Dean Liliana Rodriguez: A Step toward Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development

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.

Last spring, students protested the desecration of the Intercultural Center, the Administration’s neglect of survivors of sexual assault, and support for students from underprivileged backgrounds, among other issues. With high tensions in the campus climate, several talks and meetings were held in order to discuss the possibilities of next steps.

With Swarthmore assuming some of the responsibility, the College was ready to provide the student body with more support. In order to do so, an Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development was hired.

That dean is Liliana Rodriguez, who has served as the director of the Davis Cultural Center at Williams College, as well as the Director of Diversity Recruitment at Williams. She says in those positions she accumulated experience negotiating cultural relations and tensions.

As an undergraduate student at Williams College, Rodriguez studied Psychology. She went on to receive an M.A. and later a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her specialties in the field include identity development, organizational culture and climate, and cultural psychology.

As a dean, Rodriguez feels there is a need to change the way that the Administration approaches residential life, Greek life, and student activities. She is insistent that diversity cannot just be a side project and that the community needs to think about “infusing structures that already exist with diversity, instead of doing it as an extra-curricular.”

Rodriguez said that the institution needs to “constantly think about holding itself accountable,” and that factors such as faculty diversity, curriculum diversity, experiential learning, and intergroup dialogue will help the institution address its diversity, inclusion, and community issues.

When asked how she would mediate tension between the College and the student body, Rodriguez pointed out that managing this relationship is part of her responsibility as a dean. “The nice thing about my job is that my actual job description is about holding the institution accountable,” Rodriguez said.

“Keep in mind that culture change is hard,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been diversifying, like seriously, since the 1980’s, and we still have major intergroup tensions.”

Rodriguez explained that discrimination is still rampant and affects large numbers of people. She said she believed the kinds of cultural changes that are needed will not be brought by laws and that the attitudes of communities have to change. Rodriguez is here to help make that change possible.

Rodriguez believes that it is important to get intergroup dialogue going because people change by understanding each other’s personal stories. She believes that there is a need to dissect social identities in a semester course. Preferably, each course would be broken down into very small classes. The classes would involve required readings, but they would be centered on people’s individual experiences. Focusing on individual stories will help everyone make sense of racial, ethnic, class, and power relations in their lives.

However, not everyone will be on board with sitting in on a class that forces them to admit their privilege and power. Rodriguez addresses this concern by stating that the institution must articulate the purpose of this type of program. “The purpose of this isn’t only to make students of color or low-income students or LGBTQ students feel better. It is actually about learning the skill sets needed to work in this world, to lead in this world, which is what we expect from Swatties,” Rodriguez said.

One of the challenges Rodriguez foresees with her job is the need to take immediate action. “Part of me wishes I was here last semester because I think it was a really critical moment, and I hate having to not understanding the emotions and frustrations that were there firsthand,” Rodriguez said.

She said she hopes the student body will have patience so that she can have time to identify the real problems facing our community at present. Rodriguez plans to meet as many members of the community as she can by reaching out, and she asks that others reach out in return.

When asked about how the internal problems the College is facing can be addressed differently, Rodriguez explained that many colleges are having trouble with issues of diversity and community. She maintains that colleges in general suffer from a “lack of curricular commitment to diverse perspectives,” perspectives that she said she believes should be infused into every department. She pointed out, however, that some colleges are beginning to commit financially.

Rodriguez is also looking forward to “presenting a new residential life plan and presenting the idea for a new Student Activities Office, and bringing affinity groups together, among other things.” She states that Swarthmore has many specific student groups but notices that those groups do not necessarily interact with each other.

“There’s no coalition of marginalized peoples and groups working on things together at the systemic level,” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez hopes to support the student body in creating a stronger community through dialogue, through connecting student groups, and by encouraging the community to make an effort to be better about holding themselves accountable.

Rodriguez recognizes another challenge of her job is figuring out which issues to prioritize. She suggests that the College can begin by providing facilitation skills and dialogue programs and continuing to recruit a diverse array of faculty, staff, and students.

Photo courtesy of Swarthmore College


  1. Nice to see that we have a new Dean for Diversity that doesn’t recognize the value of freedom of expression and favors mandatory “re-education” for those that transgress her arbitrary standards.

