The Swarthmore CO-OP has been a part of the Swarthmore community for over 80 years, and its status as the only grocery store in the ville makes it popular among both residents of the borough and students. The college’s relationship with the CO-OP changed in 2016 when students were able to utilize their OneCard and Swat Points there, but the relationship between the CO-OP and college students has a long history.
The CO-OP is a food cooperative that first opened its doors in 1932. Food cooperatives are distinctive from other grocery stores because they have investors where decisions regarding the production and distribution of its food are chosen by its members. The CO-OP is the third oldest food cooperative in the country.
According to digital marketing intern at the CO-OP Isabel Paynter, the CO-OP’s investors typically purchase 60 shares of the company for $5 each. These investors who have at least $300 of equity in the company have the ability to influence the products carried at the CO-OP. Many of the items the CO-OP carries are considered speciality or local.
“We [the CO-OP] have over 110 local vendors, which means the products we carry are not the type you can buy at Giant or Target. We carry brands that are organic or fit our brand and sometimes that’s why our prices are more expensive,” Paynter said.
For some students, the higher prices at the CO-OP can be a deterrent from buying products there. Leisa Liao ’18, who is on the PPR meal plan that offers $700 in Swat Points, noted that while she likes to use her Swat Points at the CO-OP, she still finds some of the prices expensive.
“This year I’m trying to shop more at the CO-OP because I don’t like eating out as much and I want to learn how to cook. The other week I hosted a dinner party for eight of my friends, and after doing some grocery shopping in Media and at the CO-OP, it ended up being about $200.” Liao said.
Liao also shops at other nearby grocery stores and compares prices to find which products are better to purchase at the CO-OP. She primarily shops at the CO-OP due to its accessibility with the OneCard.
“I only started shopping at the CO-OP once it was on the OneCard. I’ll shop at the CO-OP until I run out of points because you’re using points that you’ve already paid for with your room and board. I wish the OneCard would expand to other grocery stores, like Target or Trader Joe’s, that offer cheaper prices on products,” Liao said.
Though the CO-OP is OneCard-accessible this school year, this summer, rumors erupted about the CO-OP losing its OneCard status. However, these rumors were quelled shortly before students returned to campus.
According to Paynter, the terms and agreements with the college had expired and renegotiations were made. Some of these renegotiations included the elimination of the 5 percent discount off all products for Swarthmore students. Yet Paynter believes that the CO-OP’s new online engagement is more beneficial to students. Raffles, email subscription lists, and contests all give students the opportunity to score new coupons or discounts at the CO-OP.
“I think [having the CO-OP on the OneCard] is a good way for college kids to be a part of the Swarthmore community. Students can benefit from a lot of things that the CO-OP offers that they don’t know about,” Paynter said.
Thomas Dailak ’21, a regular customer at the CO-OP, likes to shop at the CO-OP because of its vicinity to the college.
“I shop at the CO-OP because I like to cook and I need to buy ingredients somewhere. There [is] very limited supply of places where I can do that. For me, coming from New York, the prices [at the CO-OP] are pretty much what I’m used to,” Dailak said.
However, Dailak does believe that easier access to other grocery stores would lower costs for students.
“They [the CO-OP] know they’ve cornered the market on groceries, so I think that the prices would probably adjust as well if more students had other options for [grocery] shopping,” he said.
Though the school offers shuttle service to stores like Target, Giant, and Trader Joe’s, these stores are often less convenient due to the CO-OP’s close proximity to campus and its OneCard accessibility.
While criticisms of the CO-OP’s pricing persist, the CO-OP continues to play a significant role in both the borough and on campus.
Fall 2016 marked the first semester of expanded meal plans that include Swat Points for use in the Ville. For the first time in Swarthmore’s history students now have the option to use their meal plans to eat at Aria, Bamboo Bistro, Dunkin Donuts, Hobbs Coffee, Occasionally Yours, Renato Pizzeria, Vicky’s Place, and the Co-Op giving students more freedom than in previous years to choose where they eat. First year students, however, have less freedom than the rest of the student body. This restriction, decided without student input, has drawn some criticism from members of the student body. The changes have also increased business for Ville vendors, as it is easier than ever for students to access the restaurants in the borough of Swarthmore.
For students, especially first years, the OneCard has brought wider dining choices as well as some challenges. The four plans having varying proportions of meals to Points, points for use at on-campus locations, and Swat Points, points for use at off-campus locations. Some plans have more meals than points, and others with less meals but more points. First years have only two meal plan options, the SWAT Plan and the Garnet Plan. The SWAT plan has unlimited meal swipes that can be used at Sharples and Essie Mae’s, as well as 150 Points and 150 Swat Points. The Garnet Plan gives students 275 meals per semester as well as 300 Points and 200 Swat Points. Towards the end of the semester, some students began to run out of Points and Swat Points. For first year student Aditya Jayakrishnan ’20, staying on campus for Fall Break was a large factor in running out of Points.
