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Update from the Dean

Dear Swarthmore Students,

I hope the frenzy that comes with the beginning of the academic year has begun to subside and you’re settling into a more regular routine. I’m writing to share with you an update from the Dean of Students Division and some thoughts on the year ahead.

Welcoming our Newest Students

The 418 members of the Class of 2023 and 23 transfer students formally arrived on August 27. Move-in and orientation were a huge success, and we are thrilled to welcome the newest members of the Swarthmore community. The list of people and offices who deserve public recognition for their efforts in greeting them is too long to enumerate here, but I do want to give a special thanks to Facilities, Dining Services, Public Safety, my colleagues in the Dean’s Division, and all the students who helped with move-in and orientation — especially the RPLs for their tireless and outstanding work.

Staffing and Dean’s Division Updates

Our office saw a number of staffing changes during the summer — both in terms of welcoming new members to our team and in current staff members assuming new or expanded roles. I want to highlight a few of those changes below: 

New to Swarthmore:

  • Imaani El-Burki, Assistant Dean and Director of the Intercultural Center

  • Tiffany Thompson, Associate Director of the Intercultural Center for Gender and Sexuality Initiatives/Program Manager of the Women’s Resource Center

  • Hanan Ahmed ’19, Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development Associate, Intercultural Center

  • Chelsey Eiel, Title IX Project Manager, Title IX Office

  • Jasmine Owens, Residential Communities Coordinator, Office of Student Engagement

Continuing in New Roles:

  • Casey Anderson, Interim Director of Student Health and Wellness Services

  • Tomoko Sakomura, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Academic Success/Associate Professor of Art History

  • Shá Duncan Smith, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Inclusive Excellence and Community Development

Additionally, some of the names of departments/program areas in the Dean’s Division have changed to better reflect the nature and focus of the work they do. Specifically:

  • What was formerly known as the Office of Academic Affairs is now the Office of Academic Success.

  • What was formerly known as the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development is now the Office of Inclusive Excellence and Community Development. 

  • The Office of Student Engagement (OSE) and the Office of Student Conduct are now housed together under the umbrella of the Office of Student Life.

These changes reflect our commitment to our residential learning community in support of you, Swarthmore’s students. Every member of the Dean’s Division is eager to answer your questions and connect you with the appropriate resources. Additional information about these and the other departments and programs in the Dean of Students Division is available on our website.

New Student Life Committee

Upon arriving at Swarthmore last year, I was surprised by the absence of a campus governance committee focused on student life.To ensure that students have a formal role in proposing, influencing, and shaping the policies that most directly impact student life outside of the classroom, we are establishing the Student Life Committee (SLC) as a part of the campus oversight structure. The SLC will be a representative group made up of students, faculty and staff and will work in close partnership with the Student Government Organization to address the full range of policies, topics, and issues relating to student life on campus. Membership will be open to students from all class years, and an open call for applications will be forthcoming later this month. I strongly encourage all who are interested to follow up and consider applying at that time.

Celebrating Black Excellence

As we recognize the 50th anniversary of the Black Cultural Center, among other important milestones, a number of special events and opportunities will take place throughout the year to honor the essential contributions of black students, faculty, and staff to the Swarthmore community throughout our history. This is an invitation to all of us to join and experience this celebration. 

The Garnet Collaborative

As President Smith noted in her recent message to the community, last spring, she asked Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton and me to develop plans for broad-based campus engagements aimed at exploring the ways in which all of us — students, faculty, and staff — live and work together at Swarthmore. We are calling this initiative The Garnet Collaborative. Among our goals is the desire to strengthen and expand meaningful relationships within and across the campus community through an exchange of diverse viewpoints and an understanding of one another’s values. In the weeks ahead, we will share more information about The Garnet Collaborative, including ways you can get involved. 

Reflections on Living in Community

Heading into this academic year, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the notion of what it means to live in community with one another. The residential learning environment Swarthmore provides students is indeed a special experience. During your time here, you get to share all that the College has to offer — the academic areas and residence halls, the playing fields and performance spaces, the Sharples meals and Crum Café cuisine, and so much more — with some of the smartest, most interesting, talented, and creative people you will ever encounter.

To me, one of Swarthmore’s most defining characteristics is the extent to which you are able to engage with one another, especially given your wide variety of backgrounds, rich array of interests, and mind-boggling constellation of activities. Of course, life on campus isn’t perfect, and we have much work still to do to fully realize our ambition of being a truly inclusive and welcoming community to all.

Ironically, some of the very qualities that make Swarthmore such an interesting and stimulating place in which to live, study, and work — the bevy of diverse ideas and interests all of us bring to campus — also present us with opportunities for disagreement and conflict. And that’s okay. In fact, sharing and engaging with varying perspectives and backgrounds feeds our intellectual curiosity, sharpens our critical thinking skills, and contributes to our personal growth. That said, just as we see throughout society,   too often we treat our differences as wedges that divide us rather than as opportunities to build bridges that connect us. At times, we seem too willing to look past one another’s humanity and, instead, accept cruelty as inevitable or allow fear of social retribution to chill campus conversation. 

In the spirit of inclusiveness I want to suggest that all of us — students, faculty, and staff — work this year on making three commitments aimed at strengthening the fabric of our community:

  • Commit to empathy. If we can strive to step beyond ourselves, consider those around us, and make an effort to view the world from the perspectives of those who are different from us — especially those with whom we think we most disagree — perhaps we can foster a deeper understanding of ourselves and one another.

  • Commit to saying hello. If we make it a point to greet one another when we pass on campus walkways or in the Matchbox or at Essie Mae’s, and to acknowledge and be accessible to the people with whom we share Swarthmore, we might all come to feel a little more welcome and find new avenues for connection.

  • Commit to kindness. Be kind — full stop. The unabashed belief that we can change the world for the better is maybe Swarthmore’s most outstanding quality. Making the world a better place starts here by treating one another with empathy and kindness.

As part of my welcoming remarks to the Class of 2023, I shared an observation by Dulany Ogden Bennett ‘66 from The Meaning of Swarthmore. I offer it to you now as a wonderful reflection of what living in community here can be:

“I came to understand the power of the values of the Swarthmore community to transcend the particular differences that divided us. Even then, I could see that the kind of discourse in class discussion…taught us to excel, and could teach us the civility and respect to admire each other for the integrity of our beliefs. We also developed the courage to support each other in very different life choices without having to renounce each other for our differences in values. The willingness to be fearless in our honesty yet respectful of each other’s integrity and intelligence created a complex and powerful sense of community: elastic, expandable, and extremely strong.” 

I wish you all the best for a successful and enjoyable fall term and look forward to seeing you around campus. Work hard, have fun, and be kind.


Jim Terhune
Dean of Students