Collection is Back

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.

Collection, in which the entire college community is invited to gather for special events, was a staple of Swarthmore life for over a century — until four decades ago when it was discontinued. But now, the college’s recently published Strategic Plan includes a provision for Collection’s reinstatement.

The recommendation appears in Section 2 (“Traditions and Community”) and reads as follows:

“By re-imagining Collection as a time to bring the community together informally to participate in civil discourse, we should emphasize our values of listening, respect for others, and peaceful settlements of disputes — combined with our academic commitments to evidence, clarity of arguments, and collaboration — as key components of that discourse. We should work closely with student groups to create opportunities for such gatherings to occur.”

It is time to start the discussion about what Collection will look like. There are a lot of different forms that Collection could take, and this is our chance to shape a Swarthmore tradition that could very well run for another hundred years.

How often should Collection happen? Should it be mandatory? Where should it be held? Who should be on the committee that runs it? What should the content be? These are the questions that we need to answer. The process should be collaborative, and in the spirit of Collection, should draw on student consensus.

To give a brief history, Collection was originally instated with the founding of the college in 1864. At the time, Swarthmore was still an officially Quaker institution, and students gathered daily in Parrish Hall to read and discuss the Bible. Over the years, the meaning and scope of Collection expanded to include outside speakers, and to serve as a time for students and panels to debate important changes at the college.

Collection was discontinued around 1970 because of the Vietnam-era vibrancy of student groups and campus activism, which the administration felt was an adequate replacement for Collection. But Swarthmore was a smaller place back then, and as the college has grown, maintaining a cohesive community has been correspondingly difficult. It is high time to bring Collection back.

Collection serves two important purposes for Swarthmore:

First, it brings everyone together and fosters a sense of community. That’s what a small liberal arts college like Swarthmore is all about. Right now, the only regular gathering place for all students is Paces from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends, and as cool as that is, it’s not exactly the best forum for speakers and debates.

Second, Collection would generally improve student life and our overall experience at Swarthmore. The Collection-type events we already have — for example First Collection and watching The Graduate — are some of the best traditions we have at Swarthmore. What if we did that every month?

There are a number of similarly sized colleges which currently practice Collection. Haverford, Earlham, and Goshen are all examples. I am best acquainted with Collection at Bethel College in Kansas. There, Collection is held twice a week, and always features a different speaker, panel, concert, or performance. Students are required to attend two thirds of the events, so they can pick and choose the ones they’re interested in. Bethel students love Collection; it’s a chance for them to see all their friends, take a study break, and hear interesting speakers on topics outside their majors.

We can do something similar at Swarthmore. It doesn’t have to be every week, and it doesn’t have to be mandatory. But it should be cool enough that everyone wantsto come. This might be a good forum for our Large Scale Events, or for hosting high-profile speakers. Last semester, some Swarthmore students asked, “Why can’t Judith Butler come to Swat?” Maybe this is a good way to make that happen.

Student groups could also use Collection as a way to show what they’ve been up to, or to raise concerns in front of the entire college community. Substantial student interest in the Sharples General Assembly this fall shows that students want a place to discuss issues like sustainability, responsible investment, LGBTQ life on campus, and even (dare I say?) sororities.

Collection is back. It’s up to us to decide what that means.



  1. A discussion about this a few weeks ago with a friend left me hesitant about the idea (she was insistent that it was in everyone’s best interest to attend and that she believed the school ought to find some way to make it necessary to attend – impractical though that may have been). But having read your article I realize my hesitations have disappeared and I would love to see it reinstated.

  2. While it may be true that weekly, mandatory Collection was discontinued in the 1970’s, I can vouch for the fact that Collection continued for decades that followed, but they weren’t mandatory. I graduated in 1992 having attended a number of Collections. They tended to be well attended when there was an issue of significant social meaning to the community– divestiture from South Africa, the outbreak of the first Iraq War, the huge Parrish Walls Debate on race, etc. I always liked the format–it was one of the few times that you really felt the fullness of who we were as a community. But I must admit that I didn’t make time to go unless I had an existing interest in the topic. I probably missed some opportunities to learn and reflect, but I don’t honestly know how I might have been persuaded to attend more than I did.

  3. I think it’s a pretty good idea as long as it isn’t mandatory. If it’s mandatory, though, it would be terrible, as a lot of people would be forced to go against their will, and would just sit there silently not contributing anything. Better to make it optional, and if it’s interesting enough people will want to go of their own accord.

  4. I agree with maybe’s comment about the impracticality of making the new Collection mandatory, but every effort to make it possible to come should be made by the administration. That includes rescheduling all classes, sports practices, and other events that would otherwise take place during that time.

    I also agree that weekly Collection wouldn’t benefit the Swarthmore community of today, particularly given that no current students have gone to a Collection while here. Still, regularity should be prioritized, as this should become a part of the rhythm of college life. Perhaps monthly or biweekly Collection at the same time of day, would be most effective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading