Faces of Rhodes
Betsy Swann ′14
Hometown: Cross Plains, TN
Academic interests: Immigrant experiences, language barriers and linguistic differences, the effects of legislation in everyday life, and public policy
Extracurricular activities: Resident Assistant, Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, Rhodes College Diplomat, former Honor Council Representative, Reformed University Fellowship, Rhodes Christian Fellowship, Mortar Board Honor Society, Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, Delta Epsilon Iota Honor Society
Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.
I first fell in love with Rhodes College when I was 12 years old. My family came to Memphis for an event hosted at Evergreen Presbyterian Church, right across the street from Rhodes, and I was struck by the school’s beautiful architecture. I insisted that we drive through campus, and even in that brief visit, I felt at home. After further research, I realized that Rhodes had so much more to offer than just a gorgeous campus. The academics, extracurriculars, and off-campus opportunities fit me perfectly, and I knew that this school had to be on my short list of colleges. My financial-aid package sealed the deal, and I was finally able to fulfill my dream of attending Rhodes.
You were the leading force in establishing the Rhodes Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL) team. Tell us more about TISL and this experience.
I was very involved in my high school’s mock government team, and I came to college both aware of and saddened by the fact that Rhodes did not have a comparable program. So in the spring semester of my first year I began working to form a chapter of TISL, which is a program that allows college students from across the state to compete at the capitol in Nashville by taking on the roles of various government officials, such as legislators, lobbyists, lawyers, and political journalists. With the support of the political science department and the college administration, we were able to recruit members and form a team at the start of my sophomore year. The response was overwhelmingly positive. According to TISL estimates, a school the size of Rhodes is only expected to bring four delegates to the competition; that first year, we brought 13. After months of preparation, we went to Nashville and came home with numerous awards, including the title of “Best New Delegation.” I was absolutely blown away. Honestly, I would have been happy just having a team at all, but the students’ dedication and hard work resulted in an outstanding performance.
Since that first year, the team has continued to grow and consistently win awards in all areas of the competition. In fact, we have won “Best Delegation” for the past two years, and have had several delegates take on statewide leadership positions. The Rhodes TISL team has become more successful than I ever could have imagined, and I am so incredibly proud of the work the students have done. When I look back at my time at Rhodes, I know TISL will be one of my fondest memories, and I am thankful to have been involved in such a great organization.
Last spring, you studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What did you learn from that experience?
Studying abroad was fantastic. I chose to study in Buenos Aires due to its history of immigration and European influence in Latin America. I wanted to see how immigration practices throughout history have built the city and culture as they stand today. More important, though, was my personal experience of living in a foreign country. As someone who works with the immigrant population in the U.S., I consistently see the challenges of moving to a new place as they play out in others′ lives. Through study abroad, I was able to experience those difficulties myself. In other words, I studied immigration by being an immigrant. I cannot express how eye-opening my time in Buenos Aires was. I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of, the wonderful differences between Argentine and American cultures, and how relocating to a new country creates unexpected challenges in everyday life. Now that I am back in Memphis, I have a renewed passion for the immigrant population in this city because I can draw from my own experiences to relate to the obstacles they must overcome on a regular basis. With this knowledge, I hope to serve the immigrant community with both empathy and compassion.
You’ve worked as a Rhodes Summer Service Fellow (SSF) at Su Casa Family Ministries and an academic intern at Latino Memphis. How have these experiences outside the classroom shaped your studies?
By far the most life-changing experience I have had at Rhodes was the Summer Service Fellowship, which I completed the summer after my sophomore year. The SSF allowed me to intern full-time at Su Casa Family Ministries, a non-profit organization that serves the Hispanic community in Memphis, and it was there that I was first exposed to the everyday struggles experienced by the immigrant community. As someone who loves politics, I was aware of the debate surrounding immigration issues, but my time at Su Casa let me personally meet the people most commonly affected by immigration policies. Seeing their constant battles with language barriers and discrimination inspired me to make the immigrant population the focus of my studies and future career, through which I hope to advocate for better immigration policies and services. I gained hands-on experience in this area last semester when I interned at Latino Memphis, another non-profit in the area. Specifically, I worked for their policy and advocacy program, where I combined my interest in politics with my love for the Hispanic population by lobbying community leaders to support immigration reform legislation. These experiences have only solidified my passion for this type of work, and I know that immigrant advocacy is my calling. I plan to pursue this cause throughout the rest of my time at Rhodes as well as into the future.
Compiled by Ali Swee ′16