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.
April is certainly a lively, if not insanely hectic, month for Swarthmore. Along with the much-awaited return of warm weather, the boatload of accepted students descending on campus, and the arboretum’s majestic floral explosion, students have also come to expect the annual drop-in visit from siblings, parents, and other friends and relatives for Swarthmore’s Family and Friends Weekend. Despite the vast success of this year’s Family Weekend, the administration has begun to consider switching the weekend to some time in the fall.
Plans for the move are still very preliminary. Dean of Students, Jim Larimore, said through email that the decision-making process was still in “an exploratory mode as changes like this potential one always carry a mix of beneficial aspects and complications.” Dean Larimore was also quick to point out that “no decision has yet been made.” Were the switch to actually occur, the first autumn-time Family Weekend will be set to take place after fall break of the 2009-2010 academic year.
According to Director of Parents’ Programs, Danielle Shepard, the prime motivation for the tentative switch is logistic in nature. “Juggling Family Weekend in April around several religious holidays as well as other events is challenging. It’s a busy time of the year for students; they might not always have time to spend with their parents.” Dean Larimore said the idea was first fielded last spring “when a student expressed concern about how compressed the April calendar felt and that some students experienced an April Family Weekend as a source of added stress at an already stressful time of year.” Shepard also cited the probability of inclement weather as a concern, saying that rain often interferes with the weekend’s planned events.
Shepard added that her office receives “quite a few inquiries in the fall when many families expect to be making a visit [since] the majority of other universities hold their weekends then.” Another concern involved the fact that parents of seniors normally wouldn’t come in April, since they would be coming back for graduation in a few weeks either way. A fall Family Weekend, Shepard said, would allow parents, especially those of freshman, to see the campus, meet other parents, and really get a taste of what it’s like at Swarthmore much earlier on.
Larimore acknowledged that “parents seem to have a range of opinions and preferences” and that many “liked the availability of spring performances as social options and felt a visit during a more stressful academic period might be beneficial.” But, plenty of enthusiasm for a fall Family Weekend also exists, and the Parents’ Program office is willing to arrange more events in the fall with different departments.
Despite claims of being in the midst of a deliberative process considering the change, the Deans’ Office has officially presented the idea only to current RAs. Nicole Nfonoyim ’08, an RA in Mertz who was at the luncheon where the plan was fielded, says most of those present “were pretty critical and wary about changing the date to the fall.” The RAs present argued that having an autumn visit from parents when freshman were much less settled with academics and college life in general didn’t seem like a very good idea. “By the spring, freshmen are comfortable; they have their friends and really start developing a sense of ownership about their space on campus.” Seth Hara ’08, another Mertz RA, agreed, saying that an autumn visit from parents “may be difficult for first-years who are still getting used to classes and haven’t yet established what they’re doing on campus.”
Other students also pointed out that the shorter fall semester with its more frequent, longer breaks (Fall, Thanksgiving, and Winter) made a visit from parents somewhat redundant. Nfonoyim reasoned that “many families that have to fly in or live a long distance away would find it a bit pointless to come in the fall since most students will be coming home for one if not all of those breaks.”
While both Larimore and Shepard repeatedly stressed that the change will be considered slowly with lots of opportunity for different input, Nfonoyim felt as if “the administration was already leaning in a certain direction and came to ask us what we thought only after the fact.” Hara got a similar impression: “it seems like they’re already going to try the change and then consider student feedback.”