This past Saturday was Campus Philly Day, when all the museums in Philadelphia are free to students with college IDs. I missed it last year, so I was determined to make it this time. Miriam, Linda, Hannah and Liz and I ventured into the city and I finally made it to the Museum of Art (the place where Rocky climbed all those steps in the movie). The building was huge, and as you might expect, full of high-brow, thought-provoking, and frequently famous pieces of art. So we frolicked around looking at paintings and ancient sculptures and photographs and having a great deal of fun. When we came back to campus, a girl in my dorm said something like, “It sounds like you had a nice, cultured day.” And she was right.
Now, being the word nerd I am, I started thinking about her word choice, and what the word “culture” can mean. I’ve been thinking a lot about culture in general lately, partially because of my Anthropology class, and partially because I’ve had to explain the culture of Swarthmore to lost specs, their parents, and the new priest.
You might think that after being here for a year, I’d be pretty good at describing the college’s atmosphere, but it’s harder than it sounds. It’s hard to make accurate statements about a large group of people, to speak generally and correctly. But here’s what I’ve got so far:
Swatties work hard. We go to official study sessions and create informal study groups. Study breaks, study parties, independent study… if you aren’t willing to learn and use these phrases, you won’t get far here. Most of us have jobs, too, in libraries and as tutors and babysitters in the local town. Once you start considering the number of students who play sports (40%), join clubs (we have over 100 student organizations) and attempt to have personal hobbies, you’ll realize why Swarthmore students are always running somewhere.
But in the words of Aristotle, “Man is a social animal.” If you don’t want to go insane here, you need people to talk to, people who will make you laugh and give you advice when it’s 11:45 at night and you have a head cold and need to study for a test and do a hundred pages of reading before an 8:30 class the next morning. Luckily, Swarthmore has lots of candidates for friends. With very few exceptions, it would be hard to describe a Swattie as the stereotypical popular kid in high school. Consequently, most of us are pretty open-minded, down to earth, and just plain nice. There are exceptions, of course–– this may be an admissions blog, but I can’t pretend Swat is a Utopia–– but most people here want to get to know each other and be friends.
There are debates here, arguments about everything from authors to religion to cereal preferences. People have strong opinions here, and aren’t apologetic about them. But there’s almost always an element of civility to these conversations. Usually, they’re more about exchanging ideas than being proven right.
I guess what I’m getting at, the defining aspect of Swarthmore that I always seem to circle back to, is its intensity. It’s a cliche to say college students work hard and play hard, and it might be more accurate to say that Swarthmore students think hard when they’re working and playing. That’s our culture.