The College community kicked off Swarthmore’s yearlong celebration of Black Excellence on Friday, with students, staff, and faculty packing Trotter Lawn to eat, laugh, and dance.
Hope and optimism for the year abounded, as powerful speeches were delivered by President Valerie Smith, Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA) Co-President Joe Green ’21, Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society (SASS) Co-President Taylor Tucker ’20, Program Director for Black Studies and Associate Professor of English Anthony Foy, Associate Dean and Director of the Black Cultural Center Dion Lewis, and longtime Environmental Services staff member Sharon Pierce.
President Smith opened the day's remarks by stating that Celebrating Black Excellence at Swarthmore was conceived as a way of acknowledging the versatility, power, and contributions of Black faculty, staff, students, and alumni at Swarthmore. "Throughout the year, I hope we will all reflect honestly on the College’s struggles to realize its ideals of equity and inclusion," she said.
Green echoed those sentiments, saying, “This year, we must look to lift up those Black voices that have been silenced and ignored and give them the attention and credit they deserve.”
Tucker emphasized the potential for positive change borne out of the year's events. "I know that peoples' hearts and minds cannot be fully transformed within a school year," she said, "but my sincerest hope is that this year of celebration is a year of intentional learning and overall growth."
Foy reflected on the purpose of Black Studies by examining the life of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. "We cannot be free until we become the subjects of our own stories, not simply the objects of others' texts," said Foy, echoing Douglass' words.
Lewis spoke about the connection between the past and present, saying "Students, faculty, and staff of African descent on predominantly white campuses still face challenges similar to those of the late 1960s. As we look to the future, we must create initiatives that engage in conversation and fully see each other for the identities we possess."
“I'm representing EVS day and night shift,” said longtime staff member Sharon Pierce, who rounded out the afternoon's speeches. “I want to also do a shout out for Learning for Life,” a program that links students and staff members that turned 20 this year. “It has been my baby and I wouldn’t have survived without it,” she said before recounting connections she made by hosting radio shows with students.
The catered event, which included two dessert-focused food trucks, allowed all members of the campus community to enjoy the festivities.
“Dining Services never closes, something is always open. This is the first time we’re all honestly included,” said Michelle Hartel, of the Kohlberg Coffee Bar, noting this is the first time she could recall all four dining facilities being closed at the same time for an event.
Students did not regret the closure of dining facilities for the event either, as many complimented the popsicles, potato salad, and sandwiches. Lijia Liu ’20, an economics and mathematics major from Singapore, praised the quality and variety of food, calling it all delicious. More importantly, she stated she “appreciated how Swarthmore often hosts events to promote diversity and inclusion, especially for the staff who keep the school running.”