    • What? Don’t quote her as saying she favors “re-education” (whatever that is supposed to mean) because that’s false attribution, and not in the article. What indication is there that she is setting “arbitrary standards?” Could you please clarify what you mean by “freedom of expression?” I don’t know what you are referring to, but I suspect you are arguing that somehow combating hate speech is limiting people’s freedom of expression?

      • In an interview with The Huffington Post on Wednesday, Liliana Rodriguez, Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development, described the Dean’s Office’s response. “We are working with the fraternity on a multifaceted remedy that will require training and other measures be successfully completed before the fraternity can resume its recruitment efforts or host social events to ensure that our values are upheld, and that such a situation will not recur,” she is reported as having said.

        Peter, sometimes it’s a good idea to read the other article you comment on. This is re-education. Also, and I know this is radical, quotation marks can indicate a specified term, rather than an attribution.

        Arbitrary standards emerge when one group is punished for conduct they could not have reasonably envisioned violated any rule. (Setting good taste and morality aside). They are further complicated when other groups engage in similar behavior, I.e. the objectification of women, without consequence. If you the music at damn near every party at Swat doesn’t qualify, you’re a fool.

        This is another radical concept for an academic institution but the best way to combat bad speech is by good speech, not suppression. This has been the attitude of the U.S. Supreme Court and one that is even more crucial in a place that claims to be “diverse” and to value such. So, Phi Psi should be condemned by admin, and everyone really, but when admin transcends condemnation to punishment, especially when unequally meted out, they have committed an even greater offense, given their position of power.

        • Thank you for your being condescending, it makes me comfortable as it is my favorite rhetorical technique. I have been following this affair with the bids closely, as I actually live at Swarthmore and have been involved in the protest; thus I in fact have read the statement by the dean’s office. Quotation marks used as you used them are in fact scare quotes; a more honest way to talk about Dean Rogriguez would be to quote her as you did in your response to me, rather than claiming she “favors ‘re-education'”, which is a lie.
          Phi Psi’s punishment is not arbitrary; rather, the college is legally required to deal with the misogynistic bid situation (see Title IX). I happen to hate the music at the parties as do many other feminists I’ve talked with; the fact that we have not made the college address every problem on campus at once does not make these bids okay.
          I’m still awaiting your response to any of my questions.

          • You’re quite welcome but don’t worry, you definitely deserve it. I’ve been following the affair quite closely as well. Your assurance that you’ve been involved in the protest definitely makes me feel like you have a clear and unbiased handle on things.

            She’s requiring Phi Psi to undergo special training and make a presentation on how they’ve changed. That’s the definition of reeducation.
            http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/reeducation :
            “2: training to develop new behaviors (as attitudes or habits) to replace others that are considered undesirable”.
            -You, sir, have been dictionaried.

            I give you kudos for pointing out TItle IX. However, and this is important, typing the words “Title IX” doesn’t mean a behavior violates it. In fact, this conduct, under any reasonable standard, does not meet any legal definition of harassment or assualt. Even more importantly, Title IX requires an ajudication process, which was not present here. Finally, 1st Amendment. (See? I can bring up laws too!) The difference being that I can make a legitimate case for freedom of speech, under the college’s own guidelines, while you cannot make one for harassment.

            Actually, demanding that one thing be punished, while ignoring the same behavior in others, is the definition of arbitrary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/arbitrary
            -Dictionaried, once again.

            I answered all of your questions. (I just didn’t give you the answers you wanted).

          • Ah, you have responded.

            I will reiterate: because you consider the college’s attempt to address rape culture in Phi Psi reeducation, does not entitle you do quote Dean Rodriquez as having said this.

            For your legal argument, you are now asserting that the college was required to hold a CJC hearing, is that correct? Would you quote me any part of Title IX that would require a CJC hearing here? [legitimate question]

            Furthermore, this is a red herring for my argument that Title IX requires admin to respond. Here is the definition of sexual harassment, via the National Women’s Law Center:

            Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It comes in many forms, and can include sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other conduct—both verbal and non-verbal—of a sexual nature. Sexual touching, sexual comments, jokes, gestures, graffiti, drawings, pictures, and writing can all be examples of sexual harassment.

