The tendency to play misery poker and mask my true stress is another reason I feel burnt out. When I was a high school senior, such self-deprecating jokes as “Swarthmore — anywhere else it would have been an A” were amusing to me. In fact, grade deflation and the rigorous academics of Swarthmore prompted me to want to study at our institution. However, now that I have become a Swarthmore student, I do not find these jokes to be as amusing as they were. Not only do these jokes prevent us from addressing our stress-related problems, they also prompt us to believe that stress is the norm at Swarthmore.  

To elaborate, consider this hypothetical misery poker phrase: “I have been sleeping for three hours every day this past week.” Whenever I hear this phrase or its variations, I do not understand its intention. Severe lack of sleep is nothing praiseworthy: it reflects negligence of physical and mental health as well as an inability to manage one’s life. Every time we play misery poker, we are shaming people who manage their lives well by imploring them to “do more.” Even worse, it cements stress and misery as a part of Swarthmore’s norm. Lack of self-care is neither normal nor acceptable. Instead of accepting it, we should question what leads us to such condition.

The type of students Swarthmore admits may also be the root of this problem. Because Swarthmore is renowned for its rigor, students who choose to attend our institution are probably aware of or prefer this fact. Also, Swarthmore’s acceptance rate is approximately 9 percent, which is extremely competitive. As a result, our institution attracts students who not only are qualified but also are accustomed to their status as top students. However, once they come here, they realize this is not the case. It is simply impossible for more than half of Swarthmore students to be above average. Yet, conceiving themselves as so, many exert tremendous, sometimes excessive effort to maintain such self-image. It Accepting one cannot be the best in everything is the reality with which one must learn to cope.

Swarthmore, as an institution, should strive to solve this problem. There are several steps we should take to address these stress-related problems.

The first and foremost step is to accept that stress-related problems exist on our campus.  In the article published on March 6, 2014, by the Daily Gazette, Professor Barry Schwartz — the author of “The Paradox of Choice” — observed Swarthmore students have experienced a “heightening culture of anxiety” over the past decades. He also mentioned that because Swarthmore students have to navigate their increasingly complex lives on top of a Swarthmore workload, Swarthmore has become “more of a pressure cooker than it was [in the past].” Our institution, however, does not sufficiently recognize these problems. For instance, we claim Swarthmore students care less about grades and prefer learning for its own sake, but the sight of students studying so late at night to earn an A is nothing uncommon. Our reality, it seems, does not align with how we portray it.

Swarthmore should strive to change institutional norms. Although Swarthmore is renowned for its rigor, there are other aspects such as clubs and athletics that deserve more attention. These activities help students develop discipline, creativity, and social skills, all of which are formative in their Swarthmore experience. Whereas students may forget what they have learned, they will remember the activities in which they participate and the friendships they create. Every student’s experience at Swarthmore does not, and should not, consist entirely of academics.

Perhaps to help address this problem, professors should be clearer with their objectives and what they expect from students. Some students are stressed because they do not know the purpose of their work and the extent to which they have to work. For instance, if students have to write an essay, they will benefit from knowing whether their professors expect them to closely read and analyze the texts or formulate their personal opinions. Grading rubrics can mitigate this problem. If professors assign a problem set, they should provide prompt feedback on each student’s performance so that students can adjust accordingly to what their professors expect. With prompt feedback and clear expectations for class, students will be less inclined to overwork or commit themselves to too many activities.

The last step is that every member of our community should listen to the experiences of one another. Don’t jump right to conclusions. When students are stressed about work, don’t just tell them to relax. Try to understand the problem and the struggle they are undergoing. Students, for instance, can help their peers who are stressing out academics by asking, “What seems to be the problem?” rather than dismissing their stress as a “common” aspect of college lives. Active listening is also important in developing a sense of care towards others. If people listen to each other more actively and try to understand the problem, we can be less inclined to stress each other out.

Indeed, Swarthmore published a Self-Study Action Committee Report in spring 2016, suggesting some students are stressed and do not feel they belong to our community. As informative as this report is, it does not inform us of how those stresses arise. Some in-depth research and community reflection can shed light on these issues.

We should question what we accept as the norm of Swarthmore. Swarthmore is renowned for many impressive traits, such as its academic rigor, inclusion, commitment to social justice, and so on. Stress is not what we should be renowned for. Moreover, we should research more intensively the stress Swarthmore students experience to pinpoint its root causes and combat them. Should these steps be taken, the level of stress will be less of a problem.

Jukebox: the power of the playlist

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I have a playlist for just about every genre and every mood. There’s “Air Karaoke.” “Lazy.” “Jitters.” “Covers.” “Classic Rock.” “If You Don’t Know the Song, Ask Your Parents.”

I could keep going. “Boy Bands.” “Candy Kids.” “Jukebox.” “Dance Around.” There are a few titles that are less coherent, less dignified: tucked into my “Curated” folder, there are playlists with names like “wave feeling,” “that’s a bop,” and “why.” One of my favorites is just, simply, “echo, from a distance.” It only has two songs. “Acoustic” has three hundred and twenty-three.

Most people — so I’ve been told — don’t organize music the way I do. I have folders within folders, separating playlists dedicated to genres from playlists of songs good for dancing from playlists of instrumental pieces. Good singalong songs have their own subfolder.  To boot, they’re subdivided: one playlist for those great singalong songs you only know the chorus to (“Who Are You” by The Who), one for dorky/nerdy songs (“Dragostei Din Tei” by Ozone, most often referred to as the “Numa Numa Song”), one for the songs I’ve sung with my friends (“Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood, which we belted at the top of our lungs as we raced down I-70, the windows cracked open and the wind rattling our bones), and more.

