Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Most freshmen were still staring at empty suitcases, and most Swarthmore students had forgotten entirely about returning to school; but in mid-August, twenty-nine Swarthmore freshmen were busy discussing issues of diversity at the Tri-College Summer Institute.
Run by the heads of the Swarthmore Intercultural Center, the week was devoted to five different workshops on class, gender, race, sexuality, and religion. “The workshops themselves weren’t necessarily challenging,” pointed out Tiffany McCarthy ’09, “but people challenged themselves through making their own comments and through responding to what others in the group said.”
The workshop on economic class was one of the most emotionally difficult and focused on how finances had affected students’ educational plans. Toby Wu ’09 remembered “sharing stories about how we got our TI-83 graphing calculators because they cost a lot of money and some of us had trouble asking our parents about it.” McCarthy reflected that the class workshop was the most eye-opening “because it’s not talked about as often as the other diversity issues are.”
The sexuality workshop received negative reviews for creating tensions between the participants and the adult facilitators; many students found the facilitators less sensitive than they might have hoped.
There was just as much going on outside of the workshops as inside of them; participants enjoyed bonding activities ranging from games of Capture the Flag and Taboo to a pool party, and even a trek into Philadelphia to visit the infamous Condom Kingdom.
The fact that everyone was housed on the first two floors of Willets also made it easy for people to find each other and have conversations. “I think Tri-Co definitely has given me some friends that I’m going to keep for my four years here,” said McCarthy.
These friends did not come from Swarthmore alone; there were also twenty Haverford students and twenty-eight from Bryn Mawr. Wu, for one, is planning on going to Bryn Mawr for dinner this upcoming Friday.
Sarah Ifft ’09 and Sarah Khasawinah of Bryn Mawr began talking about how they both identified more closely with their religion than with their race; by the end of the week, these conversations had culminated in plans to start, according to Ifft, “a joint Muslim-Jewish pro-peace organization to spread more awareness of the two different religions and to promote cooperation between them.”
This Tri-Co Institute was the first of its kind in being open to all incoming first-years and not just minority students. Most participants felt that this was a positive change, including Charlie Decker ’09, who stated clearly that “If it had not been open to everybody, including white students, I would not have attended. I think it order for it to be a real workshop, everybody has to be able to be involved.”
Maki Sato ’06, one of the Tri-Co Institute’s Student Resource Persons, raved about the change. “From the first day, there was no doubt that this was a beneficial program for everyone, including the white students. For the white students, thinking about what it means to be white and what privileges come from being white is something that they don’t do every day, and the minority students have things to learn from the white students as well. One student told me that he had heard plenty about diversity in theory, but had never really experienced it in person before coming to Tri-Co.”
As my interview with the Tri-Co participants came to an end, Mia Adjei ’09 confessed that “I actually still haven’t returned my Tri-Co meal card.” While the other students laughed, “It’s symbolic,” insisted Ifft. “We don’t want to leave Tri-Co ever; we’re still not giving anything up.”