“Thrice a week last semester, I didn’t have enough time to get to Sharples and back for lunch, … [so]I resorted to just eating at the coffee bar instead. That, coupled with the occasional trip to the Ville, and the fact that I had to stay on campus over Fall Break and use my Points in the Ville and at Essie’s meant that my Points were gone soon after Fall Break,” he said.
Jayakrishnan was on the Garnet Plan, the most point-heavy plan available to first year students. For the second semester, first years have the same two options, potentially preventing them from choosing the meal plan that would best suits their needs. The administration, represented by Dean of Students Liz Braun, Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown said that first years have always had the least choice in meal plans, and that the Sharples experience was important for for first years.
“We want Sharples to remain the main point of contact for first year students,” Braun said. The administration also cited budget concerns and stability as reasons for keeping first years limited to two different plans, as successfully operating Sharples hinges on being able to accurately estimate the number of students at each meal. While first years were more limited than other class years, the administration noted that there was an increase in flexibility for all class years in terms of dining options with the addition of Swat Points, as well as that the plans are blocked for the entire semester rather than weekly.
The decision for first year students to not be able to access to have all the plans in the second semester has limited students. The decision mirrors the college’s housing policy, which is that first year students are required to live on campus.
Ming Ray Xu ’20 switched from the Swat Plan to the Garnet Plan, and felt that students should be allowed more autonomy in choosing their meal plans.
“The meal plan is unnecessarily restricted, a recommendation from the college would be fine. I understand that the administration wants us to not starve at the end of the semester, but I have access to data about how many meals I eat in a semester, the OneCard system lets you see that,” he said. Students can access information about their balances, including number of remaining meals, Points, and Swat Points by going to the OneCard center on The Dash. With this information available, students, including first years, have access to the knowledge they need to select the meal plan that best suits their habits for the following semester.
In addition to giving students more options for dining, the OneCard has had effects on Ville vendors as well. The ability to use Points in the Ville makes off-campus eateries more economically accessible, and restaurants in Swarthmore have noticed a considerable uptick in business from students. Dunkin’ Donuts employee Manmeet Kaur estimates that the coffee and doughnut shop has about 130 dollars in OneCard transactions on an average weekday.
“It was pretty consistent throughout the semester … and [we have] 20 times, 30 times more students than what we used to get,” said Richardson. The expansion of the meal plan into the Ville has also increased social interaction between students and members of the Ville.
“I’m very happy with the college actually taking an interest in working with merchants, it’s a win-win for everybody […] it’s not a dollar and cents thing to me as much as it is adding to the vibrancy […] of the downtown community […] it adds to the character of the town, having more students here,” Richardson continued. The new meal plans have served as a bridge between the college community and the greater Swarthmore community and has made it easier for students to break the so-called Swat bubble. Merchants in the Ville have not only noticed the increase in students, but are also learning more about their purchase patterns.
“Our most popular items are deli [items] […] sandwiches […] prepared foods […] snacks and beverages.” She went on to say that the Co-Op “has begun to have active discussions about ways to offer a premium hot pizza at the Co-Op,” said Dawn Betts, an employee at the Co-Op. The potential for the Co-Op to expand their options shows both that the OneCard has had a considerable effect on students making purchases in the Ville as well as vendors’ interest in being a part of student life.
However, the pattern of students primarily purchasing foods that are pre-cooked or pre-prepared contrasts with the vision the administration has for New PPR. The possibility of a new plan just for students in New PPR would have less meals and more points than current meal plans since the dorm includes plans for kitchens. Braun indicated that she envisioned smaller communities within the residence hall where students would still eat communally.
The OneCard and the new meal plans have been met with popularity by both students and merchants, with the chief complaint coming from students who cannot access the full flexibility of the plans. Minor changes to the meal plans are expected from the college as more data on how, when, and where plans are used is collected from its first year of use. OneCard’s successful roll out and implementation have had clear benefits for both students and the town of Swarthmore.
Over last semester, eating in the Ville for my reviews has become one of my favorite things to do. As a self-proclaimed homebody, I’m far more likely to go to Sharples for its convenience and comfort than I am to venture out to try a new restaurant in the Ville. Every other week, I have discovered something new in the town of Swarthmore that has enhanced my experience as a first-year student. On my trip to Occasionally Yours, I considered that this meal was likely to be the last one I ate in the Ville with the purpose of writing a Phoenix review. The stakes were high for the restaurant, and I was yet to be disappointed by a meal in the Ville.
