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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.

Being okay

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The other night my friend was consoling me after a stressful, frustrating week. Like tango and conspiring, it takes at least two people for consolation to come about. After my friend listened to my troubles and expressed sympathy, I noted that despite my recent troubles, I have many good things in my life. My friend asked me to do something I would never have done unless they had suggested it: to list the good things in my life. I did, and it made me feel substantially better.

Something I have been thinking a lot about lately is how to be okay. What do I mean by this? Well, instead of trying to be happy, or successful, or organized, or cool, or funny, I think maybe it might be more healthful for myself to accept the mundane safety that makes up most people’s lives most of the time. Even soldiers during war usually spend most of their time marching, cleaning their rifles, shining their boots, waiting and waiting and waiting for battle to come their way. I am not denying the terrible suffering and despicable evil that exist in the world or dismissing the existential challenges of human life that permeate the air and kill us all at the rate of 60 minutes per hour. What I am simply pointing out is that the necessities of life are only absent when people have nothing to eat, nowhere to rest their head, or the rapidly decaying bodies of the terminally ill. Failing those things, we live and sustain ourselves. That might not seem like much, but it’s the most anyone can lose.

Something I worry about a lot is failure: failing to get a summer internship, failing to impress my teachers and friends, failing to satisfy my own expectations. But I think that the problem is that I am worried about failure at all and that I worry about failing. I do not think the realistic possibility of disastrous is something I see as impending, although at any moment disaster can strike. I think this because I have noticed that my fear of failure is unrelated to whatever is actually happening in my life as it relates to the things I am worried about failing. I do not worry about disappointing a professor when I have not done the readings for a class. Instead it’s when I am stressed about something else in my life, or when I am comparing myself to others, or when I am simply feeling blue that I start worrying about all the things I could fail to achieve.

I worry about my pride being hurt, but I should really be worried about hurting my own pride. Pride is like the pockets of Jeff Bezos or the stomach of Takeru Kobayashi, the world’s most famous competitive eater, it never can be filled enough. Pride is a denial of the sufficiency of the necessities of life. If I say I need food, water, shelter, work to do, friends to play with, and a family to love, then I should only be worn down by the trials and tribulations of life, yet I let pride eat away at me. If there’s a failure I need to worry about, it’s that I’ll fail to prevent pride from spoiling the good things in my life. But if excessive pride is destructive, it is also true that we can help notice our own feelings, be concerned about our own lives and try to enjoy ourselves.

My therapist characterized the jubilation of the Philadelphia metropolitan area after the Eagles won the Super Bowl and became world champions as “a mass exercise in mindfulness.” I am not sure if I have heard a more insightful comment related to sports, even from Stephen A. Smith. What was so great about the Super Bowl is that it was fun to watch, that you were actually engaged with what was happening in front of you. The celebrations afterward and the parade were an extension of that. Obviously you cannot get as jazzed about every football game as die-hard Eagles fans were about the Super Bowl, but it is no exaggeration to say that most people’s lives are largely a succession of moments where you have what you need and where what you are doing at the moment is not hurting you any more than is bearable.

When my friend asked me what was good in my life, after thinking about it, the things that were listed were not things that make me or my life special. I was thankful for my health, my family and friends, and for things that really mean something to me, like history and stand-up comedy and the beautiful trees of Pennsylvania. I think that upon even the slightest reflection most people would honestly say that the things that make their life worth living are things they have had for most, if not all their lives. In fact this has to be the case, because most people throughout history choose to go on living for years and decades, in spite of misfortune and persecution. It takes a lot to strike someone down, whether a bullet or a disease or despair does it. And there’s nothing that can be thrown at anyone in which there are not numerous examples of people surviving. And surviving is just another way of choosing to go on living. I have thought of one additional thing I am thankful for in my life: that everyone I have ever known has had the courage to persevere through life’s greatest challenges.

Pressures, academic or others, no big deal for athletic titans

in Columns/Sports by

After visiting or reading about Swarthmore, some prospective students might feel that they have learned two pieces of information about Swarthmore College. First, this school is a pressure cooker. Second, this school is full of kids who are so smart they couldn’t possibly be athletic. I believe that because our top-tier Women’s Volleyball  and Soccer teams each carry All-American athletes, you can be smart and athletic at Swarthmore. However, it’s false to say that Swarthmore doesn’t have any impressive athletes, but because Swarthmore is a place with plenty of pressure to succeed, they might find it hard to meet expectations. Now, imagine that you go to Swarthmore and your team makes the playoffs. How do you handle the added pressure?

