Swat Talk Decoded

There is an easy way to identify a seasoned Swattie: Can they talk the talk? And by that I mean do they understand you when you spew out a sentence comprised mostly of random acronyms?

Okay, to be fair, you can probably identify Swatties if they have Swarthmore apparel. This was my first day here!

Swarthmore—Swat—is a world chock full of random abbreviations, and here’s a handy guide to get you through. (It should give you some insight into life here, too, I hope.) I may have missed some, so I apologize in advance. I am, in fact, a flawed human being and not a robot.


  • AP – Alice Paul is one of the newer dorms and at the bottom of the hill, closest to the train station. It is known for its lofted doubles with insanely large windows, the red sculpture outside the dorm, and the third-story balcony. AP 1st is a common party space.
  • DK – David Kemp is the other very new dorm right next to AP. It has a rooftop garden and two separate parts of the dorm that connect on the second floor. DK is relatively quiet, but has a neat second-floor lounge.
  • PPR – Palmer, Pittenger and Roberts are dorms (non-first-year) that are past the baseball fields, typically filled with sophomores. They’re known for their high ceilings and being bright and spacious, but are just far enough away from the hub of campus for students to complain about.
  • Thrillets Willets got this nickname because it is notoriously the rowdiest dorm, known for its parties. The straight halls are very conducive to hall life and social events.
  • ML – Mary Lyon is the dorm most freshmen dread getting. It is approximately a 15-minute walk from campus, which, relative to the other dorms, is an eternity away. There are a handful of people who absolutely love living here, though. ML is a large house which has a rich history and you can get weekend breakfasts of crêpes and pancakes here! There are shuttles that run to ML, which is especially useful late at night or when it gets cold. Not to mention this cameo in game of dorms, one of the movies that went along with the orientation play. (Go to 5:13.)
Those were all dorms, and even though Mertz is only ever called Mertz, I wanted to show you my freshman-year room because it was really pretty. Swarthmore is really pretty.


  • Quiet room – the side room in Sharples. This may not make sense until you have actually been in Sharples, the dining hall, but if you go to the right there is a large, slightly separated room that people usually go to if they want to eat and work at the same time and get away from the noisiness of the main room.
  • McCage/The Cage/McCave – McCabe is the main library and is known to have a variety of unflattering nicknames. It does look a bit imposing and has some very small slitted windows. Nonetheless, I study here a lot.
  • IC – The Intercultural Center is a multipurpose space that the Intercultural Center and related clubs use.
  • OSE – The Office of Student Engagement can refer to both the office itself and the organization that operates out of there. The OSE is in Parrish basement and is a surprisingly great space (and always has free candy!) given how creepy the laundry room and rest of Parrish basement are. Important administrators for things like housing, OneCard, and parking have offices down here.
  • WRC – The Women’s Resource Center usually has cookies available on weekends for people to chow down on after partying in Olde Club. They also hold a lot of great events concerning education and feminism and is a highly underrated meeting space.
  • BCC – Black Cultural Center is a lovely house not too far from Parrish Circle where many events are held and cultural affinity groups meet like SASS/SASA/SOCA meet.
  • The beach refers to Parrish Beach; there is no actual beach, unfortunately. It is a large grassy expanse, perfect for lounging.
  • Lang vs. LPAC vs. Lang Center – There are a lot of buildings named Lang at Swarthmore. Lang usually refers to the Lang Concert Hall, set back slightly, next to the greenhouse. This is the building with the Underhill Music & Dance Library. LPAC, the Lang Performing Arts Center, is right next to Lang, but this is where movie screenings, dance performances, and some music showpieces are held. This building is right across from Kohlberg and at one end of a tree-lined path. The Lang Center refers to the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. This building is a bit out of the way, behind Papazian, but is a great place to talk about social service opportunities, as well as learn about funding opportunities to implement a project.
  • Olde club vs. Old Tarble vs. Upper Tarble – Upper Tarble is within the Clothier complex, a building with many spaces, easily recognizable because of the bell tower. Upper Tarble is used for dances, dinners, speakers, etc. Old Tarble, in contrast, is right next to Mertz, and is now an art studio with a theatre practice space upstairs. Olde club is by the WRC and Kitao Art gallery, one of the small stone buildings, that concerts and parties happen in.
Upper Tarble decorated for the SwaTango milonga

