You Can’t Always Get What You Want –

When I started my first semester at Swarthmore, I got really excited to take very small classes on very weird topics with top of the line professors. The best way to go about this – I was told – was to sign up for a First Year Seminar (FYS). These courses are tailored specifically to give new students at the college the opportunity to experience what an Honors seminar is like, while at the same time giving them a taste of college-level work and little insight into the discipline they’re trying out. Come registration time, I skipped into my advising meeting with a binder full of potential FYS classes that I absolutely had to take. Fortunately for me, my wonderful academic advisor let me down gently & told me that I could only register for one First Year Seminar at a time.

A great shot of the Sociology/Anthropology Seminar Room - with Professor Braulio Muñoz
A great shot of the Sociology/Anthropology Seminar Room – with Professor Braulio Muñoz

Naturally I was crushed, & begrudgingly registered for only one of all of the courses that I absolutely HAD to take. After the lottery (the process by which overenrolled classes are cut to more reasonable sizes) was over I logged into my student account to check my lottery results – & found that I had been cut from this class that I absolutely HAD TO TAKE! I was super bummed out, obviously, but realized that the other classes that I had the opportunity to take were going to be just as exciting. Yet I still hadn’t had the chance to experience the First Year Seminar, & time was running out!

Yippie Protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago
Yippie Protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago

Luckily, I still had one semester left to get lotteried into a FYS, & second-semester freshmen who hadn’t taken one yet get a preference. Choosing carefully & setting my sights on a department I’d not had any experience in, I selected a course called “FYS: Counterculture” in the Anthropology Department, taught by then-freshman professor Christopher Fraga. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but it seemed fairly interesting & I knew I needed to try a FYS on for size.

Cover of
Cover of “Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America by John McMillian (a great book read for class).

I’ve likely never had a happier accident. The class was a thrill from start to finish. The way it was designed had us reading important works in the canon of anthropology side-by-side with contemporary documents & histories of the hip counterculture of the 1960’s. At our first class meeting, Professor Fraga said, “I always wanted to call this class ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll,” but the registrar wouldn’t let me – so that’s just what we’ll call it.” Through this class, I realized that I was comfortable & excited to use the lenses afforded me by anthropological study & that really nothing (nothing of particular interest to me, anyway) was beyond the scope of anthropological inquiry. I learned that anthropology is about people, about meaning, & the many ways we homosapiens live together – all while reading about which rock bands did what drugs in the desert.

Christopher Fraga - Professor of Anthropology at Swarthmore College
Christopher Fraga – Professor of Anthropology at Swarthmore College

That course convinced me to pursue anthropology as a major here at the College & provided me with tons of opportunities to meet cool professors from other departments as well. The First Year Seminar is a definite must for freshmen at Swarthmore – there’s simply no better way to grab a new discipline by the horns in an environment that supports your growth as a new college student.

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