On the morning of Nov. 13, Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun announced over email that Rivera would be leaving the college at the end of the fall semester to accept a new position.
“It is with very mixed emotions that I write to share the news that Jason Rivera, Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center, has accepted the position of Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Success at Rutgers University, Camden Campus,” Braun said in the email.
The Intercultural Center, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has recently struggled with high turnover of its directors, so much so that the Intercultural Center Director and Dean of the Sophomore Class Jason Rivera, who joined the college on July 1, 2016, was known to tell students about his intention to maintain the position.
“If you ever talked to him, and you talked to him about the turnover rate, he would say, ‘I’m here. I’m gonna stay here,’” Cindy Lopez ’20, IC intern and member of the Pride Month planning committee, said.
Rivera has overseen the planning of the IC’s planned expansion into the Sproul Observatory, created the LGBTQ advisory committee and hired Cooper Kidd, the college’s 2017-2018 LGBTQ fellow. According to Rivera, the change in position will afford him greater agency and ability to affect change on a larger scale.
“This role provides me with an important opportunity to reach a greater number of students and to work at a significantly higher level to support student success across the RU-Camden campus,” Rivera said in an email. “As I have grown in my career, I have become deeply passionate about and committed to supporting students as they pursue their goals and aspirations. Often times, the barriers that impede student success are structural and systemic. The work I will be doing at RU-Camden will allow me to identify, address and/or dismantle those barriers and help a greater number of students achieve their fullest potential.”
Lopez, who was appointed an IC intern this semester, formed a close relationship with Rivera last year.
“Last year I wasn’t a huge part of the IC, but after the election, after other stuff that happened last semester and last year in general, I got really close to him because I would just go to his office and play with his dog … and you know, just hang out and chill, so for me he’s kind of a big part of campus,” she said. “It’s just nice having him around.”
Lopez did not know about Rivera’s planned departure until she read Dean Braun’s email. The news shocked her because she expected that he would be the director during all of her time at the college.
“It’s just the fact that he said he was going to stay for a long time and even this semester, I was talking to him and he wanted to do a lot more long-term stuff, like long-lasting, and now he’s leaving so it’s like all those ideas, all that planning–sure, they might still have them, but he won’t be there,” she said. “It’s also really unexpected, like I was so surprised when I saw he was leaving. It’s never something that I would have thought would have happened, like ever, and not during my four years here.”
During the transition period until a new IC director is hired, interim IC assistant director Nyk Robertson will work with the Dean’s Office to lead the IC. Hiring new staff members in higher education often takes multiple months, if not longer. Last year, Robertson, then the LGBTQ fellow, was appointed to fill the position of Mo Lotif, who resigned in April 2017.
Lopez expressed concern about the fact that after Rivera leaves, the IC leadership will have little combined experience dealing with student groups and issues at the college.
“We don’t know who will be the interim director of the IC,” Lopez said. “If it’s a current faculty member, then that’s fine because they know the history of the IC and the culture and stuff like that, but if they bring an outside person, then they’re gonna have to be learning everything and we already have Cooper, who’s new as well and is also just learning stuff, so if we have both new people learning stuff then it’s just gonna be Nyk, and Nyk’s only been here for a year.”
According to Julia Wakeford ’19, member of the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Society (SISA), the lack of administrative continuity at the IC hinders the progress of student groups.
“The hiring process takes as long as these people fill these roles for,” she said. “I feel like it’s almost like the students are here longer than the administrators, which is insane. It’s supposed to be the reverse. It’s just frustrating because we have to re-explain ourselves and who we are and what we’re trying to get done on campus to different administrators, it feels like, each semester or each year we re-explain ourselves over again.”
Though Braun stated in her email that the Dean’s Office will work “to develop a plan to ensure that students are well supported during this transition and that the Intercultural Center continues to thrive,” Lopez feels that the change of hands further complicates circumstances that have made this year an especially busy one for the IC, including what she feels is a tense political climate on campus.
“This was already a transitional year because of the Sproul Observatory being remodeled, so that was already a challenge, and we were gonna have programming surrounding that,” Lopez said. “And in another sense, too, since it’s the 25th anniversary and all of these events have already been planned for this year, and he won’t be around to see them through, which really sucks…[and] other stuff that’s happened on campus has just caused it to be a very tense place, which is not to say that that’s necessarily bad, but it just adds on to this jumble that’s happening.”
Students will still be able to carry out these initiatives and their individual projects in the spring without Rivera, but the consistently high turnover rate of the Director positions at the IC makes the future of the IC uncertain. For example, Rivera and the intern team created “Conversations around CARE” as part of their long-term goal to “promote further discussion, provide resources and education, as well as generate support from other members of our community.”
“It’s going to be hard. But we, the students, don’t want to see it fall apart and I don’t think Nyk or Cooper is going to let that happen, and there’s also a lot of other faculty that are going to make sure that doesn’t happen because this is such a necessary space on campus,” Lopez said. “It’s going to be fine, it’s just going to be hard, and annoying and frustrating, but I think we’re going to be fine, hopefully.”