Community Development Grants awarded to students and staff

SwatDeck Cofounders
SwatDeck Cofounders

This year’s Community Development Grants, $10,000 awards given to projects focused on promoting inclusivity on campus and building community, have been awarded. The grants come from the Community Development Fund, a reserve of $150,000 created last year to be spent over the next three years on projects proposed by members of the college community.

One of the two grants was awarded to fund SwatDeck, a proposal by a student group consisting of Brennan Klein ’14, Isaac Opoku ’14, Emma Kates-Shaw ’16 and Raven Bennett ‘17. The other grant was awarded to Pamela Prescod-Caesar, vice president for human resources, and Zenobia Hargust, employee relations and training manager for human resources, who are using it to sponsor photographer Adam Mastoon in his creation of a Community Documentation Project for Swarthmore that will consist of prominently displayed photographs with quotes and text.

“SwatDeck is an initiative to promote meaningful interaction among Swarthmore students, in the form of a simple and powerful activity: speaking to one another. Groups of four people will be randomly selected using a deck of cards, and will each receive a train ticket and funds for a meal in Philadelphia, during which they will be given guiding questions and prompts for conversation,” Kates-Shaw said. “The ensuing conversation will ideally transcend existing campus divides and focus on commonality, strengthening our collective feeling of community.”

A research conference attended by Klein, where a deck of cards had been similarly used to stimulate lunchtime conversation between researchers from all over the globe, inspired SwatDeck. After engaging in the rich conversations he had due to the concept, Klein spent more time noticing the random, serendipitous interactions in his life, which sparked a discussion with Kates-Shaw and Opoku.

“We began talking about how interesting these random, chance encounters are with ‘familiar strangers’ from different academic, cultural, and geographical backgrounds. Coincidentally, this was also when Dean [Liliana] Rodriguez [Associate Dean For Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development] announced the Community Development Grant. We got together several more times, planned the grant, and that was that,” Klein said. “SwatDeck was becoming a ‘thing’ in our minds, and it wasn’t even an ‘event’ per se — it was more like a perspective, to force ourselves to notice and appreciate the randomness in our day-to-day lives.”

SwatDeck plans to use social media to help create an exhibit which will be displayed in the Science Center during Reading Week in the beginning of May. Participants will be encouraged to post photos and thoughts about the experiences they had during the project, on Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook during their outings.

The students behind SwatDeck have many ideas about the future of the project. As the freshman in the group, Bennett believes it’s her responsibility to make sure the project continues. Kates-Shaw wants to see wider application of the concept in the future, with faculty and staff becoming a part of it at some point, and maybe even implementing such a project in her neighborhood back home.

“Such a project needs continuity in order for us to realize its true potential,” Opoku said. “Furthermore, the findings that come out of it can help others integrate similar community-building ideas into their spaces and do so more effectively. I’d definitely love to see this idea expand beyond Swarthmore.”

The second grant was awarded to Prescod-Caesar and Hargust’s proposal which sponsors Adam Mastoon in creating a Community Documentation Project by Mastoon, in collaboration with the Swarthmore community. Mastoon is the photographer and creator of the RISDiversity Project, a community narratives project which gives voice through photographs and stories to faculty, staff and students. Using a similar concept, Mastoon will create 25 portraits with photographs and text in celebration of Swarthmore’s vibrant and diverse community.

Rodriguez is excited about the project and its final outcome.

“I know we’ll be prompting the artist to focus his process on challenging us as members of a community to wrestle with defining ‘community’ — as well as our personal role in making it an inclusive one,” she said. “However, it’s hard to say where this project goes since interviewing individuals across campus is a part of the process — and what individuals say will inform the final product. It’s a very dynamic project we’re excited to begin in fall 2014.”

Prescod-Caesar plans for the project to engage members of the campus community in all aspects of planning and implementation and hopes that it will serve to foster meaningful dialogues which will educate and cultivate a dynamic and inclusive learning environment.

Prescod-Caesar and Hargust are confident that the project will accomplish the CDF’s mission, creating cross-community collaboration and a greater awareness of other members of the community.

“Though photographs are the foundation for the project, the project illustrates a much richer picture of each individual participant,” Hargust said. “This is truly an opportunity to appreciate individual differences, while celebrating the many similarities within our community.”

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