For Emilio Garza '16, classrooms aren't limited to the bricks and mortar of an institute of higher education, but can exist around the corners of his adopted community - specifically, a weedy stretch of East 7th Street outside the YWCA in Chester, Pa., where Garza and other incoming Swarthmore College students spent a sweltering afternoon pulling weeds, washing steps and polishing equipment as part of a class-wide community engagement project.
Organized by the College's Dean's Office and Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, nearly 400 new students volunteered at service sites in Chester, Delaware County, Philadelphia, and Swarthmore, Pa., as part of their weeklong orientation. Coverage of the students' efforts appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times and Philadelphia Tribune.
This was the first time the College incorporated a community service effort of this size into its orientation activities.
"Civic responsibility provides just as much education to students as being in a traditional classroom," Garza says. "As students, if we don't learn to get involved in our community before we graduate, then we'll leave school being intellectually prepared for the world, but not socially prepared - and both are equally important."
Riley Collins '16, an incoming student from Mississippi, agrees. "What good is being here if we're not going to try and make some sort of difference?"
Zachary Stoddard '16, a student from New Jersey, says volunteer activities promoted by Swarthmore "push students to get better - and if we don't push ourselves to improve, how can we expect to go out into the world and expect others to do it?"
The students said they were energized and motivated by Swarthmore's commitment to civic responsibility, an aspect of College life that was reiterated throughout their orientation week.
For A.J. Valera '16 of New York, who spent the afternoon pulling weeds at the Chester Environmental Garden, volunteering as a Swarthmore student is a natural progression. "I've always been involved in some sort of volunteer work," Valera says. "It not only helps the community, it gives you a feeling of personal fulfillment."
Aneesa Andrabi '16 of California, who pulled weeds alongside Valera at the Chester Garden, said one of the reasons she chose Swarthmore was because of its commitment to public service and civic involvement. "It's our responsibility to give back," she says. "We're taking so much from the community - we're going to school on this amazing campus and have access to all these amazing resources. But we're also here to provide and give back for what we have. One of the great things about Swarthmore is that it's not a liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. We're surrounded by communities. We have an opportunity to get directly involved, so we need to take advantage of that opportunity."
Students were engaged in a variety of community works. In addition to volunteering at the Chester garden and YWCA, students spent the afternoon harvesting at Hillside Farm in Media, mural painting at Chester High School, and packing foods at Philabundance Food Bank in Philadelphia, among other activities.