Confusion Corner: Exploring the Social Structure of Swemming

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April 26, 2016

12:27 AM

Only at the College of William and Mary would the library, of all places, be a cultural phenomenon. Every time you walk into Earl Greg Swem Library, you don’t just meet stacks of books or librarians with pointed glasses: you enter an entirely different world.

Swem Library is one of the prime meeting spots on campus, to the point that it has a societal structure to it. There’s a place to buy food and drink, a place to sleep (hello massage chairs that lull me into a nap every time I use them) and a place to exercise. There is even a backward code of fashion where you are shunned if you walk in looking like you put any effort into your outfit (Sweatpants? More like SWEMpants, am I right?).

Members of this cult-like society, “the Swemmers,” fall into several different social groups. Some book it upstairs to third floor, seeking company only with the graffiti on the desks, and aren’t heard from again until the sun rises. Others just need peace and quiet while they put the finishing touches on a paper, and therefore seek second floor — a more moderate option. But then there are the first-floor Swemmers, who will mosey on in with LateNight in their hands and a smile on their face. Solely in the vicinity to hang out, the first floor crowd is completely oblivious to their strung-out partner in conversation struggling to finish an assignment. The first floor of Swem is the Times Square of campus. If you don’t believe me, come talk to me when the place doesn’t smell like a pizza joint.

We live by a philosophy here at the College where it’s not only okay, but encouraged that you hole up in the library for hours at a time.

Everyone is in Swem all the time, at every hour. Planned a dinner date, but the other half of the equation hasn’t shown up yet? They haven’t stood you up. They’re probably just at Swem. Close friend not returning your text? Swemming. Is it getting close to 2 a.m. and your roommate still isn’t back yet? No worries. They should be back soon, right after the voice of Swem whispers sweet nothings into their ears and tells them to get out before they’re locked in.

This should be common knowledge by now, but I didn’t fully realize how integral Swem is to the social lives of students here … until they put a treadmill on first floor. It’s official: if you truly wanted, you would never have to leave this place. They provide food, water, human contact and massages, and now you can skip going to the Rec by walking three miles per hour on the treadmill (which I have unofficially named the Swemmill).

Somehow, Swem manages to hold thousands of people inside of it for large portions of the day (and during finals, all portions of the day). Does the building have magical powers? Did Earl Gregg Swem cast a spell on this place when he served as a librarian here, dooming us to be lured into the building until long after we graduate? Who knows. But we’re so hooked on Swem that we would easily stay there on weekends, too … if it didn’t close at 8 p.m. as a subtle way of telling us all to get a life.

We may be a small campus, but we aren’t that small. So find a balance. Go outside. Seek social interaction elsewhere.

Again, I ask: why, of all places, do we seek refuge in the library? Not just to do homework, but to get coffee, to find friendship, and now apparently to get a workout?

We live by a philosophy here at the College where it’s not only okay, but encouraged that you hole up in the library for hours at a time. Unfortunately, we’ve lived by this philosophy for so long that hours spent at the library turn less and less productive the longer they stretch on. The longer we stay, the more we get pulled into the stressful energy that consumes the building, causing us to want to stay more to try to work off the stress. That, right there, is the spell Earl Swem cast that makes this place so addicting.

I’m not telling you to stay away from Swem ­— I’m literally sitting in Swemroma’s as I write this — but know that you won’t be shunned for getting some sunlight or sleeping in your own bed instead of Swemromas for once. We may be a small campus, but we aren’t that small. So find a balance. Go outside. Seek social interaction elsewhere. Explore what else this campus has to offer, i.e. academic buildings, mediocre dining hall food, and (surprise) an actual gym with an actual treadmill. You won’t be disappointed.

Sarah Salem is a Confusion Corner columnist who has seen the light. No, really. There’s this thing outside called the sun and it’s really bright.


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