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New interim IC director appointed; administrative instability remains

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Wednesday was Thomas Alexander’s first day as the new interim director of the Intercultural Center. The national search for a permanent director after Jason Rivera’s departure last November is ongoing. This new development occurs during the celebration of the Intercultural Center’s 25th anniversary and has brought up concerns about the high rate of turnover in the administration positions at the Intercultural Center.

According to Nyk Robertson, the current interim assistant director, this vacuum has not affected the work the Intercultural Center does as much as it has affected student morale.

“I think since Jason left there hasn’t been a whole lot that’s affected the student [organizations] because they really work collectively with each other and they really depend on the assistant director role for the day-to-day things that they need,” they said. “I think the biggest way that it’s affected them is that as new directors come in, they are fearful of really building a relationship with that person because they don’t know how long [that person is] going to be here.”

However, the assistant director position has also experienced turnover. Robertson has only been in their position as interim assistant director for a little over a year since the departure of Mo Lotif, who had been the assistant director for four years. The search for a permanent assistant director will continue after the new director is officially appointed.

Zain Talukdar ’19, an Intercultural Center intern and liaison to Multi, a student group surrounding multiracial identity at Swarthmore, said that the lack of a director has caused problems for work at the Intercultural Center, though he noted that other developments, such as plans for the opening of the new Hormel-Nguyen Intercultural Center at Sproul Hall next semester, have affected that as well.

“This recent director change has also made the work within the IC feel somewhat at limbo, though that can also be attributed to the new IC shaking the scene up a bit,” he said in an email to the Phoenix.

The most concerning problem for the students in the wake of the turnover is the lack of stability they see in the directorship of the Intercultural Center. The administration has taken notice of students’ feelings toward this problem.

“I think it’s more of a consistency piece and [the students] not knowing if big plans will be seen through without that same director,” Robertson said.

Talukdar feels that students have felt alienated as a result of the seemingly endless change in directors.

“The students are left constantly adapting,” he wrote. “This only accentuates the gap between the Dean’s Division and the student body, because it makes it seem risky to rely on a faculty member to be a guide through your four years at Swarthmore if that faculty member is part of a cycle of rapid turnover.”

According to Talukdar, the reason for the turnovers is not necessarily the people in the positions, but rather the idea that the position is a temporary step in advancing one’s career.

“This might be less of a problem of the people we hire, and more of a problem of the position itself,” he wrote. “The position does not promote continuity for faculty member … for students, this is rough.

Lotif left almost a year ago for a job in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence at the University of Denver. Rivera left in order to accept the position as Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Success at Rutgers University.

“I know with Jason that he loved this position but has always had his sights set really high,” Robertson said. “The position that he went to is a huge step up from this position, so for him it was more of him building his career than wanting to leave Swarthmore.”

“Faculty members promise commitment, but ultimately leave when they find a better opportunity for them,” Talukdar wrote. “Nyk has helped tremendously through the process, but the overall feeling is that the students have to help the IC as much as the IC should help the students.”

Despite the fact that the Intercultural Center has hired an interim director, there is no guarantee that Alexander will remain in the position for the long term since the search for a permanent director — and later, permanent assistant director —continues.

Alexander has spent the past two years as the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at Florida A&M University. Before that, he was Associate Dean of Students at Bucknell University for three years, and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he was Special Assistant for Diversity for eleven years, according to an e-mail from Dean Liz Braun.

According to Robertson, in order to maintain consistency, Alexander’s role as interim director will be to support current student work instead of applying his own vision.

But those efforts might not be enough to solve the problem of turnovers and student disillusionment. The new interim director is possibly not a permanent member of the faculty, and this doesn’t seem to be a solution to the lack of consistency in the Intercultural Center.

Considering it’s been 25 years since the IC was created, that is something that we cannot continue to perpetuate with our constant need to adapt and re-evaluate the IC’s work. We should be building a stronger infrastructure, and be proactive, not reactionary,” Talukdar wrote.

Dean Rivera to leave IC, new leadership to be determined

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On the morning of Nov. 13, Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun announced over email that Rivera would be leaving the college at the end of the fall semester to accept a new position.

“It is with very mixed emotions that I write to share the news that Jason Rivera, Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center, has accepted the position of Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Success at Rutgers University, Camden Campus,” Braun said in the email.

The Intercultural Center, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has recently struggled with high turnover of its directors, so much so that the Intercultural Center Director and Dean of the Sophomore Class Jason Rivera, who joined the college on July 1, 2016, was known to tell students about his intention to maintain the position.

“If you ever talked to him, and you talked to him about the turnover rate, he would say, ‘I’m here. I’m gonna stay here,’” Cindy Lopez ’20, IC intern and member of the Pride Month planning committee, said.

Rivera has overseen the planning of the IC’s planned expansion into the Sproul Observatory, created the LGBTQ advisory committee and hired Cooper Kidd, the college’s 2017-2018 LGBTQ fellow. According to Rivera, the change in position will afford him greater agency and ability to affect change on a larger scale.

“This role provides me with an important opportunity to reach a greater number of students and to work at a significantly higher level to support student success across the RU-Camden campus,” Rivera said in an email. “As I have grown in my career, I have become deeply passionate about and committed to supporting students as they pursue their goals and aspirations.  Often times, the barriers that impede student success are structural and systemic.  The work I will be doing at RU-Camden will allow me to identify, address and/or dismantle those barriers and help a greater number of students achieve their fullest potential.”

Lopez, who was appointed an IC intern this semester, formed a close relationship with Rivera last year.

“Last year I wasn’t a huge part of the IC, but after the election, after other stuff that happened last semester and last year in general, I got really close to him because I would just go to his office and play with his dog … and you know, just hang out and chill, so for me he’s kind of a big part of campus,” she said. “It’s just nice having him around.”

Lopez did not know about Rivera’s planned departure until she read Dean Braun’s email. The news shocked her because she expected that he would be the director during all of her time at the college.

“It’s just the fact that he said he was going to stay for a long time and even this semester, I was talking to him and he wanted to do a lot more long-term stuff, like long-lasting, and now he’s leaving so it’s like all those ideas, all that planning–sure, they might still have them, but he won’t be there,” she said. “It’s also really unexpected, like I was so surprised when I saw he was leaving. It’s never something that I would have thought would have happened, like ever, and not during my four years here.”

During the transition period until a new IC director is hired, interim IC assistant director Nyk Robertson will work with the Dean’s Office to lead the IC. Hiring new staff members in higher education often takes multiple months, if not longer. Last year, Robertson, then the LGBTQ fellow, was appointed to fill the position of Mo Lotif, who resigned in April 2017.

Lopez expressed concern about the fact that after Rivera leaves, the IC leadership will have little combined experience dealing with student groups and issues at the college.

“We don’t know who will be the interim director of the IC,” Lopez said. “If it’s a current faculty member, then that’s fine because they know the history of the IC and the culture and stuff like that, but if they bring an outside person, then they’re gonna have to be learning everything and we already have Cooper, who’s new as well and is also just learning stuff, so if we have both new people learning stuff then it’s just gonna be Nyk, and Nyk’s only been here for a year.”

According to Julia Wakeford ’19, member of the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Society (SISA), the lack of administrative continuity at the IC hinders the progress of student groups.

“The hiring process takes as long as these people fill these roles for,” she said. “I feel like it’s almost like the students are here longer than the administrators, which is insane. It’s supposed to be the reverse. It’s just frustrating because we have to re-explain ourselves and who we are and what we’re trying to get done on campus to different administrators, it feels like, each semester or each year we re-explain ourselves over again.”

Though Braun stated in her email that the Dean’s Office will work “to develop a plan to ensure that students are well supported during this transition and that the Intercultural Center continues to thrive,” Lopez feels that the change of hands further complicates circumstances that have made this year an especially busy one for the IC, including what she feels is a tense political climate on campus.

“This was already a transitional year because of the Sproul Observatory being remodeled, so that was already a challenge, and we were gonna have programming surrounding that,” Lopez said. “And in another sense, too, since it’s the 25th anniversary and all of these events have already been planned for this year, and he won’t be around to see them through, which really sucks…[and] other stuff that’s happened on campus has just caused it to be a very tense place, which is not to say that that’s necessarily bad, but it just adds on to this jumble that’s happening.”

Students will still be able to carry out these initiatives and their individual projects in the spring without Rivera, but the consistently high turnover rate of the Director positions at the IC makes the future of the IC uncertain. For example, Rivera and the intern team created “Conversations around CARE” as part of their long-term goal to “promote further discussion, provide resources and education, as well as generate support from other members of our community.”

“It’s going to be hard. But we, the students, don’t want to see it fall apart and I don’t think Nyk or Cooper is going to let that happen, and there’s also a lot of other faculty that are going to make sure that doesn’t happen because this is such a necessary space on campus,” Lopez said. “It’s going to be fine, it’s just going to be hard, and annoying and frustrating, but I think we’re going to be fine, hopefully.”

Mo Lotif and Moving On

in Campus Journal by

Yesterday afternoon, Parrish Parlors felt whole with heartfelt good luck’s, goodbye’s, and recounting of memories, all as a part of the farewell celebration for Mohammed “Mo” Lotif — (now former? wow) Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center. A Detroit native and Williams graduate, Lotif joined the College in Fall 2014, where he embraced the liberal arts community and larger world of Philadelphia. His influence over the past few years was evident in the sheer mass of students, faculty, and staff from all corners of campus who made their way to the hour-long festivities. We enjoyed dining services’s gracious catering and passed out copies of VISIBILITY Issue 02, the arts publication Mo and I created to highlight marginalized voices on campus.

As a dear friend and mentor, Lotif has played an important role in my time here as a student intern working at the IC, along with countless other community members. Now he is travelling back out West, where he’s accepted a position at the University of Denver working in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. He’s also got a pretty badass apartment lined up, with views of colorful mountains and an endearing city skyline. He might even get a dog. He has no complaints.

Former IC intern, Vivek Ramanan ’18, is currently abroad, but chimed in from seas away to talk about Lotif’s impact.

“Since I met him, Mo has been beyond inspiring in his dedication to his work and the students that work with him,” Vivek explained.

“[He] has supported events that have ranged from seeming simple to completely impossible, allowing students to make their thoughts and plans a reality through the IC.”

Lotif did what many other staff members of the college instinctively hesitate to do: trust students. He established student team structures that emphasized individualized skills and passions, while focusing on our productivity as a collective.

He could be heard reassuring his team “I got y’all” and encouraging each and every member to be creative in their visions and shoot high with ambition. Student workers were allowed agency in decision-making, and his thoughtful leadership style meant that he served as a supporter rather than an assigner.

“Mo really knows how to bring out the best in people he interacts with,” added Zain Talukdar ’19, a current IC intern.

“He’s lifted me up when I was down just through the way he talks to you. He really makes you dig deep into the philosophies behind your motives and actions, and he empowers you through his love for the arts and his love for beautiful existence,” Talukdar said.“Mo has made my Swarthmore experience as formative and introspective as it’s been for me.”

If you’ve ever walked into Lotif’s office, you’ve seen his manic whiteboard walls covered in ideas, his desktop computer open to tabs of Trello event plans, and books of revolutionaries, like his mentor Grace Lee Boggs, stacked up high and proud. There would also often be students hanging out on his welcoming couches, doing work or making big plans for their student groups.

When you ask students about their favorite moments with him, you get a range of answers.
“It’s hard to pick out one moment with Mo that really sticks out,” Ramanan admitted. “I’ll never forget the stressful moments, where several hours would pass with the team working and his Spotify playlists would play in the background.”

“Every time I would go into his office and he would just play whatever music spoke to him at the moment,” Talukdar agreed. “Among the many memories I will have of Mo, I’ll always remember the magic he’s pulled on my Apple Music playlists for real. He really knows how to connect music with the spirit and I’ll always remember his energy whenever I would sit in his office and just absorb whatever new music he added to his playlist.”

Migos, and A Tribe Called Red, and Bangladeshi Baul folk rhythms are just a few of the space-filling sounds that can be identified on said Spotify playlists.

There were also lazy moments of genuine time spent.

“…none of us would move from the couch and keep chatting about random things,” Ramanan continued. “But I think the moment with Mo that I never forget is walking into his office, stressed about planning an event, and hearing him say ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.’ I’ll always appreciate that I’ve gotten to know Mo as both a leader and a friend, as someone who can be inspiring, reliable, and relatable at the same time.”

Hana Lehmann, Civic Engagement & Education Fellow from the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, added from a fellow staff perspective.

“I love working with Mo! He brought unbelievable energy and creativity to the table whenever we would collaborate on events and workshops.” Lehmann said.

Lehman’s favorite (and my favorite!) cross-community project was the recent theatre and social action workshop with “artivist” Kayhan Irani that Mo, Hana, and I planned together. I had the dream of bringing Irani, an Emmy-award winning artist and White House Champion of Change Recipient, to Swarthmore. Not only did Lotif make it happen, but it happened flawlessly and surpassed our expectations of a powerful community-run event.

“The planning leading up to the workshop day was great, but the day of was a blast! We were able to co-create a space for empathy, imagination, and powerful storytelling,” explained Lehmann.

As the Intercultural Center, we’ll undoubtedly be going through a lot of change with Lotif’s leave.

“I will forever be appreciative of Mo for helping me to acclimate to Swarthmore College and for the valuable contributions he made to and through the Intercultural Center,”  Director Jason Rivera explained in a message to the community. “It is no surprise that many students, faculty, and staff hold Mo in high regard and speak of him with gratitude, admiration, and respect”

There are big shoes to fill. But replacement doesn’t feel like the right word when you are working with someone as unique as Lotif.  However, students and community members have a clear idea of the non-negotiables resulting from Lotif setting the Assistant Director bar.

“In terms of the new IC Assistant Director, I believe that the aspect of Mo that made him so effective was that he was incredibly in touch with the students of the IC,” Ramanan explained. “He made an effort to connect with us constantly, and I hope that the next IC assistant director will do this as well.”

