Radical Kindness with Bobby Zipp ’18

Bobby is a junior here at Swarthmore. He is the editor in chief of the Phoenix, a Student Academic mentor in DK, co-president of the Student Philanthropy Council, a campus tour guide, manager in Student Development office, on the Advisory Board for the Critical Education Policies Journal, a Coordinator of the Digital Humanities Reading Group/Steering Committee, and an Honors English major with a Creative Writing concentration and a special major in Education and Political Science.

You’re involved in so many different clubs and organizations on campus! Can you talk about them a little bit? Is there one that is your favorite?

That’s a hard question because I think that they each have something really unique to offer. The one that I’d say that I spend the most time doing is the Phoenix, probably.

Have you been a member of the Phoenix since your freshman year?

Yeah I have, and it’s kind of funny, because I didn’t think I was going to do journalism in college! I wrote for my high school’s newspaper and when I got to college I thought to myself, well, I’ve already done the journalism thing, I’ll just take it easy in college. But I decided to try it once I got to college anyway. It was week 2 or 3 of my college Phoenix experience and it was 2 or 3am and I was writing an article and I thought, well, here I am again! I realized I was naturally drawn to it, so I stuck with it.

Were there any leaders in the Phoenix that stood out to you as excellent in their style of leadership, or that you hope to emulate now that you are in a leadership role?

Yeah, 100%. One of the past Editor in Chiefs of the Phoenix was the most inspiring person to work under. I’m a jellyfish and I let people steamroll me and I’m like, okay, sure that’s fine! She is a kind empathetic person who likes to listen to people, and that fits well with journalism, but at the same time, she had a very clear vision for what she did and did not want done. She was really strong on her morals and values and what she wanted out of the paper. On the day to day she was really on top of everything, and met every deadline she ever had. One time, I put the deadline for the Phoenix and the institution over somebody’s well-being and I got mad at somebody for not putting the Phoenix first…and the Editor in Chief called me out on it right away. She said, you can’t do that because we’re all students, and we’re all humans, and that’s not an effective way to get things done. And she was totally right! And I felt really bad about the friend of mine that I put in that situation. For me, being a leader isn’t totally about deadlines. It’s about creating a network of people who can then rely on each other. If you have to lash out at people to get deadlines done, then I don’t think you’re being an effective leader.

You’re definitely a creative person, and that’s evident in the uniqueness of your major and the many different activities and clubs you’re involved in. Do you think that there is any overlap in what you’ve learned from the uniqueness of your major evident in the way you approach your extracurriculars?

Oh yeah, they’re all related. My extracurricular activities sometimes feel like an extension of my classes—another way to explore the things that I want to learn from school. I’m considering going into journalism after school because the thing that I’ve learned is that being a journalist is a way to keep people and institutions accountable and it’s a way to affect change in a way that I think is really meaningful and important in the current political climate and the current world that we live in. Everything that I do is about telling stories and about interacting with people in a group setting. It’s all related, and it’s the reason that I feel like it’s natural for me to do all these different things. My extracurriculars inform my academics.

Are there any academic courses in particular in which you completed and finished the semester with a big takeaway message?

Yeah, actually the way that I brought all of these things together was in Rachel Buurma’s Rise of the Novel class. That was the class that informed me that literary and media culture is not separate from politics. We read Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities”, which basically says that print culture establishes a sense of community. When, say, five different people in different places across the country read the same newspaper article, they are then formed together in a cohesive imagined community. I think that reading this was the point when I realized that all of these disjointed interests that I have all fit together.

Do you have a mantra or personal mentality? If so, what is it?

I think that a lot of times, the work that I’m doing, particularly in journalism for example, can get really taxing. You can stress people out and you can stress yourself out. Because of this, I try practice what I like to call “radical kindness”. You need to be forgiving of yourself and of other people. If you know that you have the opportunity to make someone else’s day better, I think that in most circumstances, you should take advantage of this. The negative cost that you incur from this is probably drastically less than the positive impact you will have on someone else. In turn, that will inspire other people to change other people’s life too. If you have five minutes, and you know your friend would love a cup of coffee, it’s worth it to go ahead and pick one up for them.

There’s a Swarthmore Valentine’s Day tradition called “Screw Your Roommate”, in which your roommate sets you up on a blind date in Sharples. Have you ever done it? How many times? If you were able to give advice to your freshman year self in regards to this event, what would it be?!

I’ve done it every year so far. I think that advice that I would give myself is…don’t take it too seriously! If you do take it too seriously, it’s much easier for the experience to turn into a train wreck. When I lightened up, it became way more fun.


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