Swat Visually: What’s in a “Swattie?”

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.

At first I loved the idea of being a “Swattie.” There’s a comfort in labels and communities, that — especially for a very intimidated freshman — made college feel that much more welcoming. However, like with all labels in our post-modern world, I eventually had to challenge, deconstruct, and seriously re-evaluate. Over the course of your time at Swarthmore, you discover that once you think hard enough about it, the “stable” identity of a Swattie explodes into a pluralistic, irreconcilable mess with only the shadow of what you had assumed held it together. Before you post-structuralists get too excited, the reality is that the idea of a Swattie still pervades our community. While I am not disagreeing with those of you who challenge it, almost 90% of all respondents described the typical Swattie with the same grouping of characteristics: intellectual, passionate, and quirky. Whether or not the Swattie exists, we sure as heck think it does.

Some interesting observations from this week: the vast majority (83%) of descriptions of Swatties were positive, and there was no correlation between negative descriptions and major, year, or extra-curricular. As mentioned, the majority of responses fit within some combination of three groups (nerdy, passionate, quirky), though interestingly, almost half of all descriptions specifically mentioned homework. Homework. Even more interesting is that over our time at Swarthmore, we identify less and less with our work. (By the way, freshmen: THIS SEMESTER IS PASS FAIL WHY ARE YOU DOING SO MUCH HOMEWORK?! ) Maybe it’s because we lose focus or become disheartened, but I’d like to think it’s because at some point or other we realize the world is a lot bigger than an amalgamation of assignments. It’s also worth noting that descriptions of Swatties regarding our “intellect” make up almost 3/4 of the responses. Not that Swat isn’t a great school, but I wonder what the implications are for consistently defining ourselves with respect to our brainpower. If you‘re looking for the answer, I’d seek out a bio student, since they were the only ones who did not use any references to intelligence when defining the Swattie. As one bio student wrote, “Dude what? That’s like asking me to describe the typical bird.” That may be true, but, Anonymous Bio Student? Your Bio is showing.

I’ll be finishing off this article with a list of some of my favorite descriptions of a typical Swattie are as follows. Trust me, they’re worth a skim:

+ “Privileged, strange and seemingly incapable of saying hi back”

+ “Oh, wow. How could this be limited to a single line of a Google doc? Surely you don’t wish us to buy into the “system” of “archetypes,” which support the hegemonic patriarchy by allowing us to bin individuals into “groups” so they can be more easily “understood” or “read.” I question the very notion of “archetypes” upon which your question is based! Truly there can be no such thing.”


+ “More athletic than I.” Really, anonymous alumni? Because either the Swat student body has done a 180 since you graduated, or you are very, very un-athletic.

Now to my personal favorite of the “Swattiest” words and phrases:

+ I feel like

+ extension, coffee

+ Pasta bar, fuck

+ ugh, this is just too generic of a question for me

For next week, Swat Visually is giving you a hand at picking your Spring 2015 classes! Fill out the best professors and the classes you think every Swattie should take, and look out for the results next week! Best, Swat Visually


  1. But I really think you should be posting sample size along with your findings. While interesting, the results really don’t mean anything without an idea of scope. Last week’s bit on where students feel safe had some good info to this effect; would love to see those figures as a staple of this column.

    Otherwise, cool stuff!

    • Glad to hear you’re enjoying Swat Visually!

      The sample size for each survey are listed at the top of the infographic. This week’s is 81 — you’ll see a small n=81 under the title.

      Allison Hrabar
      News Editor, The Daily Gazette

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