“My hopes for the next IC director are that they can maintain the level of energy that Mo channeled through all of his interactions with the IC collective,” added Talukdar.

“Mo also respected each person’s struggles and stresses when talking to them, and knew how to successfully balance his roles as a stellar boss and a trustworthy friend, and I hope the next assistant director can do the same.”

Lehman summed up Lotif’s determination to thrive and inspire others to live into their deepest possibility: “simply ‘existing’ is not in his vocabulary.”

Inspiring and unfaulting co-workers are hard to come by, and it particularly sucks to see a good boss leave. But there’s also something invigorating in witnessing someone you look up to start the next chapter of their journey and advance in their career.

Lotif had never imagined he would end up in Denver prior to the opportunity appearing. As we as students plan our futures, we must come to terms with the fact that we don’t know what the future holds for each of us.

However, one thing we all know — and probably have known — is for sure.

The University of Denver is one lucky bastard.

Recent executive actions create campus uncertainties

in Around Campus/News by


After President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive orders halted travel to and from seven Muslim-majority countries, members of the campus community responded. President Valerie Smith and administrative deans reasserted the college’s vow to protect all students and faculty by standing in firm opposition to the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policies. International and Muslim students affected by the orders have sought advice from administration, and have had to alter plans and make new ones in response to the travel restrictions.

Muslim Students Association board member Yusuf Qaddura ’20 had planned on returning to his home in Lebanon over the summer. But following the orders, Qaddura realized this might not be possible. He said that with the heightened risk of traveling to the Middle East on a nonimmigrant visa, he will likely have to stay in the United States.

“I’m okay with not going back to my home country,” he expressed. “I’ll get used to it … even if it comes to not going back in the next three years.”

With the question of whether he will be able to go home at the end of the semester looming over him, Qaddura has had to apply to summer internships and jobs late in the application season.

“I’m now stressed because I have all sorts of applications over my head,” he expressed.

The anti-immigration orders, according to the New York Times, affect people who are currently in the U.S. on temporary visas and would normally be able to travel back home and re-enter the country. The order entails a 90-day suspension of immigrant and nonimmigrant admission from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen into the U.S. Although a federal judge in Seattle ruled to suspend the orders on Jan. 31, President Trump has since appealed the decision, according to reports by CNN. This means an uncertain future for students like Qaddura.

“We’re concerned about whether the ban is going to be extended after three months, or if it’s going to be extended into more countries,” Qaddura said.

In an official statement emailed to staff and students on Jan. 30, President Valerie Smith affirmed the college’s commitment to ensuring the safety of all members of the community in times of increased threat. She outlined a series of measures the college has taken, led by the Office of International Student Services, to reach out to affected students and faculty.

International students services director Jennifer Marks-Gold summarized these measures over email. According to Marks-Gold, OISS has investigated student lists to determine if any students are in the banned countries. At this time, there are no incoming or enrolled students either residing or studying abroad in the seven countries.

“OISS has and will continue to advise and support students about staying safe,” Marks-Gold stated.

She also affirmed that OISS will work to provide housing for students who cannot go home over breaks and during the summer as one initiative to support students affected by the ban.

“While [these students] are barred from travel, we encourage them to keep in contact with their family and friends back home and if we can help them do that in anyway, our office will provide these services,” Marks-Gold continued.

Qaddura hopes that the administration will do more to assist the unique situations of international students in the coming months.

“From what I’ve heard, I’m just being treated like any other student trying to get housing this summer,” he said.

Marks-Gold reasserted the college’s pledge to be a sanctuary for all members of the community.

She affirmed that the college will not disclose the immigration status of students and faculty members.

“We do not have to release information unless a warrant/subpoena is issued. We will continue to protect our students at all times,” Marks-Gold stated.

Colleges and universities across the country have come out with similar statements, reassuring campus members that they will refuse to disclose such information. The University of Michigan, for example, made headlines on Jan. 28 when it announced its intention to maintain the privacy of this information.

On the evening of Thursday, Feb. 2, students and faculty packed into the Intercultural Center for a panel discussion for Swatties affected by the anti-immigration orders. The panel was one initiative of the college to support members of the community affected by the orders.

The panel, composed of Muslim student advisor Umar Abdul Rahman, associate professor of sociology Lee Smithey, and Philadelphia area immigration attorney John Vandenberg, addressed a number of issues on a spectrum from technical to personal, covering topics such as H-1B sponsorship and the impact of the orders on the Muslim community.

Vandenberg urged international students to contact OISS with concerns, and remarked on the climate of unease surrounding their situations.

“I can’t tell you not to be anxious … If I were in the shoes of international students, I’d think, ‘why now?’,” he said.

