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Including You

Creating spaces for an all-embracing campus community

An opening. A sliver of light. That’s what T. Shá Duncan Smith, Swarthmore’s associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development, searches for in a conversation.

“We need to create opportunities across campus for people to exhale and to have a space where different ideas are allowed to exist together,” she says. “Swarthmore, at its very core, strives to promote a culture rooted in mutual understanding, empathy, and empowerment.”

Building an organic sense of togetherness anywhere—the world at large, across campus—is a tall order, but when empathy and compassion lead the way, it’s possible.

For example, Yousaf Razvi ’18, president of the Muslim Students Association, found the days around last year’s presidential election especially fraught.

“In America, we were seeing increased hate crimes and violence against Muslims,” he says. He wanted a place on campus to celebrate and share his Muslim identity, but wasn’t quite sure what to expect when planning an Eid al-Adha banquet. So he reached out to co-sponsors across the religious spectrum, including Kehilah, Swarthmore Progressive Christian Community, and Newman Club, as well as the Intercultural Center, Interfaith Center, and Islamic Studies Department.

They were eager for a good turnout, but unsure who, or how many, would come. The number astonished almost everyone when more than 225 students, faculty, and staff attended.

“It was the highlight of the year,” says Razvi. “Everybody—professor or student, Muslim or otherwise, Swattie or TriCo—came out to support us. It genuinely meant so much for the Muslim students to see the outpouring of love displayed at our event. It was honestly one of the most humbling moments of my time at Swarthmore. ”

The key, Duncan Smith says, is to make sure all community members feel embraced, respected, and heard. Jason Rivera, dean of the sophomore class and director of the Intercultural Center, agrees, citing the importance of resources like the new College website built specifically for current and future LGBTQ students.

After all, a rich sense of community—noise, food, music, contemplation, questions, debate—shapes the Swarthmore experience.

“We seek ways for members of our community to cross paths with and get to know individuals—students, faculty, staff, neighbors—with different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives,” says President Valerie Smith.

The Monday before finals this spring, Clarissa Phillips ’19 was calling Poi Dog restaurant to coordinate a special “Multi” student–faculty dinner while setting up communal dining tables in a Kohlberg classroom. Along with Dakota Gibbs ’19, Casey Lu Simon-Plumb ’18, and Chris Malafronti ’18, she helped plan the night for students who self-identify as belonging to multiple heritages or backgrounds. When the gathering was over, 35 guests had shared conversations, laughter, and a deeper sense of belonging.

“People develop and learn best when they aren’t trying to be someone else,” says Assistant Professor of Economics Syon Bhanot, who even brought his dog, Humphrey. “By creating a true campus ‘community’ feeling, we make it easier for people to be themselves and get the most from their experience at Swarthmore.”

“Events like that are a time to talk about experiences and identities, and to learn more about each other and ourselves,” says Phillips, who worked alongside Rivera in the IC office. “The world definitely seems more daunting when you have to go it alone, but good company always makes things easier to handle.”

FINDING NEW OPPORTUNITIES to connect is a goal for Zenobia Hargust, Swarthmore’s director of equal opportunity and engagement. In addition to the upcoming projects she’s working on, Hargust is thrilled to be partnering with the Accessibility Task Force, a campuswide group focused on the accessibility of all information and communication technology.

“This will advance the important work of making our campus materials available and accessible to all current and prospective community members,” she says.

Challenges, communication-related or otherwise, are always part of growth, says Pamela Prescod-Caesar, vice president for human resources. Plus, students aren’t the only ones who benefit from a sense of camaraderie. There are countless opportunities for faculty and staff to mentor and inspire one another to improve processes and outcomes.

“We have made progress,” she says, “but we still have work to do.”

SUCH WORK CAN MEAN ownership of projects. This is especially important for students, even when the responsibility can be daunting, says Andrew Barclay, assistant director of student activities and leadership in the Office of Student Engagement. Barclay manages large events including seasonal, madcap socials in Upper Tarble, but smaller projects—such as getting haircuts for charity or climbing a pop-up rock wall—often draw students into common spaces and spark a connection to the College culture.

“I ask myself all the time: How can we be intentional about building community?” he says. “At a state school, the sense of community is often built around athletics, but for a small liberal arts school, we think about those things differently. When a student comes to me with an idea for what they’d like to see on campus, I tell them, ‘I can facilitate it, but you need to help.’”

When Josie Hung ’19 approached Barclay with her idea for hosting a series of events called Culture and Identity Appreciation Week, he turned the tables and asked her how she would make it happen.

“It was intimidating at first reaching out to all the groups, and I wasn’t sure how people would react,” Hung says, but the effort involved in spearheading the project to success ultimately made her feel more connected to campus and her classmates. She was proud of the positive difference she was able to create.

That sense of pride is foundational for student success, says Karen Henry ’87, dean of first-year students and director of first-generation and low-income student initiatives. Henry takes special pride in community bonding and building. As a Swarthmore student, she formed friendships she still treasures today thanks to spaces like the Black Cultural Center.

“It was a home away from home,” she says. “Swarthmore is a very caring community. That was true when I was a student, and as an administrator, that’s still true.”

A Joyful Noise

James Hormel ’55, H’09 and Michael Nguyen ’08 believe in bringing Swarthmoreans together in dynamic ways.

Inclusion in action was on display when James Hormel ’55, H’09 and Michael Nguyen ’08 gave a $4.3 million gift last year to fund The Hormel-Nguyen Intercultural Center, which will be the new home of the Intercultural Center, the Interfaith Office, and the Office of International Programs as well as multiple dynamic spaces and opportunities for bonding.

“This generous gift is a big win for the community,” says Jason Rivera, director of the Intercultural Center. “It’s a greater opportunity for us to work with our students, staff, and faculty on coalition-building and community engagement and development.”

More campus community-building:

Dinners with Strangers, launched by President Valerie Smith, where small groups of faculty, staff, students, and alumni meet for the first time over a meal.

SwatDeck, a social experiment where students walk to the train station and meet their randomly assigned teammates. Together, they travel into Philadelphia to a spot that sparks their curiosity.

Learning for Life, where student-staff-faculty partnerships connect as they design their own learning projects.

The President’s Sustainability Research Fellows Program (PSRF), which matches students with mentors to research solutions to sustainability-related campus challenges.