Elizabeth Swindle has a lot to say, and she usually says it with a smile.
“I gotta kick William, he’s being weird. . . . He’s making fun of me for talking so much,” she tells me during our interview with a distracted giggle, referring to her fiancé who sits reclined on a couch just out of frame.
Although we are talking over Zoom, it has not stopped Swindle from answering all of my questions with incredible detail. She confesses to me that she fears she might be rambling, but her answers aren’t just thorough. They’re polished. These are clearly refined thoughts.
Elizabeth Swindle is not rambling during our interview. She puts a lot of thought into things, so when asked about them, a lot comes out.
One major consideration of hers in recent years has clearly been Delta State University, which makes sense given her history. Not only did Swindle attend DSU for her undergraduate and now graduate education, but she recently began working as Delta State’s Coordinator of Student Activities.
As her title implies, one of her primary responsibilities in this position is working with students and Ms. Rochelle Owsley, the Director of Student Life, to coordinate student activities and create events on campus. She works with and advises student organizations such as Greek life and SGA, and she is also the person that students should speak to if they wish to start a new organization.
It may sound like quite a lot, but as she goes over her responsibilities, Swindle credits a lot of what she does to other people. In describing her work, she mainly describes all of those with whom she works.
Apparently, hard worker though she may be, Swindle does not see herself as the driving force behind student organizations; rather, to hear her describe her work, she simply acts under Ms. Owsley’s guidance to empower students. Elizabeth Swindle is an encourager.
“So, if a student comes into the office and says, ‘Hey, I have a really cool idea for an organization! What do I do?’ I give them the tools they need to start that organization,” says Swindle. She is not the one doing the building; she is the one holding the toolbox, and she helps students find all the tools they need for their success.
Swindle highly values an individual’s ability to act. Reflecting on her position, she focuses on the idea of growth and change. Swindle has always been open about her mental health, specifically depression, and this motivates her as she works with students. She wants to aid students in their search for personal growth.
“Having those people to encourage you and say that you can do things, that you are empowered, is super, super important in any college setting for any student who has any talent or any ideas in their head to be told ‘You can do it. You are good.’” says Swindle. “And that’s what I hope to be able to do, really.”
Swindle puts a lot of emphasis on DSU’s students in our interview. Remarking on what it is like to work at DSU, specifically for Student Life, she says, “It’s fun because, since I was a student, I’m able to relate to [students at DSU]. I’m still at their age. . . . Most of the people that are still in these organizations were my friends, and they still are my friends. We were on the exact same playing field last year.”
According to Swindle, the connection she has with our student body is what allows her to succeed at her job. She says, “It’s really helpful when you can think like a student, so you’re able to explain things the way a student would think. And it’s still from a young, fresh point of view, I think.”
Swindle places immense value on DSU’s student body. She seeks to ensure that activities on campus actually appeal to students, as opposed to simply being what administrators think would appeal to students. Clearly gaining passion as she speaks, Swindle insists on the importance of students being excited about the activities that Student Life offers. To accomplish this, she points to diversity.
“I think the biggest concern [of her job] is appealing to a diverse group because, when you’re planning events, you have to offer something for everybody, and if you’re just appealing to one person or one type of person, then you’re not gonna have the best outcome for your event,” she posits.
According to Swindle, this is one of the many strengths of DSU. Throughout our conversation, she often remarks on the inclusivity of our campus, alluding to all the effort that goes into making sure every student feels welcome.
Being her typical, thoughtful self, Swindle was already touching on a question I had planned for later in our interview. I subsequently decided to switch up the order of my questions: “How,” I asked, “do you account for all the different kinds of students attending DSU?”
Swindle answered easily and promptly, “It is just talking with students. . . . We have a lot of office workers who are all very diverse. Some of them are international students, and they offer really good insight when we need it. But it’s also through surveys that we offer at the end of every event. So we’re constantly learning and constantly growing.”
Continuing on this train of thought, Swindle returns to her emphasis on student empowerment. She recalls the times when students have come to her with ideas for an event. Though there are limitations on what can be done during the pandemic, with particular limitations on serving food, Swindle notes that not every idea is met with rejection.
With a wide grin, she informs me, “But every now and then, you’ll strike gold! And someone’ll have an event that’s something we can absolutely do, no problem.”
On the subject of Covid-19, Swindle is an optimist, stating that one of her goals for campus is getting back to a place of normalcy. It is a timely sentiment; with the pandemic affecting every area of student life, from sporting to Greek organizations, normalcy is in short supply.
Swindle cannot speak to planning activities around Covid-19 since it is not her specific area of work. However, I did ask her if there was any hope she could offer students during these strange times.
She pauses, and it is clear that she is trying to get her wording exactly right. Finally, she says carefully, “We are stronger together than we are apart. . . . We still have so many things to look forward to. It might look a little different right now, but it’s not permanent.”
“We, as a university, know that things are always changing, and even as a university, we are creating some of the most intellectual human beings. And other universities are doing the same, so smart people are coming out of this. Even though things are tough, people are still graduating, and they will go on to become scientists that make sure pandemics never happen again,” she says.
Swindle is no stranger to the concept of things looking different due to the pandemic; she is speaking from experience. As stated before, she was once a DSU student herself. She was in the graduating class of Spring 2020, which happened to be right when the pandemic seriously hit the United States.
Ironically, Swindle cites her pandemic-affected, online graduation ceremony as one of her favorite memories of DSU. There was no in-person ceremony. Instead, graduates were given their names on PowerPoint slides via Zoom call.
As Swindle and her friends rode around in her new car, they decided they were not going to watch the ceremony. With a PowerPoint in place of a stage, it hardly felt worth it.
But Swindle reconsidered. Deciding that, Zoom call or not, this was her graduation, she opened up her computer.
Swindle recalls, “We opened it up right on time because I was the second name called the moment we opened the link. And having that moment of [sighs] we graduated, like all those four years after studying and doing so much, that was such a valuable moment.”
Elizabeth Swindle was not just a DSU student like we are now; she was a student graduating from our university in the middle of a pandemic. There is arguably no one better to understand the specific concerns students are having right now and the specific struggles we may be facing.
Currently, we have someone working in Student Life who has been exactly where we are, someone who wants to communicate with us and who finds value in ensuring that everyone feels represented on campus.
So, with all that in mind, if Swindle has a lot to say, then perhaps she should say it.