            (emphasis added)
            To argue that this flyer is not sexual harassment, you would need to prove (at a minimum) that every recipient of this bid consented to receiving pornographic content.

            I am amused to see you using the First Amendment as a justification for protecting Phi Psi from bearing the consequences of its actions. Assuming you are knowledgeable about law, was this a mistake or an intentional misrepresentation of the First amendment [rhetorical question; I know the answer]. The First Amendment:

            Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

            As you can see, this is about the federal government’s ability to make laws. It does not apply, even a little bit, to a private institution like Swarthmore.

            I’m assuming you are next going to say that you are studying law, based on your love of appealing to the First Amendment and the fact that few people would say “adjudication” otherwise. In this case, I am disappointed that you are being dishonest about one of the most basic issues in the public’s conception of the Constitution.

          • Peter,
            I have to respond to you here due to DG structure. I’ll make it brief. The 1st Amendment applies when you invoke Title IX, because, shockingly enough, Title IX is a Federal law. You don’t have to go to law school to know that when the application of Federal law conflicts with the Federal Constitution, the application isn’t permitted. This is high school civics, friend. (Rhetorical questions work a lot better when you’re not wrong about the subject matter) Taking offense does not constitute harassment, see every Supreme Court case on this point. To my knowledge, no recipient of the bid felt harassed, so your claim fails on face. Finally, and I shall let you go after this point, Swarthmore, in its handbook, claims to protect free speech and expression. I simply want to hold them to their values.

          • To which I reply; Miller test. Still remaining to be answered: a) where does Title IX require a CJC hearing? b) are you asserting this is not sexual harassment? c) why are you assuming consent on the part of everyone who saw that flier? (It may surprise you to learn, that seldom do people that feel harassed vocalize their harassment to random people on the internet).

          • Alum, you’re 100% wrong. In terms of due process, that’s only required for CRIMINAL proceedings. The first amendment doesn’t apply to private institutions even if they receive federal funding. Title IX does.

            I would argue this is harassment. But even if it isn’t. It doesn’t fucking matter. Swarthmore is a private institution and it can do what it wants in terms of free speech.

        • Traceback (most recent call last):
          File: "wewe/10-16-2013T1844-0400", line 1, in ?
          AdHominemFallacy: attacking the arguer rather than the argument (accusing arguer of hate speech with no evidence)
          TuQuoqueFallacy: appeal to hypocrisy (accusing opponent of also having problematic views and therefore being unfit to argue)
          StrawManFallacy: misrepresenting opponent (as advocating surveillance of computers)

          • Here, learn something: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum

            RAA ” is a common form of argument which seeks … to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance.”

            Peter’s definition of “hate speech” would have you ALL be disciplined by the administration for the private consumption of objectifying media (which include pornography, TV shows and images, etc.). Hence, it is absurd and cannot be accepted.

            Peter I am reporting your name to the Dean of Inclusion because it got around to me that you consumed objectifying material on the internet that qualify as hate speech (or hate thoughts). Such material (images of women’s bodies) are likely to hurt women’s feelings (omg!), and/or will make you more likely to commit rape (you should know this by now). As such, your actions constitute sexual harassment at least, and may even be considered accessory to rape. According to a bunch of student activists, your actions were “NOT OKAY”, and hence your status as a student is pending further investigation.

          • @ wewe:

            Peter’s definition of “hate speech” would have you ALL be disciplined by the administration for the private consumption of objectifying media (which include pornography, TV shows and images, etc.). Hence, it is absurd and cannot be accepted.

            If you would do me the decency of actually reading what I wrote, you will find I never defined hate speech. Thank you for attributing a whole paragraph of things that I never said to me, that reflects well on you. You have invented an argument I never made, and then proceeded to attack it. I’ll leave you to arguing with yourself then, so have fun.

          • Peter, how dull you are. We don’t need to know your definition of hate speech in full generality. We know it includes pornographic flyers and that is enough. But lol you are finished here anyways so please go along now.

          • I’m looking forward to you opening all of your comments to me with “Peter, how dull you are.” Saying that in the other thread once really wasn’t enough.

  2. Extremely happy to see we have a new Dean of Diversity that is all about un-learning racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and other isms that many times hide under veils of “freedom of expression” at Swarthmore. Excited to see her actually create safe spaces for marginalized students, which were lacking institutional support when I was a student. Can’t wait to witness your work Dean Rodriguez! Congratulations!

    • … isms that many times hide under veils of “freedom of expression”

      Might as well add un-learning Liberty to your list as well.

  3. I find this part striking:

    “Rodriguez is also looking forward to ‘… bringing affinity groups together, among other things.’ She states that Swarthmore has many specific student groups but notices that those groups do not necessarily interact with each other.

    ‘There’s no coalition of marginalized peoples and groups working on things together at the systemic level,’ Rodriguez said.”

    I can only interpret this as Dean Rodriguez hoping to help organize things so that, for example, when an issue such as the Phi Psi Flyer arises, Swarthmore feminists would be joined in their struggle by Afican-American activists, Latino activists, LGBT activists, as well as Mountain Justice types.

    Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development? Change that last part to Conflict Development and it might be a more properly descriptive job title.

    Diversity in the sense of tolerance, understanding and harmony amongst differing racial groups, gender identities and socio-economic classes is a good thing to be encouraged. But is that what people such as Dean Rodriguez are really offering?

    I thought her history of the American campus was spot on right here:

    “We’ve been diversifying, like seriously, since the 1980’s, and we still have major intergroup tensions.”

    “Still”? — No accident, comrade! No accident at all!

  4. so what does she do on a daily basis? i’m glad that she can get paid for a job that literally is nothing.

    where is the dean of unicorns and rainbows?

    • Kudos on trivializing the oppression felt by every marginalized group on campus ever, in only three sentences. Nice touch on the “unicorns and rainbows” part–concluding your comments with veiled homophobia is a good way to strengthen your argument. Guess what? Based on my research and personal experience, queer people actually do exist.

      In sum, you just made a great case for the merit of Dean Rodriguez’s job. You realize this, right?

      • Peter,
        Why did you research whether queer people exist? Did you have doubts? Can we see a copy of your findings or methodology? I normally wouldn’t be so doubtful but we’ve seen that you really like to make grandiose claims without evidence.

        • Yes, my research consists of the fact that I am queer and therefore can reasonable assert that I exist. “dean of what” is comparing a job that (in theory*) supports queer people to being the dean of “unicorns and rainbows.” Hmmmm, I wonder what they mean by “rainbows?”

          * I say in theory because I am disappointed by Dean Rodriguez thus far, in that I think she is not acting in my best interest as a queer person. This does not make the position of “Assistant Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development” a worthless job — it instead casts doubt on Swarthmore’s hiring choice.

    • Having worked with her over the course of the past month I can give some concrete answers to this question. Thus far Dean Rodriquez has provided much help and support to ABLLE as we go about making arrangements for members to attend a national conference. Planning such things has been extremely difficult, especially in the wake of Dean Wong’s departure, and Dean’s Rodriguez’s help has been a god send. She has been nothing but courteous, practical, understanding, professional, and supportive and a task that looked as though it would not be accomplished now will.

      As Co-President of SASS I can also speak to her own efforts and willingness to reach out to student groups and bring us together to help brainstorm ways of building (*gasp*) diversity, inclusion, and community.

      In the past though I adored Dean Smaw (former Dean for Multicultural Affairs) I never fully appreciated his position until he left and realized the impact that the absence of his role had left. I firmly believe that last year’s various events would not have occurred had Darryl Smaw not retired and/or had someone like Dean Rodriguez been brought in to replace him immediately after his departure. This marks my 5th year at Swarthmore and as a student who’s navigated this campus under the banners of many different identities – both those marked by disenfranchisement (black, disabled, survivor) and privilege (male, straight) – I can’t express how grateful I am to see the return of this sort of administrative role.

      Though terms like “diversity”, “community”, and “inclusion” may be vague I think we all have pictures in our mind of what those things look like. We’d be hard pressed to find a student who was here last year who’d support the claim that those phenomena were prevalent on this campus and I see no problem in developing a role with the intent of fostering such necessary elements of college life.

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