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Community Development Grants to Foster Dialogue, Inclusivity

Students from SwatDeck proposal
Brennan Klein '14, Isaac Opoku '14, Emma Kates-Shaw '16, and Raven Bennett '17 received a grant for their "SwatDeck" proposal, which will use playing cards to organize students into groups for outings into Media and Philadelphia.

Excitement is brewing for a new grant program that will spotlight and enrich the Swarthmore community.

Two teams of students and staff have been awarded $10,000 community development grants aimed at "promoting sustained and meaningful interaction among community members in order to cultivate a more inclusive learning environment," announces Lili Rodriguez, associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and community development.

Psychology major Brennan Klein '14 (Tucson, Ariz.), economics major Isaac Opoku '14 (Tema, Ghana), prospective studio art major Emma Kates-Shaw '16 (Ossining, N.Y.), and prospective psychology major Raven Bennett '17 (Santa Monica, Calif.) received one of two community development grants for their "SwatDeck" proposal.

The second grant went to Pamela Prescod-Caesar, vice president for human resources, and Zenobia Hargust, employee relations and training manager for human resources, who are sponsoring photographer Adam Mastoon to implement a "Community Documentation Project."

The grant program is an initiative of the President's Office, which established a fund of $50,000 per year through 2016, stemming from the College's Strategic Plan.

"It's firmly rooted in Swarthmore's core values, including respect for a diversity of viewpoints, identities, and histories," says Rodriguez, "inclusive of ethnicity and race, socioeconomic background, religion, political beliefs and associations, sexual orientation, and gender. It seeks to develop a set of transformative experiences for our community."

The student proposal calls for four "SwatDeck" weekends in March and April in which students receive a playing card and notebook in their mailbox before walking to the train station. There, they will join three others with similar cards and head to a park, coffee shop, or museum in Media or Philadelphia that sparks their curiosity. They will ponder questions such as "What is learning?" and "What are our differences?" together to hear other perspectives and broaden their own.

"Our aim is to explode the network of communications that exist on this campus, and to bring conversations into unexpected places with unexpected players," the students write of the project, for which an information session will be held the evening of Thurs., Mar. 6, at Sharples Dining Hall.

"This is a social experiment for the curious, willing, passionate people (read: Swatties). Its goal is to solidify and expand the feeling of shared intellectual and emotional experience at Swarthmore, to freshen the idea-sphere on this campus, improving our communication with one another, the community, and the world."

Adds Klein: "Our peers offer an immensely powerful perspective - all we have to do is listen."

The project encourages both individual and group reflection, with the 160 student participants posting thoughts and photos to Tumblr and Instagram, among other creative outlets. A wrap-up event will offer a visual representation of the experience, through photos and geo-tagged maps, at a highly visible space such as the Science Center.

The proposal from Prescod-Caesar, Hargust, and Mastoon follows the photographer's recent community narratives project at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which spotlighted the diverse faces and voices of its community to spur appreciation of individuals' similarities and differences.

"This project offers the Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to use their voices to inspire others about the difference each of their stories and lives can make in the world," says Mastoon. "It will provide a glimpse into the wonderful eclectic group of human beings that make up the Swarthmore community."

The proposal from Pamela Prescod-Caesar, Zenobia Hargust, and photographer Adam Mastoon will create a project that celebrates the Swarthmore community, in the style of similar work by Mastoon at the Rhode Island School of Design (above).

The proposal calls for Mastoon and College administrators to tailor a project that highlights and celebrate the Swarthmore community. They will kick the project off in September, developing a series of questions rooted in the spirit and mission of the community and holding a writing workshop to encourage a wide spectrum of viewpoints. Mastoon will hold conduct two days of portrait photography to build a diverse, vibrant portfolio of 25 images, integrating compelling quotes and text, to be displayed prominently on campus.

"Although photographs are the foundation, the project will illustrate a much richer picture of each individual participant," says Hargust.

"We envision it helping us to recognize and appreciate the amazing attributes we all bring to this place," adds Prescod-Caesar, "adding to our evolving culture."

Have inspiration? The Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development encourages the Swarthmore community to begin formulating ideas for next year's grants, with a tentative deadline of mid-October.

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