My Top Five Cash-Free Events

If you’ve done some research on Swarthmore already, you might have heard about our incredibly accessible initiative known as the cash-free campus. All this means is that after paying your semester bill to the College, you don’t have to spend additional money to utilize anything on campus. Everything — including clubs and organizations, support resources, required course materials, student group performances, tutoring, lectures, workshops, masterclasses, (and thanks to a pilot initiative in fall 2023) even transit into Philly and surrounding communities — is offered entirely free of charge to all students.

The cash-free campus makes it super easy to access a wide variety of events happening on campus year-round. Rather than stressing if I have enough money in my bank account to pay an entry fee, all I have to consider is whether it fits into my schedule and if I want to go. For today’s blog post, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cash-free campus is like by describing some of my favorite (totally free) events that I’ve attended.

1. Ballez lecture and masterclass with Katy Pyle

No, that isn’t a typo. Ballez is a New York City-based ballet company founded by Katy Pyle, a genderqueer lesbian dancer, choreographer, and teacher. The company aims to “push classical ballet towards an inclusive future by centering the experiences of of queer, lesbian, trans, and gender non-conforming people within the creation of large-scale story ballets, open classes, and public conversations”. I had been following Katy and Ballez on Instagram since high school and always admired the work they produced. When I heard about the masterclasses and lecture being offered on Swarthmore’s campus, I knew I had to attend no matter what (I actually asked my professor if I could skip her class to make it to the masterclass on time, and she encouraged me to do so and to tell her how it went!)

Swarthmore’s advertisements for the event.

A lecture and discussion session were offered earlier in the week, and they were everything I had dreamed they would be. I had the opportunity to share ideas with an artist I had looked up to for so long, and it was so intriguing to dive into their reasoning and motivation behind some of the works they had created. Taking class from Katy the next day was nothing short of transformative. Their teaching methods and group exercises helped me rethink the way my identities influenced my dancing and opened up new ways to experiment with gender expression through movement. I walked away feeling so much more confident in both my dancing and myself, as well as with a whole new set of dance philosophies that I couldn’t wait to share with others.

2. Class visit with Eugenia Cheng

During the spring of my sophomore year, I took a class called Mathematics and Social Justice, which looked at the way mathematical concepts are used to harm marginalized populations and how to engage with math in a way that advances equity in society. The class consisted of students from all different majors and interests, ranging from senior math majors to others like me who swore we would never take another math class again after high school.

A significant time was spent early in the semester talking about our past experiences in math classes and how those influenced the way we approached this class and the study of math more generally. Midway through the semester, our professor invited Eugenia Cheng, a mathematician and musician who was visiting the college for a larger lecture presentation, to a smaller, more intimate discussion with our class alone. It was refreshing to talk about how underrepresented groups are covertly left out of math and other STEM fields, even in elementary and middle school classrooms. Sharing our experiences and backgrounds helped me feel a lot more connected to my classmates, and I’ve slowly begun to realize that math is for everyone and is something that I can actually find enjoyment in.

3. Cooking workshop with the Scott Arboretum

As I’ve spent most of this past summer working on campus, I’ve had a lot more time to engage with the areas surrounding Swarthmore and with the Arboretum itself. Our entire campus is situated on 425 acres of plants, trees, woods, creeks, and general green-ness of the Scott Arboretum. Staff horticulturists will often host guided walks and plant workshops, and the lovely campus engagement coordinator Sue MacQueen has hosted a series of cooking workshops using the fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown all over campus.

Last week, I attended a cooking workshop called Botany in the Kitchen. We started the session with a short lecture on the nightshade plant family (which includes tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes) and how these have historically been used in cooking. Then we got to taste all the different tomatoes that Sue had grown and brought to the session and decide which ones we wanted to include in our dishes! We followed a short set of instructions for how much of each ingredient to include, and we each left with our own jar of homemade salsa. I learned a lot about a new family of foods and that rainbow tomatoes are my favorite type (yes, that’s their real name).

Salsa selfie!

4. Ace and Aro in an Allo World discussion with Cody Daigle-Orians

On campus, we have a group of students known as Sexual Health Advocates (SHAs) who encourage conversations about healthy sexuality and relationships and connect students with various resources offered by Worth Health Center and Counseling and Psychological Services. The SHAs also put on lectures and workshops centered on sex education in order to foster a more inclusive and respectful campus community.

One of the events the SHAs hosted last semester was a lecture and discussion on asexual and aromantic relationship building with Cody Daigle-Orians (also known as Ace Dad Advice on social media and their website). I had followed them on Instagram and TikTok for a long time, and their videos in particular helped me better understand and accept that part of my identity. I was incredibly excited to meet someone whose words had such a big impact on my life, and the discussion far surpassed anything I could have expected. We got to explore everything from the nuances of the asexual and aromantic experience, different types of attraction, and navigating relationships with these identities. Connecting with other students who either shared these experiences or wanted to learn more about them also brought me a lot of self-assurance and confidence.

An advertisement for this on-campus event.

5. Phantom of the Opera live organ performance

If you ask any other student who was here in the fall of 2021, they’d likely also put this event pretty high on their list. Beginning prior to the pandemic and continuing through it, the Lang Music Building underwent a large renovation project, which included restoring the organ in the Concert Hall. By that fall, the renovation and restoration had been completed, and the Music Department in conjunction with the Film and Media Studies Department hosted a celebratory first performance on the organ just before Halloween. For this concert, Prof. Andrew Hauze agreed to perform a live improvisation on the organ to the original Phantom of the Opera silent film (for a bit of context, in their heyday, silent films, and horror films in particular, were historically screened with live musical accompaniment to add to the suspense and intensify the actions being portrayed).

The poster for Swarthmore’s screening of the Phantom of the Opera silent film with live musical accompaniment on the newly restored pipe organ.

To say that the performance was breathtaking would be an understatement. I was in awe of how easily Professor Andrew Hauze could watch the film out of the corner of his eye and perfectly match his music to what was happening on the screen. He even brought a top hat and wore it for the entire concert! It was incredible to enjoy a silent film in a sonic environment that was very close to how it would have traditionally been shown. As soon as the last note rung in the concert hall, the entire audience was on their feet clapping and cheering as loud as they could (Prof. Hauze actually had to come back out for three separate bows because the applause never ended)! To this day it is one of the most magical performances I’ve attended — and it was free to attend right here on my college campus.