Spring Family Weekend Morphs into Fall Homecoming and Family Weekend

The spring Family and Friends Weekend that took place this past weekend will be the last. This event will be replaced by the Garnet Homecoming and Family Weekend, debuting on October 22, 2010. The new weekend will last from Friday until Sunday of that week, and include faculty lectures, art exhibitions, performances, athletics contests, and a barbecue.

The weekend will be a revival of the Homecoming weekend (which the college discontinued in 1997) combined with Family and Friends weekend. This fusion was enacted with the hopes of drawing alumni, families, friends, faculty, staff, and students to participate.

“The event was prompted by common, though not universal, interest. It will be a time to showcase athletics, allow parents to see the campus early in the year, and to have some alumni visit as well,” Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp said. “It will be wonderful for school spirit, especially after the success of the Pep Rally this winter.”

Student Council was not involved in the decision, and according to Vice President Deivid Rojas ’11, there was “very little student input” involved in the decision. Currently, StuCo does not have a strong position and Rojas says that he is focused on, “using this opportunity to do more research on other, more pressing questions.”

“Why [can’t] some students’ parents come to such events? Is it because they are not interested? Because of housing, food, transportation costs, et cetera? And having this information, how can Swarthmore be more supportive to families?” he said.

Resident Assistant Arik Davidson ’11 also indicated that there may have been a lack of student input vis-à-vis the change. “I was not consulted and I don’t know of any of my friends that were,” he said.

Involved in the decision or not, among those students interviewed, the change did not appear to inspire strong feelings, just moderate reservations.

“I think it is important that first year students get well established at Swat. I wonder if having visitors weekend so early in the year will mean that there is a disruption and breaking of routine [by having family visit] before they know what they are doing here,” Davidson said. “Ultimately, I don’t see the rationale behind the change, but I also don’t think that it is that important for it to be in the spring.”

Alternatively, Stephen Bayer, the Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, sees the switch as very important, and has been working on creating a fall event for the past three years. He said, “The most difficult part of planning Homecoming was finding a weekend with multiple athletic events. Those schedules are set years in advance.” The weekend with the “best” athletic schedule occurs one week after fall break, but Bayer said, “Not all students go home for fall break and we think there will be enough excitement to draw people. It also won’t necessarily be right after break in later years.”

As regards the homecoming and athletics aspect of the weekend, Bayer said that the college wants to showcase the fact that, “Our athletes are thriving and it is important to demonstrate the progress we have made in athletics since the athletics decision in 2000.” (In 2000, varsity football and wrestling were eliminated, in large part out of concern that athletes from those sports were taking up too many recruitment places in admissions.)

“Getting 600-800 fans to attend a soccer match under the lights at Swarthmore is now a current happening; school spirit at Swarthmore is alive and well, and we should celebrate that,” Bayer said.

The administration hopes that the switch will be especially beneficial for parents. According to the administration, most colleges hold parents weekends in the fall, and many parents have been disappointed that there is not an opportunity to visit the Swarthmore campus and check on students earlier. (For comparison, Haverford and Bryn Mawr colleges’ parents’ weekends both take place in the fall rather than the spring.)

Director of Parents Programs Danielle Shepard said, “The questions from first year parents about a fall Parent’s Weekend start in the spring before freshmen arrive on campus. I’m therefore delighted with the change.” Bayer addressed the same concern saying, “the announcement of the new event was made so we would be able to tell incoming parents.”

Another concern with the spring Family and Friends weekend was its proximity to Commencement, and the apparent trend that the families of senior students are less likely to attend the weekend.

“There’s a lot of excitement in the air early in the academic year, and families are eager to visit at that time. Combining Homecoming for alumni and Family Weekend activities, I believe, will add to the richness of the overall experience, and will be a wonderful welcome to families,” Shepard said.

Alumni have seemed to be receptive to the change. As the tradition of Homecoming ceased in 1997, according to Chopp many alumni have been “nostalgic.” The summer Alumni Weekend will still be held, but by expanding the definition of Family and Friends Weekend to include Homecoming, the college hopes to provide alumni more opportunities to visit. Julie Brill, a member of the Alumni Council and co-chair of the College Advisory and Support Working Group did not comment on the extent that alumni were involved in the decision making process, but did say she thought “[the new weekend] sounds like fun.”

“The fall is beautiful at Swarthmore, and there’s definitely an advantage in it not falling in the same half of the year as Alumni Weekend,” she said.

Even though the Family and Friends Weekend will be moved, there will be activities held in the spring, and spring traditions associated with Family and Friends’ Weekend will not disappear. The Crum Creek Regatta will still be held, but on the new date in the fall.

A new tradition inviting parents to campus is also being planned for the spring. According to Chopp, “We are working on ideas and I think it is going to have more of a focus on the arts.” Bayer said that in the spring there may be fewer events, but that there will be more of an emphasis on marketing opportunities to view students’ artistic talents.

In addition, Garnet Weekend planning committee is in the process of being formed. It will include students, faculty, and staff, and will receive input from both the Parent’s and Alumni Councils. The weekend, according to Bayer, will run in a manner very similar to Parents Weekend.

Furthermore, the cost of the weekend is not of great concern to the administration. There are funds set aside for such events, and the athletic contests and concerts would continue regardless. Families and alumni will pay their own way to visit, and the largest expenditure will probably be in the form of a banquet or reception. Chopp did not consider it a “big ticket item.”

In Brill’s opinion, “anything that brings alumni and parents back to campus (or in contact with students or other alums) is likely to renew their feelings of warmth towards the college and could make them more likely to donate money.” Bayer agreed that, “whenever alumni reconnect to the school it increases philanthropy,” but said that this was “not a factor in our decision to include homecoming.”

Overall, Chopp said the reception has been supportive so far, and that it should be a “fun week!”


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