At the discussion, Vandenberg briefed attendees on the ban and the subsequent judicial decision to block it. He also overviewed the process of obtaining an H-1B visa for non-immigrant students hoping to work in the United States. He explained that immigration law changes faster than any other area of law, so he predicts that there will likely be changes to the H-1B program during the Trump administration. He urged international students to speak with Marks-Gold to ensure that they apply for employment authorization and visas on time.

“It’s kind of a brave new world we’re living in now,” Vandenberg said, acknowledging the partisan overtones of the ban, which have stemmed from a major shift in the political agenda under a new administration.

Smithey expressed a similar view.

“We really don’t know where we’re at in this moment on the technical side of things and on political, racial, and ethnic fronts,” he remarked.

Even so, Smithey urged students to protest. He cited a statistic from Dr. Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Maria J. Stephan’s book, “Why Civil Resistance” Works that claims only three and a half percent of a population engaged in nonviolent civil resistance is required to overthrow a regime, a figure equivalent to 11 million Americans. In his opinion, one important route to opposing the executive orders is through large-scale peaceful protest.

“This is a mobilization and organization problem,” Smithey said, arguing that an authoritarian administration can be reined in through strategic nonviolent resistance.

Rahman elaborated on the new administration’s treatment of Muslims and immigrants.

“What’s really troublesome is the rhetoric,” he observed, referring to President Trump’s comments about Islam.

Rahman spoke on the parallels between Muslim oppression and other forms of oppression throughout American history, encouraging attendees to read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“There can be some discriminatory policies…equal protection doesn’t apply to immigrants,” Rahman noted, arguing that the nature of immigration policy in the U.S. has allowed for implicit discrimination against Muslims in this most recent policy.

Vandenberg echoed this sentiment.

“I do feel comfortable calling it a Muslim ban,” he said with regards to the executive order.

Qaddura believes the ban is a symptom of a broader misconception of Islam.

“These terrorists groups are not representing the true essence of the Islamic religion,” he stated, noting the widespread misunderstanding of the Islamic practice of jihad. “The Islamic religion tries to spread peace and love.”

Qaddura has found a space through the Muslim Students Association to gather with others in this tumultuous time.

“MSA is like a home for Muslim students on campus … we speak with each other, calm each other emotionally,” he said.

Smithey noted the psychological function of large protests and gatherings for building confidence and mitigating anxiety through collective action.

“Figuring out ways to manage our fear is going to be immensely important,” he stressed.

For many, the difficulty of returning home will come at too great a risk. In an official statement, Smith advised community members from the seven designated countries to suspend plans for international travel. Marks-Gold advised students from these countries who are traveling within the U.S. to bring all identification papers with them. Vandenberg recommended that international students and students enrolled under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program speak to an experienced immigration attorney before traveling abroad. He also urged caution to DACA students with plans to study abroad due to the risk of Advance Parole being suspended while they are spending a semester in a study abroad program. Advance Parole permits those without a valid immigrant visa to re-enter the country after travelling abroad.

“DACA students know that any day it could be over. These students are highly motivated, and they know the risk,” Vandenberg said of the work ethic of DACA students amidst an uncertain future for the program.

Rahman described reading an email from a local mosque that warned any Muslim person who is not a U.S. citizen, including those who are legal permanent residents, against traveling under the current orders. This applies to Muslim non-citizens who are not from the seven banned countries as well.

“It’s really something unprecedented,” he expressed.

Smithey share a similar outlook.

“We’re two weeks in, and it’s going to be a long road,” he said.

Smith concluded her email statement with an affirmation of the values of social justice and diversity core to Swarthmore.

“As a nation and as a campus community, we are in unchartered waters with the new administration,” Smith wrote. “The stakes have never been higher, and our commitment to these values has never been more resolute.”

The future remains uncertain for international and Muslim students and for faculty affected by the ban. Yet the campus community is undivided in its commitment to upholding social justice and protecting each member of the community as the country heads into turbulent waters.

Intercultural Center expansion promotes inclusivity

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

With the announcement of the James C. Hormel ’55 and Michael P. Nguyen ’08 Intercultural Center at Sproul Hall, the college has reaffirmed its commitment to fostering discourses on inclusivity, intersectionality, and the celebration of difference on campus. The manifestation of these values in a common physical space is particularly important as we move forward as a community, and it becomes increasingly clear that such a space is necessary. We at the Phoenix applaud the college, President Valerie Smith, and Hormel and Nguyen for making this project possible.

It is one thing to make statements and say that a college is committed to diversity and inclusion efforts. It is laudable; it changes the campus norm, it sparks discussion, and it gets people talking. However, creating a more clearly visible and centrally located space on campus does something completely different. It becomes impossible not to think of the work being done at the IC on a walk to class or to a meeting. The physical space is directly representative of the college’s commitment to this work and to these issues. For taking that step, we at the Phoenix are thankful.

