Matthew Swartz

Student Info

Graduation Year:
May 2011
Hometown:
Northville, Michigan

What have you done since graduating and where are you now?
After I graduated, I moved out to New York City to get my Masters in Social Work from Columbia University. For a year, I worked for a non-profit multiservice agency in the Bronx, where I provided free mental health counseling, funded by a federal grant, to low-income individuals who had mental health issues, addiction issues, or HIV/AIDS.

Currently, I am working two jobs. At my first, I am a court social worker in the Queens Supreme Court, helping to provide rehabilitative, rather than punitive, sentencing to certain individuals who come from special populations in need (those with mental health issues, addiction issues, veterans, or those who have experienced severe trauma). Second, I am working as a prison mental health counselor, providing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to inmates. Once I return to my second year of school, I will continue working in the prison for my second year internship.

In addition to all this, I have managed to keep my passion for the arts alive and well. Last year, I wrote, produced, and directed a full length play at Columbia entitled “Process Recordings,” a piece which explored the life of a social work student. I have also continued to perform improvisational comedy, a journey I began when I joined the Roial Players in the RCAH, and continue today at the People’s Improv Theater in NYC.

How did RCAH prepare you for what you're doing now?
To make a complicated answer a bit more simple, the RCAH helped me deepen and broaden my view of the world, allowing me to better understand the complex interactions of the constantly changing systems that we are all a part of. The RCAH not only nurtured my ability to adapt, but it also gave me the ability to grapple with problems that don’t have easy answers.

In my specific case, the RCAH added a much needed dose of humanity to the often impersonal world of psychology – even though it’s the science of the human mind, it often leaves real humans out of the equation. In the world of mental health counseling, we are tasked with understanding the people we work with on multiple levels, as more than just isolated individuals. We must examine the culture they live in, the political and physical atmosphere they interact in, and the interpersonal relationships that affect their subjective realities. Were it not for the RCAH, I can safely say I would be neither willing nor able to accept the messiness involved in working with others. Ultimately, without the RCAH, I would never have gained the appreciation for other people’s perspectives, and the awareness that everyone’s reality is just as valid as my own.

Most importantly, the RCAH taught me to be myself. In my humble opinion, this is the best thing anyone can learn ever. Well played, RCAH… well played. 

What were your academic interests in RCAH?
When I started with the RCAH, I had already determined I wanted to double major in Psychology. So, the RCAH was the Yin and Psychology was the Yang, both helping me to turn my college experience into a cohesive major, which I affectionately title: “Learning all about people and their stuff”. All joking aside, the RCAH allowed me to assess humanity from a broader angle, dissecting large concepts like “culture”, “justice”, “collaboration”, and of course the quintessentially RCAH “transculturation”. I did this by taking classes that allowed me to examine such diverse and complicated topics as modern fiction, childhood and justice, sustainability and human rights, religion and the environment, comics, dying languages, and general surveys of anthropology, sociology, and mythology.

In particular, the 340 class I took on “Comics” with Prof. Aronoff helped to illustrate the importance of a liberal arts RCAH education. To most people, comics are simply that: colorful pictures with superheroes fighting each other, or at best, a child learning an important lesson from a rather animated stuffed tiger. But by the end of the semester, we had discovered a deep truth about art: not only does the art we make reflect us, but often times, culture and people change because of art itself. Arguably, our western concepts of Justice might not exist in the same form without superhero comics, and I have never been as personally affected by the tragedy of the Holocaust as I was when I finished the graphic novel “Maus”. We all understand the world in different ways, and we communicate with each other in different ways as well: some use words, some use song, and other use pictures. It is capturing these moments of connection that make life worth living, and I can safely say my classes helped me in understanding this.   

What were your favorite aspects of the RCAH experience?
The community. All of it. Sure, the ability to have a small college experience with huge university resources is fantastic. Equipment and space like the lab, practice rooms, and the theater are amazing (especially when they are right downstairs). The Gallery? Unprecedented. Don’t get me wrong, those were all great parts of the RCAH. But, what makes the RCAH a truly special place is the people, the relationships, and the value placed on the process as well as the product. The people I went to school with, the ones that I came to know intimately after 4 years, they became my family: we didn’t all like each other all the time, sometimes we’d even get sick of each other after overexposure, but we all appreciated each other and embraced our mutual imperfection, and it was truly something special.

I don’t mean this just for students, but for the professors as well. I will never forget my graduation ceremony: professor after professor stood up, thanked us for an amazing time, and said many great things.  But the most meaningful was when they told us that we had reignited their passions, that we had reminded them why they do what they do, and that we had helped them see that this world called “RCAH” might not only be what the students needed, but just what the professors themselves needed too. That is what made the RCAH, for me, a truly unique place: coming of age in a place where you are treated as an equal, rather than just a pupil, can make a whole world of difference.

Did you ever take part in Study Abroad/Study Away at MSU? If so, which programs?
Sadly, I did not. If I have one regret, it is that I didn’t take advantage of study abroad. I strongly recommend that everyone learns from my mistake and goes somewhere new. That being said, the reason I didn’t want to leave MSU was because I was having such a great time at the RCAH…

What words of wisdom do you have for current RCAH students?
Make mistakes now, in a place where you are allowed to fail and have the time to learn how to fix things. The real world is not as forgiving, and other adults will not chuckle knowingly at you as you learn important lessons: Dean Esquith is unique in that regard.

Take advantage of your time and resources: try different activities, take interesting classes, talk with your professors about things that have always made you curious, and stay up late talking and laughing. Every night.

Get involved in extracurriculars, not just in the RCAH, but all over campus.  You’ll meet new people and do incredible things.  My life would not be the same without the Traveling Chautauqua, RCAHppella, the Roial Players, Roial Improv… you get the idea. These experiences are the ones that I will always remember, so I urge you to make some memories yourself.