College releases diversity report

Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun released a seven-page draft report outlining the findings and recommendations of the Diversity and Inclusion Implementation Committee on September 5,2013. The committee, which met regularly over the course of the last academic year, lists a number of initiatives for the formation of a “thoroughly diverse, engaged, and inclusive” community at Swarthmore. Over the course of the fall 2013 semester, community members will be able to provide feedback to the committee on these initiatives, which range from the reworking of faculty and staff hiring practices to possible changes in curricula.

The Diversity and Inclusion Implementation Committee, which consisted of administrators, faculty, and student representatives, formed as a direct result of the college’s Strategic Plan, a set of six recommendations for the college’s future, released during the 2011-12 academic year. The second of these recommendations calls for Swarthmore to “serve as a model for purposeful communities in the 21st century.” In achieving this goal, the plan expects the college to “develop a comprehensive diversity, inclusivity, and engagement plan that will transform the College into a model workplace and residential learning community.”

Working towards this end, the committee began meeting during the 2012 fall semester and continued to gather every two weeks until the end of the 2012-13 academic year. Committee member Chanelle Simmons ’14 explained that the group’s discussions were primarily focused on methods of bringing greater diversity within the faculty and administration. “[We talked about] contributing to diversity within [the college] through hiring practices. The committee [outlined] some information about job statistics and looked at how [the college] hires people on campus,” Simmons said.

Provost Tom Stephenson, who provided committee members with insight into the recruitment practices of the Provost Office, explained that the first step towards improving recruitment methods is to establish a benchmark for comparison. This benchmark has yet to be established but in light of the committee’s findings, the Provost Office will begin compiling data on applicants this year. Stephenson said, “We don’t really know how good of a job we’re doing at recruiting a diverse applicant pool, or at least, [a pool that is] reflective of who is coming out of graduate school in physics or anthropology or educational studies — so that’s the first step. What we’re going to be doing for this year is all of our searches are going to be carried out online and we’re going collect equal opportunity data.”

Though students welcome the college’s efforts to diversify its faculty and staff, many remain cautious in their optimism. Uriel Medina ’16 cites the college’s history of ignoring student calls for a more diverse faculty as the primary source of his skepticism. “Looking into the college’s past – looking back to the 1970s and 1960s when students — particularly black students — were pushing for black faculty and staff, to know that this is still something that we’re here asking for, that’s a little bit frustrating,” said Medina.

In spite of this, Medina remains hopeful that lasting change will result from the committee’s findings. He said, “It’s good to see that now it’s in words, that they recognize that that’s something that needs to be changed and implemented.”

Medina cautions that it will take more than just words to fully convince the student body. He said, “The only real measure of the administration’s commitment to this promise is to literally see more diverse faculty and staff — and not diverse only in terms of race, but in terms of everything from ideology to gender to race to what they’ll be teaching — hiring more professors to support the Latino studies program, things like that.”

The committee continued to meet in the midst of the furor of the spring 2013 semester, as members of the student body repeatedly raised questions about the community’s approach to diversity. These questions, though brought up during committee meetings, were not thoroughly addressed, according to Simmons. She said, “It was definitely brought up, [the student representatives] talked about it a little, but there was silence from most of the [members of the administration].”

However, the contents of the draft report reveal that members took last semester’s complaints into account to some degree. Echoing student demands for a more inclusive curriculum, the report calls for the formation of a new committee this fall to look into “a range of curricular initiatives,” including the possible introduction of a number of required courses on “living in an intentional community,” which, like the physical education requirement, would not be for academic credit. Other possibilities to be discussed are the development of for-credit courses such as Intergroup Dialogue.

Meiri Anto ’16 is skeptical of the effectiveness and need for a potential course requirement in diversity. “I think people tend to learn about those things through dialogue with their friends, not necessarily in a classroom setting,” she said.

As a prospective natural science major, Anto also voiced practical concern over any proposed further requirements, citing the lack of flexibility of the already heavy course load for those majoring in mathematics or the sciences. “It would make it really hard for engineers [in particular],” she said. Anto’s concerns reflect those of many other students who point to Swarthmore’s rigorous and demanding course load as their primary reason for disapproval. Medina agrees that adding more required courses is not the best solution. “I think that making it a very big block of time and trying to take that from students isn’t the right direction. Students are going to look at this requirement just like they look at the fitness requirement and say that it’s [pointless], it’s taking time away from what I really want to be doing,” he said. More worryingly for Medina, any such requirement could undermine efforts to fully integrate an awareness and understanding of diversity into the community’s consciousness. “It’s treating diversity as something that is additive and not part of our core,” he said.

Other students, such as Aarthi Reddy ’14, see a potential “diversity” requirement as a valuable change to the college’s curriculum. “I think it’s important — if it means that people will understand issues of diversity better and understand others who come from different backgrounds and who think differently than they do, I think it’s a good idea.”

When asked about the concerns raised by other students regarding scheduling issues, Reddy said, “Even as a pre-med natural sciences major with two minors, I can make room in my schedule for a class concerning diversity.”

A former intern for the Intercultural Center, Reddy believes that such required courses would help to cement lessons learned during orientation week. She said, “A lot of people come to Swat and attend the mandatory diversity workshops and learn a lot of new information – things like preferred gender pronouns, for example. But then those things are never really talked about again in a formal setting or in any mandatory way.”

“People don’t get to experience life here and then experience a setting where they have to reflect on [what they learned in the diversity workshops],” she added.