Oh, Henry! – Notes from a Very Conservative Guinea Pig’s Life

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.

Dear Diary,

The way things work here is very confusing for a simple-minded guinea pig like myself. I feel like I suddenly dropped down the Rabbit Hole in Alice in Wonderland. None of the rules here seem to make sense at all, and my head’s all muddled. I guess I should try to explain some.

For the first time, I left my home and family and came to Swarthmore College. I was really excited, and maybe a little bit nervous too. And when I hugged my mom goodbye, I might have cried just a tiny bit. After arriving here, though, I quickly was distracted by all the flurry of moving in, meeting my roommate, and going to all the freshmen activities.

The second night I was reading my Bible in my room when I noticed my roommate was watching a movie on his computer. I had thought it had not come out on DVD yet, so I asked him about it. He said that he downloaded the movie from something called “ShareSharePlus,” which the student ITS tech person helped him set up.

“But isn’t that illegal? Why are you doing something that’s illegal?” I asked.

My roommate tried to explain to me that it is sort of illegal, but that it’s okay anyway, since music companies make lots of money. But that didn’t make sense, since when I asked him if that meant I could take his things, since he has more money than I do, he got angry and said I wasn’t allowed to touch his belongings. I didn’t mean to make him angry, and now I’m worried he doesn’t like me at all!

Life got even more confusing later — everything seems so upside down and contradictory! I was wandering around the dorm trying to find the Sexual Health Workshop. I felt embarrassed to go, but it was required so I figured I had to. I was trying to find it when I came across a room with some upperclassmen and an RA sitting in a room talking and drinking stuff from brown bottles. I didn’t think it really could be alcohol, since it’s Dry Week — everyone knows that! I asked them if it was root beer, but they looked kind of sheepish and mumbled, “Not really.”

I may be a simple guinea pig, but I’m not stupid. “You’re drinking beer, aren’t you? But why?”

“We’re just relaxing, it’s not a big deal,” said the RA.

“But we’re not allowed to drink during this week, it’s college policy. Didn’t we just learn this morning from President Al Bloom about Ethical Intelligence and how we need to use our learning and abilities for good? And as an RA, shouldn’t you be upholding the college rules?”

They just shook their heads and laughed, saying, “Oh, Henry!”

I guess at Swarthmore people don’t always say what they mean.

To help us adjust to college life we went to a lot of workshops, which were very helpful, and I learned a lot that I hadn’t expected. There was the sexual workshop, an alcohol workshop and a diversity workshop. There may have been more, but I forget.

The alcohol workshop facilitators were students – all the workshop facilitators were students. They taught us how to help your friends and avoid the police when you’re drunk, and told us we should try not to drink until we’re sick, because then we would have to go to the hospital and might get arrested. It seemed kind of mean the way they said it, since I don’t think police should arrest sick people. They also said it’s okay not to drink, but that it’s the only thing people do on the weekends.

The sexual health workshop made me very uncomfortable, since I usually don’t talk about those sorts of things. The counselors said it was okay to not have sex. I figured that was it and I could leave, but they had this odd smile and said everyone should stay anyway — just in case. They then showed us all sorts of ways to use things like bananas and gloves to prevent emergencies. I’m glad my mother wasn’t there.

I was really excited about to diversity workshop, as I was beginning to feel I really needed some help understanding college life here. I’m not sure I’m the same as many other students, the diversity workshop could be a safe place to explore our differences and feelings in a safe environment. Once the workshop started, all the other people began talking about how they grew up in oppressive conservative environments and it made them feel bad. The funny things was that it sounded a lot like the places I grew up. When my turn to speak came, I didn’t want to make everyone else upset, so I didn’t say too much.

Oh yes, the orientation play! The orientation play was very clever, but really made me more confused than ever. They said some of the things that I agreed with, but apparently people only say those things in plays (Maybe I should look into the theater department). The person that was supposed to be conservative didn’t have any of the values that I have, and actually seemed a lot like all the other students here. And at the end, they once again said that it was okay not to have sex, but sung a silly song about how sex was good and fun and they threw out condoms to us. So I’m not really sure they meant it.

I kind of miss home, but my father told me, “Going to college means standing on your own four feet!” And I guess he’s right. The culture is different here, and it’s just the first week after all. I’ve definitely learned a lot, and I’m excited to see what my classes and the rest of the semester is like!


The Phoenix