No more blank space

Last week, with the start of classes, I was feeling particularly ambitious and ready to get involved on campus once more. With freshman year behind me, I felt (and still feel) as if I knew a little more about how Swarthmore works. I could now begin to lovingly criticize Swat with the intent to make it even better.

What better way to do that than attend the visioning forum for students and faculty to gain insight into how the community feels about different areas on campus? What do students and staff believe we need in order to foster a more comfortable and inclusive environment? How do we keep students academically involved, yet simply happy in the different spaces they choose to inhabit?

I listened to many faculty share their opinions about the values we need to change on campus in order to achieve a more comfortable environment. This includes easier access to CAPS and more health and wellness engagement programs. A few faculty focused on renovating physical areas, such as placing more tables outside for students to study in the arboretum or expanding McCabe so more students can enjoy the space. I loved hearing everyone’s opinions, I thought everyone had innovative ideas, and I left feeling proud to be a part of a community that cares so much about all of us as students.

But, of course, I also left feeling we were ignoring such a simple solution to creating better spaces on campus. Instead of costly renovations and theoretical ideas, Swarthmore needs to begin by actually taking advantage of all the space we currently own! While some students this year are living in quads that used to be doubles, others are fighting for seats in beautifully renovated Cornell, and still more students can’t even get lunch without lines in the Science Center wrapping from the coffee bar to the stairs, tons of space on campus remains under utilized or even vacant.

For example, while the Sproul Observatory (the green dome by the Intercultural Center and behind the bell tower) has started to house offices like the Office of Sustainability and the Purchasing offices, the actual dome itself remains empty and closed off to students. While this building is bursting of natural light and is completely different from any area on campus, it is locked and left for storage space. Perhaps Swarthmore could consider placing tables in this area for students to use as a study space or placing board games and video games for students to unwind in an area that acts as an escape from campus.

Likewise, I am perhaps Swarthmore’s strongest advocate for the need of a student center. It is absurd to me that there is almost no central space on campus where students choose to congregate and socialize. There is no cafe separated from the stress of an academic building and, since Sharples is expected to be the common social space, if students don’t want to grab a meal, they can basically guarantee that they will miss out on time with their friends. Many might argue that Swarthmore does not have the resources to create a student center since we are in the midst of constructing two costly buildings for the good of the student body.  But I am not advocating for the construction of a new student center. Rather, I am stating that Clothier Hall as a whole is an under-utilized space that has the potential to be a student center in order to better meet the needs of students.

There has been discussion about transforming Clothier into a student-centered place over the next few years. After all, Clothier already hosts the SCCS lounge, which is great for watching movies, and the game pit, which allows students to wind down. It also hold Essie’s, which is the perfect place to grab a snack or meal and socialize after its renovations, as well as PACES. With so many student commodities in one building, it is the perfect place to dedicate to students. Yet, we need to speed up the process and have students take an active role in creating the space. For example, we could institute a small cafe in Upper Tarble as an alternative coffee bar, add more seating and comfortable chairs to the lounge outside Essie’s, and could even rethink the space of the basement to include couches and other student commodities. There is so much potential for the entire space to mean more to students, but it lacks value unless we speed up the renovation process and share our visions as students.

I am not criticizing faculty or expressing anger toward Swarthmore by any means. The under use of space is not only an issue for administration, but students, too must begin to take advantage of the hidden treasure areas of Swat that were beautifully designed, but often remain empty. The beanbag chairs in the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, the conference space available in the Office of Sustainability, the big armchairs in Trotter, the small library on the second floor of Pearson Hall, and the pond outside the Scott Arboretum offices are just a few examples of ideal spaces of which students must begin to take advantage.
Since attending the visioning forum, I have been overjoyed with the event and the collaborative effort of all participants. However, this is only the first conversation in a larger dialogue that must involve all of the campus community—faculty, administration, staff, and all students—if we truly want to make Swarthmore a happy and ideal intellectual community.

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