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College Community Gathers to Kick Off Year of Black Excellence

Students sit with professor at Swarthmore Fall Gathering celebration of Black Excellence

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."

Joel Green '21 on dais at microphone

“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,” said Joe Green '21.

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.

Students eat food under a tent

The catered event gave all members of the campus community the opportunity 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.”

President Valerie Smith claps with Black Excellence sign in background

"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,” said President Valerie Smith.

Community members pose with sign celebrating 50th Anniversary of BCC

This academic year marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Cultural Center, the 50th of the Black Studies Program, and the 25th of the Chester Children's Chorus.

Student wearing sunglasses dances to music

The College community kicked off Swarthmore’s celebration of Black Excellence on Friday, with students, staff, and faculty packing Trotter Lawn to eat, laugh, and dance.

Taylor Tucker '20 at dais with microphone

"I know that peoples' hearts and minds cannot be fully transformed within a school year, but my sincerest hope is that this year of celebration is a year of intentional learning and overall growth," said Taylor Tucker '20.

Students walk by Celebration of Black Excellence event

Optimism for the year abounded as participants discussed their hopes and expectations for the yearlong celebration.

Dion Lewis on dais with microphone

"As we look to the future, we must create initiatives that engage in conversation and where we engage in conversation and fully see each other for the identities we possess," said Associate Dean and Black Cultural Center Director Dion Lewis.

Community members eat and mingle on lawn near Trotter Hall

President Smith emphasized that the celebration embodied "the promise of a broad education enriched by diverse perspectives that help educate and enlighten our students."

Anthony Foy at microphone

"We cannot be free until we become the subjects of our own stories, not simply the objects of others' texts," said Anthony Foy, in reference to the work of Frederick Douglass.

Karen Henry '81 and Linda Echols sitting at table outisde

Dean of First Year Students Karen Henry '87 and retired Director of Worth Health Center Linda Echols, a 1997-98 recipient of the Kathryn Morgan Award.

Sharon Pierce on dais with microphone

“I want to also do a shout out for Learning for Life,” said Sharon Pierce about a program that links students and staff members. “It has been my baby and I wouldn’t have made it without it.”

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