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IC celebrates 25th anniversary, hires new LGBTQ+ fellow

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With a new LGBTQ+ fellow, heritage celebrations such as Pride Month and Latinx Heritage Month, and the approach of its 25th anniversary, the college’s Intercultural Center has a busy year ahead.

For its anniversary, the IC has a program for each month. This month, the center is highlighting 25 facts about the IC, which are posted in various places around campus. For example, Fact #15, found in Wharton AB 1, reads: “At a certain point, Swarthmore’s admissions department began creating admissions brochures for specific populations, such as LGBTQ+, Asian, and Latinx prospective students.”

“Our goals this year are to continue to expand the visibility and reach of the Intercultural Center in order to advocate for identity-based groups to ensure marginalized [and] oppressed voices and perspectives are included in college-wide initiatives and decision making,” said IC director and dean of the sophomore class Jason Rivera in an email.

On Sept. 25, The IC had a kickoff event for Latinx Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Future events for the month include an a “Celebrating La Familia” event, a Moment of Silence and Town Meeting Observing Indigenous People’s Day, and a Breakfast, Latinx Documentary, and Discussion.

This past Monday, the IC had an open house for faculty, students, and staff that featured food from different cultures, music, and a chance to talk to each other and IC staff.

“I’d like to think the IC Open House … was very successful,” said Rivera. “I was especially happy to see so many students from each class year interacting.  Also, at one point, I looked over at the Fragrance Garden, in the IC Courtyard, and saw students, faculty, and staff interacting — some sitting on the grass and benches, some standing and mingling, and others swaying to the sounds of the music as they chatted with each other. It was a beautiful moment — one that I hope we can continue to recreate.”

Next year, Rivera plans to host a joint open house with the Interfaith Center and the Office of International Student Services in their new space in Sproul Hall. Joyce Tompkins, director of religious and spiritual life, and Jennifer Marks-Gold, director of international student services, were present at the IC Open House.

Dean Rivera said that the IC could also improve on some missions, such as working more closely with student organizations.

“I don’t think we do this poorly now, but I certainly think there is room for improvement,” he said.

Cooper Kidd, the new LGBTQ+ fellow, will be working with organizations like COLORS, a group for queer students of color, and the Swarthmore Queer Union. He majored in sociology with a focus in stratification at the University of Maryland at College Park, where he worked closely with the LGBT Equity Center. During his time there, he helped program a weekly support group for transgender students and one for students who identify as queer and Asian. This work motivated him to join the staff here, and he thinks this background will prove invaluable at the Intercultural Center.

“I feel that I am better able to offer logistical and functional support having had experience doing similar work to what students at Swarthmore do,” said Kidd. “In a similar way I feel that my personal experience also informs my work here as I know what it is like to be a queer person navigating college.”

In addition to working with the LGBTQ+ student organizations, Kidd will be a resource for students and will work with the Pride Month Committee. Pride Month runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 20. Kidd appreciates that the committee has been intentional about planning intersectional events, such as the Latinx movie screening.

“The foci that I have this academic year are around creating intentional programming that focuses on intersectionality and processes and practices that are more inclusive for trans students,” said Kidd.

Ignacio Rivera’s visit to campus on Sept. 8 provides one example of this intersectional program. Rivera (they/them/theirs) is “a Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit, Black-Boricua Taíno … activist, writer, educator, filmmaker, performance artist, and mother,” as described in the email announcing their visit. Rivera’s events on campus, “The Evolution of the Talk and Sexy Survivor” and “All of Me Poetry Performance,” focused on discussing these identities in the campus community.

One way Kidd hopes to help transgender students on campus is by helping the Self Study Action Committee streamline the name change process.

Kidd also wants to help students access queer-related events both on and off campus. He took students to the Philly Trans Health Conference in early September and to Princeton University on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to see black queer female writer Roxane Gay in conversation.

Just as the college has a new LGBTQ+ fellow, the IC has new interns, including five first-year students. As shown in a pamphlet distributed at the open house on Monday, they bring a diverse set of backgrounds and skills to the job. All the interns have office hours, available online at the IC website.

“I hope that I can not only use those experiences to help other people but that by hearing others’ experiences, they can help me figure out my own,” said Gene Witkowski ’21, one of the interns, referring to his experiences questioning his sexuality and his ethnic identity as a Haitian-American.

“I would love to say that I’ve been able to make somebody’s experience more inclusive, or make Swat feel more like a home to them, or at least make the IC feel more like a home to them,” said Witkowksi.

Dean Rivera echoed Witkowski’s goals, saying that the IC has done well in fostering a caring and supportive community.

“When I arrived at Swarthmore in July 2016, it was clear to me that the IC was in many ways a home base for some students,” said Rivera. “I thought then, and still believe today, that it is incredibly important for students to have a space like the IC because I know how valuable it is to have something to connect to when you are a student — to have a space where you can feel comfortable being yourself.”

The IC has come a long way since 1992, when it was founded “as a result of student activism aimed at securing increased administrative support of, and commitment to, Students of Color and Queer students at Swarthmore College,” according to its website. Back then, it only consisted of three student groups, according to Swarthmore’s website: the Hispanic Organization for Latino Awareness, the Swarthmore Asian Organization, and Action Les-B-Gay, which have since evolved into other organizations on campus.

Now, with a much broader array of organizations and a dedicated staff, the IC looks forward to an eventful year.

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