Senior Survey: Policy Changes Baffle and Disappoint

Each year, the College sends a survey to the senior class that asks about their academic experiences, extracurriculars, student life, and more. This year’s survey asked seniors what Swarthmore could have done to improve their undergraduate experience. Below is one anonymous senior’s response. If you wish to share your own response to the question, please email avishwa1@swarthmore.edu.

“What, if anything, could Swarthmore have done to improve your undergraduate experience?”

The Swarthmore student body has been the most uniformly friendly, diverse, bright, and introspective population I’ve ever been a part of. The faculty is, overall, excellent. The administration, however, has been opaque at best and deceptive at worst. Many of the policy changes the administration has made over my four years at Swarthmore have decisively not been in the students’ best interests. I’ll focus my complaints on three particular changes: PE credit, the schedule change, and the alcohol policy.

Before I launch into my tirade, I’d like to add as a preface that my complaints are based largely on my own personal experience as a Swarthmore student. I disagree with these policy changes because they have negatively affected my experience at this school and are currently working against institutions that have been important and integral during my time here.

During my first semester at Swarthmore, I joined a club sport. Although I have since left the team, participating in a sport has been incredibly important to me in terms of developing physical and mental fitness. While on the team, I learned the significance of working with others. Because it was a club, I had a greater investment in it than I would in a class. Moreover, I was actually contributing to the team through my playing time on the field and my work as a treasurer of the team: I was helping us all work towards a common goal. What common goal do fitness classes offer? Most people I know who take them only do so to check a box. It’s great to have those options for people who would rather fulfill their requirements that way, but for people who gain a lot from club sports and contribute to them in turn, the new PE requirement actively draws interest and time away from club sports.

While you might argue that a student can take a PE class and do a club sport, there is a high opportunity cost to doing pretty much anything at Swarthmore. There are at least five more activities that I would love to be doing this semester that I have forgone for the sake of sleep and sanity. Adding a requirement means dropping an extracurricular. I know the administration has heard all of these complaints before from people who are much more eloquent than me, but my ultimate disappointment is that the administration pushed these changes despite an utter lack of support from the student body.

My second complaint concerns the schedule changes. This Daily Gazette editorial lays out my issues with the changes fairly clearly: the slashing of Senior Week, the absence of any consideration for Honors students, and, most egregiously, the lack of clarity associated with the change. In addition to obscuring the decision-making process through labeling the two shortened schedules as “balanced” and “default,” the email was sent out to all class years except for the class of 2016. The 2016ers are closer in age to the class of 2015 who successfully overturned the schedule changes, making them more informed and aware of the stakes at hand. By cutting them out of the discussion, it seems as though the administration wanted to stifle opposition to what they knew was a universally unpopular opinion.

I’d like to emphasize this complaint: do you know how strange it is to have something so universally unpopular at Swarthmore? The student body is still divided on potato bar. POTATO BAR. We can’t decide if we like a meal made up entirely of POTATOES, but we have decided that we do not want the new schedule change, and the administration chose to ignore that decision.

My final complaint concerns the alcohol policy. I understand the reasons why changes need to be made, both in terms of student safety and the school’s liability, but I feel deeply that the changes made did not positively influence the student body. Furthermore, the changes were communicated poorly, which led to a great deal of confusion over the course of my later years at Swarthmore.

During my first year at Swarthmore, I learned how to drink in a safe and supportive environment. While in high school, drinking meant hiding and lying and spending money; in my freshman year, it simply meant drinking. It meant having a beer with friends, it meant having a mixed drink or two while dancing in Paces. No one cared who was or wasn’t drinking: everyone could hang out together and have a good time.

Since the alcohol policy changes, this dynamic has drastically changed. The only place to easily access free alcohol on the weekends is the frats, which any God-fearing person will tell you is a pretty gross place to be on a Saturday night. The vast reduction in access to alcohol has resulted in a more divisive split between the drinkers and non-drinkers.

I know that the OSE has been facilitating more dry events, particularly during the daytime. I appreciate the effort, but I do not feel there is a need for daytime dry events. During the day, I’m working, or napping, or taking a walk. It’s during the weekend evenings that I’m seeking a larger social experience to be a part of, and that experience is even better, more social, and more relaxing if it involves alcohol. Again, not everyone enjoys alcohol, so it would be wonderful if those events are appealing to drinkers and non-drinkers alike (i.e. not the frats).

I don’t need the Swarthmore of today to be identical to the Swarthmore I encountered when I first arrived here in the fall of 2012. It is natural and vital for a community to grow and change and develop. However, the way that Swarthmore has been changing is deeply concerning to me. It has been changing despite the outcries of the students, and it has started stifling productive outlets for students to gather and meet.

I am worried for my underclassmen friends who are planning on doing Honors: with so little time between the end of their Honors exams and graduation, should I encourage them to spend time with their friends instead? I am worried for one group that I belong to, a dance club which offers PE credit but has experienced a recent drop in attendance: will this club that I love survive the PE requirement changes?

I wonder if, while giving tours, I am selling the specs on an experience that will be extinct by the time they matriculate. Though I am reluctant to graduate and leave a place where I’ve had so many truly wonderful experiences, there is a small part of me that is glad I’m leaving before Swarthmore changes even more.


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2 comments

  1. 5
    Jinjie '18 says:

    It baffles me how there has been so little voice so far from the class of 2018 and 2017 on the schedule change when we 2018ers are already sophomores and when schedule changes pretty much have to be made at least one year in advance. As an Honors student an someone who also cares about one’s friends and peers, I am fundamentally against the idea that Swarthmore should be on par with its peer schools with regard to the graduation dates. To compare Swarthmore with and make equal to any other school as administrators have done on this issue is simply illogical, because other schools do not have an Honors program like ours. It makes as much sense as comparing us with a trimester or quarter school (e.g. Carleton, Stanford) and proclaiming “Oh! Look how early are we having summer breaks when their professors and students are doing so well! So let’s make ours start later!” or “See how short their terms are when their classes cover similar contents! Hmmm guess we can just cut away a portion of the classes.” Cutting our calendar to make this change is simply to squeeze the quality of people’s lives and the qualities of the programs Swarthmore offer, in my opinion.

    Although, fundamentally, I think my complaint is specifically made because of the basically total lack of student insight/involvement in the decision making, when the issue would so critically impact the student body’s academic and positive social lives. “‘We are pleased to announce’ this to you and (to rationalize to you) we think this will be a ‘significant advantange to’ you all because (…). ‘Significant aspects of [the schedule] are’ these (:…), and ‘[s]chedules in [following] years will be built on this model’. ‘Please let me know if you have additional questions.'”

    To be cynical, also, I doubt if such a change that would hurt students’ healthful lives and legitimate benefits, without a majority of students having agreed upon and given consent and with actually the overwhelming majority* of students opposing, doubting, disagreeing and/or begrudging, would benefit the College in the short or long term.

    (*of 702 who voted in the Student Council poll of 2014, 5% in support and 90% in opposition (75% strongly opposed); if this were a primary where student body alone votes it would make any candidate “non-viable” and no pledged delegate would be assigned to them to let them wield any power there :p)

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