Departing Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, Darryl Smaw

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Darryl Smaw, the Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, will soon be retiring from Swarthmore, as Dean of Students Liz Braun announced in an email to the community recently.

Since 2002, Dean Smaw has played a vital role in promoting campus conversations and dialogue on diversity, organizing and improving programs such as the Tri-Co program, and engaging with many students, faculty, and staff about how to improve student diversity and inclusion at Swarthmore. Before his official departure on June 15, Dean Smaw sat down with the Gazette to share his fondest memories of Swarthmore, his achievements, and some final words of wisdom.

Daily Gazette: What made you decide to retire from Swarthmore?

Darryl Smaw: I’ve been working in higher education for over 30 years and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of my work at various institutions. When it comes to Swarthmore, it continues to be a wonderful and exciting time, but I have been doing it for a while. I thought, “Is there another chapter for my life?” Following conversation with my partner, I decided that this is a new time to start a new chapter for our lives where we’re growing a little older and hopefully a little wiser.

DG: What would you consider your major projects and achievements at Swat?

DS: I think there are two or three things. The first has been the series of conversations at the start of the each academic year. During orientation, the first year class is invited to participate in a conversation that introduces them to diversity at Swarthmore; over the years, it has been grown to be a very important aspect of entering the Swarthmore community. The focus of these conversations is not “this is diversity and that is the end of it.” It is an introduction to the complex issues of diversity and how this ought to be an important aspect of their education for the next four years.

The next aspect is getting know our students, helping to develop a type of community, and pursing the deeper conversations about diversity and inclusion. I met and talked with a number of students over the years who were not satisfied with the surface issues of being a woman, queer, or colored student on campus. I wanted to engage the community in the complex issues surrounding who they are. It wasn’t just about being a person of color. It was about the entire community…how do we get to know who we are as a full and complete community. I have enjoyed the public and private conversations that have moved this agenda.

The third thing I’m really pleased with began 3 or 4 years ago. I was working with the Associate Provost [at the time], Sarah Willie-Lebreton, and we developed a series of faculty workshops that discussed issues of pedagogy and diversity in the classroom. This was an important issue that the faculty became more and more concerned about.

DG: How have you enjoyed your time at Swat?

DS: I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Swarthmore. It’s been 9 wonderful years, and I say that without hesitation. I love the community. I love the students; I love my colleagues and faculty. The community’s values resonate with mine. It was always easy to get up every day and come to work, because it wasn’t hard work. It was the work I enjoyed and it fed my passion for issues of social justice. When you have a group of students that have a similar focus, it is easy to come in and the starting point is not at the beginning but already halfway through. It’s exciting and I learned a lot from the students. In an educational environment, students have as much to teach as they have to learn.

I leave work that is not finished, but I am confident about the professional staff that remains. Dean Braun is wonderful, and I know of her commitment to issues of diversity and inclusion, and I feel the same way about our new president.

DG: Which of your experiences have really stood out to you?

DS: An example that stands out is the group of students who met with me to discuss how best to address what they believed were issues of homophobia directed at another student. When it was all over, they were able to do so, but what was most important was that these were straight students; they believed it was their responsibility to address this issue and they directed the intervention. It was their responsibility as members of this community and that reminded me, it’s what we do as a community to take care of each other.

Another was working with a group of students who really worked so hard in designing the “Beyond the Box” Conference for student activists across small liberal arts colleges. The work they did taught me so much about the hard work of Swarthmore students and the intellectual depth that they brought to designing these workshops, teaching these workshops, and working with a full range of students from different colleges. More importantly, I was listening to what they said about what they learned in their classes at these workshops. I wanted so much to have faculty hear them, what helped them [the students] and gave them direction and focus.

The first thing that always stands out for me is that this is such a caring community, and when something happens outside of the community, our students are right there to take care of each other and do the homework necessary to say, we can make this better and we can take the responsibility to do so.

DG: Aside from the students, faculty, and community mentioned above, what else will you miss about Swarthmore?

DS: I will miss all of that, and I’m going to miss this beautiful campus and the Arboretum. I’ll miss the joy of Commencement and the beautiful moment that occurs when family members see a son, daughter, niece, or nephew walk across the stage and receive their degree. I’ll miss watching the students I know and have facilitated, members of the fraternities, and leaders in the Intercultural and Black Cultural Center community. I’m going to miss all of that, but I have fond memories that I have built with students, faculty, and staff. I leave with those while I’m retiring to remind me that the work is not yet done. I have that in the back of my mind, some urging of Swarthmore students to continue doing the work to make this place better.

DG: What will you miss the least?

DS: Not enough time to take care of my body. Not because of food, which I love dearly, but the wellness part where I need to do more physical activity, I enjoy my job so much and when it’s demanding, you don’t always have time to get to the gym. In retiring, I’m looking forward to spending more time working on my body and tightening and toning it.

DG: Was there anything that you’re leaving, wishing that you worked on more?

DS: While there’s always more work to be done in helping to build a community that understands how to engage the different issues of diversity and inclusion, I’m leaving the rest of that to my colleagues. We’ve discussed these issues and I’m confident that they will continue moving this forward.

DG: Any words of wisdom that you have for Swatties?

DS: I hope that Swatties will continue to ask the difficult questions about who we are as a community, and how do I learn from you because you are different, but you are also similar. I hope Swatties will continue to see themselves as leaders, not only on the campus, but also once they leave Swat. I hope Swatties will continue to be quirky; I love the Swarthmore quirkiness. And I hope Swatties continue to challenge the status quo. All of these things make up Swarthmore and add to what it’s like to be a Swarthmore student.

DG: Just to double check, you will not be leaving for Abu Dhabi?

DS: [Laughs] No, I will not be heading to Abu Dhabi. I will be with my partner. We’ll be moving to Portland, Oregon and it’s there where we will explore art, music, research and a chance to work on the toning of body.