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A complex case of repurposing Sharples

in Columns/Op-Eds/Opinions by

Dining halls shape your college experience. Not only does it provide you with the food you need to sustain your daily routine, it also serves as a social space where students can relax, hang out together, or meet new faces they have never seen on a daily basis. With this importance in mind, we can see how Sharples, as the only dining hall at Swarthmore, influences the social dynamic within our institution. Therefore, when Swarthmore announced its plan on November 28 to construct a new dining hall and convert Sharples into a student union, everyone should supposedly feel delighted. Finally, we will have better food. Finally, we need not rush to Sharples right after our last morning class. Finally, we can linger at our dining table as much as we want because our new dining hall is large enough for every student. This article argues that these dining hall improvements are unlikely to happen if Swarthmore pursues its current construction plan. Therefore, Swarthmore should situate the student union inside the new building and renovate Sharples instead.

To begin with, let’s examine the two arguments in support of building a new dining hall: Sharples is overcrowded because it supports only 900 students, and it does not support individualized cooking. Both arguments may not necessarily be the case. Indeed, it is true that the number of Swarthmore students exceeds the maximum capacity of Sharples. However, not all students dine at the same time. Consider two students, the first’s morning class ends at 11:10AM on Tuesday, and the second’s morning class ends at 12:35PM. Even if both students usually have lunch, they will rarely have lunch at the same time because of their schedule. Moreover, Swarthmore has many dining options aside from Sharples: Indian and Chinese food ordered from off campus providers in Kohlberg and the Science Center, and some grab-and-go food both at Sharples and beside SCI199. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that Sharples has to serve lunch to 1500 students simultaneously. Because Sharples is less crowded during breakfast and dinner, the same reasonings still hold. From my experience, even when Sharples becomes extremely crowded, the maximum time I spend waiting on the line is less than ten minutes and I never have trouble finding a place to sit. Therefore, simply because the new dining hall would serve more students does not sufficiently justify its construction. The congestion is not as severe as it is portrayed.

Moving on the second argument: Sharples does not support individualized cooking. This argument is true for current Sharples; offering an individualized cooking in a dining hall where students occasionally have to spend ten minutes to get food is impractical. However, if Swarthmore wishes to offer individualized cooking, the College can simply renovate Sharples, for instance, by relocating some of the tables more closely with one another. There are many unoccupied spaces that can potentially be renovated to create an individualized cooking space. Even if this individualized cooking space may not be as spacious as those at our peer institution, it can still be created.

With the idea that Sharples’ condition is not as severe as people usually claim established, this article will argue that the geography of current Sharples makes it difficult to have any broad space necessary for a student union. As of now, Sharples has the two floors: the upper floor has two meeting rooms, whereas the first floor serves food and provides tables for its guests. Recognize that both the meeting rooms upstairs are relatively small in comparison to other areas inside Sharples. Therefore, if Swarthmore proceeds with its proposed plan, the first floor at current Sharples will be the heart of the new student center. What does this mean? The two rooms (salad bar and Room 004) on the first floor are so disconnected from other sections that they will hardly be of any use. For such sections as the food service and the quieter dining room, they are not large enough for students to gather together. With these constraints of current Sharples, it can be concluded that Swarthmore must spend a significant amount of resource into re-organizing Sharples in order to construct a suitable space for a student union. Therefore, it is more reasonable to construct a new building as a space for student union.

Because Sharples is designed as a dining hall, it takes more resources to convert current Sharples into a student union than to renovate spaces inside the building. Congestion and individualized cooking may be some of the drawbacks Sharples has, but they do not create so many problems that a new dining hall must be built. In essence, Swarthmore students want two things: better food and more spaces for social gathering. These goals can be reached more efficiently if we utilize buildings in the ways they are originally designed: Sharples for food and a new building for a new student union.

College to make plans to build new dining hall, update Sharples

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Next semester, the college will begin the planning process to build a new dining hall and renovate Sharples as a student union space.

In the last few years, the college has created two comprehensive reports about necessary improvements to the campus and student life in general: the Campus Master Plan in 2013, and the Student Experience Visioning Study Report in Feb. 2017. These two reports cover a wide variety of issues and include input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

The reports includes recommendations ranging from “adjustment in faculty members’ teaching load,” to making McCabe more open and limiting the “fortress-like appearance.” Both reports also included much about the need for a change in the way food is served on campus, and the need for a student union space. The new construction project is meant to address these problems.

“We engaged both a dining consultant and an architect last summer just to give us some ideas and I’d say sort of the key findings there was that the existing Sharples building has outlived its useful life as a dining hall,” said Greg Brown, Vice President for Finance and Administration.

Sharples was built in the 1960s and was designed to hold around 900 students. As the college has grown and student preference has changed, the building has seen different limitations. Both the design and the size of Sharples lead to limitations. The small size makes it difficult for students and faculty to find a place to sit and enjoy themselves while eating.

“In my experience meal time is one of the few times where students really give themselves permission to [give themselves a break], and if we don’t have enough space where students feel like they can linger a little bit and have those conversations about the seminar or what’s going to be happening this weekend, it really takes away from one of the most important opportunities for those kinds of connections that we think are so crucial to [students’] experience” said Liz Braun, Dean of Students.

In addition to the size, the construction of the serving room leads to limitations in how food can be served. According to Brown, many peer institutions are utilizing more individualized cooking methods that are not feasible in Sharples.

The current plan is to continue serving food in Sharples as the new dining hall is being constructed. Once the new building is complete, food service will move, and Sharples will be renovated and turned into a student union space.

This will allow the college to meet the demand for both a better dining facility and a student union. Until it burned down in the mid 1980s, Old Tarble served as a student union space where people could gather in a social capacity. The two reports show that students and alumni believe the campus is missing this kind of space now.

“The space in Clothier that includes Essie Mae’s and [Paces] was intended to replace that and it does certain things well but it really doesn’t function as a student union, and that was the feedback we heard over and over again from students, and then we heard it also when we were talking to alums, gosh what’s really missing from campus is a place. A place where we can gather as a student body,” said Brown.

Planning for this project will begin next semester. Brown stressed that the college has an aggressive plan to try to complete the project as quickly as possible, but estimates that the planning process will take at least one year with the construction of the new dining hall taking approximately one year to 18 months after the planning.This means that the earliest the new dining hall could open up would be in Spring of 2020 with the Sharples renovation following that.

Brown and Braun both recognize the importance of finding a balance between the needs of current students and future students.

“I think we’ve also tried to be thoughtful about a balance of longer term projects and also shorter term projects that can provide more immediate benefits to current students. So when you think about some of the smaller residence hall renovations that we’ve been able to do, the matchbox went up pretty quickly, Sprowl’s going to be open in a year. So I think we’ve tried to create a mix of opportunities, some things that students will be able to access in their time,” said Braun.

In addition to the new dining hall and Sharples renovation, the college is also beginning to think about plans for Martin once Biology moves into the BEP, what upgrades can be done to athletic facilities, and upgrades to the libraries. While designing these projects, the college focuses on designing spaces that can be flexible throughout time.  

“The other thing we have to recognize is what students want today both in terms of classroom space and social space and residence hall space might not be what students want 15 years from now, 30 years from now, so every project that we’re doing we’re trying to build in a level of flexibility so that if in 10 years from now students wanted to use things in a different way it would be relatively easy to convert it or to kind of reimagine how something’s set up,” said Braun.

Students who are interested in getting involved in renovating Sharples and building a new dining hall can join SGO’s Sharples Renovation Committee.

What I Won’t Miss about Swat: Reflections Before leaving for the Summer

in Campus Journal by

Ah, summer, so close and yet so far. Various seedy “moving” companies have started emailing students, offering to take our clutter off our hands (they don’t say anything about returning it, though). The Rose Garden is starting to vaguely live up to its name. Shirtless show-offs fling frisbees around Parrish beach. How can I abandon all this for a 40-hour/week internship in D.C.? As a fun intellectual exercise (read: to actually contribute something to the last Campus Journal of the semester), I’ve decided to list the few things I won’t miss about Swarthmore this summer.

