Somehow, in just the first three weeks of this Fall semester, I managed both to forget to turn in a part of my musicianship homework and to try to analyze a poem that was frankly way too big to handle. So much for managing a heavy workload.
The heavy workload seems typical for a Swarthmore student; after all, Swarthmore is notorious for being rigorous and Swatties in turn are workaholics. As a result, I cannot help but feel that since I chose to go to Swarthmore, I must set the highest expectations possible in order to achieve success, and ultimately I disappoint myself when I fail to meet them.
It’s unsurprising that Swarthmore’s notoriously heavy workload creates a culture where everyone is busy doing something. When you take a look around campus, nine times out of ten you will find someone with an open laptop or surrounded by papers, no doubt doing work for another class. Swatties are always on the move — always working, always doing something, always making plans for the next big thing. It’s both inspiring and tiring; on one hand, there’s this sort of aura about Swarthmore that pressures you to be productive and do something, but on the other hand, it almost feels like the people here do nothing else but work. How do you balance that?
Lately, I haven’t found the energy to just relax. If anything, I just feel tired from the readings and homework assignments each week. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the courses I’m taking this Fall, but I cannot help but long for a break when I can just stop thinking about work. Perhaps this is my fault for not knowing my limits, but I am pretty sure that somewhere else on campus, another Swattie feels the same way.
The one big relief to all of this is that Fall Break (the first break of the academic year) is only a couple of weeks away. Yet a few weeks seems so long given the endless amounts of reading and homework Swarthmore students seem to have (at least, it feels that way to me). By now, weekends only serve as prep days for a whole new week of classes. Once again, how do you balance the work you need to do with self-care? I know many students who don’t even seem to have a consistent sleep schedule; I can’t imagine how they are handling each week as it comes.
Is there even a clear solution to all of this? One solution might be for professors to give less work outside of class, but readings are essential in order to gain a full understanding of the subject. After all, a subject taught at a place like Swarthmore is expected to be engaged with from multiple perspectives, something that necessitates readings to begin with. Additionally, homework assignments allow students to practice concepts taught inside the classroom, along with broader skills such as critical thinking and analysis. Really, homework and readings are essential to providing the academic rigor Swarthmore is known for. But at what cost?
Of course, Swarthmore does have resources for students dealing with burnout, such as Student Academic Mentors and Counseling and Psychology Services. However, I do not think this is enough to address the effects of burnout, which include exhaustion, poor performance, depression, anxiety, and neglect of non-workaholic needs, especially given how C.A.P.S. consistently falls short of meeting student needs. Furthermore, this is a case of treating the symptoms rather than the problem, which is how Swarthmore’s rigorous workload is affecting its students physically and mentally. This problem has to be treated on an institutional rather than individual level
The workaholic culture at Swarthmore is frankly going to burn out even the brightest of students unless something is done to address it. The question is, then, how do you address something so ingrained within the institution?