As an institution, the way that Swarthmore presents its “Matchbox couples” and legacy students is atypical and reinforces the system of privilege that it claims to be fighting against. Many students have heard the legend of the college’s function as a “Quaker Matchbox” and the dubiously sourced statistic that a third of Swarthmore students end up marrying other Swarthmore students. Admissions staff and students alike seem to rejoice when they hear a prospective student is the child or relative of a Swarthmore graduate. We at the Phoenix believe that the way the college glorifies “legacy” students and Matchbox couples contradicts the publicly stated goal of the college to increase accessibility to a Swarthmore education to as many underrepresented populations as possible.
If the college continues to champion the multi-generational Swarthmore family, it runs the risk of reinforcing a structure of privilege that, in many ways, it has vowed to fight against. We no longer live in an era where access to higher education is reserved for a select group of individuals, and the call for equal access to a college degree has reached an almost fever pitch in American media outlets. The preservation of the legacy system is an archaic remnant of a bygone era of college admissions, and the Office of Admissions should carefully reconsider its continued use of the practice. By continuing to arbitrarily favor students who are related to alumni of the college, Swarthmore has created an admissions policy that excludes prospective students who may be just as qualified as their “legacied” peers, if not even more so, from gaining a spot in the upcoming first-year class.
Swarthmore’s perception of its legacy students and other familial ties to the college is a practice that is almost uniquely Swarthmorean. Students at other top-tier colleges and universities are often faced with derision and ridicule if they are exposed as legacy students. Some common arguments against legacy students at other institutions include the fact that their parents are what actually got them into the school, that they had an easier time in the admissions process because of a graduation year after their parents’ last names, or because their parents donated an exceptional amount of money to the institution and the college felt “obligated” to admit them in exchange for the donation. It is unclear as to why these arguments have been missing from the public perception of legacy students at Swarthmore; it may be another example of the time-honored idea of Swarthmore exceptionalism. Swarthmore students and alumni are immune to the anti-legacy argument because, simply put, we are better than that.
Swarthmore is one of few institutions that would name its new athletics center after its tendency to foster lifelong romantic relationships, as if these couples would meet on adjacent treadmills. We at The Phoenix believe this peculiarity should not be celebrated. The way Swarthmore currently presents the phenomenon is unhealthy, primarily because it may make others feel as if they are “missing out” if they don’t meet their true love or send their own child to Swarthmore. The Phoenix believes that if the Office of Admissions is truly committed to making Swarthmore a more accessible institution for students from all backgrounds, it should reevaluate its perception of legacy students and Matchbox couples.