First, food: I am a lowly freshman. I am therefore overloaded with Sharples meals and am constantly bankrupt on Swat Points. For three brief months there will be no pasta bar, no badly boiled carrots, no fluorescent juices made out of suspicious ingredients. Also, I assume that D.C. has more than two streets of restaurants to choose from.

AND YET: Thanks to the OneCard, I can pretend that Swat Points aren’t “real” money and occasionally spend irresponsibly. In the world beyond Swarthmore, you actually have to pay with fun, adult things like dollar bills.

Second, housing. Shout-out to Willets residents: You do not have to spend the rest of your life in lounges furnished like a 70s waiting room in a dodgy doctor’s cabinet. There are floors without beer stains, toilets without vomit, kitchens without mice, and refrigerators without large amounts of moldy food. It’ll be hard to lose the smell of weed in the air, but I’m sure I’ll adapt quickly.

AND YET:…there is a Willets community. Sort of. We all get annoyed when someone dumps their ramen in the sink. And this dorm is a nice common enemy for everyone. Who will share my pain this summer? Nothing like irritation to bring people together.

And, lastly, Swatties. My fellow students, sufferers, lovers, thinkers, complainers, or whatever it is that brings us together. Believe me, I love you. You are all, for the most part, amazing people who will go on to do great things. And that is why we need a break from each other. Sometimes, I just need to walk around with my head in the clouds and not recognize everyone around me. I’d like to glimpse a stranger’s face and briefly imagine what their life may be like before losing them in the crowd, rather than recognizing them from a class or knowing way too much about their romantic history. It would be nice to not feel crushed by the weight of everyone else’s accomplishments and intelligent contributions to classroom discussions.

AND YET: I’ll miss late night discussions about random topics and having people to rant about French politics at. I’ll miss brilliant idealists describing a communist utopia and late night songs in Urdu and the most flamboyant figures tearing through campus in leather shorts and velvet headbands.

It’s been quite a year, Swarthmore. We probably need some time apart before I officially become a McCabe-dwelling bat that lives off Essie’s snacks. And I doubt I’m the only one who’ll be glad to take a break. Mountain Justice activists will probably enjoy not getting random citations for the grave crime of shredding documents. Members of the Conservative Society may not miss being one of twenty conservative students on a 1600 person-campus. Anyone who has struggled with Eduroam crashes (actually, that’s the entirety of the campus) will, hopefully, have the pleasure of finding a functional network; and, even if we miss our favorite professors and fondly recall our best classes, will we really long for the days of hunching over a laptop at 3 am, only halfway done with an essay due the next day?

No. Definitely not. The Swarthmore Bubble doesn’t mean the school is a perfect place, and a lot of people would benefit from a trip back into the real world. But then again, there probably will be the odd pang of nostalgia. We are Swatties, after all. Being here requires at least a small dose of masochism.

Lessons Learned from Cooking Shows (and Swat)

in Campus Journal by

Like any good French-Californian girl, I was taught to look at cooking shows with a vaguely pitying disdain. Until a week ago, if you brought one up I would either A) Blink confusedly and ask if that’s like one of those hot dog eating contests, or B) Snort inelegantly and mutter something about it being typical of Americans to need reality TV to learn how to make pasta. (Yes, I am aware that I’m a snob.)

Until, of course, I actually started watching cooking shows. I am now officially hooked. At first, I thought I was just willing to do anything to procrastinate. That is when I realized the horrible truth.

My life is a cooking show.

Or, to be somewhat fairer, I found parallels between the lives of participants in cooking contests and the lives of Swatties. Or perhaps I’m just sleep deprived and think the entire world revolves around Swarthmore. To recap my profound connections:

“The Great British Bake Off:” Multiple British people bake elaborate cakes and pastries (such as a 20-layer German cake, and yes, the judges count the layers) in a random outdoor area with freakishly green lawns. Profiles are pretty diverse, ranging from teenagers to grandparents. This show forced me to realize that certain British people have mastered cooking beyond fish and chips, lukewarm beer, and sticking everything in mint jelly. Much in the same way, Swat has made me realize that Americans outside of the California/San Francisco/San Franciscan French community bubbles are actually pretty great. We may have close to nothing in common, but we are all passionate about something (labor organizing, or Latin, or nature and rare plants, or linguistics). Also, contestants in TGBBO are almost suspiciously nice. They compliment each other and exchange hugs and are generally supportive of one another, like any Swatties I have encountered.

