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A Message to the Community

Flower in the Dean Bond Rose Garden

President Valerie Smith shared the following message with the community on August 22, 2017:

Dear Members of the Swarthmore Community,

As we approach the start of a new academic year, our hearts are heavy in the wake of recent acts of violence and hatred in Charlottesville motivated by racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We condemn these actions perpetrated by the KKK, neo-Nazis, “alt-right” groups and their sympathizers that took the life of Heather Heyer, led to the deaths of Lieutenant Pilot H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates of the Virginia State Police, and wounded scores of others. We condemn the racial, ethnic and religious intolerance, and hatred expressed through these attacks. And we stand in solidarity with the members of the Charlottesville/UVA community as it seeks to heal. Terrorist acts and hate-filled speech are meant to intimidate and to silence. But we will not be intimidated and we will not be silenced. We stand firm in the values on which Swarthmore was founded and that bind this community together across the generations.

In times like these, we must rededicate ourselves to our core mission. Swarthmore College was founded to provide young women and men with an education second to none that would prepare them to serve the common good. In the classroom our students develop critical thinking, research skills, the ability to communicate persuasively orally and in writing, the capacity to imagine other worlds and perspectives, and the discernment necessary to distinguish fact from fiction. Among their peers, they learn empathy, compassion, collaboration, and the capacity to live civilly, respectfully, and joyfully with those from different races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, countries of national origin, creeds, abilities, and life experiences. And in our on- and off-campus community, they develop the curiosity, expansiveness of heart and mind, and capacity for close observation that allow them to become life-long learners, open to the lessons that their neighbors, co-workers, arts and culture, and the natural environment can teach.

As I begin my third year at the College, I draw inspiration from the varied opportunities Swarthmore offers students, faculty, and staff to teach and to learn. In seminar rooms, studios, lecture halls, and laboratories ideas are created, transmitted, analyzed, and debated. Programs such as Learning for Life and the President’s Sustainability Research Fellows offer students opportunities to partner with staff or faculty to learn from each other as they collaborate on campus and community projects. The Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility and the Center for Innovation and Leadership allow students to apply lessons learned in the classroom to real-world challenges and problems.

James Baldwin once wrote that “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” Institutions of higher learning equip current and future generations with the knowledge and the tools necessary to combat ignorance and injustice. That knowledge and those tools will sustain our democracy.

Events like those that occurred in Charlottesville remind us that the values we share and that bring us together on this campus are treasured by some but despised by others. By choosing to come or return to Swarthmore, you renew your commitment to the core values of a liberal arts education. The very act of learning in an atmosphere of mutual respect resists the hatred we have seen on display in Charlottesville and elsewhere. When violence and intolerance threaten our core values, we will speak up and speak out. I have every confidence that our community will continue to prepare compassionate, wise, and courageous leaders and citizens who will preserve and advance our democracy.


Valerie Smith

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