The Politics of Swarthmore’s Political Scene

Swarthmore Students

By Andrew Hwang

By Andrew Hwang
Unigo Campus Representative at Swarthmore College
Oct. 4, 2008

Swarthmore is many things: quirky, intense, close-knit, touchy—the list goes on and on. But one thing Swarthmore and its students will have nothing to do with is passivity. Make a public comment and you can be sure that one of Swarthmore’s various student groups is likely to respond. Find students getting ahead in organic chemistry or English literature readings and it’s probably how they spend their free time. Have a presidential election come up? You’ve got the sole ingredient needed to galvanize political debate in the library, raucous drinking games in front of the TV, and massive political orgies in dormitory lounges.

With less than a month between now and November 4, Swarthmore students find themselves more and more spending time paying attention to the upcoming Presidential elections—intentional or not.

Swarthmore Obama “The morning after the [Vice Presidential] debates, I was working with a group of students to write a protocol for our upcoming experiment,” said Zehra H., a senior biology major. “Somehow, our conversation managed to converge on Sarah Palin’s tactics for debate: say maverick, you betcha!, tell a hockey-mom story, and repeat.”

Ragging on the Republican ticket has definitely become in vogue for Swarthmore students. The other day, I told a new-found friend that I lived in Orange County, Calif. (filled largely with a McCain-supporting population) and I was immediately cut off—“you’re voting for Obama though, right?” It was not until that moment that I understood Unigo-user Rhiannan’s description of the Republican student group as more of a “support group than a political party.”

Not all in the majority take part in this feeding frenzy of Republicans. Meena Elanchenny, a junior biology and religion double major, said that this one-sided division takes away from what it means to be at Swarthmore.

“Swarthmore’s liberalism is refreshing because it allows me to experience religious, racial, and ethnic tolerance that is somewhat lacking in our conservative society,” she said. “[Because] political diversity encourages tolerance, we should not condemn differing political views on our campus.”

Somehow, politics and parties at Swarthmore have come together to form more than just the Democrats and Republicans. The debates thus far have become catalysts for alcohol and sex. Said a senior, “we played this fantastic game where we took a shot every time Obama said the word ‘change’ and by the end of it we were drunk enough to hook up with each other without awkwardly having to admit that we made the decision while sober.”

While alcohol might be the quickest, dirtiest way for Swatties to overcome social awkwardness, canvassing is definitely the second. All it takes is a little form and a pen-in-hand to turn a quiet Swarthmore student into a sociable citizen of the USA. Walking into Sharples, it has become almost impossible in recent weeks to not have fellow students yell out “ARE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?”

Similarly, it has become customary for non-registered students to lie and say they’ve registered to avoid the impending diatribe. A freshman said he “likes to experiment with new ways to say no.” “Sometimes I’ll say ‘let’s wait until we’re married,’ ‘I talked to you five minutes ago, remember?’ and, my favorite, ‘I’ve already donated,’” he said.

Regardless of where you lay on the “I need to lie to get away from this canvasser” to “I need to get this liar to register to save his soul” spectrum, there is a special niche for you at Swarthmore. Unless of course you support Palin—in which case it might be better for you to keep your political mouth shut.


Photo Courtesy of Jetheriot