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.
This past Saturday, approximately 40 high school students from Bodine High School visited our Swarthmore campus for the “High School Conversations” program. Hosted by SAO, Han, and Deshi, “Conversations” focuses on building relationships with between Swarthmore students and Bodine High’s Asian Club members. In Saturday’s visit, the program held a series of workshops and panel discussions on the college application process and racial issues.
Bodine teacher and Swarthmore alum Gina Hart ’01 proposed “High School Conversations” as a way to provide support for students of Asian descent at Bodine High School. The school currently has a 15% Asian population, and a majority of Bodine students are below the poverty line.
Hart said, “I was particularly looking for Asian and Asian American students that represented new possibilities to many students living in poverty and struggling with the issues that come along with it.” This program focuses on expanding students’ insight on race and class in their lives as well as providing strong mentoring support for their future.
Arthur Chyan ’10, president of SAO and coordinator of “Conversations”, said the goal of the program is three-fold; he explains, “The objective of this program is to mentor these students, inform them about college and their options, and delve more into conversations about identity.”
Sparking the dialogue and discussion on racial identity, “Conversations” can help build consciousness and awareness about race in the community. Professor of History Sonia Lee, another supporter of the program, explained, “All of us face issues of marginalization. Through this program, we can have consciousness building in Asian American identity and politics.”
In addition to initiating discussions on race, “Conversations” also aims to provide relationships between Swatties and Bodine students. Chyan would like to provide mentor support for these students and to begin a discussion of race, culture, and future college application process. Professor Lee elaborates, “We want to build a relationship with the Asian American student community at large and have a way of supporting younger people.” Each ‘Conversations’ Swattie mentor is assigned a high school student to individually advise and help throughout his/her high school years.
The ‘Conversations’ program this past Saturday’s events included a campus tour, lunch at Sharples, sessions on college admissions and scholarships, and a Q&A student panel hosted by Swatties. On her students’ reactions to the college campus, Hart describes, “When we pulled up to Parrish circle today, I heard my students gasp…Before today, they didn’t consider Swarthmore to be a place where they belonged.”
The Q&A student panel seemed to be one of the most valuable Swattie-Bodine student interaction of Saturday’s event. Student panelist, Ivana Ng ’12 described, “The purpose of today’s event was to encourage them to apply to high-caliber schools like Swarthmore and to show them what it’s like to be a minority, namely Asian, at Swarthmore.” With discussion ranging from “Why Swat?” to interracial dating on campus, the student panel largely demystified the college admissions process and provided more concrete experience of a college campus.
“High School Conversations” plans to sustain and extend its cooperation with Bodine High School in the future. In the near future, the program plans to have Swarthmore students visit Bodine High School and give Bodine students an opportunity for Swatties to learn about their community.
Overall, Saturday’s event largely exposed Bodine students to a different environment and opened their minds to new possibilities. While “High School Conversations” is still a recent program, both Bodine High School and Swarthmore community have already benefited from their experiences. This program’s community outreach encourages interaction between the two schools and promotes mentoring between students. Describing the mutual learning experience, Professor Lee summarizes, “I hope that this encourages Asian American students at Swarthmore to be more engaged with more communities here on campus and outside.”