The restaurant is bright, and the natural light let in by the large storefront window is enhanced by the white furniture inside. The walls are painted a similar bright white on the bottom two-thirds, but a shelf serves as a bold transition to deep-green. As I sat in Occasionally Yours and looked around the room, I felt as if I was not in a restaurant, but rather having meal in someone’s home. The deep hue of the top portion creates the same cozy vibe as the living room in my grandparent’s home, and the items sitting on the shelf made me feel as if I had been transported back to a childhood memory. The family photos displayed next to vintage-appearing appliances created a warm ambiance found at the intersection of an old farmhouse and modern design. The home-ish atmosphere was amplified by the ease at which patrons held conversations across the small dining room, which holds two rows of tables on the sides of the restaurant that were too close together. Despite the annoyance of bumping into the tables while getting in and out of my seat, I appreciated the cozy atmosphere that the furniture arrangement provided. A basket of children’s books in the window indicated that children were welcome in the restaurant, and seeing my sister’s favorite titles reminded me of home. Casual yet classic, crowded and comfortable, the contradictions in Occasionally Yours provide an ambiance that is inviting as well as informal.
Food is at the core of any dining experience, and Occasionally Yours delivers on the unwritten but universal promise to serve a good meal that is at the nexus of the food service industry. Its menu features both basic staples as well as certain adventurous specials, from grilled cheese to meatloaf to lasagna, many will find that Occasionally Yours has their favorite meal from growing up, but that it takes few culinary risks as well. The Carolina pulled pork sandwich, a popular special, was a pleasant surprise. My expectations for barbeque decrease as the latitude increases, but the sandwich was warm and tender. Sweet flavors permeated the meat as I had my preconceived notions of northern pulled pork gently shattered. The French bun that enveloped the pork was crispy on the outside but was fluffy and soft on the inside, adding additional textures that made the sandwich a multidimensional dish. I had potato salad on the side, but its cool flavors and tangy undertones turned it into a main event. Celery intermingled with the soft chunks of potato and provided a much needed crunch. The potato salad was a perfect companion to the pulled pork as its savory flavors complimented the sandwich but its cool temperature and flavor notes made it a unique part of the meal.
To complete my meal, I drank lemonade and had a pastry for dessert. The lemonade was sweet and light, but was almost underwhelming. The close border between refreshing and boring was just enough to remind me of summer, but the flavors were not powerful enough to make me yearn to have hot weather again. A strawberry crumb bar was the last part of the meal, and the soft doughy bottom overpowered the strawberry that peeked its way out from under the crumb top. The dessert had good flavors that were overpowered by an amount of bar that was not balanced by a fair proportion of strawberry and crumb. The meal served at Occasionally Yours was well made, and delivered on my expectation of a hearty meal.
The experience provided by Occasionally Yours is slightly cramped but is welcoming and a good place to take friends to get comfort food at the end of a long week. Their meals are tasty, and the individual dishes provide a range of flavors that are both appetizing and interesting. Just a short walk past the train station, the restaurant is an inviting way to add more variety into one’s dining choices while staying in one’s culinary comfort zone. Occasionally Yours has good food and a comfortable atmosphere and is a great spot to get a meal, but is the restaurant version of your childhood bedroom: you would be missing out if you stayed there your whole life and never branched out, but it’s really good to go back occasionally.
Thanks to the new OneCard, off-campus eating has become more popular among students. Swatties now have the opportunity to assert, even on a weekday, that they are more than just students. They are diners, foodies, restaurant-goers, and more. Sitting down and eating at a restaurant provides a sense of independence that the dining hall experience does not. Being able to pick food off of a menu and have it brought to you is an experience that turns students into customers in control of their edible destinies. Walking off campus for a meal allows a students to claim freedom, even if only temporarily, from Sharples dining and seek the eating experiences they’re looking for. The options in the Ville offer a variety of food, and this week, I ate at Aria, which offers Mediterranean cuisine.
The experience at Aria is one that is incredibly convenient for students. On a weekday, the restaurant is able to seat students immediately after they order, and the food comes out quickly enough that one could grab a bite there and get back to campus in time for an afternoon class. The efficiency of Aria is what makes it so convenient. At lunchtime, patrons order at the front of the restaurant and seat themselves. Meals come out within just a few minutes of ordering, and OneCards are swiped at the end of the meal. The restaurant itself is just casual enough for quick student dining, while still holding on to the real restaurant experience. The restaurant’s relaxing ambiance stems from the minimal decorations and a wall mirror that makes the room seem larger and brighter. Natural light flows in from the outside and gives the restaurant a relaxing atmosphere after or before a stressful day of classes. A bigger adjacent dining room allows Aria to seat more diners during busier hours. The casual setting and the convenience of the dining experience makes Aria a perfect place for students to be more than students.