“Chopped:” One of the most famous cooking shows out there. Four chefs compete over three rounds (appetizer, entrée, dessert), with one chef eliminated each turn. So, not really like Swarthmore, which is somewhat harder to be expelled from. It is worth noting that the first episode I ever saw of Chopped was on the theme of noodles, and I had just had an argument over whether college students were actually able to cook anything other than noodles (considering that my hall’s bathroom sink has had ramen in it for the past three days, I would say some of us can’t even manage those). The show (like Swarthmore) is also very White, although there is almost always one Asian chef per episode. What struck me the most was the chefs’ obsession with each other’s dishes. For all that we are a cooperative school where (allegedly) grades don’t matter and you should only compete with yourself, I have overheard many desperate conversations about a classmate’s paper being longer, smarter, or generally better. There’s not much of a step from “chef X’s dish looks so much neater than mine!” to “everyone else in that class is so much smarter!” It doesn’t matter whether you are writing a political science essay or crafting the perfect Halloween meal; the other person’s plate/paper will look better.

“Cutthroat Kitchen:” Four youngish and photogenic chefs — at least one of which will rant about being from Brooklyn — compete in three rounds — appetizer, entree, and dessert. They are given $25,000 to buy “sabotages”  such as making all the other chefs hold hands as they cook. Whoever wins keeps the money they have not spent, so this show reminded me of my parents’ lectures on budgeting and necessary expenses. The title, I will admit, does not scream “Cooperative Quaker school.” But, let’s face it: Swatties have a dark side. As far as I know, none of us are actually willing to pay to make our classmates suffer (though think of all the choices, should such an opportunity come up. Limiting their course selections to 8:30 classes? Robbing them of Swat Points and making them eat at Sharples for every meal? Forcing them to wear a Donald Trump shirt?), but haven’t any of us ever fantasized about doing something very unpleasant to the one know-it-all in your seminar, who talks over the professor and starts every sentence with “actually?” How about causing something terrible to happen to that rude and unpleasant former hookup? Of the three shows that I have discussed, Cutthroat Kitchen is by far the trashiest and most bloodthirsty. Peace-loving Swatties would blanch at the thought of being compared to these culinary sharks, who discuss intimidation tactics and have such brilliant lines as “smiling is not my thing.” But that vicious monster does come out full force, at one time or another. Why do you think we have Primal Scream? I will admit this show is a guilty pleasure; but then, so is concocting wild revenge plots aimed at your assholesque hallmate/classmate/ex. Embrace the darkness in you, Swatties! At least it’s not being broadcasted to millions of people.

To recap: cooking shows are not bored housewives reading out Betty Crocker recipes (forgive my past assumptions). Stress, anxiety, and worrying about others being “better” is a universal experience alive both on college campuses and TV kitchens. Anyone can be a jerk. And British food is marginally less terrible than we are led to believe. At this rate, I have no doubt that we will soon see our own beloved(?) Sharples on national television soon.

Local Food?

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We are all at least aware of the “eat local” movement. We’ve all been primed to know that eating locally is, in many ways, the way to eat sustainably. Eating local was (and in a way still is) the hot new trend. Terms like “Locavores” and catchy phrases like “Think Global Eat Local” have emerged. We’ve seen the “eat local” stickers and the restaurants who tout all their local sourcing on their menu. We’ve got it pretty ingrained in our minds that local food doesn’t just mean sustainable, but tasty (and often more expensive) too. So much so, that now when we hear about local foods night in Sharples, our ears perk up.

But what is local food? If we assume that local food is just better, then how come it’s been so difficult to do? How come “local foods night” is just one night, and not just the norm?

I often wander into Sharples, eating the assortment of foods without questioning their source. So with the attention towards local foods, I was curious to learn about the process of acquiring the different produce at Sharples and to see what locality really means.

I met with Director of Purchasing Janet Kassab and her daughter Mary Kassab from Dining Services in her office in the back of the kitchen. The lively sound of clanging pots and hissing steam permeated the air as I shook their hands. Both women wore large smiles, and I had the sense that I had just walked into someone’s home.

“Oh hi, yes, please take a seat!” Janet said.

The office was full of papers and flyers and to-do lists. Next to me was a long list of vendors. It was then that I realized this operation, though comparatively smaller than those of other universities, is pretty big and complicated.

“Overall, we use around 30 to 40 vendors regularly,” Mary said.

That’s the amount of vendors across the board from everything from canned peaches to meats. But they work most closely with Bill, the owner of West-Chester based American Beauty Fish and Produce. American Beauty purchases from Philadelphia’s food distribution center Lancaster Cooperative Auction and directly from west coast vendors.

“I pick up the phone and I just go ‘Hey Bill, we need [for instance] 30 pounds of tomatoes,” Janet said.

Prices for every item are dependent on the market or other factors such as weather and demand.

“Sometimes [the price] is impacted by national weather events,” said Mary, “We always have to keep in mind that a certain produce [might be] less available and therefore more expensive because of this frost or that flood.”

Bill, well-connected in the market, can inform them of major price changes and Mary and Janet can change their menu accordingly.

“I call Bill, and I say ‘we’re going to need this’ and he’s going to say ‘uh oh all of a sudden we are going to have to pay top dollar for the tomatoes,’ so then I’ll be like ‘okay let’s tweak the menu.’ We’re going to serve grape tomato [instead], change that Greek salad normally made out of the plum tomato that has become so pink and plump and not worth eating,” Janet said.

Both Janet and Mary state that their reactive flexibility is thanks to Sharples being a self-operating system rather than a contracted one.

“Operations that are contracted are married to the same product and the same person,” said Janet, “That’s the way they make money. And we’re lucky we don’t have the same kind of burden.”

The question of locality is very complicated in Sharples. On one level there’s the ‘hyperlocal,’ as Mary calls it, which is easier to identify. Sometimes the apples are from Beechwood Orchards in Biglerville, Pa. However, it is important to realize that the eastcoast’s main harvest is in the summer, and there’s really not much during the rest of the school year.

“Things like banana or oranges are never going to come from a local source,” said Janet, “We also just can’t produce an avocado.”

These non-local products are often extremely difficult to trace. However, since Bill, a local man, is doing the purchasing, the “local” is still being emphasized and supported. The many levels and concentric circles of food distribution nowadays complicates the locality question. What can be certain is that both Mary and Janet purchase and prepare food mainly based on their relations with people.

Janet frequently goes to farmer’s markets where she meets farmers who eventually become a source of both food for Sharples and a sort of family for our Dining Services. One such person is Isaac, “the egg man.”  

“Isaac the egg man, you know, has these neighbors Glenn and Nancy Wise … they sell sweet potatoes,” Janet said.

“And when Isaac delivers the eggs, he just brings Glenn and Nancy’s potatoes as well, and sometimes he brings his kid,” Mary said.

It’s a homey operation, where relationships circling outwards through family ties or friendships make things work.

“Nancy wanted us to buy from her son too,” Janet said, “he sells chickens, but they’re frozen so they’re not much use to us.”

The operation is not very strictly planned, and oftentimes Janet, Mary, and their staff have to improvise or change their minds. It’s hard work, but it’s also more fulfilling for Janet.

“This will be my 25th year here, and I started working in the cash office. It seems like [the job] will become so old but it [never does]. My personality wouldn’t be one that’s like, ‘okay this is it and this is it forever.’ I’m always like ‘let’s try this and let’s try that’ and the people in the kitchen go a little cuckoo,” Janet said.

At this point of the interview we were briefly interrupted by a phone call from the ‘tofu guy.’ I could not help but smile at the endearing term, and also the brief annoyance I saw on Janet’s face about the type of tofu. Janet prefers this one-on-one interaction even if it seems like more work.

“As a unit you’re spending money, the college’s money, and I want to give that money to a human being, not to the multi-million dollar [corporation] that is selling this bill of goods,” Janet said.

They also always work with the students in mind, knowing what is popular.

“The cook in there is always like ‘Broccoli?!” Janet gestured wildly with her eyes wide, “Students just fiend for broccoli! It’s incredible.”

