An Interview On
Swarthmore College

Background

Interview Date:February 2019

Gender Identity: Non-Binary
Race/Ethnicity: Black
Sexual Orientation: Queer
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Public school in Princeton, NJ with a graduating class of about 300 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Majors: Computer Science and Religion Double Major
Minor: None
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of a comedy sketch group, I’ve held leadership positions for Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA), and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). I’ve also tutored elementary students from Chester, PA.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Working specifically with student organizations like SOCA and NSBE has been cool because those are things I identify with, and I’m surrounded by people that look like me. We talk about things I care about, or that pertain to academics or my experience on campus. It’s really welcoming.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for Computer Science and Religion?
Religion is reading and essay heavy. There are sometimes weekly papers to talk about the readings, but usually two to three big essays over the semester.

Computer Science isn’t really demanding day to day because I don’t get much homework. We’ll maybe have some reading to do, but it’s just to introduce topics discussed in lecture. We have weekly labs and long-term deadlines.

Is there anything you feel either of your majors’ departments do especially well or poorly?
Something Religion does really well is giving good feedback, especially for writing. They are really thinking about their students holistically, and I never feel like I’m just in one course with a professor. They are wondering about what else I’m doing on campus, what my plans are for the summer, and how they can help me get in touch with certain things. They do a good job of getting their students resources and providing opportunities.

For Computer Science, I think something they could do better is making it a healthier space for Black kids, or people of color in general. It’s really isolating, and there isn’t as much camaraderie within the department for professors and students. People seem to hang out with their cliques.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It tries to be really collaborative. It depends, but, for the most part, I think it’s not necessarily one or the other. I don’t feel like I’m in competition with people, but I don’t feel like they’re trying to help me either.

How accessible are your professors?
Pretty accessible. Everyone has scheduled office hours, and if you can’t go to those you can schedule an appointment for another time.

Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
It’s not something I run into a lot with Computer Science. I feel like in the Religion Department in particular, it’s not often that we are challenging ideas. It’s more so we are given the readings, then we analyze it. In that way, there’s not a lot of opportunities to hear about people’s personal opinions compared to a political science course.

How was transitioning academically as a first-generation college student? Were there any systems in place to help you adjust?
There were first-generation initiatives, but they are either not visible or not catered to what I needed. I know people here who are first-generation, but I don’t feel that I’m part of a first-generation community. I felt like I wanted to hear stuff about being Black, and about being a STEM major.

Why did you pick your combination of majors? Are you happy with your choice?
Because I’m a first-generation student, I felt pressure to do something that will [have high-paying jobs]. I stumbled across the Computer Science Department and stuck with it. I just happened to cross the Religion Department my freshman year. I had a scheduling conflict and randomly picked up a Religion class, and it’s been great ever since. For me, it’s interdisciplinary. I’m doing readings so I feel like I’m in an English class. I’m looking at indigenous African religions and Black women spirituality, so I feel like I’m getting a history course out of it too. We talk about how religion and traditions have manifested to develop as Black people were moved here because of slavery. I feel like it’s a good combination of all sorts of different departments, which is engaging. My only critique about my major is the Computer Science Department isn’t always that welcoming.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: David Kemp Hall with one roommate. In the spring, I moved to Willets Hall with one roommate.

Sophomore: Danawell Hall with one roommate.

Junior: Worth Hall in a single.

What was your favorite living situation?
I really like Danawell the dorm, but I had a bad roommate situation. I prefer my time in Worth Hall with my single, because it was nice to have a place I could call my own, and see people when I wanted to.

How was transitioning from Princeton, NJ to Swarthmore, PA in terms of location?
They are relatively similar and it wasn’t a major change. I feel like Princeton is a bigger Swarthmore. It’s a small suburban town with shops.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I feel pretty good about safety here, and it’s not something I worry about a lot. There have been instances of things being stolen, either on campus or in the borough. There have also been instances of hate symbols on campus in the bathrooms, which is the only time I’ve been uncomfortable. For the most part, I feel fine. It’s not like we’re in the middle of the city.

Pros and cons of being located in Swarthmore, PA:
Pros:
1) We have a lot of greenery. We have this place called Crum Woods, so if I want something with a little more nature, I have that along with the city.
2) Because you’re close to Philly, you can get to New York or D.C easily. Being able to jump around is nice.

Cons:
1) Everything closes by like 8 PM, so I feel like there are no food options.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I like to dance, so I’ll go to parties if I feel like I’ll enjoy the music and if it’s being hosted by people I like. Something that happened my freshman and sophomore year was called Freestyle Fridays, where people would get together and freestyle their instruments. It’s fallen off and I’m not sure who’s in charge of it, maybe it’s still going on. There are talks about other people taking over it and it coming back. Since we’re so close to other campuses like Bryn Mawr, Temple, and Penn, there is stuff to do on those campuses as well.

What nights of the week do you regularly do things? Are there regular places you go or things you do on certain nights?
On campus, the party nights are Thursday and Saturday. I don’t go to the Thursday parties because I [don’t think they’re fun]. Sometimes we’ll do things on Fridays as well.

What’s an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out?
We have movie shuttles, so it’s easy to get to the movies. We’ll hang out in one person’s dorm, and eat and watch movies together. There are opportunities to go check out what’s happening in the city.

How has identifying as queer influenced your nightlife experience? Are there any queer nightlife options that you like to go to?
Some of the clubs will throw parties specifically for queer students. [Being Queer] definitely influences the parties I don’t attend.

How happy have you been with the weekend options at Swarthmore? Is there anything you would change if you could?
Maybe I have a particular taste, but more often than not I don’t enjoy what’s happening, so I feel like me and my friends have to take the initiative if we want to do something exciting.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
Three of them were part of the Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program, which was a program happening the summer before freshman year for underrepresented and low-income students. [I met others] in things such as class, or during orientation.

How would you describe the overall social scene?
It’s kind of non-existent. People are really weird here. I find it tough to make new friends because I feel that people already have their friend group, and aren’t that interested in meeting new people. There aren’t a lot of good opportunities to facilitate meeting new people. After orientation, you are kind of on your own. You can join clubs and stuff, but that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically make friends in those clubs. There’s a lot of work you have to do as an individual. Maybe if there were more social mixers it wouldn’t be a big deal.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I don’t think it’s very heavy for people of different races. I wouldn’t be able to guess about sexual orientation, but it’s definitely better than some other places. I think they’re just more opportunities to mix around with affinity clubs. In clubs for Queers, you’ll meet people like you and would want to stay in those groups. It’s pretty person to person to whether or not they have a mixed group of friends. Most of my friends are Black. [Swarthmore is 6% African American, 17% Asian, 13% Hispanic, and 42% White.]

How would you describe the Black community on campus? How strong is it?
It’s different than what it was freshman year, and I think every freshman will think that. Freshman year I felt like people would automatically be friends because they are Black, instead of seeing if there is real compatibility or if there was a good friendship to maintain. I found that now I’m a junior there’s a lot more respect, and people aren’t trying to force as many relationships. Freshman year it felt like there was an in-crowd and an out-crowd, but I don’t feel like that anymore.

How would you describe the Queer community on campus? How strong is it?
I think it’s really strong because there are so few of us, so it’s tight-knit. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t branch outside of that group.

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 like the size. There are definitely moments where the campus is too small, but for the most part, it’s good academically. I need the more one on one connection with my professors. [There is an 8:1 student-faculty ratio]. It’s also a lot less overwhelming because I’m not too worried about how far I have to go from one point to another, or how lost I’m going to be. I know those were big concerns my freshman year because I’m terrible with distractions, and directions. The small school helped with my own anxiety.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I haven’t really utilized it too much, but for the most part a lot of the scholarships and funding I’ve received have come from alumni, which have helped a lot. I did an externship my freshman year, but haven’t done one since.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
Pretty helpful. I usually use them to look over my resume, or check my cover letter and ask questions about some websites we have, such as Handshake, which has jobs and internships.

Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful to you professionally?
I’ve learned Python, C, and C++. Last summer I worked at a startup, and that’s where I improved my Excel skills, but I haven’t done any statistics. I’ll be in a data mining class abroad, which will be a cool skill.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful was the office?
I have used it. It’s kind of been annoying because every year tuition goes up, but of course my financial aid doesn’t go up the same ratio. They are usually pretty responsive, but at the end of the day college is still a business, and they’re still trying to make a profit. They aren’t as transparent as they could be.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Swarthmore before entering as a freshman?
I wish I knew that during orientation they really kind of play things up. I thought there was going to be a big gospel choir on campus, but it’s really mediocre. It’s advertised that you can go to Philly whenever, but it’s so academically demanding. Even if you’re trying to go to Philly for one hour, [it turns into] an entire day trip which is a lot of time to be giving up. I wish there was a lot less fanfare with what they have and what they can do because I find it’s a lot more limiting than they described it as.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
If they’re things going on, like dance workshops that happen such as Salsa, Tango, Belly, or Ballroom dancing, I think anyone can go check them out. The group exercise classes are also very nice because you don’t have to go off campus to get these things.

Reasons to attend Swarthmore:
1) The small school really does connect you to a lot of resources and opportunities for internships and research that isn’t’ always available to first-years and sophomores.

Reasons to not attend Swarthmore:
1) If you want a little more social life. Even sports-wise, even though it’s Division III there is no real community or care for athletics unless you’re on the team, or have a friend on the team.

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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