At some colleges, social life revolves around grand fountains; at others, people mark their days by visits to lively, tree-lined quads. For many at Sarah Lawrence, no day was complete without a trip to the swings.
There has been a swing set outside the north side of Westlands since at least the 1960s, but finally this fixture is being dismantled due to structural deficiencies and the danger presented by the bedrock that sticks out under the structure. Maureen “Mo” Gallagher, Assistant Vice President for Facilities broke the news to the community in an email just one day before the seats were to be removed from the metal structure.
Some students reflected on their connection with the swings as they visited the spot for what would be the last time. “I think it is one of the many demonstrations of student personality on campus,” said Emily Hammett ‘18 as she sat with her friend Annie Friedman ‘18 on the swing set. “It’s one of the quirky, idiosyncratic monuments of this place and its very interactive.”
“The swings are almost the campus watering hole. I feel like everyone comes here and they just exist,” said Alex Biggs ‘18 before he left the swing set at noon the day before the swings were removed. “I came here to space out and listen to music frequently, and I feel like it’s one of the few social spaces on campus where you’re not expected to be doing anything except swinging.”
The swings have been a great source of mental relief to students. “Repetitive motion helps me chill out a lot. The pendulous motion of swinging is really relaxing,” Biggs testified.
Professors, too, noticed how the swings had become a panacea students’ myriad needs. Peggy McGrath, Administrative Assistant to the Theatre Department, has been teaching at Sarah Lawrence in the Theater Department for twenty-six years and took a photograph of the structure on its last day. “It’s always been one of the staples of the college for the students, for the faculty just a place to have fun and kind of embrace the feeling of the students as well,” she said. Professor McGrath admitted that she herself had used the swings before. “Not recently,” she clarified, “but back in the day I would come over here when you need… to get away and center and think. It’s the place to go.”
The swings were also a source of campus myths. “These are the swings where if you sat on them at midnight facing Westlands you would see Sarah Lawrence herself in the window,” confided Friedman. Though campus lore surrounding the swings may involve Jazz-age ghosts, in reality, the swing set has been the setting for more parties than hauntings. “These swings have been through a lot,” Friedman says fondly. “They’ve seen a lot of parties, a lot of post-formals, a lot of graduations on this lawn.”
Friedman expressed a further hope that a replacement swing set would be set up on Commencement Day so that she and her best friends could take their last pictures as students together at the iconic spot. Unfortunately, there will be no replacement swing set in front of Westlands in the future. It’s particularly sad for Gallagher, who personally loved the swings, but has had to put the safety of people on campus above all else.
In a written statement to the Phoenix, Gallagher said, “Playground safety requirements today are very different from those at the time of the original installation. Though I am sad to see the old, quite possibly the original swing set go away, the College will have a new swing set installed that will continue to be a vital part of our community.”
In the second part of her statement, Gallagher shared her own special memory of the swings. “The attached picture is my former SLC boss, Michael Rengers and my daughter Jaiden on the swing set together. I worked for Michael for 13 years and our families became dear friends. Someone was able to capture this moment of Jaiden & Michael swinging in opposite directions and knowing the both of them, they were probably chatting away. Sarah Lawrence is where I met my family and made lifelong friends. What better illustration of that than this picture of these two people who I just love dearly, happy in the ‘heart’ of SLC.”
Gallagher and the Facilities team will work with playground professionals to find a spot on campus that meets playground safety regulations to become the site of a brand new swing set. The Facilities team is currently scouting the hill behind Titsworth and the area in front of Dudley Lawrence, where there is a standing barbeque, as potential locations for the replacement swing set.
Final decisions, however, are dependent on the feedback from the playground professionals. Any replacement site would require minimal or no bedrock that could impede the anchoring of the new swing set, and would have to be covered with a rubber floor. Student Senate is already recommending that the artificial flooring be semi-permeable to combat runoff and drainage problems should plans for the new swing set reach that stage.
Another factor to be determined is the size of the swing set. While the old structure in front of Westlands accomodated four swings, a replacement swing set may be reduced to two seats depending on location capacity and the recommendation from the playground professionals. A swing set seating only two is a possibility, but members of Student Senate stressed the importance of finding an adequate space for four seats.
Delaney Parker ‘21 is very clear about her thoughts on a new swing set, wherever it may be. “I don’t want a smaller one because it’ll be harder [to get a seat],” Parker explained. Looking at the swings, she concluded, “I’ve had so many nice memories on these swings and I’ve only been here for seven months.” Wherever the new swings may be, they will be sure to the source of good memories for generations of SLC students to come.
Ceylan Swenson, ‘21.