Diversity report promises changes in and outside of the classroom

The Diversity and Inclusion report, drafted to develop a “diversity, inclusivity, and engagement project that will transform the College into a model workplace and residential learning community in an increasingly complex global world” under the college’s Strategic Plan, has raised questions about what diversity and inclusivity will look like on this campus.

The report is a preliminary proposal, and was intentionally introduced to the community as such.

“We wanted the community as a whole to really chime in on it, discuss it broadly,” said Dean of Students Liz Braun.

As the semester goes on, Provost Tom Stephenson, in fact, will help facilitate discussions on the suggestions outlined. The administration will also be asking department heads to hold discussions with their colleagues to see how each field might engage with the efforts outlined in the report. Braun and Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Development, Lili Rodriguez, hope to have a “road show” to converse with different student organizations, including StuCo, and engage with students on an individual basis.

“Every e-mail [we receive] is important. If you get multiple e-mails on the same topic, there’s amplification there,” said Braun. “But I think even one e-mail that helps us think differently or critically is important.”

Rodriguez thinks that apart from expanding efforts to hire a more diverse staff and adding classes focused on diversity, the Swarthmore community needs to capitalize on the diversity that the college has worked to establish thus far. Unlike other colleges, she argues, Swarthmore has had the financial resources to diversify, and the challenge is now making that diversity a central, working part of the community. Part of the effort in making “diversity work” lies in assessing the climate at the college, an endeavor that will begin this coming spring.

“Climate assessments are going to help us get to the nitty gritty of where the critical tensions are on campus,” said Rodriguez. “It’s no longer about the community singing kumbaya at the top of the mountain, it’s about figuring out what’s working and what’s not… We need an assessment that focuses on the individual’s relationship to the community.”

Swarthmore will need to primarily address what’s happening within academics in order to establish the sense of belonging that Rodriguez claims is a “key point” in forming an inclusive community. The report suggests creating classes that fulfill a “diversity” requirement, like some classes fulfill a writing requirement. But focusing on existing dynamics in the classroom and curricula may prove to be just as important.

“We need to think pretty hard about [what happens in the classroom],” said Provost Tom Stephenson. “[We need to make sure that] the voice at the front of the classroom is bringing the voices that represent the spectrum of perspectives in American and international academia.”

Stephenson also believes that the the structures of curricula across departments on campus need to be examined.

According to the Provost, it might be helpful for the faculty to come together to learn the best teaching practices from each other, and what kinds of amendments to the curricula might be necessary.

“The idea that we should have some type of fund specifically focused on curricular innovation [has been considered],” said Braun. “There’s a small working group [of faculty] that’s thinking about different options. They want to be a part of it. They want to help their students. They’re dedicated to Swarthmore.”

Rodriguez insists that Swarthmore has traditionally been in a position to be a leader in changing societal dynamics.

“What compelled me to take this position was that unlike at most institutions, Swarthmore puts the dean of diversity in the center of the structure. Most other colleges keep these positions at the periphery of campus,” she said. “Swarthmore said ‘We’re committed to it, we’re going to put it at the center, we need to be a leader in this area.’ Maybe we’re struggling, we’re having these growing pains, but I do think the leadership right now is saying let’s more than survive this… It’s taking this critical moment, and rather than being reactive, it’s being proactive.”

Braun insists that students are also to thank for this proactiveness. They raised many of the issues the diversity report addresses.

“We’re grateful to a host of students that have brought vision and a host of clarity to what are complex issues,” she said.

Still, she encourages every student to read the report, and to continue talking about it amongst friends and within student groups; to keep coming up with suggestions.

“Part of inclusion is not having any of these issues result in an ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ [situation]” said Stephenson. “I think having faculty talk with students and students talk with staff, having a commonality of purpose around these issues would be helpful.”

The Phoenix