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.
The music-appreciation group, which co-founders Aaron Jackson ‘16 and Chuck Jiang ‘16 formed early last semester, currently comprises five core members, who are all freshmen, according to Jackson, along with ten or 15 “followers.” As conceived of by Jackson and Jiang, the group’s members take turns carrying a boombox while going about their business in communal spaces on campus, blasting musical selections of their choice for all to hear.
Since its formation in the fall, Swatbox has endured a measure of negative response to its activity.
“It’s been a mixed bag of nuts as far as positive and negative reception,” Jackson said. “I’ve had faculty, I’ve had students literally look at what I was doing and say, ‘You can’t play that here. Could you play it somewhere else?’ People who have tried to say that ‘You don’t have the right to impose this music on the rest of the campus.’”
Specifically, Jackson recounted an incident in which a staff member directed him to stop playing music near Parrish Hall, as well as an incident in which a student asked him not to play music on Parrish Beach.
Jackson maintained that the principle behind Swatbox’s activity around campus is not imposing or disrespectful.
“There’s a transformative power in music that allows you to not only enjoy it, but get the sense of euphoria, as if all is right with the world. That one song that you feel makes everything better—why not share that same value, that same enjoyment you get from that song with everybody else?”
For her part, Swatbox member Meiri Anto ’16 related a far more positive image of the group’s reception by the community.
“I haven’t experienced anyone asking me to stop playing,” she wrote in an email. “[I]n fact, a couple of times people approached me, thanked me and asked me what the song and artist were.”
Even despite his confidence in the value of sharing music publicly, Jackson said he understood that not all potential members would be comfortable with the idea of blasting a boombox in public.
“I’ve realized that a lot of people aren’t as gung-ho about blasting the box,” he said. That’s been somewhat of a setback as far as where the group I initially perceived would go.” This setback is of concern to Swatbox, for which “membership—increasing people who are involved—is [the] top priority right now,” according to Jackson.
As such, Jackson is aiming to expand the group’s focus to the appreciation of music in general.
“I want it to be the music-appreciation group,” he said. “I want you to be able to take a boombox and play it if you want to. If you’re not into that, I want you to write a blog, or maybe write an article in collaboration with one of the school newspapers. […] My vision in the future will be to have a group that is music appreciation first and will allow for people to be comfortable with their own level of music.”
Although Jackson is seeking to widen the appeal of the group’s activities, he cited advertising and inter-group collaboration as the two major elements of membership expansion. In the past several weeks, Swatbox has begun to pursue joint events and initiatives with other student groups.
Specifically, Swatbox has collaborated—or planned collaborations—with student-run smoothie business Sunberri and charity-collection group Change for Charity.
“We thought a great way to introduce Sunberri to the incoming freshmen next year would be to make them smoothies for Ride the Tide!” wrote Anto, who is also a co-founder of Sunberri. “We obtained funding from admissions for the ingredients and made around 400 samples of mango-pineapple and strawberry-banana. Our event was also [a] collaboration with Swatbox and the college Dems, who were serving ice cream.”
“Sunberri and Swatbox share the ethos of helping relax and lift people’s spirits, though in distinct ways of food and music,” Anto wrote. “Incorporating Swatbox’s chill music to our smoothie stand at Ride the Tide really helped set a relaxed and fun mood, and I definitely look forward to Swatbox and Sunberri collaborating in the future.”
Swatbox’s collaboration with Change for Charity, meanwhile, has so far been largely abstract.
“We’re in the planning stages,” Change for Charity founder Salman Safir ’16 said. “We’ve mentioned it to both groups; we’ve contacted people and talked to people.” The major roadblock in the collaboration’s path, Safir said, has been the unexpectedly slow pace of organizing the charity itself. Although Safir said that “the charity planning is in its later stages,” he is reluctant to actively solicit donations in coordination with another group before the charity is in place.
Like Jackson, Safir hopes that working with another on-campus group will raise the profile of his own.
“We both wanted to develop a membership and a little bit more of a foot in the door, so we were like, ‘If we collaborate, we can combine our two resources and our members,’” Safir said. That said, the purpose of the collaboration between Swatbox and Change for Charity extends beyond increasing membership.
“It’s not just a way to get our groups a little bit bigger—the ideas are genuinely fantastic,” Safir said. He cited the success of large-scale, music-based charity initiatives such as “We Are the World” and charity concerts.
One particular result of a brainstorming session between Safir and Jackson is the “blastogram”—“an idea that Aaron proposed,” Safir said, “where people pay to have a song played on campus or to somebody specific, and that charity would go to Change for Charity.”
Despite Swatbox’s current level of activity, its development has been gradual, and its collaborations have only recently taken shape.
“With being a freshman Swattie and with trying to be in a group—creating a group—you have so many things that are new to you,” Jackson said. “So we had to gradually take a process of getting familiar with the campus, with the classes, with what we can do.”
As the end of the group’s first academic year approaches, Jackson has thought ahead to the future years of Swatbox.
“I’m naturally going to have to rely on younger groups,” he said. “I want to be able to […] have a system where the underclassmen who come in each year are shown the ropes. […] I want to relay all of my knowledge and my vision of where [Swatbox] goes to one or two underclassmen that really feel that they can carry the torch.”
In spite of various impediments since the group’s inception and future dependence on the interest of younger students, Jackson expressed confidence in Swatbox’s mission.
“We’re doing something right now that I don’t think has ever been done before,” Jackson said. “We’re giving this place a soundtrack—literally changing the atmosphere.”
Jackson recounted that a senior once told him, “Man, you are turning this school on its head.”
“And you know what?” Jackson said. “I think, in a way, Swatbox should aim to turn this school around, flip it on its head—in a good way.”