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Eight things Specs Should Know before Choosing Swat

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

For all its eccentricities, strengths, and flaws, I really love Swarthmore. It is a quirky, nerdy, beautiful place full of amazing people —some of whom I’ve met already, others whom I’m excited to one day meet. It’s true, Swat is not for everyone: it’s a combination of exquisite niches that will either make you absolutely fall in love with it or hate it. So, I talked a bit with some of my friends here at Swat and compiled a list of things we all wish we knew, or feel like Specs should know, before coming to Swarthmore.

It’s small size can be either one of its greatest strengths or greatest weaknesses. The college’s small size fosters an incredibly close-knit sense of community. Since everyone knows everyone, we all look out for each other, and we see each other everyday! However, this also means that you see all the people you’d rather not see everyday. Being a small campus also means that if you like to have things bustling 24/7, this is not the place for you. That’s not to say Swatties don’t make their own fun. From guitar circles to plays to Lang study breaks (free food!), there is usually always something to do on campus, even if it doesn’t seem like it most of the time.

It’s as much work as people say. It’s true that Swatties are huge nerds. Only a huge nerd would choose to go to a school with so much damn work. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant feeling of “it’s study time” for the majority of the day. However, if you really love the work you’re doing, then it’s usually worth it.

Swarthmore’s not perfect, but there’s a large space for activism. As liberal and forward-thinking as people make Swarthmore out to be, this place has some problematic aspects. However, these usually serve to show the resolve and persistence of activism among students on this campus as they stand up against the issues they have with the college and its administration.

Swarthmore will change you. You will discover things about yourself you never knew, some good some bad – some in between. This is an intense environment full of fascinating people. Don’t come expecting to leave the same person you came as.

This campus is on a hill— and you never get used to it.

You’ll sleep everywhere. When you’re only getting a solid 5 hours of sleep per night, you’ll make up for it in creative ways. Not only will you partake in the infamous McCabe nap, but you’ll find yourself falling asleep in an array of unique locations. I’ve probably fallen asleep in almost every academic building on campus (yes, that includes in and out of classes).

It’s not hard to make friends. Seriously, just go for it. Swatties may be notoriously awkward, but that’s part of what takes the pressure off. It’s super easy to grab a meal with someone you don’t really know well, so just ask! Swatties are interesting and friendly people so you shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to meet more of them.

It’s not as radical and weird as it used to be. The Swarthmore I heard of had orgies on Parish Beach and an annual Crunkfest (“A tradition that involved public nudity, hallucinogenic drugs, and public sex all taking place on Swarthmore’s campus” to quote a 2016 article in the Phoenix). However, as the administration has cracked down on various activities the craziness of Swarthmore’s past is less visible on campus. I have hope that with the collective effort of current Swatties and the incoming class of 2021, we can dare to make Swat wild again.

Swatstruck, Swatlight successfully replace Ride the Tide

in Around Campus/News by

Last week, the college hosted hundreds of prospective students for SwatStruck and SwatLight. Formerly Ride the Tide, this annual event offers current high school seniors a sample of life at Swarthmore. The students were given a schedule of classes they can attend and were invited to a variety of social events on campus. The overall purpose is to expose these students to Swarthmore’s typical week days, so that they will be more well-informed when they decide whether to commit.

SwatStruck differs from previous years in that it was preceded by a counterpart, Swatlight, which hosts first generation, minority, and low income students. The duration of the program has also changed, shrinking from two to three days to a single-night stay.

In this period of time, prospective students were given a chance to survey Swarthmore’s academic landscape, and many reported positive experiences.

Ryan Stanton ’20 was impressed by his visit. “The classes I attended stand out as some of my best hours on campus,” Stanton said. Stanton sat in a discussion on black iconography [the class was Black Culture in a “Post-Soul” Era, taught by Professor Anthony Foy] and was fascinated by the materials covered. He said, “the students and professor turned toward a central idea of image – agency in an image’s distribution, which I hadn’t considered before that class.” Subsequently, Stanton visited a neuroscience lab and also attended a lecture in Global Capitalism Since 1920.

