Spring 2020: what was supposed to be the final piece of the first half of my college experience. After 7 weeks on campus and 20 pages worth of midterms, I watched my once intact conception of my sophomore year get shredded apart by COVID-19 in a series of emails I received miles away on a beach chair on spring break. Suddenly, I faced the reality of participating in my seminars virtually and leaving my dorm room in an indefinite state of neglect and dust collection. I know that each student’s transition to online learning was nuanced by an array of different challenges, and I was privileged to have a pretty smooth COVID learning experience. However, something that all of us students had in common was the abrupt disruption of our semester. Despite the valiant efforts of many professors and peers to salvage the semester, what remained to be saved was the lost final weeks of corporeal, lived experience on campus.
The global events of the current moment have prompted my reflection of my 3.25 semesters on-campus at Swat. My professors provided an exceptional source of support for my peers and I during this time, and eventually acclimating to Zoom facilitated the continuity of my learning experience as much as it could. Below is a list of things that I miss about Swat that I couldn’t get or experience through my computer screen. Many of them seem silly and have to do with food or are vested within physical places at Swat – little things that I fail to appreciate fully while on campus. Most importantly, they center around my friends that I met through Swarthmore – people I miss dearly and that I can’t wait to see when I return to campus.
1. Weekday 8:30 am Sharples breakfast. I live in one of the farthest dorms from my classes – on the bottom end of the Swarthmore slope. On the trek up to class, I take the obligatory stop at Sharples (or what my friends and I colloquially call “Sharpies”), which is the half-way point of what I (dramatically) deem the sharply inclined path that constitutes my daily calf workout. My friends and I ritualized early daily breakfast in the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester to fuel ourselves for a productive day and the latter half of our hike to class. “Sharpies” breakfast = assessing the daily news, discussing daily plans, commenting on each other’s outfits, and people watching while drinking coffee. Sharples breakfast has also been a site of personal transformation. I’ve watched myself evolve from a loyal hash brown consumer to a fried egg and Frank’s RedHot sauce convert.
2. Wharton Magnolias. Wharton Hall, my freshman dorm, is (to me) inarguably the best dorm. The building encompasses a courtyard with a couple of monstrous magnolia trees, which bloom in late March in an explosion of pink and white buds. The trees are emblematic of the incomparable beauty of Swarthmore during the spring and memories of my 1st-year roommates and hallmates.
3. Raspberry Oat Bars. Sharples has a pretty extensive menu of meals on constant rotation. Most of my friends don’t check or know about the Sharples’ online menu that is posted on the advent of each new week… for me, checking the menu is my favorite activity and the first thing I do when I wake up on Sunday. There are a couple of menu items that I am obsessed with and talk about so much that when I mention that it’s “Raspberry Oat Bar Day,” it elicits eye rolls from my close friends. I love everything about raspberry oat bars – basically raspberry jam on cookie-like crust with dough crumbles on top. On raspberry oat bar day I eat two squares when I’m at the dining hall and take two for the road when I leave. For some reason they don’t seem to be very popular, but that means more for me when the leftovers spill into the dinner menu.
4. McCabe 3rd. Most of my evenings are spent in the campus’ largest library, McCabe. The library is organized in 4 floors, including a basement, by varying degrees of silence, and my floor-of-choice is the top floor (the 3rd floor). The tables are my favorite because I can really sprawl out with all of my books and implicitly invite my friends to sit with me. The floor is technically one of the more quiet floors, but I think my friends and I believe the location of our usual table grants us some kind of speaking amnesty. My approach to evening studying is pretty counterintuitive: I originally gravitated towards the 3rd floor because I am most productive in silence, but kept choosing it because it morphed into my friends’ and my social center.
5. Kitao Art Gallery. Kitao is a student-run art gallery on campus – a space where Analög Club, a film photography club that I participate in, holds its issue release parties. It’s an intimate space that my fellow club members and I decorate with the photos comprising our publications. We open the space to our close friends and all students as a blend of party and exhibit with fancy cheese, snacks, and easy listening music.
6. Occasionally Yours Brunch. Basically the weekend version of “Sharpies” breakfast. The Ville, Swat’s rendition of a “downtown,” has a couple of restaurants to which our dining plan points apply. Occasionally Yours is a newer breakfast spot frequented by Swarthmore locals and students alike. It has transformed into our designated morning meeting space to recount the events of the weekend bent over plates of Ava-lanche/Backyard Garden omelettes and coffee. My friends and I take explicit, ongoing notes of things that we learn or that happen throughout the weekend to discuss during these brunches so we won’t forget. We take brunch very seriously.
7. Avo-goat-o. Occasionally during our late night McCabe 3rd sessions, my friend and I will give each other the verbal signal that we deserve a reward for our dedicated procrastination. It takes 4 exclaimed syllables for us to simultaneously close our books and cap our pens and make our way to the Crumb Cafe in Sharples for Avo-goat-o. Crumb Cafe is the student-run, evening cafe in a section of Sharples, and Avo-goat-o’s are our favorite item on the menu – glorified avocado toast garnished with chili flakes and hunks of goat cheese. Usually when we finish our toast, we look at each other guiltily and suggest indulging in a second course… Again, Crumb Cafe is a place of personal transformation – we used to order the nacho fries, but since they took them off of the menu we became proponents of the loaded quesadillas when we are in the mood to consume some extra calories. Which is every time.
8. Koi Fish Pond. Behind Willets dorm and McCabe Library is a little garden with a koi pond. One of my favorite spots on campus, I think of it as a private enclave – the ideal spot to read by myself. Unfortunately, the art of reading outside is a tedious undertaking. Warm weather conducive to comfortably reading outside can be privy to swarms of gnats and mosquitoes. So I typically don’t last long out there.
9. Worth Womb. This last one is a new development. In the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester, one of my best friends moved to a single in Worth dorm. Like Wharton, Worth overlooks a beautiful courtyard where the school holds the annual spring, outdoor concert called “Worthstock” (this year we were supposed to have Doja Cat perform). The room’s palpable warmth, slanted ceilings, and muted color scheme simulated an insulated den of safety and comfort. Hence the name its owner coined: “Worth Womb.” For the segment of the semester that was on-campus, “the Womb” served as the sanctuary of Diptyque candles, lazy Sunday reading, and soft underground music recs.
This list is certainly not exhaustive. However, I hope these small snippets of these pretty simple joys provide some sense of my life at Swat. I look forward to the time when my friends and I can resume our activities on campus again. Until then, we can enjoy conversations via zoom and iMessage and I can learn to bake raspberry oat bars in my own kitchen 🙂