    This year, Swarthmore is sending two fall sport teams to playoffs. The Women’s Volleyball team ended their conference season with an 8-2 record, placing second in the Centennial Conference heading into playoffs. Women’s Soccer is following closely behind, ending conference play with a 7-2 record, setting them up as the third seed in conference playoffs. Both teams are in the midst of impressive runs, with players from each team ranking with high individual stats in the conference and many players earning Player of the Week commendations. Currently, Marin McCoy ’19 has the second most points for Women’s Soccer players in the conference, and Sarah Wallace ’18 has the sixth most kills out of players in the conference. These girls are worthy opponents by anyone’s standards.

    They may be physically talented enough, but can they handle the playoff pressure?

    According to several players, the added pressure is undeniable, but certainly not crippling.  Different players feel the weight of the game in distinct ways.

    “The only time I feel the pressure of a big match is in the days leading up to it. Once I actually start playing, I get so invested in the immediate action that I don’t worry about the pressure involved, and just focus on myself and my teammates,” said Sarah Girard ‘19, the libero for the Women’s Volleyball team.

     McCoy ’19, starting forward for the Women’s Soccer team, looks at pressure from a different perspective.

    “All forwards feel a pressure to score a goal in an important game, and when we give up a good scoring opportunity, we are especially hard on ourselves,” said McCoy. Both athletes recognize the pressure, but its timing and weight plays in differently for them. Although both are key players for their teams, McCoy and Girard differ in how they handle stress. While their personalities are likely explanatory factors, it is probable that the type of sport they play contributes as well. Volleyball is a high-scoring and fast-paced game compared to soccer, where it is possible that no one scores in an entire game. This divergence can lead to a varying amount of pressure placed one individual’s mess up or scoring opportunity.

    While these sports may have stark formatting differences, they have one vital similarity. They are team sports. Although one player’s performance can make a difference, in both sports, there is always a teammate there to help pick you up when you’re down. McCoy knows exactly what the word teammate means.

    “When I think about this being the last opportunity that our seniors play college soccer, I am the most motivated. I know how much they have put into this team, and I put more effort in the game when I think about how important it is to them.”

    Only a sophomore herself, McCoy lays it all out on the line as if it was her last chance because she knows that for some of her teammates, it is. Girard also weighs in on the significance of the team as a motivator, commenting,

    “I have to play for my teammates, so that I can win with my teammates.”

This team dynamic drives Swat Volleyball, with Wallace agreeing that they have a very strong team focus.  She explained that they, “Always stand in a huddle in the middle of the court, and tell each other to play hard and to play for each other.” Doing well for their team challenges these players to conquer the pressure and work hard for themselves but, more importantly, for the team.

    Unfortunately, for these athletes, their seasons and the extra pushes of playoffs do not mean they get to skip out on their work for classes. Despite the extra work, Girard and Wallace both recognize their ability to separate school from volleyball, avoiding thoughts of work during practices or games and use their sport as a break from the busy world of Swat. For McCoy, the stress and constant flow of schoolwork is actually an advantage.

    “If I did not have as much school work, I would spend a lot more time analyzing rankings, film, and soccer in general,” she said, adding, “The way that academic experiences at Swat challenge us to push through help me maintain my determination and motivation not to give up and to continue working hard in soccer.”

Just as all students here feel the strain to do well in their classes, these athletes feel the pressure to perform well in their games. As our two teams head off to playoffs, we can support them knowing they will go all out on the court or the field despite the pressure. Wallace said, “It’s a great thing to feel pressure, because that means you want to win.”

Each player conquers the stress of both their athletic and academic worlds in different ways, but we know that each player will put their best foot forward to win. They sometimes use academics as a distraction from sports, or they use practices and games as a break from their rigorous workload. Though it may be tough, these athletes will always persevere through the pressure for their teammates; after all, they are Swatties, and Swatties know stress best.

Are we all crazy for electing to do the Swat stress test?

in Acatalepsy/Columns/Opinions by

Academic rigor is something that all Swatties love to hate. More than pride, it is an intrinsic part of Swarthmore culture, perpetuated by misery poker and shirts proclaiming, “Anywhere else it would have been an A.” The most recent ranking by Cappex that marks Swarthmore as the #1 hardest school acknowledges what most students already knew.

Stress is no stranger to people on campus. Considering the high achievers that comprise Swat’s student body, students probably prefer some amount of pressure for motivation. as it allows them to achieve more than they thought possible. But like with anything, moderation is key. This is the paradoxical situation I sometimes find myself in, something I know I am not alone in feeling that I want to be involved in everything at once while not wanting to do any of my work, at times, overwhelmed by the number of commitments I’ve made.

