Lately I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what being at Swarthmore is supposed to be doing for me. I love my classes this semester immensely and am feeling more and more excited to read, to write, to have rambling discussions with friends late into the night about everything from how to fix our generation’s mental health crisis to the ethics behind artificially intelligent sex robots.
But I keep finding myself taking accidental naps, keep going back to my room expecting that I’ll get a start on homework, and waking up two hours later slumped at my desk with flattened hair and my shoes still on. I keep trying to speak in class and circling breathlessly around my point for what feels like hours before I mutter something like, “Well, I think it’s interesting?” and deflate. The other night my roommate told me I talk in Japanese in my sleep now, so at least the hours I’ve spent agonizing over particles and the plain past form in Intro have been good for something.
It’s not exactly a hot take to say that Swat is intellectually exhausting; I read enough back issues of the Phoenix to figure that out while I was still desperately waiting to escape high school, and I came here anyways. But while my academic self is spoiled within an inch of her little nerdy life, being here, I’m not so sure about what Swat is doing to the rest of me.
Maybe the problem is that going to college here can keep you in academia-world all the time, 24 hours a day and seven days a week unless you try and resist. I think it messes with you, that level of detachment from the rest of reality; at the very least, it’s messed with me. Yesterday I went to Chipotle and I was so disoriented by having to pay for something with actual physical cash instead of my OneCard that I forgot seven dollars of change at the register. I returned to get my money, face feeling like it was going to melt off onto the tile floor from embarrassment, moved to leave, and had to turn back again because the person at the register still had three quarters and a dime for me in their hand.
Everything I learned growing up that was common sense — how to be polite and not inconvenience service workers, how to be independent, how to save money — had fallen away in that moment and left me standing there, the idiot college student with a cardboard burrito bowl clutched in one fist. I put the money into my wallet and rode the shuttle back to campus, where I flipped angrily through a linguistics reading and two notebooks before starting to write this article.
I’m trying to figure out the best way to relish my time at Swarthmore while staying in touch with the rest of the world. Some of my solutions have come from necessity — being a work-study kid means I need to have jobs, and I’ve learned quickly that it’s hard for my brain to maintain any sort of higher functioning capacity when I’m digging up weeds at the arboretum or on my third hour barista-ing at Crumbuh and keep spilling soymilk down my shirt. But I think that’s exactly what I need: time to shut down, to go on cruise control.
There are other things that help—I knit a lot more than I used to, socks and scarves and pieces on a massive afghan that I might not finish until I graduate. The muscle memory takes over and the little movements of my hands keep me from drifting in seminars, make me speak slowly and with more intention. I play rugby, which is a ridiculous sport populated by incredibly kind and strong and vicious people and, to the animal part of me which just wants to run and tackle people, feels like a feast. I go to C.A.P.S. I go out dancing with my friends instead of studying. I try and let myself be dumb.
I’m not trying to say that these ideas can somehow fix everyone who feels out of place here — I love Swarthmore fiercely, but this college needs to do a better job of treating its students like the fully complex humans we are. This problem is bigger than me and my Chipotle-based moment of idiocy; so many of my peers are feeling just as unsteady, if not more so. We need to be encouraged to be a part of the world outside our campus. We need spaces in which academic jargon isn’t the only language being spoken. We need to be able to take full advantage of the wellness programs which staff are already working so hard to provide. We need the demands of student activists to be listened and responded to — every person at Swarthmore deserves to feel like their brain and their body are seen, are valued, are cared for. We need more C.A.P.S. staff. We need to be able to breathe. Swarthmore, we need to have time to stop thinking.