Aria, of course, is more than its ambiance or its dining room. What makes Aria special is its food. The menu names of a number of dishes, such as potato pancakes, babaganoush, gyros, and kabobs. The hummus is smooth and well seasoned, served with well-complementing pita bread. Its flavors are bold and tantalizing, which makes for a hearty and delicious appetizer. The hummus to pita ratio was nearly perfect while still allowing for a sizeable portion of hummus to go on each slice of the pita bread. Aria’s hummus transforms average garbanzo beans into a delicious concoction whose flavors both surprise and satisfy.
Of course, no meal is complete with just an appetizer. The chicken gyro comes out warm and overflowing with seasoned chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, and a zesty sauce that comes together for a meal like no other. The gyro is filling, and the grilled chicken inside is tasty and well-cooked. The flavors intermingle with each other and challenge the taste buds to pick up on the different elements. The vegetables within the gyro provide both taste and texture that contrast with the meat, as well as the warm bread surrounding the other ingredients. Not ideal for messy eaters, the gyro lost some of its smaller ingredients as the meal progressed. The gyro at Aria is an item that exceeds expectations in terms of its flavors and provides hearty sustenance for even the hungriest of diners. Aria’s food is tasty and flavorful — even their fries have a unique kick to them. Aria’s menu overall is guaranteed to have multidimensional flavors and spicy overtones that makes their food delectable. The menu’s prices are reasonable and offer a wide variety of choices for those who will be staying at Swarthmore for fall break coming up this week.
The Aria experience is great for those looking for flavorful food on the meal plan. Its menu items are tasty and ready quickly, and the casual dining space makes it the perfect space for a quick lunch between classes or an evening study break. The food is uniquely equipped to deliver an eating experience that is both convenient and worth savoring. A trip to Aria is worth more than an hour of a Swattie’s limited free time, and it is definitely a more than a worthy replacement to a Sharples meal once in awhile. Aria provides all of the standard elements of a good meal: delicious appetizers, a filling and flavorful main dish, as well as the convenience factor required by busy Swarthmore students. This addition to the meal plan is both exceptionally tasty, as well as reasonable priced and incredibly timely for those on a tight schedule.
For students, the new OneCard system has meant new IDs and more trips to the Ville for the pleasures of off-campus dining. But there’s another side to the story: merchants in the Ville have been affected by the new system just as students have. Business owners are excited about future possibilities of using the OneCard. Most of these restaurateurs say that the transition to the new system was smooth and that business has picked up, though they mentioned a few problems.
Ville merchants were informed of the OneCard system around the same time as students, in early February of this year. They met with Greg Brown, Vice-President of Finance at the college, along with other college administrators and with officials from the Swarthmore Borough Council to hammer out the details.
One such detail regarded payment methods. The college provided vendors with iPads to make processing OneCard payments easier. After a certain amount of sales, the college will charge the merchants a processing fee, similar to what credit card companies charge businesses. According to Scott Richardson, owner of Occasionally Yours, the idea of the OneCard System has been talked about for a long time, but technology like the iPad was unavailable or lacking.
“I’ve been here for 23 years, and for the last 20 [years] students have wanted this system. Just the technology wasn’t there before,” said Richardson. He added that not only had business increased for Occasionally Yours, but also a new liveliness had come to the Ville.
“We’ve gone from four to 10 students a day to 10 to 20. It’s so cool to see on a Saturday night how many people are walking around.”
While Richardson thought the reason for his increase in business was that students were more willing to spend money from the meal plan than from their own pockets, he was a little concerned that students did not know they could tip the system.
Tyron, a waiter at Aria Mediterranean Cuisine, expressed similar concerns about gratuities.
“They need a proper tipping system. I feel awkward asking. If students do tip, I have to put it in the register manually as a separate transaction,” he explained. Tyron added that business has improved a little since the OneCard was introduced, and that the new system was faster than credit cards and cash and helped with long lines.
Pete Canakis, a long-time employee of Renato’s Pizza, said the effect on business had been moderate. He said the college administration had been very accommodating.
“They made everything smooth. Everyone was nice and helpful.”
Canakis added that the OneCard had brought more foot traffic to the pizzeria, which led to more face-to-face interactions with students.
“I get to see a lot of kids I wouldn’t see before. We get a better relationship with the students,” he shared.
Chris, a barista at Hobbs coffee shop, said that the OneCard system had not only meant that more students were hanging out in the coffee shop in the middle of the day, sipping coffee, and typing on their laptops, but that more first year students in particular were coming to the cafe.
“Normally it would take freshman a few weeks to venture off campus and try us out, but this year we had a lot of freshman right off the bat.”
For some businesses in the Ville, the transition to the Onecard presented both a challenge and new possibilities. Vicky’s Place, arguably Swarthmore’s only diner, was an all-cash business before joining the OneCard system this year. Business has increased since the start of the school year, though Vicky’s’ business model may mean that the OneCard could pose difficulties in the future.