However, the Phoenix also hopes that with this new expansion and renovation, a reframing and rearticulation of the IC’s mission will take place. We hope that the college makes it known that the IC is meant for all students, regardless of a student’s specific affiliation with a group or center. There are students at Swarthmore who may never participate in an IC-sponsored event or enter into the space, and we think this is an unfortunate underutilization. We at the Phoenix strongly believe that engaging with experiences, stories, and perspectives that are different from one’s own are an integral and necessary part of a Swarthmore education. We encourage the IC to keep these facts in mind as they continue their work in anticipation of the remodeling and expansion, and to position themselves to be perceived as an integral part of every student’s educational experience in future generations.

We are excited for the work that is just beginning, and for the successes and triumphs that are on the horizon.

$4.3 million gift joins IC groups under one roof

in News by

In line with the college’s recent work to boost the visibility and prevalence of diversity and inclusion work on campus, a gift from two alumni will be used to renovate and expand the Intercultural Center in the near future. Announced by President Valerie Smith at an event in Parrish Hall, the new center will house all of the currently operating parts of the IC, in addition to Interfaith Center, Religious and Spiritual Life Office, and the Office of International Student Services.

Walking to the podium to address hundreds of students, staff, and faculty overflowing from the East Parlor out into the main corridors and up the staircase to Admissions Commons in Parrish Hall, Smith’s excitement at the impending announcement was visible.

“… If we are to be fully true to our mission, we must recognize how important it is to provide students with opportunities to learn, to develop, and to grow in ways that no classroom experience, no matter how excellent, can provide,” Smith began. She noted that while Swarthmore students may be scholars first, they also pursue a range of other passions, like arts and activism, in addition to their studies, and that students should be given ample opportunities to pursue those passions. Smith noted that the college has, in recent years, thought about the importance of space and considered the best use of the spaces available on campus. She also mentioned the visioning process that began over the summer with students, faculty and staff as a major contribution to that thought process.

“By and large, up until now, students have pursued their various special interests in their own spaces — in silos, if you will,” Smith explained. She cited the dozen-plus active religious and spiritual life groups that serve over a quarter of the students on campus as one such example of the “silos”. Smith lamented the physical isolation of the groups’ meeting spaces in Bond Hall and shared that students have requested a central gathering place where they can experience a common sense of community.

As the room erupted into applause, Smith announced a major gift of $4.3 million from Manager James C. Hormel ’55 and his partner Michael P. Nguyen ’08, designated to expand and renovate the current Intercultural Center into the James C. Hormel ’55 and Michael P. Nguyen ’08 Intercultural Center at Sproul Hall. As the name suggests, the new IC will include Sproul Hall, which currently serves as the Alumni House.

The gift from Hormel and Nguyen, as explained by Smith, was borne out of a desire to create a space where students might be able to collaborate across their differences.

Vice President of Advancement Karl Clauss read a statement from Hormel and Nguyen at the announcement. In it, Nguyen expressed his gratitude for Swarthmore, for both being the place where he met Hormel, and for the education he received there.

“Our blood cells radiate Garnet Red… [and] James and I both feel that we truly owe a great many of our blessings’ to Swarthmore. It is an immense honor, privilege, and priority of vital importance to give towards reaffirming and ensuring Swarthmore’s bright future, and James and I cannot imagine a sounder, more enriching investment,” Klauss read.

The expanded IC will include all of the current staff and student spaces and groups currently operating as affiliates, such as DESHI, the group for South Asian students; the Swarthmore Queer Union; and ENLACE, the group for Latinx students. However, the renovation and expansion will also include spaces for the Interfaith Center, the Religious and Spiritual Life Office, and the Office of International Student Services, which are not currently housed in the IC.

Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center Jason Rivera said at the announcement that this gift will allow the IC to continue its work of advancing an inclusive community through affirming differences, interconnectedness, and intersectionalities.

“This generous gift is a big win for the community… and I’m very excited for the possibilities for our collective future,” Rivera said.

Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center Mo Lotif said that Hormel and Nguyen’s gift is reflective of the intergenerational efforts from students, staff, and faculty alike who have contributed their labor of love to evolve the center, and marks an exciting new phase in the continuum of the IC’s evolution.

“Cultivating an inclusive community within a pluralistic context calls for an intersectional approach, and the intersectional efforts we are currently engaged in will only be bolstered by the expansion of the center. We are elated about the possibilities that lie before us,” Lotif said.

At the announcement, Director of International Student Services Jennifer Marks-Gold expressed that the inclusion of her office in the IC will allow for strong partnerships that are necessary for inclusivity and engagement of all students, faculty, and staff.

