If you’ve never been to her office in the Matchbox, you may know her from her supportive posts to Yik Yak, or her recent appearance in your inbox. Together with Josh Ellow, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor, and Nina Harris, the Violence Prevention Educator, Noemi Fernández joined the College’s wellness education team last year as the student wellness program manager.
Translation? Noemi Fernández wants to give you a pep talk.
Fernández was born in Mexico to American and Mexican parents, but moved at a young age to Yuma, Arizona. Yuma’s population is heavily influenced by the presence of the military as well as by migrant workers, who follow crop harvests across the West Coast into California’s Central Valley. As a teen, Fernández left the small Southwestern city to attend boarding school in California. From there, she went to Williams College, where she studied Military History and Spanish.
Fernández’ commitment to education began after her undergrad experience, when she became a Spanish teacher and basketball, soccer, and lacrosse coach at a New England boarding school. There, she was also deeply involved in dorm life, working with young women in the dorms and in her advisee group. She then became an admissions counselor at Wellesley, traveling the country to promote women’s education in communities like the one she grew up in.
Fernández explained her decision to move away from the classroom and into other work in education, saying, “I loved the interaction with students in between class. The moments in the corridors or in my office hours, where we weren’t talking about Spanish grammar, but rather their hopes and dreams, their fears and desires and aspirations in life.”
For Fernández, whose arrival at Swarthmore coincided with the opening of the Matchbox, the desire to help students navigate their education has manifested in work with both physical and mental health. Last year, she and Fitness Center Coordinator Eric Hoffman collaborated on a series of Matchbox education sessions, which aimed to introduce students new to the gym to the potentially intimidating high-end equipment in the facility. These events culminated in the now-annual Couch to 5K event, which invited students and community members to set a goal for a 5K run around the border of campus. Runners raised money for the Philadelphia domestic violence prevention group Women Against Abuse. She has also assisted with organizing the annual SwatLift competition.
Of course, for many Swatties, physical fitness is only one obstacle in a laundry list of challenges facing their general wellness. This is what makes Fernández’ position on campus unique: in one-on-one consultations with students, she provides advice on stress management, sleep habits, and yes—social life. She describes most students practices, saying, “We binge, we cycle. All or nothing. Ten hours in the library, ten hours of Netflix, ten hours in Sharples, ten hours in the lab, ten hours with our friends, ten hours without seeing anybody.”
The best steps for breaking this cycle? Fernández points out that during moments of stress, we lose our ability to analyze a situation rationally. To prevent this, she recommends taking sixty-second breaks to reflect on your habits and how they manifest throughout the day. She also encourages students to learn how to delegate: when working in groups or in extra-curriculars, she emphasizes the importance of trusting others to do their share of the work and not stressing over things that are outside your control.
Fernández is also committed to helping students understand the resources available to them for further help. The hazily defined roles of different campus administrators can make it confusing for a student seeking help to know where to turn during a time of personal crisis. Part of Ferández’s mission is not only to advise students herself, but to help them understand what resources are available to them as they move through the challenging environment Swarthmore provides. She’s able to interpret the slew of acronyms students are thrown when they ask for help (RAs, SAMs, SAs, WAs, S2S, CAPS), as well as to elucidate the roles of different deans and administrators who can help.
“Wellness itself is pretty straightforward. Self-care? Not complicated. Our lives are complicated. And that’s what makes self-care and wellness so hard. You can’t take care of yourself in every single way, every day, all the time; it has to be in pieces,” she notes.
For Fernández, self-care means a monthly manicure and cooking dinner for her family at night. If you can’t figure out what it means for you, then she might be the person to turn to.