“If business dies down it might not be worth it, but if business stays the same it will definitely be worth it,” said Paul Feldmayer, owner of Vicky’s.
Manmeet, store manager of the Dunkin Donuts branch in the Ville, said the store had gained some business, but wanted the transaction history system to be updated. While she can see all her regular transactions instantly after they are processed by the cash register, it takes OneCard transactions a full 24 hours before they are viewable.
Kira, front-store manager of the Co-op, said the OneCard system was a huge opportunity for the community-owned grocery store.
“We always felt like that students did not utilize the fact that they have a grocery store just a few minutes from campus,” she said. Kira added that the Co-op had 30 more students making purchases a day, compared to the same time last year.
Kira also said that the Onecard system would allow the Co-op to track and keep better stock of the types of things students need.
“One card allows us to isolate what students are purchasing and their different spending patterns. We’re thinking of things we could do with that.”
With the Inn, the new bookstore, new PPR, and the OneCard system allowing students to use their meal plan in the Ville, the center of campus will likely be pushed south in coming years.
Students are still growing accustomed to the OneCard system, and their spending patterns are not set in stone. Other potential problems, like overcrowding at Ville restaurants or lower profitability to Ville merchants due to decreasing amounts of cash transactions, are still concerns for college and community members. The future ways merchants will adapt to the OneCard system and increased student traffic remains to be seen, and Swarthmore’s culinary future hangs in the balance.
Dining services will make several big changes starting next fall. Current pilot-programs will be made permanent and changes will be made to the meal plan. Grab-n-go in the Science Center and Sharples to-go will become permanent. In addition to changes that have occurred this semester, the meal plan will be changed to allow more flexibility.
Changes to the meal plan include apportioning meals per semester, as opposed to on a weekly basis, and the ability to use half of the points in certain Ville businesses. There will be four options for meal plans: Swat, Garnet, Phoenix, and Parrish. Swat includes unlimited meal swipes and 300 points, 150 which must be used on campus. Garnet is 225 meals per semester and 500 points, 300 of which must be used on campus. Phoenix is 225 meals with 700 points, 300 to use off-campus. Parrish has 160 meals per semester and 900 points, 400 points which can be used in the Ville.
Dining services has been working with the Dining Committee and other parts of the administration during the past year to make these changes. The committee met several times throughout the last year and included students and administration. They tried to focus on issues on campus such as an increased population, desire for more meal flexibility, and meal rush-hours due to the class schedule, according to Sierra Spencer ’18 who is a member of the Dining Committee. The pilot-programs along with the meal changes help accomplish this goal.
The changes were possible because of the new One Card program which will replace all students IDs and upgrade the technology.
“The technology is enabling us to add flexibility to our meal plans and will also lead to the ability to use smartphones as an alternative to the ID card itself for certain uses,” said Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano.
Next year the meal plan will cost $7,036, there will continue to be one price for all meal plans as there is this year. Although the students will be receiving many more points than in previous years the meal plan price will only increase by 3.5%, a typical increase for the meal plan.
“In order to maintain appropriate staffing levels and provide continued good service to the community, we have reallocated resources to provide greater flexibility in our meal plans for next year,” said Coschignano.
The changes help to address student’s concerns about flexibility in the meal plan. There are more options for meal plans, with the addition of the unlimited and 10 meals per week plans, and allowing meals to roll-over week to week.
Spencer was impressed by the administration’s willingness and ability to make changes this semester.
“So I think because there were so many people involved who had sway in different departments it actually made it a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” said Spencer.
The committee included Dean Braun, Vice President of Finance Greg Brown and Anthony Coschignano.
Spencer said the administration made sure to provide reasons when a change was not possible. While some changes were able to happen as soon as next semester other issues will be slower. One issue that Spencer and Coschignano mentioned was the need to renovate the current eating spaces on campus.
“One of the big changes that we had talked about was having the spaces changed. So expanding Sharples and then also renovating Essie’s and I think there’s plans for both of them in the works but I guess for our time here we might not see them,” said Spencer “I would like to see more short-term change that we would actually be able to experience. But I think it’s just not possible to completely renovate Essie’s or be able to change the format in such short period of time.”
Spencer expressed concern for students lack of knowledge about dining services. Many students do not know much about the Dining Services staffing situation or understand how the prices and meal point equivalencies are calculated
“I think there’s a big gap between what students perceive, the complaints and the actual reasons behind the way things work. … I know another thing that we talked about was the point equivalent to a meal, so I think if students were more informed about why that is I think there would be less complaints but I think in general they’ve struggled to be able to have information received.”
