An Interview On
Swarthmore College

Background

Interview Date:February 2019

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Black – Haitian American
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Private Catholic school in Douglasville, PA with a graduating class of about 100 students.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Sociology
Minor: Biology
Extracurricular Activities: I’m on a committee in Student Government, I do a lot of STEM tutoring in the Chester area near Swarthmore, stem-focused camp tutoring over the summer, and I also work at the Black Cultural Center (BCC).

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Tutoring for Chester has been a rewarding and enlightening experience. It’s always great to help people who don’t necessarily have the resources or social capital that you do, especially people who look like you. It’s also frustrating because in the grand scheme of things it’s unfair that we live in this racial hierarchy. Working at the BCC has helped me integrate into Swarthmore and make friends with people of similar backgrounds. Student Government has been fine. It’s interesting to see how government and politics work on campus, and how messy that can get.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for Sociology?
It’s a lot of heavy reading and writing, and a few presentations. For Biology, there can be problem sets or homework assignments that are pretty difficult and time-consuming. There is always a lab component to all of the STEM courses.

Is there anything you feel the Sociology department does especially well or poorly?
It’s difficult because up until this point I’ve been a Biology major, so I’m more familiar with that department right now. I switched majors after stumbling upon a Sociology class. Something I’ve noticed [about the Sociology department] is how dedicated the professors are in whatever their area of expertise is. The passion and engagement that a lot of the professors have is a good thing and is part of why I switched majors. They could do a better job of advertising themselves. The more I learn about [Sociology], the more I realize it’s an important topic that more people should be introduced to early on, rather than someone like me randomly stumbling upon it junior year.

The Biology department does an amazing job in supporting first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students. It’s evident they go out of their way to provide as many resources and help as they can for those students specifically. The only problem with the department is the material can feel inaccessible, but that is more so if the school you came from prepared you for the academic rigor here. If you go to the professors, they go out of their way to help you along the journey.

My freshman year I was in Bio SP, which is a half credit extra help session they have for the intro to biology classes. It was great because I basically had an automatic study group taught by a professor. It gave me an opportunity to build a relationship with the professor, who I now have a mentor-mentee relationship with.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It depends on the type of person you are and the crowd you hang around. I’ve had friends who feel it can be competitive, but I frequent crowds who are more collaborative focused. I won’t say Swarthmore is never competitive, but it’s something that you can have control over.

How was transitioning academically as a first-generation student? Were there any systems in place to help you adjust?
There were definitely some challenges, but something Swarthmore is good at is if they see you going down a certain path or are having a rough time, they try to nip it in the bud immediately. The first time I got a bad grade, both Biology professors [I had the class with] and the dean emailed me trying to have meetings to tell me about different resources and support I can get throughout the semester. How accessible they make the professors and the deans are have made my transition pretty okay.

Why did you pick Sociology? Are you happy with your choice?
I think Sociology is the most important subject ever. It’s the study of society, the structure of how we choose to live, and the rights people have or may not have. I think it’s important in the grand scheme of things, and I like that it’s so broad that there are a lot of things you can do with it for a career, or in research. I’m definitely happy with it as my major.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Willets Hall but my roommate never showed up.
Sophomore: Wharton Hall with one of my friends.
Junior: Alice Paul Hall with a friend, but she went abroad so now I have a single again.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
It’s in a very quiet suburban area, so it rarely feels unsafe. At the same time, it’s so open that anything could go wrong at any time. It’s very open, there are no fences, and the security system could be more serious than it is.

How do you like going to school close to your hometown?
I don’t mind it because l Swarthmore can be very academically rigorous. There are days you feel bad and want to get away from the area. I know some people will go to Philadelphia, but especially sophomore year while taking Organic Chemistry, I’d go home and chill with my family. Being able to do that has really helped.

Pros and cons of being located in Swarthmore, PA:
Pros:
1) It’s very pretty.
2) It’s only about a 20-minute train ride to Philadelphia so you can leave if you want to.

Cons:
1) The social life is essentially non-existent. It takes a certain type of person to go to Swarthmore, and a lot of them aren’t very social. I think a lot of people settle into their study groups and don’t really branch out to make other friends. This could be because it’s an isolated area where people get stuck in their own routine.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
It’s pretty boring. We have frats, but they are always getting shut down for something. Even when they aren’t shut down, it’s not my scene and I don’t find it fun. I usually just hang out with my friends, and I think the majority of the campus would agree the nightlife is pretty non-existent. It’s mostly studying or hanging out with friends. Sometimes people go to Philly if there’s a restaurant week.

Sometimes certain affinity groups will have parties in addition to the frats, and I’m more inclined to go when this happens. For example, we have the group SOCA, which is the Swarthmore Students of Caribbean Ancestry. If our Latinx group Enlace hosts a party, I might go once or twice a month.

How happy have you been with the weekend options at Swarthmore? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I would change everything, but I think it’s more a matter of where Swarthmore is located. It’s a very dull suburban place without much to do, and everything closes too early. The location itself is not ideal.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
At the Black Cultural Center when I first got here and got a job. A lot of the other Black kids would show up, so just socializing with them is how it happened. I also made a couple of friends through the departments and classes I’m in.

How would you describe the overall social scene at Swarthmore?
Some students can be antisocial and don’t branch out to make other friends because of it. People kind of hang out with the same sports team members or people with the same major because they are always in the same classes or clubs together. As a whole, I think people can make more of an effort to branch out of what they’re comfortable with. I’m a very social person, so I’m someone who does that anyway, but I do think it’s crazy how the majority of the campus is not.

How would you describe the student body?
As a whole, [the students] are pretty motivated. It’s a lot of millennial liberals that are motivated by whatever initiatives or issues they stand behind. People are pretty passionate for the most part.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Swarthmore is a very liberal bubble. You see that a lot, but I wouldn’t say it’s a complete melting pot. There are still like-minded friend groups who are very similar in looks, culture, and background. You get a little bit of both. [Swarthmore is 6% African American, 17% Asian, 13% Hispanic, and 42% White.]

How would you describe the Black/Caribbean community on campus? How strong is it?
It’s still a PWI, so in terms of percentage, it’s not that high. In terms of the solidarity between the Black students, it’s pretty prevalent. It’s something that has been changing each year. I know a lot of upperclassmen felt as though the Black community in their grade wasn’t as close, but the community in the class below me is much closer.

How do you like the size of Swarthmore in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How does it influence your social experience? [Swarthmore has about 1,647 undergraduate students.]
I wish it were bigger. I come from smaller classes so it would’ve been nice to go to a school that was bigger, but at the same time, I don’t know if I’d be overwhelmed by that. It feels like you start to see the same faces after a while.

How did being a first-generation student affect your social transition, if at all?
I don’t think it has.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I’ve had more internships and other opportunities through my professors, but I know plenty of people who have gotten opportunities through alumni.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
I haven’t used it as much because what I’ve done is mostly research with professors I’ve had class with, not internships. I’ve gone to them briefly a couple of times for resume editing before going to a conference.

How easy was it get involved with research?
It was fairly easy for me because I already had a good relationship with my professors. I worked with them closely throughout the year, so they knew I was dedicated to the work. I recognize that for some people it’s not as easy to make those connections with professors.

Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful to you professionally?
I took an Evolution class where we were supposed to learn R, but they expected us to already know some to do the lab work. I haven’t had any interaction with more advanced computer science stuff.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful was the office?
I’ve gotten financial aid every year, and Swarthmore has given me the highest packages in comparison to other schools. They have been generous, and I think they go beyond the expectation for a lot of students. There have been good and bad interactions in terms of miscommunication or instructions, because some instructions weren’t clear. My parents were new to financial aid so some things would take longer than needed to because they weren’t exactly clear on what needed to be submitted, or how they were required to be submitted.
[Swarthmore practices need-blind admissions, meets the full demonstrated need of students, and aid is loan-free.]

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Swarthmore before entering as a freshman?
They have something called Pass/Fail for your first semester. They want you to spend the first semester adjusting and not stressing about grades. The way they carry that message almost encourages freshman to just party and not focus as much on academics. I think what’s misleading about that is you can uncover those freshman grades, which are crucial to your GPA. You should still be concerned about your grades because it could be misleading and, if you decided to uncover them, affect your GPA down the line.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The best things are the classes and the people, and I feel like you get a good gist of this when you visit. They’ll clean the dorms extra, or cook the best meals when people come.

Reasons to attend Swarthmore:
1) The relationships you make with professors and students.
2) The resources and access you get at Swarthmore in terms of research and internships.
3) The classes can be pretty cool. Most of the time I was going through the motions, but I’ve taken classes here that I genuinely enjoy.

Reasons to not attend Swarthmore:
1) The social scene can affect people differently and can have negative consequences on their mental health.
2) The way Swarthmore deals with mental health. They are trying, but I don’t think they have enough support for mental health. We have something called CAPS, the Counseling and Psychological Services, but they are usually overbooked. [See The Phoenix article, “Mental health is not a joke.”]

Notice: Swarthmore College is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Swarthmore College.

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