“Integrating the centers will create a natural gathering place and encourage interactions on a regular basis for all students. [International students coordinator] Reshma [Ajayan] and I look forward to working more closely with the IC and Interfaith Center in the future. Plus, it’s going to be so much fun! Thank you, thank you, thank you to our donors for allowing us to make this dream come true,” Marks-Gold said.

Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Joyce Tompkins noted that the the relocation of the Interfaith Center to the Intercultural Center at Sproul will provide an opportunity for her and her staff to deepen their work of interfaith engagement and religious literacy across the whole campus.

“The sharing of physical space… embodies the intersectionality of all the identities we strive to support here in our community, and it will foster greater collaboration and understanding,” Tompkins said.

Abha Lal ’18, an international student from Nepal and the leader of the campus Hindu Club, was ecstatic that both the International Student Office and Interfaith Center are receiving a proper space that serves the needs of students.

“Both offices as they stand now are limited by their space, and expansion is a great thing. Especially with regards to Interfaith [work] though, I’m curious to see how the actual plan turns out, because having designated places exclusively for worship that aren’t used for other things is something that I think is important,” she said.

Smith articulated that plans are not fully formed for the new Intercultural Center, but described the remodeled and renovated space as one that included dynamic shared areas designed to promote creative collaboration. She also stated the new IC would be a place where events, activities, informal gatherings, and spontaneous casual conversation could all take place. Smith did make it clear that the observatory on the top of Sproul would be preserved in the remodeling and expansion plans, and that the renovation and expansion would be ADA-compliant.

After the announcement, Smith expressed that the work on the space was just beginning. She said that Dean of Students Liz Braun would form a committee to begin the planning process for the remodeling and renovating, but the timeline for the project has yet to be released.

Colleges launches Summer Scholars program

in Around Campus/News by

Last week, the planning committee for the new Summer Scholars program held two meetings, one in the Intercultural Center and the other in the Black Cultural Center, to announce the details of the program. The planning committee has obtained funding from the college for a three-year pilot program, and the inaugural session will take place this coming summer. Biology Chair Professor Amy Vollmer, English Professor Jill Gladstone, Program Director Professor Allison Dorsey, Deans Liz Derickson and Karen Henry, and others participated in the meetings.

The Summer Scholars program will be an academically intensive five-week preparation for 16 incoming students from underprivileged backgrounds who are interested in pursuing science, engineering, and mathematics degrees. Representatives from the planning committee emphasized that the program will focus on academics but also aims to prepare students for other aspects of life at Swarthmore.

The academic content will comprise three sections — one writing, one science lab, and one mathematics. The writing course will be headed by Professor Gladstone, the lab course by Professor Vollmer, and the mathematics course by Professor Cheryl Grood. Student mentors hired for the summer program will provide a supporting role across these courses.

In an interview with the Phoenix, Vollmer emphasized that these courses would not simply be condensed versions of existing college courses, but an original skills-based program designed to help students “learn concepts and build relationships within the academic community.”

According to the accounts of the planning committee members in last week’s meetings, the program’s roots trace back to 2010, when an IC-BCC coalition submitted a report advocating the creation of a summer bridge program to the Dean’s office. The report looked at the history of summer bridge programs at Swarthmore and other institutions, and collected survey data on students’ feelings regarding a potential program.

During the spring of 2013, the idea of a bridge program was revived by student activists who raised a wider set of concerns over racial justice on campus.

“Out of [the student actions] came a list of demands that kind of got shambled together,” said Laura Laderman ‘15, who was an activist at the time. “One of them was the creation of a summer bridge program referring back to this [2010] report that many of the people who were seniors at that point had worked on, and had seen go to the administration and be disappeared.”

In the wake of spring 2013, the push for a summer program was picked up by faculty members, organized by Dorsey, who held discussions that summer regarding what a faculty-driven program would look like.

These faculty members researched bridge programs at peer institutions, especially those at Williams College and Haverford College. Vollmer noted that both programs are run by faculty members and are academically rigorous. “The first piece of advice they told us was, have a faculty member in charge of it. A faculty member in charge of it means the focus is going to be academic.” The planning committee also found that successful summer bridge programs emphasized skill acquisition, faculty guidance, and group-based study habits.

Over email, Dorsey wrote “The type of support we are most concerned with is academic support which will help students achieve their academic goals … helping students master new concepts, develop critical, analytical, and problem solving skills, and also learn how to study and work in groups as we are focused on building a successful cohort each summer.”

According to Vollmer, a faculty run program will provide not only academic rigor but also continuity. Faculty members, Vollmer pointed out, often follow a relatively linear career path and as a result spend a longer time at the college than most members of the administration. “We have a sense of history, in terms of what has and has not worked. And we have a sense of supporting students as part of the academic mission.”

