Do we actually have fun at Swarthmore?

Ah, yes. Fun at Swarthmore. Two things that, at first, seem incompatible to any prospective student who has heard about our school’s rigorous academic reputation and student body’s work ethic. Trust me, before coming to Swat, I had similar reservations about the school. For some reason, when I was a junior in high school looking at colleges, I too had adopted the idea that Swarthmore was a place full of “intellectual machines”, or students who spent every waking moment poring over their schoolwork. This feeling didn’t stretch to any other selective institutions I was considering either: for some reason, it was Swarthmore that had caught the label as a no-fun school.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some “intellectual machines” at Swarthmore. There are people that are completely brilliant, people that I have full faith are going to catapult themselves into the top of their respective field. Those friends of mine are the ones that spend a majority of their waking moments working, reading, or in a lab. For them, their work is not just fulfilling, it’s a version of fun. 

However, if you have never associated the words “fun” and “work” before, please do not cross Swarthmore off your list just yet. I think one of the biggest miscommunications that can sometimes occur between tour guides (like myself) and prospective students is that everyone here considers their work to be “fun”. That is not true. Yes, finding enjoyment in your studies is a critical component of Swarthmore academics. Nobody here loathes going to the library to read an obscure passage or plow through a dense problem set. If we did, we wouldn’t be Swarthmore students. However, while work can be fulfilling and enjoyable, it is, at many times, not fun. 

I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone at Swarthmore doing cartwheels in McCabe library after reading a particularly moving political science paper or a chemistry student who decides to take a load off by cracking open the next problem set. From a statistical standpoint, I can definitely say I’ve seen more smiles in Sharples Dining Hall than in Cornell Library. On warm Friday afternoons, there are certainly less students studying in the Science Center Commons than there are lounging on Parrish beach. We all need time off from studying and you have more than ample opportunities to do so at Swat.

For me, each semester tends to have an ebb and flow. Some weeks I have a lot of time to spend doing the things I consider “fun”, other weeks I hardly have any. This is different for each Swattie, depending on who they are, what they study, and how they study. However, I think all Swatties can all agree that at some point or another throughout an average week at Swarthmore, there is considerable downtime to pursue “fun” activities. In fact, most of us would argue that it is crucial to our academics and happiness that we take time off from our studies to have fun.

Now, what constitutes those “fun” activities? Ask a current Swattie what there is to do on campus for fun, they might list off a plethora of events hosted by the College: guest lectures, workshops, seminars, etc. Obviously, I can’t speak for every student, but if I have free time and want to pursue something I consider fun, I may not choose to lace up my shoes, grab a notebook, and head to the latest conversation on conservation biology in one of our lecture halls. This is not to take a dig at conservation biology, which is a topic that I, like many others, find fascinating and important. It’s to emphasize that people have fun at Swarthmore in unproductive, mindless ways just like any other college. While many times Swarthmore tries to and succeeds at distinguishing its experience from other schools, this is one situation where it (thankfully) does not. Swatties, like all other college students, have fun.

So, taking away doing work and going to College-sponsored events, what does that leave at Swarthmore to be considered fun? I’ll start with what I do for fun. For me, I love not doing anything. As the comedian John Mulaney once said, “It is so much easier not to do things than to do them, that you would do anything in the first place is totally remarkable.” So, in a list of things that are progressively less productive, let me tell you what my “not doing anything” looks like.

I love reading fantasy novels. However, a savvy English major could tell me that this counts as academic work, even if I’m reading for pleasure. Fair enough. 

I love going to support fellow varsity athletes at their games. Ah, but at the same time, I can hear an observant sociology major telling me that events like sports contests are critical to developing a strong sense of community. Fostering strong relations is certainly productive for Swarthmore and for myself, who in turn would receive support at my own varsity matches from the students I support. I suppose that is true. 

I love going out to eat with friends in Media, a nearby town. “Wait!” cries an eager psychology and political-science double-major. Socializing over a meal is a critical way for humans to develop social intelligence, network, and increase social capital. It certainly counts as a form of productivity. Hmm, I guess so. 

I love playing video games. “Nope!” says an attentive pre-med student. Video games have been shown to improve dexterity, a skill crucial for future surgeons. Well, I am planning on a medical career, so maybe? 

I love browsing YouTube aimlessly. “Absolutely not!” shouts a clever history major. Whether you know it or not, YouTube content is ingraining inside you the news of today, which will be called “history” tomorrow. Now this is starting to feel a little ridiculous. 

What I am really trying to say is that at Swarthmore, you have time to pursue pleasures of yours that aren’t productive in the slightest, like going out for deep-fried pizzas at Double Decker or watching hours of *checks current YouTube tab* National Treasure movie clips. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. I think everyone here would suffer greatly if we didn’t have time to do the things we lazily and unproductively loved. Of course, there are more active forms of fun at Swarthmore. There’s the party scene (a whole other conversation), watching your friends put on shows, playing a sport, playing an instrument, making art, writing, joining a club, giving campus tours, and the list goes on. While these activities are what is advertised to most prospective students, I hope you know that we aren’t always doing something at Swarthmore. 

Personally, I think my academic performance would have deteriorated had I not binged all of The Office in the middle of the spring semester of 2019. I know for a fact that had I not been able to play over 100 FIFA games with my friend Oliver last fall, my organic chemistry II marks would have fallen: much stress was relieved in celebrating virtual FIFA goals. I shudder to think about what would have happened had I not dived into the mystery of D.B. Cooper that one Thursday night until 2:00 am. I don’t necessarily know exactly what would have changed in my life, but the journey of his escape from a jetliner with $200,000 in 1971 felt like essential knowledge at the time. 

So yes, we have fun. We have fun by working and by not working. We have fun in productive ways and we have fun in the most unproductive ways imaginable. Because of the challenging nature of Swarthmore, I think that having fun is one of the most important things that students do here. Trust that, should you come here, you’d have fun too.

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