Again and again, I’ve been told I have plenty of time in college to explore new fields, but each time pre-registration comes around, I find myself struggling to choose between this course or that one, because although four credits is not enough to satiate my academic interests, I know realistically that anything more would limit my depth of learning. From cultural to occupational to recreational, the endless list of clubs is astounding. Signing up is easy, but actually becoming involved is another story; only when several organizations decide to schedule their meetings all on the same date, at the same time, does it become apparent that there is never enough time to do it all.

Time is precious — a point emphasized in college. If one weren’t fully occupied enough with readings, essays, lab reports and presentations, there is still the never-ending slew of events on campus ranging from symposia to concerts to cultural events. Amidst a constantly stimulating environment when is one to rest? To take a breather? The onslaught of FOMO — fear of missing out — transforms what might have been a free hour of relaxation into a foosball faceoff with friends.

There is a distinct difference between a lazy day at home and a lazy day at Swarthmore. Between the 24/7 academic and social stimulation — burning the wick at both ends — the thought of free time is a misnomer that only freshmen would be fooled into believing. Even during breaks, there are tangible laundry lists of assignments that need to be completed, readings to catch up on, worksheets and essays looming. There comes a point when you realize that the usual 3 a.m. bedtime is, in reality, not normal at all. Burning out isn’t an option, it’s an inevitability — the only variable is when it will happen. Maybe you’re able to avoid it an entire year, using the pent-up academic boredom and frustration from high school to fuel your ambitions, so it becomes the generic “sophomore slump.” Or maybe high school senioritis slithers over so that YOPFO becomes a motto to live by.

It isn’t that you lack ambition — if anything, it is the opposite of that. The issue is that you are overly ambitious and want to capitalize on every presented opportunity: yes is more. But always saying yes is also not a sustainable lifestyle. How does one effectively deal with this? Complexity is something that compounds, and life only gets more convoluted with more factors, more history to complicate and influence every decision, so it’s best to figure out how to deal with it all now.

So, what does it really mean, that every student at Swarthmore has intentionally chosen to be in this high intensity environment? Are we all crazy or prematurely preparing ourselves for the future like the overachievers we are? Surviving Swat is a feat recognized by many. There is a reason that the name Swarthmore — no matter if you say it SwARTHmore, SwOTHmore, or Swat — garners an impressed pat on the back, raised eyebrows and bragging rights. More than merely being statistically difficult to be accepted, having a large endowment and employing a notable array of professors, Swarthmore is a mental test. It is having the willpower to struggle through the mountains of work. It is being overwhelmed with obligations and not knowing where to begin, but beginning somewhere anyway. It is knowing when to sacrifice what you want to do for what you need to do, and learning, as difficult as it may be, the power of no. Swarthmore is going to give us an education, but it’s also going to teach us to understand the value and long-term benefits over short-term costs of engaging in any given activity. By graduation, we will ideally be able to evaluate, prioritize, schedule and feel some semblance of organization and control over all the craziness thrown at us. Regardless of the grades we leave with by the end of four years, as long as we’ve successfully passed the Swat stress test, we should be prepared to handle whatever is going to fall upon us once the bubble pops.

What do we need to stay healthy away from home?

in Acatalepsy/Columns/Opinions by

Q: What is Swarthmore without its health center?
A: Worthless (ba-dum-DUH).

It seems to be that time of year again. I say this not with glee in my voice, but with a deep, throaty cough, the kind that disrupts a class and obligates those around to offer up water and throat lozenges. It is inevitable that there is a period in the fall when suddenly everyone at Swarthmore gets sick. The colds pass through dorms capitalizing upon the stress and sleep deprivation that accompany midterms and general Swarthmore academics.

Most of us are privileged to not have to consider health problems when we look at the grand scheme of our lives. Yes, we will all age and experience the slow degradation of our physical and mental well-being. But as of now we are college students, reveling in our lithe bodies, taking for granted our sharp minds, quick wit and ability to eat endless amounts of ice cream. We indulge, but we are not invincible.

Stress is surely a factor in any Swattie’s life. There is no shortage of misery poker or procrastination. Stress is not a big scary carcinoma — it does not come out of the blue and give you a greater appreciation for how precious and tenuous life is — but it should be feared as much, if not more, than other ailments. It has been documented time and time again that chronic stress negatively affects quality of sleep, compromises immune systems and can ultimately shorten a person’s life.

