SwatDeck program gets underway, with more to come

SwatDeck participants meet at the SEPTA station.
SwatDeck participants meet at the SEPTA station.
SwatDeck participants meet at the SEPTA station on Sunday.

SwatDeck, one of two recipients of a $10,000 Community Development Grant (CDG), debuted this week with successful involvement by students. The CDGs are a part of the Community Development Fund, a $150,000 fund established by the President’s office in October to be spent over the next three years. 

The CDGs are given to projects focused on promoting inclusivity on campus and building community, and SwatDeck, proposed by Brennan Klein ’14, Isaac Opoku ’14, Emma Kates-Shaw ’16 and Raven Bennett ’17, is designed to do just that.

“People who sign up to participate will be randomly assigned to groups of four based on sets of four same numbered cards, they will then be given a sum of money and some philosophical questions to discuss and they will head out into Philly or Media to spend time together and talk,” Kates-Shaw explained. “In the process they will gain new perspectives and expand their network in the Swarthmore community.”

Twenty-four people participated in six groups this week, with over 40 people scheduled to participate in each of the three coming weekends. On Friday, each person received a playing card and a notebook with that card stenciled on it. They formed a group with three other people who had the same card in different suits.

At the Swarthmore train station on Sunday, they were given $30, an Independence Pass which gave them unlimited access to public transportation to and in Philadelphia, a map of Philadelphia with suggested places for them to explore and a list of questions for them to discuss.

The organizers were pleasantly surprised by the response.

“It very well could have fallen on its face, but they thought it was an adventure, which was really cool,” Klein said.

Some participants like Savannah Saunders ’16 were unsure of how the day would go.

“I thought it would be great to spend the day in Philly, but I was worried SwatDeck would be ‘swakward’,” Saunders said. “Meeting up with a bunch of semi-strangers and spending hours together sounded exciting, but also intimidating. I was mostly worried we would have little to talk about.”

Another participant, Shantanu Jain ’17, was more optimistic from the outset.

“Swatties are interesting in different ways but similarly interesting,” Jain said. “Putting four of these people together in a fun free-form way can’t really end badly. Different SwatDeck groups could get more or less out of it than my group did, but at the bare minimum, you’ll create memories with a bunch of people you’ll continue to see around. At maximum, you’ve had some insightful discussions.”

According to the responses the coordinators received in the post survey, people had different gradations of how much they enjoyed it, but everyone felt it was worthwhile and would like to do it again. There were a few hiccups, according to Opoku, with one of the participating juniors commenting that the freshmen had not gone through many of the Swarthmore experiences that they had, and it was hard for them to get in depth into some of the conversations. Klein said that the groups that had the most success were the ones that were the most stratified, with each group consisting of a variety of class years, interests and backgrounds in the ideal configuration. However, this ideal configuration is always in danger of being disrupted by people not showing up for the weekend they had signed up for, which is a predominant concern of the SwatDeck coordinators.

The SwatDeck groups visited many different places in Philadelphia, from bookstores to restaurants to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and talked about a range of topics, from growing up in their hometown, their high school experiences and how different or similar those experiences were to what the big problems of their generation were and what constituted privilege.

Many participants of SwatDeck see it as a good way to spend the Community Development Fund.

“SwatDeck has a great future,” Saunders said. “Swarthmore can hold dozens of collections, workshops and discussions on community — but the best way to truly build community is by spending time and forming bonds with one another.”

Jain agreed with Saunders, and is a strong supporter of SwatDeck.

“There was nothing forced about SwatDeck,” Jain said. “Some of these community development things can become so painful. But it was really cool in that it was completely free, but you did have the opportunity to get into a random deep conversation that you wouldn’t talk about when you meet someone for first time. They set us up with the premise that you have the option of talking about something meaningful, but you don’t have to.”

The organizers are hoping to improve on the debut weekend through more structured emailing during the experience and a more elaborate map.

The SwatDeck coordinators are considering ways for the project to expand and continue through endeavors such as trying to get all the people holding cards of the same suit together to meet, and continuing the program next semester. While Klein and Opoku are graduating, they plan to continue to be peripherally involved but to also take the mindset of SwatDeck wherever they go.

“The mindset behind SwatDeck is the willingness to be serendipitous with people and meet with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet,” Klein said.

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