Peer advisors

  • RA Resident assistants are juniors or seniors who live in your hall as a resource.
  • SAMStudent academic mentors are specially trained to help you with your coursework.
  • SHA – Sexual health advisors give out a lot of free condoms, and are always available to talk about sexual health and relationships
  • GA Green advisors manage the college’s sustainability initiatives, including composting in the dorms
  • DPA Diversity peer advisors make sure there is programming, education, awareness, and inclusion of diversity narratives and experiences
  • WA Writing associates are a hallmark of Swarthmore’s strong writing program. Most first-year writing courses have a WA assigned to them. For example, all introductory biology courses require you to have a WA review your draft, which you then edit, review, and revise before submitting a final draft that is actually turned in and graded

Department academic tutors

  • SA – For whatever reason, biology is the only department where the student tutors (science associates) don’t have a creative name. SAs attend the introductory biology classes, are taught some science pedagogy, and hold science group meetings (SGMs) for students to cultivate good study habits to work regularly and collaboratively to learn material. I am all in favour of calling them “genies”!
  • Wizards – Upper-level engineering students host study and homework help groups.
  • Jedi Physics student tutors use the force!
  • Ninja Computer Science student tutors help with quiz prep and lab assignments.
  • Pirate (π-rate) Math and Stats students host helpful drop-in study sessions.
  • Alchemist – The saviour of any chemistry student

Clubs: there are too many to list here; if you want more information about a specific club, there are various ways to find out more, including emailing me at csimonp1@swarthmore.edu!

  • ABLLE – Achieving Black and Latino Leaders of Excellence 
  • DART – Drug and Alcohol Resource Team
  • AMENAArab, Middle Eastern, & North African Cultural Group
  • MJ Mountain Justice

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  • SISASwarthmore Indigenous Students Association
  • PACS – Pan Arab Cultural Society
  • QSA – Queer Straight Alliance
  • QSN – Quest Scholar Network
  • QTC – Queer & Trans Conference Planning Committee
  • RnM – Rhythm and Motion
  • SAO – Swarthmore Asian Organization 
  • SASA – Swarthmore African Student Association
  • SASS – Swarthmore African Student Society 
  • SCCS – Swarthmore College Computer Society
  • SCF – Swarthmore Christian Fellowship
  • SCS – Swarthmore Chinese Society 
  • SEASA – Swarthmore Southeast Asian Student Association
  • SIS – Swarthmore Islamic Society
  • SOCA – Students of Caribbean Ancestry 
  • SMAC – Swarthmore Martial Arts Club
  • SPJP – Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine 
  • SQU – Swarthmore Queer Union
  • SREHUP – Student Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia
  • SWoCC – Swarthmore Women of Color Collective
  • VSA – Vietnamese Student Association
  • WOCKA – Women of Color Kick Ass
  • WSCR – White Students Confronting Racism

Other helpful slang:

  • LSE – These are large-scale events, like Halloween, Winter Formal, and Swatoberfest.
  • Swat swivel – This is the highly recommended surveillance of one’s surrounding before gossiping or talking about a person in any form without that person there. Swarthmore is small.
  • Swat seven – This is the time it takes to get from any one point on campus to any other point. Usually you give someone benefit of the doubt and let seven minutes pass before they are considered late.
  • Swat seven – This is the lesser known, lesser used expression referring to hooking up with one person from every class that is on campus while you are (aka the 3 classes older than you and 3 below). Considered very objectifying and something best to have only in retrospect.
  • Swawkward – Swatties are so awkward we have our own term for our own special type of awkward. Just look at that word. Try saying it. Awkward, right?
  • Swooping – This is the time between the start of school and fall break where it’s taboo for an underclassman to become romantically involved with an upperclassman. My understanding is that if you have a relationship with an upperclassman so early on, you miss a crucial time to establish your own friend group and connect with people in your class.
  • Misery poker – At some point or another, you will inevitably engage in misery poker, trying to one-up your friend with how awful your life is, kvetching about how you have so much more work than anyone else.

All the jargon can be overwhelming at first, but after a few weeks on campus, you’ll be walking the walk (the uphill scurry to classes from Sharples?) and talking the talk. It’s part of the culture. Who knows, maybe you will leave your mark by coining a new go-to term. Me? I keep trying to substitute Swattie for S’more. I am a Sworthmore student after all, can’t you tell by my quirky lingo?

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