A good portion of my life is going to be spent here at Swarthmore, and I know I want a long and happy life. So, why don’t we have massage chairs in McCabe? Where is the puppy room? Yes, there are facilitated study breaks, and yes my dorm gathers Wednesdays and Sundays to get over hump day and kick off our week. Yet, these events are based around indulgent foods such as brownies, cookies, cake and pie. I’m not complaining — I fully enjoy these sweet treats — but are caffeine and sugar my only options?

In terms of nutrition, we find ourselves tempted with delectable cookies and ice cream daily, often cited as the best-quality food at Sharples. Clubs and activities offer endless free food to entice more people to come to meetings. Many first-years on the 17 meal plan find themselves with leftover meals. Most choose to redeem their meal swipes by stocking up on snacks at Essie Mae’s: chips, Pop-Tarts, popcorn and Oreos sell especially well. Ubiquitous are the chances to fall into unhealthy habits, and they are even unintentionally encouraged for first-years who want to get the full value of the plan they paid for. Such ample chances for indulgence and unlimited agency prove a deadly combination for some, leading to the dreaded freshman 15. This clearly isn’t home.

When I’m sick, my mom isn’t here to make sure I stay in bed and bring me soup. College means independence, but it also means pushing my limits and exploring my boundaries. I want to be able to tell my body to get over itself and go to class, go dance and have fun because this cold is really nothing. I reason that if I drink enough tea and sleep enough on the weekends I’ll be fine.

We have a beautiful, newly renovated health center, but people looking to de-stress are not going to find much help there. Instead, responsibility is placed upon students like RAs to organize fun activities. Especially during freshman year, students may not fully acknowledge their stress, or be in denial about it, and thus will not go out of their way to ameliorate symptoms. Swarthmore strongly emphasizes academic intensity, which is absolutely wonderful and the reason many of us came here, but there needs to be more tangible efforts to aid students in alleviating stressors.

Living mindfully is easier said than done. One can decide to independently engage in yoga or other athletic endeavors in search of endorphins or exercise, but often these activities are put to the side when homework, sleep or other basic needs take precedence. In the hierarchy of tasks, people have a tendency to prioritize those with deadlines. Many will choose to cram for a test or stay up to finish an essay instead of listening to their circadian rhythms and going to sleep.

Where does the fallible notion come from that our consciousness can and should override our biological indicators? Society has given us unattainable role models, superheroes and real life people who seem to have it all. In a very American mindset, we want it all and settle for nothing less. It has been told to us again and again that these small decisions will add up, resulting in poorer execution and eventually a shorter, sadder life.

We are all arrogant in a way. We have high expectations for ourselves, especially as highly successful Swatties. We anticipate that by aiming high, even our worst effort will have fabulous results. We need a reality check. We need organized opportunities on behalf of Swarthmore to relax even when we think we do not need to take a break. We need to be humbled; we need Swarthmore to be the parent foreseeing our unfulfilled needs before we can even recognize them.

Balancing Act: Stress and the Swattie

in Campus Journal/Columns/Humans of Swat by

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Swarthmore students love to be too busy. After all, many of us were accepted here by being manic overachievers in high school. We ended up with stacked academic resumés, as well as long lists of stress induced mental break-downs. By graduation, we will all be professionals at misery poker. The love-hate relationship we have with our work outshines the cheesiest of soap opera romances — and like the characters in those shows, we just can’t say no to a good opportunity to make ourselves miserable.

But stress can get to even the most talented balancers.

As she bustles between practice and the practice rooms, Corinne Candillis ’17 proves to have mastered the over-achieving game. And yet she came to me a few weeks ago, overwhelmed and very clearly overworked. I knew that the situation was bad when someone as strong and put together as Candillis was worried about her involvement with varsity lacrosse, an a cappella group, the debate society, and her devotion to getting ten hours of sleep every night.

She was spreading herself too thin. She couldn’t completely devote herself to any single activity. On top of that, linear algebra proved to be a particularly challenging course that was demanding more attention than she could currently give it. This woman, who was so often a rock for me, now was in desperate need of a pep talk.

As we talked, Candillis expressed concern that she was guilty for not being able to do everything, and inadequate in the face of her challenging workload. We did what any friends would do- listened, provided hugs and inspirational music, and tried to help her figure out what was most important to her from her broad palette of interested.

