President Val Smith Welcomes Campus Input on New Strategic Plan

On Oct. 27, President Valerie Smith requested campus community feedback on the college’s current draft of its new strategic plan: Sustainable Swarthmore. Smith acknowledged that while the college has been developing the plan over the past eighteen months, Sustainable Swarthmore is still undergoing the “consulting phase,” during which students, faculty, and staff will provide the President’s Office with additional insight.  

In an effort to facilitate open dialogue between students and administrators, the Student Government Organization (SGO) conducted a meeting on Nov. 6 to discuss the strategic plan.  At the meeting, Smith presented four primary goals from the plan and opened the floor for feedback and discussion from SGO members and other attendees. The four overarching goals are as follows: (1) Build a rigorous and transformative liberal arts education for the 21st century, (2) Build a community prepared for life in a multiracial, multicultural democracy and the world, (3) Educate the whole student, and (4) Renew our campus infrastructure to achieve our strategic goals. 

Smith emphasized the importance of community involvement in the consulting phase, saying:  “[The current plan] is not the finished product. What you say does matter and we’re going to be taking it in.” 

The Board of Managers will vote on Sustainable Swarthmore during its December meeting. If accepted by the Board, the college will move into the implementation phase. 

SGO Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee Clara Ximena ’26 collected affinity group responses to the first goal. At the meeting, Ximena provided a summary of the groups’ concerns, recommendations, and requests. She highlighted worries that underprivileged students might face unfair competition for professional resources at Swarthmore and that the creation of an Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) would prevent real change due to bureaucracy. Lastly, they mentioned a 2019 SGO resolution in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and divestment from Israel. 

In her response, Smith opted to comment on two of Ximena’s points. Smith emphasized the “Swarthmore promise” — that funding will be available for every student, regardless of their academic background. She also noted that the purpose of creating an Office of DEI is to consolidate diversity efforts rather than “adding a layer of bureaucracy.”  

In regards to the second goal, Smith briefly addressed student statements surrounding diversity on campus, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision. The strategic plan outlined several priorities to ensure continuing diversity on campus. Some of the proposals included hiring Vice President of DEI Brooke Vick, establishing a college-sponsored gap year program to foster experiential diversity, and “strengthen[ing] the pipeline of students from underrepresented communities through partnerships with community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions.” 

Furthermore, SGO senators Darby Creegan ’26 and Abby Guise ’26 presented concerns regarding the college’s historically low voter turnout. Creegan and Guise suggested increased programming to improve voter registration, including introducing voting seminars and registration events during first-year orientation. 

In response, Smith mentioned current college coordinated initiatives to increase voter turnout, including free food trucks on Election Day. She also said that the Division of Student Affairs would need to be involved in Orientation Week programming. 

“This is a great idea, student affairs would need to be involved. The idea that we can orient students in one week [is not accurate],” Smith said. “You don’t remember what anyone says. We have to keep revisiting it throughout the course of the year. I love this idea, but I just want to emphasize that it doesn’t have to take place in the first three days. We want to take a more leisurely, or iterative, approach.”

When asked to address the prospect of canceling class on Election Day, Smith noted a lack of faculty support for the idea. 

“We brought this to the faculty. The faculty supports student voting and we want to help students be informed about how to register (with voting here or at home), … we did not have sufficient faculty support to [have election day off] at this time,” she said. 

Several SGO members introduced points regarding the college’s evolving academic policies. SGO Chair of Academic Affairs Yosué González ’24 proposed the creation of a separate office for exam scheduling. They reasoned that “an office of testing could sort out scheduling exams, accommodations, etc.”

Smith then floated the idea of an honor code, wherein final exams would be unproctored and students would be free to take exams in accordance with their own schedules. Previously the Dean of the college at Princeton University, Smith recounted issues with the honor code there due to a lack of standardization.  

“Princeton has an honor code. And it’s imperfect. We had some faculty who thought they could police infractions privately and make side deals [with students],” she said. 

However, Smith cautioned that the fate of a prospective honor code would ultimately lay in the hands of the student body. She stated that instituting an honor code would “mean that you all would have to trust yourselves and each other. I have no idea how the faculty would feel about this. But we all know there is no honor code without the students.” 

Students at the meeting were generally receptive to the idea of an honor code. SGO senator Elan Nadelman ’26 pointed out that memorization, especially in the age of technology, should not be the focus of exams. Instead, he suggested that there should be a greater emphasis on the application and synthesis of knowledge.

Expressing the burden of rigid exam schedules, SGO President Olivia Medeiros-Sakimoto ’25 reported that her flight home this semester will cost $1,200 due to her final exam schedule. 

“I think [asynchronous exams] would help a lot of students, especially international students. I enjoy this prospect, yes,” she quipped.  

Speaking to the third goal, SGO Vice President Danika Grieser ’26 expressed her concern regarding available mental health resources on campus. Grieser noted that, as a resident assistant (RA), she was reluctant to refer students to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) because of its dearth of resources. Guise echoed this sentiment, stressing the general dissatisfaction with CAPS and suggesting ways to address mental health and wellbeing. Guise proposed hiring more counselors across the board and establishing a separate fund specifically for off-campus counseling services.

Smith addressed Grieser and Guise’s comments about CAPS, saying that the Division of Student Affairs will have the most impact in regards to student wellbeing. 

“The strategic plan is for the entire campus, but student affairs will also be [enacting] its own plan. Values there will hold up with [the ones in Sustainable Swarthmore]. This question will definitely be part of the implementation phase,” Smith said.

As the Swarthmore community looks forward to the implementation phase, Smith reminded attendees of their unique opportunity to participate in Swarthmore history. 

“Institutions believe it is important to step back and evaluate where we are and think about our goals and priorities for the next period of time.”

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