The college has had difficulty getting information out to the students in a platform that is accessible to the students. Dining services has tried to create a mandatory orientation activity but has been unsuccessful so far. The orientation activity would try to bridge the gap between students knowledge about Dining Services and the behind the scenes of Dining on campus. The goal would be to explain how dining service works and why it works that way.
The meal plan will look different next semester and there are likely to be even more changes to Dining Services in the future.
At the intersection of Dartmouth and Park Avenues, construction continues on a “Central Park” for the town of Swarthmore. The park, an idea initiated by the Swarthmore Centennial Foundation, is planned to have a mini amphitheater, an expanded green plaza, and an electric car charging station, but will remove some parking spaces previously available.
Several members of the community look forward to holding events at the new Park.
“[We] have been excited to plan events that can take place outside,” said Lucy Saxon, a librarian at the Swarthmore Public Library. “We are excited to have a place for outdoor library programs.”
Local businesses had mixed feelings about the ongoing construction.
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” said Hania at Harvey Oak Mercantile specialty shop, on Park Avenue across from the construction. “I think that it’s good because people can go enjoy events there. I think it’s cool to see it in construction.”
“It didn’t really affect us [regarding number of customers] and I think it will look nice,” said Paul Feldmayer, who works at the restaurant Vicky’s Place, regarding its number of customers.
Some did have reservations.
“I think it kind of limits how many people come [into the town center], so they have to either walk or park somewhere else. There’s limited parking besides our main parking lot,” said Ciara, who works at the Co-op grocery store. “I’ll have to experience [the finished park] to see how I feel about it. I wish they like, came up and talked about this, not just ‘oh, we’re gunna take away your parking for a little while.’”
She also felt the construction smelled weird and was displeasing to the eye.
Jason Miller, at the Paulson & Company business across Park Avenue from the park, also felt the construction may deter customers.
“They’re still not done [with construction] at the inn and the circle, so the [park] construction doesn’t really help the local businesses.”
His co-worker Rich Simeone felt the construction would not be much of an issue once completed.
“The parking’s the only issue I have with it right now, if you’re trying to bring people into the area,” he said. “But I’m sure a lot of research went into it.”
Saxon did relay that one woman is refusing to return her library book until May 19, the expected date of the Park’s completion. This did not concern Lucy too much, and she still anticipates the services that the Park may offer.
“I think it’ll be good in the long run. It will be an inconvenience for the time but we are excited for greener space and good possibilities … for programs.”
Several people noted that many walk or ride bikes in the Ville, and limited parking may not interfere with the travels of too many patrons.
Mayor Kearney acknowledged the doubts some had about the project, but believed the park would be an enjoyable and festive component to the Ville.
“Some people were upset about losing parking spaces. I think it’s a non-issue, I think the benefits far outweigh the loss of a few parking spaces.”
While the work began on March 7th, discussion about creating a central park has been going on for 15 years. Kearney, also a professional architect, started working with others on drawings of the park four years ago.
He said the park will be able to hold outdoor movie nights, events for children, and farmers’ markets.
Kearney also said taxpayer money is not paying for the park, and all sources of funding are private. The College made a donation to the project.
Artist Massey Burke ’00 will be revisiting Swarthmore to construct the walls of the amphitheater between May 2 and May 15. Burke is the artist who created the earthwork sculpture in front of the science center. For the park, she will make rammed-earth walls, which are constructed out of natural material from the earth. Some of the materials will be collected from on campus, and she will ask current Swarthmore students to volunteer to help build.
“I’m very excited about the project — I think that it is very important to use natural materials in visible, central ways like Swarthmore Central park, because it helps people understand that ecological construction is possible, practical, and beautiful.” She explained. “In the larger context, the use of low-carbon construction techniques like rammed earth play an important role in responding to climate change.”
The entire project will be done within the next couple of months, and the park will be holding the Borough’s annual arts festival in September.
On the 700 block of Hillborn Avenue, just four blocks from the college’s Science Center entrance, the conspicuous display of a large Confederate flag has raised eyebrows both on and off campus in recent months. Though the flag is hung on private property and is thereby protected under the First Amendment, several individuals have made both the Swarthmore Borough Council and the Swarthmore Police Department aware of their discomfort with the flag’s presence, highlighting the tensions between free speech, insecurity, fear, and harm. In a traditionally liberal-leaning borough, the flag’s display so close to the college is jolting for many, a reminder of the permeability – or perhaps the illusion – of the “bubble” of political correctness often alleged to encapsulate the college and its surroundings.
“I was shocked but I was also shocked that I felt shocked,” explained A’Dorian Murray-Thomas ‘16 of her first reaction to seeing the flag. “Part of me just doesn’t want to get that comfortable because that’s when things like this really throw you for a loop. I was surprised that this was in our neck of the woods, but I know that I am privileged in feeling surprised like ‘Oh how could this happen to me in my school in the pretty little suburbs?’ We feel so far removed.”
