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Rafael Zapata

Good afternoon.

My name is Rafael Zapata, and I am assistant dean and director of the Intercultural Center at Swarthmore. It is an honor to be here on behalf of the staff of the College as we formally welcome Rebecca Chopp as our 14th President. I had the privilege of serving on the Presidential Search Committee that selected President Chopp, and I would like to share some of the insights I've gleaned since I first met her in fall 2008.

An accomplished scholar, educator, and passionate advocate for the liberal arts, President Chopp is widely viewed as a leader among leaders in higher education. She has displayed incredible resilience and poise in the face of adversity, and an ability to bring groups together around core values no doubt informed by her own unique collection of multiple identities: a first-generation college graduate and feminist theologian who grew up in rural Kansas. Indeed, the values that have guided her life and career resonate deeply at Swarthmore: collective responsibility; commitment to mentoring; collaboration and transparency; fostering a dynamic, rigorous educational environment in which all members of our diverse community are teachers and learners; and the unapologetic belief that students with the privilege of an elite education should put it to use in service for the greater good.

As President Chopp has articulated in her writings, these values are relevant beyond the obvious clamor that characterizes the current historical moment. They must be intentionally applied to the more subtle social, political, and institutional structures that result in pervasive inequality and social and economic dislocation that foment violence and conflict as well the oftentimes invisible suffering of marginalized groups.

As such, we must continually strive to positively channel the passion for issues around which our students organize:

  • Good jobs that pay fair wages
  • Socially responsible innovation, and
  • Developing alternatives to mass incarceration and creative approaches to educating those deemed beyond reach, among others.

Yet developing the intellectual and analytical gifts of our students is not sufficient to fully prepare them to effect such change. President Chopp, in her discussion of The Community of Emancipatory Transformation, provides a promising example. I quote: "[T]his community does not merely tolerate differences, it demands, enables, and encourages difference." She continues: "Amid these differences solidarity arises, a solidarity that takes time, patience, care, and gentleness — one that knows conflict, one that enlivens opposition, but one that also nurtures solidarity through differences and conflicts. This is a community that deliberates what could be, what may be." (Chopp, p. 94). In other words, how to develop the ability to work through vexing problems with compassion, care, integrity, and — dare I say — love. In the process, we — as a community — would successfully develop the courage and emotional strength to remain substantively engaged despite our fear, stress, and discomfort, and yes, remain hopeful — especially amidst the clamor.

President Chopp, we look forward with great anticipation to the many things this community can accomplish during your tenure. On behalf of the staff, I wish you all the best — and happy Mother's Day to you and all the mothers in the audience.

Chopp, Rebecca. The Power to Speak: Feminism, Language, God. Eugene, Ore., Wipf and Stock, 1991.