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.