Swarthmore’s commitment to fostering an inclusive campus environment received a major boost today — a $4.3 million gift from alumni James Hormel '55 and Michael Nguyen '08 to establish the James Hormel and Michael Nguyen Intercultural Center at Sproul Hall.
Announced by President Valerie Smith at an event in Parrish Parlors overflowing with more than 200 students, faculty, and staff, the gift offers community members opportunities to explore their individual identities while also engaging in cross-cultural dialogue and learning.
“As we’ve seen through our current visioning process, space matters,” Smith says. “This new Intercultural Center will be a resource for our entire community, cultivating collaborations across departments and groups.”
A renovated Sproul Hall will help foster such opportunities by expanding the Intercultural Center and bringing it together with the Interfaith Center and Religious and Spiritual Life Office and the Office of International Student Services, in the heart of campus, under one roof.
“This is a game-changer,” says Jason Rivera, director of the Intercultural Center and dean of the sophomore class. “This space will support greater collaboration and synergy among these offices while strengthening the visibility and identity of each individually.”
At the announcement, Vice President for College Advancement Karl Clauss read these words from a statement from Hormel, a member of the Board of Managers, private investor, and philanthropist, and Nguyen, Hormel’s spouse and a library commissioner, performing artist, and arts advocate: "It is an immense honor, privilege, and priority of vital importance to give toward reaffirming and ensuring Swarthmore’s bright future, and we cannot imagine a sounder, more enriching investment opportunity. … As we collectively and individually embark on the many adventures ahead, we may go forward confident in the power of our Swarthmore bond."
Smith observed that Hormel’s and Nguyen’s gift comes at a moment in the history of Swarthmore, the nation, and the world when it is more important than ever for people to develop the ability to converse and collaborate across their differences.
“The new Intercultural Center will enable students to make connections between their academic work and their lives and activities beyond the classroom,” Smith adds, “and help them prepare to contribute to the world beyond the College.”
Fortuitously, this gift also arrives during periods of growth for the Intercultural Center, the Interfaith Center and religious and spiritual life, and International Student Services. Together, they support hundreds of students and numerous student organizations.
“The sharing of physical space between the Interfaith Center, the Intercultural Center, and International Student Services embodies the intersectionality of all the identities we strive to support in our community and will foster greater collaboration and understanding,” said Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Joyce Tompkins at the event. Noting the presence of her colleagues, Jewish Life Advisor Adam Lavitt and Muslim Advisor Umar Rahman, she added, “it is also an exciting opportunity to deepen our work of interfaith engagement and religious literacy across the whole campus, preparing leaders who will foster genuine dialogue and peaceful understanding in our world.”
“Moving to the new space will create strong partnerships necessary for inclusivity and engagement of all students on campus, along with staff and faculty,” agreed Director of International Student Services Jennifer Marks-Gold. “At the combined center we envision daily interaction of students that cultivates empathy, respect, and open-mindedness. It is important that the shared space provide unique programs and collaborations, designed to foster education and increase cultural exchanges and experiences.”
Plans for the Hormel-Nguyen Intercultural Center at Sproul Hall include an elevator for the building and additional ADA-compliant features; space for all three offices’ directors and student workers; swing space to facilitate cross-campus collaborations; an array of programming/multipurpose spaces, including enhancements to the existing dome room housing the historic telescope; a full kitchen and dining area; and a prayer/reflection space.
Plans are still emerging for the existing Intercultural Center but will include flexible space for IC student group use, meetings, and programs that will complement and augment what is happening in Sproul. Plans for the existing Interfaith Center in Bond Hall have yet to be determined, including finding a better location for an improved and accessible kitchen that will enable more options for kosher and halal dining.
“The process to design the new center presents a unique opportunity to address many of the concerns we had been hearing from students and the community,” says Dean of Students Liz Braun. “We think it’s an important step in our ongoing efforts to improve the overall student experience on campus related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socio-economic class, and religion and spirituality."
An advisory committee that includes six students will hold a series of focus groups to solicit input from community members on the center’s programming and design. Construction is scheduled to begin in the summer, in anticipation of a fall 2018 opening.
“This generous gift is a big win for the community and a greater opportunity for us to work with our students, staff, and faculty on coalition-building and community engagement and development,” concludes Rivera. “I am very excited about all of the possibilities for our collective future.”