Unnamed Swarthmore Traditions

Swarthmore has its fair share of clever, profound, and (Swat’s favorite word) quirky traditions that we typically share with prospective students, and rightly so. Some of the annual events at Swarthmore are what distinguish this experience from other schools. I can assure you that no other college has a First Collection in their outdoor amphitheater. It’s unlikely that many other places use their one dining hall as both a place for incredibly awkward first-dates, as in Screw Your Roommate, and cathartic release, as with the Primal Scream. I’d also wager that not many colleges use their creek situated in 200+ acres of campus woods as the setting for a competition of engineering and athletic ability, like Swat does with the Crum Regatta. However, while these traditions are inseparable from a meaningful Swarthmore experience, they only occur once a year. You can find Swatties participating in the following traditions, or perhaps these more aptly described as rituals, on a weekly basis.

1. Swat Seven

This tradition is part of pretty much every Swarthmore practice, event, lecture, and meeting. It’s simple enough. Whoever is coordinating the meeting arrives first, some other eager participants mosey on in about five minutes before whatever is scheduled is supposed to start. Then, everyone chats with occasional glances at the door or clock until seven minutes has passed the official scheduled start time. If someone has not showed up after seven minutes, they won’t be coming at all. Conversely, if no has shown up to your meeting at the official start time, don’t fret. I’d say a majority of students are between one and seven minutes late, most likely due to the busy schedules we adopt as well as our thinking that we can access any part of our small campus within a 5-minute walk. 

2. Swat Swivel

Another must-have ritual. The small nature of Swarthmore is conducive to an excellent learning environment and close, meaningful connections between people. It is also conducive to running into people you’re talking about quite often. Therefore, anytime you’re about to mention someone not present in your conversation, you must perform the “Swat Swivel”, or the customary glance over both your shoulders to ensure that this person is not around. Don’t perform the Swat Swivel and you may be unfortunate enough to be overheard by the person you were referring to, meaning you must be prepared to come up with a benevolent reason for doing so, such as, “Oh, I thought your question today in class was so insightful!”

3. Swat Smile

This certainly extends past our school, but it is quite a useful tactic to both acknowledge that you see someone and are aware of who they are while still indicating that you are not interested in engaging in a conversation. Typically used on the walk to class, the “Swat Smile” is a swift grimace smile accompanied by a slight tilt of a head to a passing student. Subtle enough that should the person miss it, you won’t look like a fool to everyone around you but noticeable enough that about 75% of the time, you’ll receive a reciprocated smile. Most often used with previous group project partners, orientation friends, or that kid you sit next to in lecture. It maintains a relationship between two persons at the level of acquaintances and nothing more. 

4. Spontaneous Naps

Another ritual that is not unique to Swarthmore, a casual stroll through McCabe Hall, Sci Commons, or Shane Lounge in Parrish will surely reveal several students deep in sleep. Accidentally falling asleep in obscure locations is a critical part of college and Swat students are no exception. There is a deep feeling of camaraderie among the student body, so while the Public Safety team does not advise leaving your belongings out while napping, I tend to not worry about my things being taken if I close my eyes for a bit at a quiet study desk. Falling asleep in a public space is about as close to an unwritten graduation requirement as there is at Swarthmore: there surely will be times that the seat you are studying in will feel as comfortable as a memory foam mattress in your tired state. 

5. Cup drops

Many people think that the Primal Scream is the loudest noise that Sharples Dining Hall will ever hear. However, this famous tradition is topped by the loudest sound known to Swarthmore students: the *clang* that a Sharples cup makes when it hits the tiled floor of the dining hall. This often happens unintentionally when distracted students attempt to put away their eating trays and a cup slips off and promptly clatters to the floor. However, some bold Swatties have started utilizing the sonic boom of a Sharples cup to induce a brief hush over the dining hall and subsequently use that silence to announce a musical performance, athletic game, etc. Experiencing a cup drop is always interesting, doing a cup drop yourself is a whole new test of public speaking courage. Having the eyes of 400 wary Swatties fixed on you and trying to blurt out the details of a soccer game is no easy feat.

There are probably many more unnamed traditions and rituals that occur at Swarthmore on a daily basis. Some of these rituals will fade away with time, but I’m almost certain new ones will develop in the coming years. It’s these little things that add some flavor to the Swat experience. They’re fun to laugh about with friends, are almost universally practiced by every student, and give little insights into the social culture of Swarthmore.

Leave a Reply