Murray-Thomas explained that she often spent time in the borough attending church services off campus, but she has rarely felt unsafe in the past. Now, she explains, having learned of the flag’s presence, she does not feel comfortable walking in the area.
“That would trigger so much for me,” Murray-Thomas explained. “We have to be cautious. For someone to hang this still knowing what that flag can represent to the people who live just a couple doors down just a couple blocks away, it’s hurtful.”
According to the flag’s owner, however, there was no malice intended in his display.
“I strongly disagree with the notion that it’s a hateful, racist symbol,” said Matthew Stellfox, the homeowner’s son and a freshman at Widener University. “Understanding the historical context behind the Civil War and the time period, it’s clear that it wasn’t created that way, that wasn’t its intention, and it didn’t become an issue until after the war had ended…I firmly believe that it is much more about heritage than hate, but my reason for hanging it was not either of the two…it was to stand up against anyone believing that freedom of speech should be curtailed to better the feelings of others.”
Stellfox explained that he hung the flag in July as a response to the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House. He has since kept the flag up as a testament to his commitment to the Constitution and the freedoms provided by the First Amendment.
“There are no fighting words or hate speech in its form,” Stellfox explained of the flag’s display. “There is no violence being brought up with this, and I have Supreme Court Cases I can reference in support of that stance…I understand people may not like the decision to hang it, but there is nowhere in the Constitution that says that people have a right to not be offended, and it’s not hung up to cause feelings of offense or psychological distress.”
For some, however, intentionality is irrelevant to the flag’s harm given its powerful symbolism and history.
“The confederate flag is indefensible to me as a revered cultural symbol,” explained Kara Bledsoe ‘16. “It’s a flag that celebrates what is commonly known as treason. It’s a flag that was waved over the smoking, mutilated bodies of Black Americans. It’s a flag that is used to instill fear into Black people and anyone else who threatens white supremacy.”
Particularly in the wake of the June 2015 massacre of nine worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Confederate flag has been the source of increased national scrutiny and pain. The shooter’s website, which included a racial manifesto defending white supremacy, prominently featured many images of the Confederate flag, raising concerns about the flag’s modern representation as a symbol of racism, slavery, and violence.
“Of course I in no way support anything associated with Dylan Storm Roof, the shooter, but I don’t think that’s the concern at this point. It’s not where my support for this issue comes from,” explained Stellfox. “I put it up at the time that the controversy started, not really as a slap in the face to anyone on the other side, but to take a stand on what I believe is a First Amendment issue and show support for the freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”
Since its initial display, Stellfox’s flag has caught the attention of neighbors and commuters alike. Hillborn Avenue connects Springfield and Swarthmore, and is one of the busier roads in the borough because of its direct access to the Baltimore Pike.
“We certainly know about it because people drive up and down there all the time,” explained Swarthmore Borough Mayor, Tim Kearney. “People have made us aware. We’ve gotten lots of rolling eyes, some mumbles and grumbles.”
One neighbor, who asked to remain nameless, explained that when she first saw the display, she felt embarrassed.
“I didn’t really want it near our house. Obviously, there is nothing we can do about it – it’s his house, his front door, but I don’t like its connotations,” she said. “It seems out of place with the borough.”
Bledsoe was less shocked by the flag’s display.
“I was not surprised,” she explained. “I’ve had overtly racist experiences on and around the Swarthmore campus before, including earlier the same day I found out about this incident, so learning about the flag just got added to a list of frustrating realities that comes with the territory of being Black.”
Bledsoe explained that long before becoming aware of the flag, she has felt uncertain about her safety in the borough.
“I worry about that stuff all the time,” she said. “Will my movements be seen as antagonistic or dangerous because I walk with my hands concealed in my pockets? Will that police car driving by me on the sidewalk at night stop a few yards ahead and wait for me? What ID do I have on me to prove my legitimacy just in case something goes down? I am always thinking that in some part of my mind when I’m out in the Ville, especially. Knowing that there is at least one confirmed household a few blocks away that holds the ideals of Cconfederate pride so dear as to publicly display such a controversial symbol doesn’t do much to change that for me. I feel only slightly more unsafe than I did before I knew about the flag.”
This is not the first time that controversial symbols have been displayed on a home on the 700 block of Hillborn Ave. In 2013, just four doors down from where the Confederate flag currently hangs, a former Springfield resident – George Vucelich – hung a skeleton wearing an Obama t-shirt from a tree in his front yard. The rope used to attach the skeleton was tied around its neck, which, to many, appeared overtly evocative of a noose, however, the resident adamantly denied any racial implication in his message.