But neither Vollmer nor Dorsey see the academic, faculty-driven emphasis of their program as limiting towards other important aspects of campus life.

“The faculty are not myopic about [academics]” said Vollmer “I envision creating assignments and facilitating group interactions that naturally build community … There’s something about going through five weeks of intensive work that allows you to have a common language and experience that is really palpable”.

Vollmer also made the point that students often use faculty they are comfortable with to connect to other forms of support on campus and that those are the types of student-faculty relationships that can form at the Summer Scholars program.

“I think it is the relationship that I have already had in the classroom that provides the comfort for the student to come in my office, and break down,” said Vollmer “I took them to the people who have the professional training, and those are the amazing people in the Dean’s office and the CAPS people.

Dorsey wrote, “It would be an error to presume that the focus on academic enrichment in the Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program is somehow in opposition to wanting the best for our students on all fronts.”

In reference to the future of the program, Amy Vollmer emphasized the importance of consistent funding for the program to thrive beyond the three-year pilot period. The planning committee believes that having a singular endowment rather than year-to-year funding efforts reduces the uncertainties that could undermine the program and faculty efforts supporting it.

Any future expansion of the program in terms of students enrolled or disciplinary focus, Vollmer argued, will therefore depend in part on the success of the pilot program, and on communicating that success to potential donors. “When you donate money, you want to get a return on your money. You want to have some assurance that you supported the right cause,” said Vollmer. At Friday’s meeting she said, “we need to start out small, and start out great.”

Overall, the representatives of the planning committee emphasized the opportunity for the Summer Scholars program to provide students with the tools they need to fully integrate into the college community. “We want to try to ensure that people don’t feel like they’re marginalized or there’s some sort of mistake as to why they’re at Swarthmore. The admissions office is amazing. They admit fantastic people. Everyone has gotten into Swarthmore legitimately, and deserves to have an incredible experience here,” said Vollmer “We know that some people don’t, and we’re trying to minimize that.”

At the Friday meeting, Dorsey put it simply — the goal is to make sure students feel that they are full members of the community.

Smaw returns to campus as interim director of the intercultural center

in Around Campus/News/Uncategorized by

After only a year away from Swarthmore, Daryll Smaw has returned to the college to take the position of interim director of the Intercultural Center (IC).  Smaw, who worked at Swarthmore as the associate dean for multicultural affairs from 2002 to 2011, left the college to  retire.  However, the sudden departure of Alina Wong, the dean of the sophomore class and director of the IC that created the opening for an interim director of the IC, peaked Smaw’s interest.  After a search lead by Dean of Students Liz Braun and Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development Liliana Rodriguez, he was rehired to take on the new position.

Smaw, who received an Ed.D. from Harvard University and an M.Th. from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, held the position of associate dean for program development in the graduate school of education and the assistant dean for student life in the divinity school at Harvard.  Smaw explains, “I’m charged with looking at how you guide the students and the whole IC enterprise during this time of change and transition.”

Faculty and administration are satisfied with his return to Swarthmore for this year.  “…[Smaw] renegotiated the power of the term diversity, led pedagogy and diversity workshops for dozens of faculty with Professor [of sociology] Sarah Willie-LeBreton, and mentored scores of students, faculty and staff,”  said Braun in her email announcing Smaw’s appointment.

Smaw echoes this excitement.

“I enjoyed my time at Swarthmore,” he said. “I love Swarthmore students, bright and intelligent, coming after you and challenging you, and that’s good.”

It is this challenge that Smaw enjoys tackling here at Swarthmore.  In his previous role, Smaw said he worked on building an inclusive community.

“What that meant,” he said, “was working with broad constituents across the entire campus: faculty, staff and students.  Because when you’re thinking about an inclusive community, it includes everyone.”

Smaw worked in conjunction with LeBreton to introduce programs such as the diversity workshops all first year students participate in during orientation.

“I am interested in working with students of the IC as well as the broader Swarthmore community to determine what are the next steps as we look forward, and sometimes it’s a painful process, but it also can be a very valuable process for the entire community,” Smaw said. He recognizes that there is still much work to be done, but he feels confident that his role as interim director will allow him to continue where he left off last year.

For now, Smaw is going to work to continue to grow and strengthen the IC.  “For me,” Smaw said, “it is listening to the students, being a support person, an advocate,…being the person who can stand with them in difficult times and represent their interests … I’m interested in helping students to think strategically about change and moving forward.”

At the same time, Smaw’s hopes to lay the groundwork for the new director and serve as an aid in this transition.  Before he leaves in June, Smaw said he hopes the school has an opportunity to think about what they “would like the IC and the broader Swarthmore community to be doing as we bring on board the new director and dean.”

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