This consideration for student preferences also informs the menu.
“The students and all of us, you know, you guys are captives, here all the time. It’s kind of like this is your house, your kitchen, your stuff, and no one really likes to see the same thing. I mean we want to have the same grilled cheese so we have the same basic [foods] but we also like to [say] ‘Ah, we’re having cherry chutney on the pork today … you’re not going to reinvent food, but you’re going to alter it,” Janet said.

If locality simply means the source of food, then we can’t do it unless we always eat the same kind of butternut squash and have extremely limited fruits. In fact, food is extremely hard to trace nowadays because it goes through so many processes. Looking at the boxes of bananas, for example, we could not figure out exactly where they were grown; the stickers indicate the country where they were distributed, but often times they don’t give the full story. But, if locality is about people, relationships, and a strong sense of community, then Mary and Janet’s work is local through and through. From Bill to the ‘Egg Man’ and ‘Tofu Guy,’ one cannot help but acknowledge that Sharples is truly a home operation.

“We get our love letters on our napkins,” said Janet as she gestured towards a wall where comments from the Napkin board are pinned up.

It seems that there is, in fact, a lot of love in Mary and Janet’s kitchen, and if that isn’t local, then locality shouldn’t matter all that much.

Sharples voted as the best restaurant on campus

in Columns/Opinions/Satire by

For the 53rd year, Sharples Dining Hall won the Best Cafeteria Award on Swarthmore’s campus. From food quality to sanitation, Sharples won first place in every category of judgment, easily beating out its competitors, a streak that has not been broken since 1964.

“We are so proud of our achievement,” Sharples staff, Sadie McDelu said. “I think what really sets us apart from our competitors is that we have menus that change on a daily basis, and the student response is usually really good. Our signature pasta bar especially is a signature menu that gives a meal at Sharples its reputation as a world-famous, top-quality dining experience.”

Critics largely attributed Sharples’ high rank to its customers’ loyalty to the restaurant. According to Anton Ego, food critic, after dining three times at Sharples, he noticed a remarkable repetition of the faces he saw at the dining hall. Excluding summer, when students are unable to eat at Sharples due to its closure, the dining hall is always full of people.

“You know a restaurant is good when you see that its customers keep coming back on a regular basis,” Ego said. “This is something that not every restaurant can easily achieved, and I applaud Sharples for being able to do what many restaurant owners only dream of.”

The announcement of the achievement came to no surprise for many students, who were ecstatic about Sharples’ record-breaking achievement.

“Sharples deserves this more than any other dining hall on our campus,” Elisa Nakayama ’19 said. “You don’t know how happy and amazed we are that Sharples has, for five decades, been able to clinch the top spot every single year despite such fierce competition. Once again, Sharples proved that it is second to none on our campus, and there is nobody who can deny that fact.”

In addition to the students, various Swarthmore alumni sent congratulatory messages as well via the alumni newsletter.

“Sharples is a blessing for Swarthmore,” Michael McMickey ’16 said. “During my time there, I loved Sharples so much that I ate all three of my meals there every day. In fact, it was so good that I always cried every time I ate there, even though I’ve been there so many times. I’ve even sharplifted several times and secretly stole food whenever it was so good. If there is one thing I really miss about Swarthmore, it is Sharples, especially its amazing pasta bar.”

In addition to its popularity, critics also cited Sharples’ gracious dining coupons for its customers. Named OneCard, in reference to the coupons’ reputation for always holding the top spot in its category, the system has been very customer friendly, even allowing for an option for customers to eat unlimited amount of times in the hall, if they wish to do so.

“Thanks to the unlimited meal plan, I can have Sharples whenever I want, however many times I want,” Nakayama said. “We didn’t have that last year and I was always so sad, because I would always be forced to eat at places like Bamboo Bistro to save up my meals. Bamboo is nothing compared to Sharples, and now that I am on the unlimited plan, I can have Sharples all day, every day!”

In the meantime, Sharples has once again been nominated for the Best Cafeteria award for 2018.

The Freshman Fifteen

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

It was a college reality, as ubiquitous as sexile, your first all-nighter, or the inevitable awkward encounter with your Screw date. And yet, as I entered Sharples, it was the only one that was real for me.

In the previous six months, I had lost over 20 pounds. My legs were sore from  hunching over the toilet in the only single-stall bathroom at work, watching bile and tears form swirling eddies that brought a strange sense of satisfaction and control to a girl who felt like everything was falling apart. I had refused rides home in favor of hours spent walking up and down and up and down grocery store aisles, examining labels on foods I had forbidden myself from eating and feeling a quiet power and also no power at all as the calories per serving marked double, triple what I was eating. My food log became my Bible. I watched meals diminish – from two eggs, to one egg, to an egg white, to a cup of coffee and a stick of gum (10 calories, if you buy Sugar-Free Extra and drink your coffee black). I had reveled in cold showers, because shivering burns more calories, and watched with mild fascination as my hair began to fall out and my image in the mirror began to distort. I had passed out in the middle of the work day.

In recovery, they tell you to give your eating disorder a name, an identity, to give the voices in your head a will of their own and separate them from the thoughts that are authentically yours. You sit through group therapy and individual therapy and art therapy and you sit at group meals and drink PediaSure if you can’t finish everything on your plate and you document your meals and watch a number of calories on the left side of the low end of the recommended range that to you seems astronomically, earth-shatteringly large enter your body and you talk about Ed. Ed, the voice inside your head that directs you to order salad, dressing on the side and sneers as you step off the treadmill. You quickly learn that he is much more difficult to quell than your hunger.

Through months of treatment, I learned to make his voice much, much softer. I learned that the signals of my body are more powerful and more important than the twisted, perverted dictator in my head. I learned that Ed is strong, but I am stronger.

But I also learned that Ed never really goes away. During my years in support group I watched women recover, finally having quelled Ed’s manipulative prohibitions, go off to college ready to kick ass and take names … and return, a few months later, having relapsed again.

As I stood in Sharples on that first day, I felt Ed stirring. I eyed pasta bar and limitless cereal and ice cream at every meal, and so did he. After years of meals regimented first by me and Ed and weight loss, and then by nutritionists and therapists and weight gain, I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it.

So I should just have a salad, dressing on the side…right?

Recovery is always described as a journey. Most of the time, it feels like a battle. Ed is still here. Sometimes he is a whisper; sometimes, he is almost screaming. As the stress mounts (and, along with it, the stress eating), he becomes harder and harder to tune out. My relationship with food is still distorted. The difference is that now I recognize the warning signs. I know that Ed is not my friend — that his voice is not my voice. My first semester at Swarthmore has not been marked by a battle with the Freshman Fifteen, but by my battle with Ed.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone. 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will develop an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. Eating disorders are not about weight loss: they are intrinsically linked to control, perfection, and mental health. They are most likely to arise, or reemerge, in environments of stress, confusion, and intensity; the longer you wait, the harder it is to stop. If you feel yourself going down this path, I urge you to reach out. Make an appointment at CAPS, or find someone else you trust to talk to. The National Eating Disorder Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) has 24/7 hotlines and additional information on treatment and recovery. Recovery is not easy, but it is possible. This month, during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, marks one year since I left intensive treatment, since I recovered. I am grateful every day to wake up in a community as supportive as Swarthmore, and to know that even when Ed’s voice feels louder than my own, I am supported and I am not alone. I am far from perfect, but I am healthy, and I am here.

Visioning process report released

in Around Campus/News by


On Wednesday, Feb. 8, President Valerie Smith sent out an email announcing the release of the Student Experience Visioning Study Report that enumerated the conclusions of the almost year-long visioning process.

Starting at the end of the Spring 2016 semester, the college began collecting data and holding conversations with members of the Swarthmore community on how the student experience can be improved. During the Fall 2016 semester, the college began working with Bright Spot consultants to gain an outside perspective on how the college can improve student experiences on campus. Although Bright Spot contributed to the report, it was produced by the college.

According to the report, the study highlighted “key opportunities to improve the student experience and pave the way for future planning activities.” According to Dean of Students Liz Braun, the study focused on the student experience outside of the classroom and its relationship to programs, facilities, and buildings. The report listed three key visions: community and belonging, growth and development, and exploration and curiosity.