“I just kept him on the phone and kept pushing him, but he wouldn’t agree that it looked like a noose,” explained Karen Heller, a reporter for the Washington Post who covered the story while she working for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I was polite. I just respectfully disagreed with him. I said ‘Don’t you see how your neighbors would be upset?’ And he said that he just did it to annoy the Democrats.”
Within days of the skeleton’s hanging, Vucelich’s home became a scene of protest. Angered residents of the borough as well as many members of the college community held signs on Hillborn Avenue, condemning racism and violence and demanding that Vucelich remove the figure from his yard.
“It was a big to-do and it got really heated,” Kearney explained. “At one point when the Obama thing was going on, some of the Swarthmore cops did talk to him….People tried to reason with the guy, and he just became more entrenched about it. It’s a tough one. People went to his home and spoke to him, and he just got more obnoxious.”
Vice President for College and Community Relations, Maurice Eldridge was one of the many individuals affiliated with the college – including Professor of Psychology Barry Schwartz and Health Sciences and Pre-Law Advisor, Gigi Simeone – who protested the skeleton.
“That was pretty inflammatory,” Eldridge explained. “Even given right to freedom of speech, we weren’t in a position to say ‘Take it down’ other than to exercise our own free speech and object to it, and that’s what a bunch of us did.”
After a few days, Vucelich caved, removing the skeleton – which many considered to be effigy – from his front lawn. He no longer resides in Springfield, having since been incarcerated following an incident in which he fired shots at an officer of the Springfield Police Department from his front porch.
Due to the close proximity of Vucelich’s home to the home with the Confederate flag, many borough residents have confused the two houses, mistakenly assuming that the flag belongs to Vucelich. Nevertheless, the flag has proved much less incendiary than the skeleton.
“The Confederate flag, if it were on a public building, I think we would be out there saying this won’t do,” Eldridge explained. “But he does have his free speech right. I’m not inclined to do what we did about the lynching thing.”
According to Kearney, the issue is entirely out of the purview of any Swarthmore government institution given that the flag is technically located in Springfield. The line between the township and the borough cuts directly across Hillborn Avenue, dividing the two communities in the middle of the 700 block.
“I’m not sure how it would go over,” Kearney explained of discussing the matter with a Springfield commissioner. “Springfield is a much bigger entity. I’ve never met with anyone from over there.”
Swarthmore Borough Chief of Police, Brian Craig, agreed.
“I go down that way every day, and I see the flag,” Craig said. “We can’t do anything about that, though. That’s completely Springfield Township. They called us during the shooting incident in 2014, but we have no say here.”
According to an Administrative Assistant from the Springfield Township Administration who requested to remain anonymous, the Township had received no specific complaints on the matter. She explained that based on her memory of similar situations, if the college filed a nuisance complaint, an evaluation might be made of the flag in accordance with the Springfield Township code.
Bledsoe agreed, adding that the college’s ability to act was limited as well.
“I don’t think that Swarthmore College can reach into the borough and make demands of that population as far as this particular case goes,” she explained. “The College couldn’t say: Hey take down your flag because it’s harmful to some of our students, or else! because they don’t have that kind of power. Bubble or not. It’s incredible how powerless that makes me feel to say. This incredibly painful, hurtful thing happened again, and there’s nothing concrete that can be done. I hate that.”
Bledsoe explained that a reasonable course of action might be promoting dialogue about the relationship between the borough and the college.
“I think why not have a “community” conversation, or a town hall, about how racism in all its many forms is displayed in Swarthmore College and borough?” Bledsoe explained. “The college likes dialogue, right? I am honestly skeptical, though, that this would ever happen because folks don’t wanna believe or acknowledge that Swarthmore can be an openly racist place, but it is not exempt from the same socializations that are in the rest of the country, and calling them out is a good first step in dissolving the harmful erasures of the Swarthmore ‘bubble.’”
“The thing I think people forget and don’t realize living it out here is that there is no bubble,” he explained. “I think that is a pleasant illusion that we live in a bubble that especially the students can indulge because you can dive into your studies and the social life that you’re creating but there is no bubble here because suddenly something erupts here and it could be happening out there because it’s related to what out there is. I wish I could be in a bubble sometimes…It’s an illusion that we indulge. If we actually had honest conversations about this we could help each other grow up more and become more informed.”
Stellfox explained that if approached, he would be willing to discuss his decision to hang the flag.
“If it makes them uncomfortable that is not my intention. They can say that if they so choose to, but really they have no ability to cause me to change. If they choose to tell me they are offended by it, I will tell them this is my freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” he explained. “I believe that misconceptions behind it have caused ill feelings toward it, and yes, I know that there are people who have an ill feeling toward it…They have a right to their opinion as much as I have a right to mine.”