The thing is that this — this organization, this collection — began here at Swat. I grew up around music, but never spent much time engaging with it beyond passively listening. I’m a mediocre piano player; I never practiced between lessons. I can pick out a few chords on a guitar. My music collection was organized more or less exclusively by the function that lets you sort alphabetically by artist — or else it was organized into playlists my dad gave me. He’s been a music lover as long as I can remember. Long before ZZ Ward or alt-j or Glass Animals were on the radio, I’d heard their discographies while in the car with him, and now, when they get airtime, he lights up. “What a cool band,” he says each time. There’s this knowing smile he has, this sort of bright-eyed humor I hope I’ve inherited in addition to his eyebrows, his height, his chin. “Wonder where you heard it first.”

I heard a lot of music with him, first. The first iPod I ever had — and most of the ones since — was a gift from him, and it came pre-loaded with songs. Far from being sorted by mood, or genre, or whether or not they’re good for Lindy Hop or West Coast Swing, it was a collection of music he thought I should know, for one reason or another. The only song I can remember off that first playlist is U2’s “Vertigo,” but now and then a song comes on that feels intensely familiar, as though I have known it a long, long time.

For the most part, then, I listened to the radio on the way to school and back. At home, I read, or wrote, or watched TV. I did my homework in study hall in silence and came back home to occupy myself one way or another. If I listened to music, it was the same song on repeat, over, and over, until it was done. Over the course of years, I played “Who Am I” from Les Misérables so often the play count was listed as 24601. After that, I didn’t touch it again.

I think I believed my habits wouldn’t change when I came to college. If anything, I envisioned having more free time. I’d heard the phrase “academically rigorous” thrown around, but, well, my high school was “academically rigorous,” and I had found that for the most part, I had no trouble carving leisure time out of my days.

But Swarthmore isn’t making an idle boast re: academics.

And it wasn’t making an idle boast about student involvement on campus, either. Even with only a few clubs — comparatively — I manage to fill up my days rapidly with meetings, dance classes, and meals. Spring last year, I would run from one class to the next to a meeting to a meal where I would shovel pasta into my mouth for fifteen minutes and haul myself up the hill again to do homework in McCabe. And while that was enjoyable in many ways, it kept me on the go. To boot, I don’t focus well around other people. Work time was sacred, silent. Solitary, and necessarily productive. With a busy Swarthmore life, the time I had to myself was time reserved for staring at the ceiling of my bedroom and just doing — nothing. Not the video games I’ve been wanting to play for years. Not the writing I wanted to do. Not the leisure reading I was sure I would accomplish. Not even Netflix. For me, watching movies takes something out of me — and all that energy had been spent on other things.

Swatties deal with being here in different ways. Some do okay. They don’t stress too much; they seem to glide. Some schedule their self-care. Some go to CAPS.

I started making playlists.

They were just themed, to start. “Lazy” was the playlist for daydreaming and staring at the sky (“All we do is lie and wait,” sings Oh Wonder. “All we do is feel the fade.”). Or I was walking to class, and needed some energy; it had been a long night. A long, long night. So I made “Pump Up:” “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse, and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, and “Champion” by Fall Out Boy. I started partner dancing and I made playlists for that, too. It spiraled from there.

The thing about music — the thing about this kind of self-care because for me, that’s what it is — is that it can exist, superimposed, on my life here at Swarthmore. When I’m working, I have headphones in. When I’m walking to class, I have headphones in. While baking cookies with friends, I have a playlist on, and it’s nothing but Wicked and “Shia LaBeouf Live” by Rob Cantor and songs from Steven Universe for hours. Soon I had twenty playlists, and then fifty, and then a hundred. In the five minutes before a meeting, or while waiting for the 12:30 lunch rush to die away, I’d add songs to playlists (at least three per song, even if I have to make new ones for it) so that when I wanted a certain sound, I’d have it right there. “Middle School Angst?” Now and then, that’s the mood. “Rather Odd?” Trust me: it comes up. And, more seriously, sometimes “We Built This City” by Starship and my “Bright” playlist is the one thing that gets me up and out of bed.

I think of it like an investment: a few moments here and there in order to make something perfect for a moment in the future. I don’t know whether it will be tomorrow, or in two years, but one day I’ll want nothing more than that playlist I titled “Placeholder 2” in a pique of annoyance at not having the words to describe just what Lykke Li and K. Flay have in common. And when that moment comes, I’ll have it. I’ll have given myself that gift. On bad nights, on great nights, on the nights when it’s all just distinctly okay, I have a wealth of gifts I have given myself over the years.

At home, where my collection of music first began, I don’t talk much about my playlists. It doesn’t come up. When I do, it is often just in reference to how many of them there are. I don’t talk about blasting “The Hounds” from Protomen until my leg aches from how fast I’m bouncing it, until everything around me is drowned out except the panicked, hectic drums. But I hear from my dad about how he would sit out on the ledges in the back of his law school and put his headphones on and play “Stop Making Sense” by the Talking Heads as loud as he could stand it. When it was time, he’d stand up, take the headphones off, and walk into the building to compete with other students — and, with luck, to take home a prize.

Maybe that’s why we listened to “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen so often when I was growing up. To pass this on, consciously or not. Either way, I am grateful for it. While I won’t say I’d be lost without my music, I am so much happier for it. And that is worth so much to me.

And by the way: at the moment, my playlist count is two hundred and fifty-three.

By the time this is published, I’m sure I’ll have more.

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.

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