College Examines its Spaces

The college is currently undergoing a strategic visioning process for physical space on campus. The process centers around analyzing the student experience to present guiding principles for how space is used on campus over the coming years.

“We are really trying to determine both what is the student experience at Swat and what should it be,” said Dean Liz Braun, part of the Senior Leadership of the visioning team. “That really focuses us on service delivery and for the purposes of thinking of the facilities on campus and how we prioritize renovations to improve the student experience as much as possible through space.”

Strategic visioning began last spring, with the goal of evaluating how space is currently being used and proposing ways it could be used in the future. The college hired Brightspot Strategies as an outside consultant to guide the process and give an outside evaluation of what the college should do with spaces on campus.

“What we really saw with them is that they are great facilitators of conversation,” said Vice President of Finance Greg Brown.

“In particular they aren’t facilitating with an agenda but they are facilitating based on what they are hearing and really working with us as an institution,” said Brown.

A central part of the process has been student input, related to studying, socializing, health and wellness, and dining spaces on campus. The Space Matters Committee, which leads the visioning process, contains a student advisory team, as well as faculty and staff members. In order to understand campus spaces and incorporate student input, the Brightspot Strategies consultants went on student-guided walking tours of campus and worked closely with the student advisory team.

Brown described some of the concrete ways in which the consultants teamed with students to get an understanding of campus space.

“[The] Space Matters committee had a separate meeting and were given homework from consultants where they have to take photos of different moments and areas of campus that relate back to the student experience and write up descriptors of what the space signifies to them or the activity.”

Two “visioning sessions” were held to get input from the campus community on how space is currently being used. The first session, held on August 30th, was for student input only, while the second session, held on August 31st, was open to the input of faculty and staff. Consultants explained the project’s goals before asking about how spaces are being used currently and how students think they should be constructed in the future.

Min Zhong ’19 shared her appreciation for the consultants’ work on the college’s project after attending the student session.

“I have good faith in the consultants,” said Zhong. “They seem like they were putting in their best effort to understand the culture at Swarthmore and what we need to really improve the student experience here.”

A key concern voiced by students was the lack of existing social spaces on campus outside of Sharples or a library, where socializing has to be mixed with either studying or eating.

“I think Swarthmore desperately needs some sort of student center recreational space where everyone can go to just hang out, relax, and meet new people. Right now, the social spaces are mainly dorm lounges and Sharples, which don’t exactly serve the purpose of integrating the whole student body.”

Throughout this process, the college is integrating data collected from various studies over the past couple of years. According to Braun, this includes looking at the results of last year’s campus-wide climate study, as well as a yearly senior student survey, a bi-yearly enrolled student survey, and an alumni survey. The goal is to hear reflections from as many students, faculty, and staff as possible to create the best possible plan for moving forward in the coming years.

“I think this is just such an exciting moment and really goes the heart of what I like to think of as my primary role, which is helping students think about how their out of classroom and in classroom experiences complement one another,” said Braun.

The strategic visioning will also serve to form a “master plan” for the college over the coming years, according to Braun. This will help the administration to decide how to best provide for the growing student body.

As well as looking at on-campus spaces, the visioning process is considering how increased student activity in the Ville will play out and affect campus life. Especially with the implementation of the OneCard system, student presence in the Ville is increasing. Brown expressed optimism about the benefits of integrating the borough and the student body, especially the area of student health and wellness.

“I think the borough and the college have mutual interest in making sure downtown is a viable destination,” he said. “You get so wrapped up in what you are doing and your own routines that if you have six or seven other choices down in the Ville for lunch or dinner it’s really a great way to kind of clear your head.”

Outside consultants will continue their work on campus for the remainder of the semester. The study will be concluded at the end of the semester. On October 17, a visioning session will be held from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. In this session, more concrete plans will be formed for space usage on campus. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to attend and stay for any length of time.

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