In line with the college’s recent work to boost the visibility and prevalence of diversity and inclusion work on campus, a gift from two alumni will be used to renovate and expand the Intercultural Center in the near future. Announced by President Valerie Smith at an event in Parrish Hall, the new center will house all of the currently operating parts of the IC, in addition to Interfaith Center, Religious and Spiritual Life Office, and the Office of International Student Services.
Walking to the podium to address hundreds of students, staff, and faculty overflowing from the East Parlor out into the main corridors and up the staircase to Admissions Commons in Parrish Hall, Smith’s excitement at the impending announcement was visible.
“… If we are to be fully true to our mission, we must recognize how important it is to provide students with opportunities to learn, to develop, and to grow in ways that no classroom experience, no matter how excellent, can provide,” Smith began. She noted that while Swarthmore students may be scholars first, they also pursue a range of other passions, like arts and activism, in addition to their studies, and that students should be given ample opportunities to pursue those passions. Smith noted that the college has, in recent years, thought about the importance of space and considered the best use of the spaces available on campus. She also mentioned the visioning process that began over the summer with students, faculty and staff as a major contribution to that thought process.
“By and large, up until now, students have pursued their various special interests in their own spaces — in silos, if you will,” Smith explained. She cited the dozen-plus active religious and spiritual life groups that serve over a quarter of the students on campus as one such example of the “silos”. Smith lamented the physical isolation of the groups’ meeting spaces in Bond Hall and shared that students have requested a central gathering place where they can experience a common sense of community.
As the room erupted into applause, Smith announced a major gift of $4.3 million from Manager James C. Hormel ’55 and his partner Michael P. Nguyen ’08, designated to expand and renovate the current Intercultural Center into the James C. Hormel ’55 and Michael P. Nguyen ’08 Intercultural Center at Sproul Hall. As the name suggests, the new IC will include Sproul Hall, which currently serves as the Alumni House.
The gift from Hormel and Nguyen, as explained by Smith, was borne out of a desire to create a space where students might be able to collaborate across their differences.
Vice President of Advancement Karl Clauss read a statement from Hormel and Nguyen at the announcement. In it, Nguyen expressed his gratitude for Swarthmore, for both being the place where he met Hormel, and for the education he received there.
“Our blood cells radiate Garnet Red… [and] James and I both feel that we truly owe a great many of our blessings’ to Swarthmore. It is an immense honor, privilege, and priority of vital importance to give towards reaffirming and ensuring Swarthmore’s bright future, and James and I cannot imagine a sounder, more enriching investment,” Klauss read.
The expanded IC will include all of the current staff and student spaces and groups currently operating as affiliates, such as DESHI, the group for South Asian students; the Swarthmore Queer Union; and ENLACE, the group for Latinx students. However, the renovation and expansion will also include spaces for the Interfaith Center, the Religious and Spiritual Life Office, and the Office of International Student Services, which are not currently housed in the IC.
Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center Jason Rivera said at the announcement that this gift will allow the IC to continue its work of advancing an inclusive community through affirming differences, interconnectedness, and intersectionalities.
“This generous gift is a big win for the community… and I’m very excited for the possibilities for our collective future,” Rivera said.
Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center Mo Lotif said that Hormel and Nguyen’s gift is reflective of the intergenerational efforts from students, staff, and faculty alike who have contributed their labor of love to evolve the center, and marks an exciting new phase in the continuum of the IC’s evolution.
“Cultivating an inclusive community within a pluralistic context calls for an intersectional approach, and the intersectional efforts we are currently engaged in will only be bolstered by the expansion of the center. We are elated about the possibilities that lie before us,” Lotif said.
At the announcement, Director of International Student Services Jennifer Marks-Gold expressed that the inclusion of her office in the IC will allow for strong partnerships that are necessary for inclusivity and engagement of all students, faculty, and staff.
“Integrating the centers will create a natural gathering place and encourage interactions on a regular basis for all students. [International students coordinator] Reshma [Ajayan] and I look forward to working more closely with the IC and Interfaith Center in the future. Plus, it’s going to be so much fun! Thank you, thank you, thank you to our donors for allowing us to make this dream come true,” Marks-Gold said.
Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Joyce Tompkins noted that the the relocation of the Interfaith Center to the Intercultural Center at Sproul will provide an opportunity for her and her staff to deepen their work of interfaith engagement and religious literacy across the whole campus.
“The sharing of physical space… embodies the intersectionality of all the identities we strive to support here in our community, and it will foster greater collaboration and understanding,” Tompkins said.
Abha Lal ’18, an international student from Nepal and the leader of the campus Hindu Club, was ecstatic that both the International Student Office and Interfaith Center are receiving a proper space that serves the needs of students.
“Both offices as they stand now are limited by their space, and expansion is a great thing. Especially with regards to Interfaith [work] though, I’m curious to see how the actual plan turns out, because having designated places exclusively for worship that aren’t used for other things is something that I think is important,” she said.
Smith articulated that plans are not fully formed for the new Intercultural Center, but described the remodeled and renovated space as one that included dynamic shared areas designed to promote creative collaboration. She also stated the new IC would be a place where events, activities, informal gatherings, and spontaneous casual conversation could all take place. Smith did make it clear that the observatory on the top of Sproul would be preserved in the remodeling and expansion plans, and that the renovation and expansion would be ADA-compliant.
After the announcement, Smith expressed that the work on the space was just beginning. She said that Dean of Students Liz Braun would form a committee to begin the planning process for the remodeling and renovating, but the timeline for the project has yet to be released.