Braun further described the student input involved in the visioning process.

“One of the primary ways we’ve been working with SGO is through regular touch points with the senate. [We have tried] to use the senate as a large group of students that come from a lot of different class years [as a way] of testing ideas with them and kind of making sure that they’ve got good information to ideally share with their constituencies. So I think there’s a nice balance between using the senate in addition to all of our regular committees, which SGO appoints students to,” said Braun.

Some of the central committees included the Dining Services student advisory committee and the Space Matters committee.

The report identified 15 “highest impact” emerging strategies and 10 lower-priority strategies.  Of the short-term projects, there are several, such as utilizing flat-screen TV’s across campus to feature upcoming events or create support for student run events, on which OSE has already begun working. It also includes several long-term projects such as addressing overcrowding in Sharples and the functionality of the libraries. According to Braun, the long-term projects have a timeframe between three and five years while the short-term projects have the ability to be completed by next semester.  

“One of the things to me that is critically important about the work that we’ve done is that this isn’t about drop[ping] a shovel in the ground and build some 15 million dollar building before we figure out what we actually want to do. It’s about testing some ideas. The idea about changing out furniture in lounges to see if that was actually what the students were looking for is a really good example of that,” added Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown. He later reiterated the importance of intermediary steps before implementing more expensive, larger scale projects.

One of those large scale projects includes Sharples Dining Hall. Braun recognized that Sharples is too small for the current student body.

“The dining hall is too small for our student body, and has been for quite some time. We need to come up with a longer term solution. In terms of future planning for the college, there’s a big piece that we have to think about relating to meeting social needs and dining needs,” said Braun.

Brown identified upgrading McCabe as a priority.

“Mccabe is still very much a library of a certain period, but not what students want,” said Brown.

He referenced the recent Cornell Library renovations over the summer as a successful experiment that could be applied to possible future renovation projects at McCabe Library.

In addition to the facilities projects, the report also included several less tangible goals. These including “increasing access to and awareness of mental and physical health resources” and “create ‘social only’ spaces.” The report does not include as many concrete steps for these goals.

“I think that that’s really part of our next steps for really figuring out how to implement that, and again, I think we really have to partner with students. … In terms of the awareness around resources, we’ve been trying some different strategies … — for example, Alice Holland with the introduction of Izzy the very popular therapy puppy. I think that has been really popular amongst students, but also has created a different link between students and different reasons to go to the Health and Wellness Center,” said Braun. “We are trying to do more in terms of programming, getting folks out of CAPS, and out of Health and Wellness into different aspects of the community.”

One thing that the college will be doing to help improve its health services is an external review of Counseling and Psychological Services.

“The other thing we are going to be doing this spring is an external review of CAPS. This is something we had decided to do last year after feedback from the climate study and, kind of, other feedback. Something most departments due every three to five years [is that] outside people come in and kind of take a look [at their programs] and offer recommendations around what we can do to continue to improve the services,” Braun said.

Another goal unrelated to changes in facilities is to increase student access to Philadelphia. Several programs already exist to bridge the 11 mile gap between Swarthmore and the city such as Swat Deck and Lang Center funding, but Braun recognized that there is more to do.

“I think the challenge of that is, this is what we heard very frequently from students, is that they don’t always feel like they have the time to devote to going off campus, [but] they have the desire. So how do we balance that part of the student experience. But I do think modeling off of things like SwatDeck, thinking about are there collaborative ventures that we might engage in with Haverford and Bryn Mawr in Philly. What would that look like and what would attract sudents. So we’re really very actively thinking about that,” said Brown.

In addition to getting students into the city for recreation, Brown is also looking to get students off campus for work or volunteer opportunities.

“The other thing we’re looking to coordinate better, which again I think is really mission-centered, something I think is important to our students is how can our students volunteer more to help people in Chester, for example, or neighboring communities, and what does that look like? How do we make sure those opportunities are clear and available because I think there are plenty of things to do, but I don’t think it’s always clear how to find them,” said Brown.

For more information, the full report can be found on the Swarthmore webpage under Re-imagining the Student Experience.

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