As a school filled with quirks and idiosyncrasies, Swarthmore has always found its culture teased and satirized. Facebook pages like “Swatmemes” and Tumblr accounts like “Sleeping Swatties” show students have often been the first to poke fun at the college’s offbeat culture and heavy workload. Lately, however, two Twitter feeds have taken such online lampooning beyond just memes about Sharples and images of overworked students falling asleep on their books. “Swarthmore Girl” and “Swattie Hotties” make posts critiquing Swarthmore culture and targeting specific students. Swarthmore Girl focuses on aspects of student culture, often from a female perspective, with tweets like “No, it’s not an all-girls school. No, it never was. But with the looks of the guys, it might as well be one.” Swattie Hotties, on the other hand, posts photos, often of individuals, usually with the tagline “Spotted.” It uses an eye as its twitter photo. Both Twitter accounts are anonymous.
But in spite of the targeting and mocking of student culture, what remains surprising about the reaction is not the controversy the feeds have caused, but the lack of it. “Swarthmore Girl” follows 210 Swarthmore students and has 87 followers; it was created on May 18 of this year and since then has totaled 95 tweets. “Swattie Hotties,” on the other hand, first tweeted a little over a month ago on September 12, and already has 64 tweets. Although it does not follow anyone, it already has 42 followers.
“Swarthmore Girl seems to tweet really random, funny things,” said Sean Bryant ’13, who frequently tweets about student life. Bryant said he felt similarly about “Swattie Hotties.” He did not have very strong opinions about the feeds.
“In my opinion it’s kind of funny,” said Elle Larsen ’15 on Swarthmore Girl, who, like Bryant, frequently tweets about student life, and is frequently re-tweeted by Swarthmore Girl. Larsen said she treated the Twitter account as an over-exaggeration of what was happening on campus. “It’s kind of like ‘first world problems’ for Swarthmore,” she said, referring to the popular meme.
Indeed, Swattie Hotties’s most frequent subject, Gregory Nisbet, was also one of its strongest defenders. Nisbet, referred to as “Haverboy” on the site, is a junior from Haverford spending the year at Swarthmore. Nisbet is frequently pictured in his rugby shorts, a robe, and in one recent photo, shirtless. But while the photos may be conventionally unflattering, Nisbet does not care.
“I don’t mind having my picture taken,” he said, adding that it “doesn’t impact my life in any material way.” In fact, Nisbet seems to enjoy being featured. “It’s kind of nice,” he said. “Sometimes, I will pose for them if I see the person taking the picture.”
But while there may not be current controversy or problems stemming from the feeds, not everyone agrees that they are benign and that the community should not be concerned.
“I think they’re both crossing a line,” said Miriam Goldstein, ’13, the head of Speak 2 Swatties, the school’s peer-counseling and mentoring program. “I think that if I saw a picture of me up there, and I hadn’t known it was being taken, I would have been upset. So I do think it’s ridiculous. I don’t think it’s all in fun,” she added.
“I don’t get it. I just didn’t find it that funny,” said Mia Ferguson ’15, another member of Speak 2 Swatties. “People are being ridiculed in a way that I don’t think we would find acceptable in a day-to-day physical interaction.”
Larsen, too, did not find Swattie Hotties amusing, even if she likes Swarthmore Girl. “The eye on Swat I think is little creepy, considering it comes with pictures. I feel like that’s kind of an invasion of privacy,” she said.
Goldstein and Ferguson emphasized the fact that they saw potential risk in the Twitter feeds, despite Nisbet’s lack of qualms with his role, and despite the fact that they currently are not causing trouble.
Ferguson argued that if the community decides to accept the Twitter account because the account’s primary target does not have an issue with it, it sets a dangerous precedent. “It’s an attitude that we’re condoning,” she said. “That means that someone who perhaps isn’t okay with that will have a negative repercussion.”
Furthermore, as Ferguson pointed out, it is not readily clear to onlookers that Nisbet effectively consented. “As an individual observing it, I wasn’t able to see that yes, he’s okay with this,” she said.
But some feel that bullying is something that has to be considered in context. “Bullying typically is considered to be an act of intimidation,” said David Ramirez, a psychologist and the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), who added that whether or not people were being bullied in this case “would have to be decided by the objects.”
In Ramirez’s opinion, Nisbet’s experience is far from bullying. “Not only is this guy not bullied, he doesn’t care. In fact, it’s the opposite. He’s posing. So he’s definitely not being bullied,” he said.
Nisbet admits that he is particularly difficult to upset, and does not speak for everyone. But he does not think the photos in and of themselves constitute a problem. If people are offended by their inclusion, he says, then there is reason to take action and remove the posts. But otherwise, Nisbet sees no reason. “If you don’t like seeing the content, then feel free to look away,” he said.
All of this raises the question, should the Swarthmore community be concerned?
For some, the answer is yes. “Normally, here, we kind of embrace the weird. But this doesn’t seem to be embracing that,” said Ferguson. “We have a responsibility to our peers to protect them,” she added. And some tweets from both accounts do attack or mock the school and its culture.
But for others, the answer is no. “I don’t really take Twitter very seriously,” said Larsen, who said she herself likes to use sarcasm and inside jokes in her tweets. While she concedes “it is pretty difficult to be sarcastic on the Internet,” leaving room for interpretation, she does not think that the intent of these accounts is malicious. “I take it more as a lighthearted release.”
Some, including Ramirez, even saw positive in the tweets. “It’s funny,” he said, reacting to one tweet from Swarthmore Girl that says, “Hey I just met you. And this is crazy. You’re not attractive. But I’m desperate and lazy.”
Sometimes, he added, “It seems like it’s a way of poking fun at themselves.”
“Swarthmore is an odd community. But that’s what makes it so great at the same time,” said Bryant, who concluded that the ability to joke about the school’s odd aspects is important to what the college is. “It doesn’t make Swarthmore a bad place. It doesn’t make it really weird or off-putting. It’s just what makes Swarthmore, well, Swarthmore.”