New Diversity Peer Advisor program to begin in fall

Next year, eight Diversity Peer Advisors will be assigned to certain dorms on campus in a pilot program coordinated by Karina Beras and Heather Loring-Albright, the college’s residential community coordinators. Three DPAs will be assigned to Willets’ first-year floors, two to ML’s first-year floors, and three to Wharton’s mixed floors. Next year, DPAs will primarily focus on helping first-years, though the three DPAs placed in Wharton will help test their effectiveness in engaging with other class years. If all goes well, the program will expand to more dorms in subsequent years.

According to an email from Beras, the DPAs are to serve as resources for students who are marginalized on the basis of identity and social memberships and challenge the campus culture regarding power, privilege, and group membership. The DPAs are student leaders who educate and promote awareness of diversity and social justice by hosting hall events and evening office hours in the OSE during the week. If, for example, a first year low income student approached an RA because they felt frustrated by their friends’ insensitivity to issues of wealth and income, that RA would now have the opportunity to refer the student to a DPA according to Beras. This student would be specifically trained to tackle such issues more effectively and attentively than an RA could.

“I think RAs are super committed to helping the residents and they do all that they can do, but they are one person, and they are also students,” Beras said. “We recognize that at this point in time it cannot fall all on them, but we also [should not] do nothing about it.”

The goal is to have a greater specialization of hall resources, so that more attention can be given to each student’s individual concerns rather than having RAs and SAMs be the catch-all for any issues. This comes at a time when the Green Advisors program has also greatly expanded, although the timing is completely coincidental, according to Beras. She believes that the new DPA would not narrow the role of the RA but instead would fill a void in hall support that RAs have not been able to address up until now.

“I think there will be some overlap, but I think it will be good overlap. Some of the things that an RA would see or think about, a DPA might not see and vice versa,” Beras said. “There might be some things that DPAs given their training might be more susceptible to pick up than an RA. I think that is where this need for DPAs came from.”

The position was created after students reached out to Lili Rodriguez, associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement last September asking for improvements in dorm culture pertaining to issues of diversity and acceptance. Rodriguez subsequently tasked the RCCs with creating the new position.

The DPA program has been modeled after similar programs at other colleges, specifically University of Michigan’s and Dartmouth College’s. In designing the role of the DPA, Beras reached out to a colleague at the University of Michigan.

“One of her main suggesti ons was that you should make the role residentially based because otherwise how do you get a good pulse of what is happening [in the dorm]?” Beras said. Her colleague also stressed that the position should be paid. “[She said] if you don’t make it paid, then what are you saying about the students who are doing this really important work?”

The selection process for the DPA position began the week after spring break. Twenty-five applied for the position, and last week 10 were selected, eight of whom accepted the position. The DPAs have not been officially announced yet, but Beras plans to make this information public shortly. The OSE website will also be updated with more information on the position, in conjunction with the announcement of the RAs for next year.

One comment

  1. 0
    alumn says:

    While the larger goal behind this initiative is important, this seems to be another step in the wrong direction. Historically, one of Swarthmore’s greatest assets was its community-based approach to the college life. By insisting on more and more rules and more and more formal positions to fulfill what used to be the responsibility of the community-at-large, it seems unlikely that whatever remains of a community spirit will be enhanced. Of course, that community spirit I speak of has never been perfect and often been rightfully contended, but I fear the college is taking the wrong lessons from the upheaval in recent years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *