Wednesday was Thomas Alexander’s first day as the new interim director of the Intercultural Center. The national search for a permanent director after Jason Rivera’s departure last November is ongoing. This new development occurs during the celebration of the Intercultural Center’s 25th anniversary and has brought up concerns about the high rate of turnover in the administration positions at the Intercultural Center.
According to Nyk Robertson, the current interim assistant director, this vacuum has not affected the work the Intercultural Center does as much as it has affected student morale.
“I think since Jason left there hasn’t been a whole lot that’s affected the student [organizations] because they really work collectively with each other and they really depend on the assistant director role for the day-to-day things that they need,” they said. “I think the biggest way that it’s affected them is that as new directors come in, they are fearful of really building a relationship with that person because they don’t know how long [that person is] going to be here.”
However, the assistant director position has also experienced turnover. Robertson has only been in their position as interim assistant director for a little over a year since the departure of Mo Lotif, who had been the assistant director for four years. The search for a permanent assistant director will continue after the new director is officially appointed.
Zain Talukdar ’19, an Intercultural Center intern and liaison to Multi, a student group surrounding multiracial identity at Swarthmore, said that the lack of a director has caused problems for work at the Intercultural Center, though he noted that other developments, such as plans for the opening of the new Hormel-Nguyen Intercultural Center at Sproul Hall next semester, have affected that as well.
“This recent director change has also made the work within the IC feel somewhat at limbo, though that can also be attributed to the new IC shaking the scene up a bit,” he said in an email to the Phoenix.
The most concerning problem for the students in the wake of the turnover is the lack of stability they see in the directorship of the Intercultural Center. The administration has taken notice of students’ feelings toward this problem.
“I think it’s more of a consistency piece and [the students] not knowing if big plans will be seen through without that same director,” Robertson said.
Talukdar feels that students have felt alienated as a result of the seemingly endless change in directors.
“The students are left constantly adapting,” he wrote. “This only accentuates the gap between the Dean’s Division and the student body, because it makes it seem risky to rely on a faculty member to be a guide through your four years at Swarthmore if that faculty member is part of a cycle of rapid turnover.”
According to Talukdar, the reason for the turnovers is not necessarily the people in the positions, but rather the idea that the position is a temporary step in advancing one’s career.
“This might be less of a problem of the people we hire, and more of a problem of the position itself,” he wrote. “The position does not promote continuity for faculty member … for students, this is rough.”
Lotif left almost a year ago for a job in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence at the University of Denver. Rivera left in order to accept the position as Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Success at Rutgers University.
“I know with Jason that he loved this position but has always had his sights set really high,” Robertson said. “The position that he went to is a huge step up from this position, so for him it was more of him building his career than wanting to leave Swarthmore.”
“Faculty members promise commitment, but ultimately leave when they find a better opportunity for them,” Talukdar wrote. “Nyk has helped tremendously through the process, but the overall feeling is that the students have to help the IC as much as the IC should help the students.”
Despite the fact that the Intercultural Center has hired an interim director, there is no guarantee that Alexander will remain in the position for the long term since the search for a permanent director — and later, permanent assistant director —continues.
Alexander has spent the past two years as the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at Florida A&M University. Before that, he was Associate Dean of Students at Bucknell University for three years, and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he was Special Assistant for Diversity for eleven years, according to an e-mail from Dean Liz Braun.
According to Robertson, in order to maintain consistency, Alexander’s role as interim director will be to support current student work instead of applying his own vision.
But those efforts might not be enough to solve the problem of turnovers and student disillusionment. The new interim director is possibly not a permanent member of the faculty, and this doesn’t seem to be a solution to the lack of consistency in the Intercultural Center.
“Considering it’s been 25 years since the IC was created, that is something that we cannot continue to perpetuate with our constant need to adapt and re-evaluate the IC’s work. We should be building a stronger infrastructure, and be proactive, not reactionary,” Talukdar wrote.