Candillis eventually felt her life fall into balance once again, as we assured her it would. In retrospect, she simply was facing the classic Swattie struggle. We like to do it all. We can’t say no. It seems like Swarthmore students are constantly walking on the fine line between being wonderfully busy and on the go, and straight-up exhausted. This is the natural byproduct of our inability to turn down new opportunities. This spring, Candillis recognized that there’s a limit to how much we can do.

This tendency of Swatties to take on so much is a double-edged sword. In fact, it may be our greatest weakness. We are exhausted, addicted to caffeine, and sometimes overwhelmed, as in Candillis’ case. But it is also what makes Swarthmore magical.

“I feel like everyone I have met at this school — I can literally sit down and have a three hour conversation with anyone. Everyone here is so well rounded,” Candillis was telling a spec today at lunch. We were discussing how Swarthmore students are involved in many different types of activities. It’s rare to find a student who fits a single stereotype.

The spec is deciding between Swarthmore and two other non-liberal arts schools. Candillis and I explained to her how the liberal arts naturally draw students who enjoy dabbling in a variety of subjects. In short, the student body here is self-selected to be interesting. From the lunch line at Sharples to the unique perspectives that are expressed in my classes, Swarthmore makes sure that I am always in awe at humanity and the endless dimensions of human nature.

Reflecting on this year, I am grateful to have met such interesting, unique, multilayered individuals such as Corinne Candillis — even at the price of a few sleepless nights. Yes, we may be stressed and fatigued, but we are interesting. Swarthmore provides us with perpetual reminders that the exhaustion and all nighters are worth it. It is in our briefest moments of friendship and relaxation that we can celebrate Swatties and their stories, which are the beautiful threads that weave together the fabric of this community that has come to be my home. While finding the balance between our priorities can often be an immense challenge, keeping up our hard work is what transforms us into fascinating individuals like those I have met this year.

A Conversation with Professor X

in Around Campus by

I’ve jokingly stated many many times, “I’m pretty sure Professor X thinks that we only have work from his class. Do you see this? (holds up pack of readings that necessarily must be stapled with the big orange and grey stapler in McCabe).” I’m guilty of perpetuating this narrative in the dark hours, lining up for a cup of coffee and hopefully, a pack of Oreos in McCabe. This go-to phrase has the merit of placing the blame of my procrastination onto the workload.  It also displaces the guilt I feel of not finishing the entirety of the work assigned via half-humor and empathetic nods. However, this narrative doesn’t quite capture the understanding that Swarthmore professors have of their students. And the fact that Swarthmore professors do appreciate the rigor and intensity that we bring to our work and to the classroom.


There are some professors that I talk to more regularly than others. A recent conversation with a professor I describe as fantastically cool and insightful went (more or less) like this:


Cathy runs up to the classroom door and gives a rapid knock. The door opens quite suddenly, as my professor was rearranging something near her door.


Professor: Come in, how are you? (Both parties settle down quite comfortably, as would old friends, or an advisor and her student would after four years of both academic and non-academic advising during hours of crisis a.k.a. weekend Skype advising)


Cathy: I’m doing okay. Though, every week, I feel like I’m falling behind.


P: Welcome to my life.


Chuckles ensue as she takes a sip from her coffee jar and I try to formulate my feeling of angst and unpreparedness in an articulate manner.


C: My lack of foundation, or the lack of confidence I have in my understanding of the foundations of my studies really bothers me. I really wish that I had a better grasp…


Professor nods but stops me.


P: Well, there’s a disjuncture in what you can achieve given the time and cognitive constraints that you have and what you’d like to do if you had no other responsibilities.


C: Yes…


A: It’s okay that you’re not reading every review, every article assigned to you, right? It’s more that you acquire the necessary skills in order to delineate from the context of everything that we’ve read so far how these sources speak to or about the issues that we’ve been discussing even if you’ve read one or skim through most.


C: (feeling rush of relief, a sense of comradeship, nods vigorously) I appreciate that. Sometimes I feel as though professors assign their work expecting every piece to be close-read and analyzed even though it’s not true.


P: (smiling) All you guys are perfectionists who don’t understand that you each hold each other and yourselves to a higher standard than possible at times. So, do you want to talk about your future or your paper?


C: Both, both are definitely in the future.


Such interactions help ground me in the chaotic flurry of papers that I perceive myself to be lost in. Despite what it may seem like when we look at our 40-page syllabus with a reading list that seems inhumane, our professors understand that we’re not superhuman. They also want us to be healthy and successful. Especially as I realize in my last year at Swarthmore that my professors here at Swarthmore probably care more about their students than will most other people who we meet in the “real world,” I do want to take a moment to recognize that sometimes, we need to take a step back and appreciate.

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