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.
As an upperclassman, it’s sometimes very difficult to meet new freshmen. Freshman admire from a distance – our beauty, achievement, and utter greatness keep them at bay. I know, it’s difficult. Gradually, we find ourselves in a sea of strange faces and realize that we can no longer be swooped. We can only be the swoop-er.
But, putting aside all forms of swooping, The Daily Gazette has set out to make these unknown faces familiar. With a particular focus on the new freshman class, some of whose profiles you can find in the first week’s “Freshman Edition,” we will be shining light into the lives, dreams, and shenanigans of the people who make up the Swarthmore community.
I was sitting in Associate Professor of English Literature Anthony Foy’s “Post-Soul Black Culture” class when I first met AynNichelle ’20 during Swatstruck Spring 2016. Though I can’t recall exactly what we were learning that day, I know for sure that she sat either one or two chairs away from me. I’m pretty sure that it was to my left, actually. The class attracted a few other prospective students as well, but I remember AynNichelle particularly because Professor Foy, in his usual manner of keeping the class engaged, surprised many when he solicited thoughts on our discussion from her and other specs.
But AynNichelle’s history with Swarthmore begins further back, even before the DiscoSwat program of Fall 2015. In fact, after her first visit, she was pretty set on not applying here.
AynNichelle first heard of Swarthmore through LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America), a college access program which helps expose high-achieving, low-income, disadvantaged students to life at elite colleges such as Swarthmore, Princeton, Columbia, and others. Every year, the program selects 100 students from around the nation as exemplary leaders. As part of its efforts to expose students to undergraduate life, the program also organizes school visits.
Unfortunately, AynNichelle came to Swarthmore with LEDA during the summer, which is the worst time to experience student life. She saw hardly any other college students and, to make it all worse, was unable to tour campus because of a thunderstorm. With little exposure to student life, let alone the actual physical campus, there was nothing special to draw her towards Swarthmore.
She had decided that she would not apply.
That would have been it had her college counselor not highly recommended Swarthmore to her. Because of her counselor’s prompting, AynNichelle returned to campus for fall semester’s DiscoSwat 2015. It was this experience that transformed her impression of Swarthmore, completely turning her 180 degrees and finalizing Swarthmore campus as her number one choice.
She later returned for Swatlight/Swatstruck in the spring when I met her, and committed to Swarthmore as soon as she got the chance. When asked about her impression of Swarthmore at both DiscoSwat and Swatlight/Swattruck, she said:
“I knew that wherever I went, I would have support. I really thought that Swarthmore cared about its students because I wasn’t even a student but if they wanted me to commit, they were willing to fly me out, pay for my food, all of that stuff. It showed that Swarthmore has a genuine interest in the people that go here. I also met so many amazing people and so many of the amazing people that Swarthmore selected to go to Swatstruck and the upperclassman they were all so interesting, they were all passionately curious.”
And unlike what she observed in some other schools, excellence at Swarthmore did not equate to competition. Success was defined by each student for themselves rather than in relation to each other.
As a first-generation college student, AynNichelle was struck by Swarthmore’s efforts to reach out to students like herself particularly through programs such as Swatlight:
“It just reinforced the idea that Swarthmore really cares about their students. So I really liked that they provided all of that programming for low-income, first-gen, people of color, just like disadvantaged students who were accepted. You know, them saying like ‘we know you need support and need help in making this decision, so we’re gonna give you a whole extra day to be here just because we want to support you.’ That really reinforced the idea that ‘Wow, Swarthmore really cares about me as a first-gen, low income student… I really made the right choice.’”
But leaving home was hard. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan AynNichelle is the oldest of six children with a single mom who fully supports her choice of Swarthmore. Yet, she makes it a rule to talk to her mother at least once every two days. With the next oldest sibling facing her whole high school career in front of her, AynNichelle knows that there’s a lot of pressure on her siblings to follow her same path. But, it’s not exactly what she wishes for them:
“I hope that what I do and the opportunities I create for myself don’t inspire my siblings to do the same things that I do, just inspire my siblings to know that if you want to do something you can do it. Whether it’s Swarthmore, or Michigan State, or not college at all, I just want my siblings to feel like they have control over what happens to them, just like I took control of my life and did what I had to do to get into here. I wouldn’t say Swarthmore, I wouldn’t say college in general, I just want them to be happy.”
AynNichelle began her freshman year considering biochemistry and Peace and Conflict studies as possible majors. Currently, she is taking Black Plays and Playwrights in America, Social Entrepreneurship, Literature and Law, and Chemistry.
Thinking back now on high school, she remembers chemistry as the only subject that she remembers really challenging her, really forcing her to get out of her comfort zone.
“That’s why I want to study chemistry. I think it’s so interesting. I think it’s challenging but it’s not something that necessarily comes easy to me. I really have to work at it if I want to understand it.”
As much as she enjoys chemistry though, the idea of studying chemistry in college was at first overwhelming. She imagined herself entering a large lecture hall filled with so many people, and at the front of the masses only an old, disconnected professor who didn’t have all that much interest in teaching or the students. The professor probably wouldn’t even like her, she thought.
But in her first day of chemistry, she entered and found herself more comfortable than she thought she would be. It was a class of about 30 students and standing in front of class, a female professor of color.
“Okay, this is a lot more comfortable,” she thought.
Still, AynNichelle wanted to introduce herself to the professor. In that first week, she took a chance and came to sit down with her during office hours. Taking up the advice that all upperclassmen have given her about not being afraid to ask for help, she went in and introduced herself.
She remembers telling her, “Chemistry doesn’t come easy to me. None of this comes easy to me. This is a completely new environment for me.”
But in complete contrast to the “not my problem” sort of reply that she dreaded, Professor Riley expressed genuine interest in her needs and made sure to identify the variety of resources available to her, encouraged her to ask questions, and even talked about her own experience as a Swarthmore student many years ago. Leaving Science Center on that day, AynNichelle knew it was one of the many meaningful relationships that would come about during her time at Swarthmore.
With a residential life at Parrish and her social life at Mertz, you will no doubt be seeing AynNichelle on campus. Come support her as she plays on the rugby team for the first time in her life, or give a nice “hello” as she makes her way through late night readings at the BCC. With the clock nearing 2 AM, it’s nice to know that other people are still going at it too.
Image by Brandon Torres ’18.