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Blowing Off Steam Through a Primal Scream

As the promise of winter break approaches, excitement can be felt throughout Swarthmore. But with the excitement also comes a sense of stress and anxiety, as students prepare for their final course examinations. It radiates throughout the community in the form of increased caffeine consumption and campus spaces filled with heavy sighs instead of light conversations.

Yet, Primal Scream, a College tradition for more than a decade, demonstrates how the Swarthmore community is energized by stress rather than defeated by it. Held at the end of reading period and the beginning of finals, it is a night in which students close their books momentarily to breathe and come together with faculty, staff, and one another over comforting food, music, and good conversations.

This year, more than 150 students gathered in Sharples Dining Hall for waffles, doughnuts, muffins, and, of course, coffee and tea. They were greeted with a high-five from Phineas the Phoenix as they entered the dining hall and served food by faculty and staff, who spent their night piling plates to console overwhelmed students taking a break from studying. The dedication of faculty and staff and the gathering of the campus community made for a supportive and fun atmosphere filled with smiles and laughter.

“I love the joy and sense of community that comes from gathering in a communal space late at night, and the support that I feel from the College staff in the lovely food that Sharples prepares for us,” says Shana Herman ’19, an environmental policy and conservation biology special major from Philadelphia.

“Nothing is quite as relaxing as eating French toast sticks drenched in maple syrup at an unreasonable hour,” says Benjamin Warren ’19, a mathematics major from Georgetown, Texas.

Still, the breakfast portion was only the beginning of the night’s therapeutic offerings. The night also included a performance by Offbeat, one of Swarthmore’s coed a cappella groups. As the event progressed, the energy and excitement at the midnight breakfast became infectious. By the end, students were dancing on tables and chairs, singing at the top of their lungs to “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey, and—maybe more fittingly for finals—“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.

Perhaps the most anticipated and quirkiest part of the night was the Primal Scream itself: When the clock struck midnight, students gathered together to unleash all of their anxiety and tension into one ear-piercing scream for an entire 60 seconds.

“I am always impressed with the longevity of how long students can scream,” says Nathan Miller, associate dean for student life, who endured the deafening roar after serving breakfast. “You don’t realize how long a minute is until you watch students screaming at the top of their lungs.”

For students, these 60 seconds are more than just a chance to decompress and make some noise. They are also a reminder of how special the Swarthmore community is—and of what it feels like to be a part of a unified, if slightly strange, community.

“Primal Scream is one of the weirdest traditions on campus I can think of,” says Sarah Parks ’19, an environmental studies major from Somerset, N.J. “It's mildly alarming being in a room with like 100 screaming college students, but definitely novel … you can enjoy feeling silly together.”

Re-energized—or at least less overwhelmed—from Primal Scream, students now brace themselves for the official start of finals week before heading out for winter break and marking the end of another successful semester.

Primal Scream, a College tradition for more than a decade, demonstrates how the Swarthmore community is energized by stress rather than defeated by it. Photo by Tristan Alston '22

A capella groups performed to a crowd of more than 150 students. Photo by Tristan Alston '22

A capella groups performed to a crowd of more than 150 students. Photo by Tristan Alston '22.

Volunteer staff members spent their night piling plates to help students taking a break from studying. Photo by Simona Dwass '19.

“Primal Scream is one of the weirdest traditions on campus I can think of,” says Sarah Parks ’19. “It's mildly alarming being in a room with like 100 screaming college students, but definitely novel." Photo by Tristan Alston '22.

Primal Scream, a College tradition for more than a decade, demonstrates how the Swarthmore community is energized by stress rather than defeated by it. Photo by Tristan Alston '22

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