Although Stanton enjoyed the classroom experience, he observed that the class in black iconography – which he visited by chance – is not included in the list given to the admitted student. Thus, he expressed the need for a more comprehensive course list. “One suggestion I will make is that the full course catalog, or at least a larger portion of it, be given to the Specs,” he said.

Besides giving prospective students a sense of Swarthmore’s academics, the admissions office, which hosted the event, also worked closely with Office of Student Engagement in order give these students a full range of the Swarthmore experience. The office organized on-campus social activities such as the Night Market, which is a space for on-campus organizations to showcase and interact with prospective students. The admissions office also encouraged personal interaction with current students by hosting Swat Unscripted, an annual event where conversations were carried out between a panel of current students and prospective students in a confidential setting. Prospective students may also visit student-run organizations on their own.

According to Jim Bock, Dean of Admissions, these social events are of tantamount importance to academics. He remarked, “One of the central themes is that choices will have to be made academically and socially, and while we are honest about our rigorous academic program, students also have active lives outside of the classroom.” As such, the balance of academic and social life is supposed to be a main takeaway from the program.

Stanton would agree, as he expresses his excitement in learning Swarthmore students’ involvement in art and journalism. “The Swarthmore Showcase … demonstrated to me the range of art at Swat, from impressive acapella to innovative dance and comedy,” said Stanton.

Overall, like many others, Stanton is very satisfied with his stay at Swarthmore, and expresses his desire to spend more time on campus.

Such sentiment, according to Bock, is a sign that Swarthmore is a good match. “Often students are left wanting to spend more time at each event or to sit in on more classes, and our response is to spend four years with us at Swarthmore.”

Bock also is confident in the progress made by SwatStruck in attracting prospective students, which is the goal of admissions.

“We have seen both attendance and yield increase as students have so many wonderful options and places to visit in April. We look forward to bringing in an amazing Class of 2020.”

Over Sharples dinner: an ode to specs

in Campus Journal by

— When confronted by someone new at Swat, do you think you take the “flight” or the “fight” response?

“I don’t know. It depends.”

— Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about the awkwardness of eye contact in Sharples a lot lately. Like, how do you as a woman deal with aggressive eye contact?

“I don’t know. What do you mean?”

— Like what if a guy is just like totally aggressively looking you in the eyes?

“Oh. Haha. Well. If he’s good-looking I guess it’s a positive, but I mean, I guess, I don’t really know what you mean.”

— It’s just hard to meet people or talk to people if you don’t know each other, or aren’t introduced, I guess. I’m not really saying anything.

“I guess. Or unless you pass through the same circles. But if there’s like, for example, someone I’m trying to get to know, I’ll find a way. Are you asking because you want to talk to someone?

— I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Sharples is just a weird place, the more I think about it. I have three potential columns for the Phoenix I’m writing.


— Yeah. It’s supposed to be ostensibly written for prospective students. One is a piece on a bunch of columns that Jonathan Franzen wrote his senior year.

“Really!? Like, what did he write about!?”

— Okay, so in one of them there’s this, like, horror that Franzen supposedly runs into in the tunnel at the train station. He’s basically everything Swatties fear: he’s a murderer, junkie, or something, “a cutthroat and a rapist, a brute, a purse-snatcher: I deface the billboards around the station. I manage all the graffiti around here, and tear pages out of the phone books. But primarily I am here to spook effete, unescorted students going to or from the College.” And Franzen asks him about the mirrors in the bathrooms in McCabe. “My widow,” the junkie replies, “was an architect and it was she that had those mirrors installed. They had to be full-length mirrors. Her plan was this; students would spend entire days wrapped up in themselves and their studies at those oppressive little carrels. They would go to the bathroom and there be compelled to admire themselves from head to toe. Other students would surprise them at it and embarrass them.” It’s really funny because the junkie gives up: “These clever Swarthmore students. There’s no disconcerting them. They comb their hair, or blow their noses, or dry their hands in front of the mirrors. Some of them even brazen it out, continuing to dote when they’ve been caught at it.” It perfectly captures the pride of Swatties in conspicuous studying.

“That’s hilarious.”

— Yeah, and Franzen says near the end that these myths, this horror-man, are like “the kind of things that students don’t anticipate before they reach college, aren’t aware of (except in dreams) while they are there, and don’t remember after they have left. They are the things that give rise to the oft-repeated yet seldom-grasped axiom ‘Swarthmore is not a place’ — God forbid — ‘it’s a state of mind.’

— In another column, Franzen talks about Christmas dinner with his father. His dad brags about the American breakfast, compared to those of starving “Europeans.” And Franzen finds that problematic and goes on to make fun of people who talk about the Sharples breakfasts. “People confuse bacon and Liberal Arts, as though they have something to do with one another,” or something.

— Oh, and then in another column, Franzen’s talking about Kurt Vonnegut and Vonnegut’s son, “Mark, who wrote one the most fatuous books I’ve ever read.” He’s writing about the Vonneguts, “now only because Mark’s book deals with the first few years of his life after Swarthmore, and because the thunderstorm last Friday night called to mind Kurt’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five.’” Franzen’s writing literally 34 years ago today: “Trees are in bloom. So it goes. It’s raining again. So it goes.”

— “For four years,” Franzen writes, “Swarthmore’s intense academic focus has blinded us to the realities of the big world. We all need some time to really find ourselves, to find direction and place in society. Or so the story goes. I rather suspect though, that we have actually had plenty of time to find ourselves. The problem is that we haven’t cared to look.” He asks whether there’s value in wasting time, how that relates to the American Dream, how there was once “hope for counter-culture,” but not today.

“What was your other column?”

— I don’t know. I don’t understand why people like reading what I write. I always want to ask them, Why? But I consistently choose the flight response over the fight, polite thank-yous over going deeper, flattery over truth. My other column was about this freshman in her freshman fall who decided during her freshman fall that she was transferring in the spring back home.


— Well, the way she explained it to me, was that as a Native American, she was having a really hard time finding anyone with whom she could relate, or any communities in which she felt at home in Swarthmore.

“Why? Did she live on a reservation?”

— I mean, I don’t know. She was from this Great Plains state. I’m not going to tell you which. But it blew my mind.

“Why did that blow your mind?”

— I mean, the fact that after five minutes at a Christmas sweater party that eventually became a put-as-much-whiskey-in-eggnog-as-possible party, this girl felt comfortable enough to talk about her whole Swat experience, and that she was freaking transferring after one semester.

“Swat is kind of cliquey.”

—I think one of the things that makes you a Swattie is that there’s this natural feeling precisely of not belonging. I mean, I’m not going to pretend like I can relate with where she was coming from. I’m not Native American. But Swatties are like Russians: they bond by complaining and playing misery poker. It’s weird. I really enjoyed listening to her story, getting to know what this Swat culture in which there’s this deep-seated sentiment of not belonging, in which I guess I’m totally complicit, looked like to her.

“What was your last column?”

—I rewrote Dostoevsky’s “Notes From Underground”: “I am a sick college … I am a beastly college. I am an unattractive college. I believe my culture is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my culture, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a wellness survey for it, and never have, though I have a respect for surveys and figures. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect statistics, anyways (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a study out of spite. That you probably won’t understand. I understand, though. Of course, I can’t explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot ‘fill in’ the studies by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t consult the data it is from spite. My culture is bad, well — let it get worse!”


— Yeah, it was ridiculously overdone. “I realized that this man was an imposter,” was what Franzen wrote at the end of one of his columns: “I snatched his wallet and ran.”

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