Skip to main content

Watch: T. Sha Duncan Smith

Watch: T. Shá Duncan Smith

I knew I had been thinking too much about my remarks about building an inclusive community when I woke up from a nightmare about leaving someone or something out. So right now, I want to own that in every word I have weighed today, I have done so with each one of you in all of your uniqueness in mind and all of the nuance that comes with the wide range of human difference and how we maneuver and engage in this world and environment on a daily basis. If I have left anyone or anything out today blame it on my head and not my heart…and the 3 minutes I have to speak to you.

I have a friend who was holding his infant daughter in his arms and his 2.5 year old son says to him daddy, put sissy down and pick me up please.

My friend bent down and picked up his son while he was holding his infant daughter and held  both of his children in his arms.

He then turns to his son and says, “See son, someone else doesn’t have to be put down in order for you to be lifted up.”

I cannot begin to think of a better illustration that I could paint for you right now when I think about what we are trying to model here at Swarthmore on our journey to building an inclusive community.

I have been here close to one year and, on my listening tours, I continue to hear the need for a deep sense of belonging across the entire college community of students, faculty, staff, departments, centers, programs, and more.

I have heard the call across the community for the essential needs to thrive at Swarthmore College to be lifted up. And in these conversations with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners, if I could channel my inner Oprah and say to them, "You are included, and you are included, and you are included, ooh look under your chair, you are included!" I would. It sounds silly and it makes us laugh, and while I mean it,  I realize just saying it is hollow. 

It’s ineffective. 

Everyone can come up with the rhetoric, but doing it is something else.

And for us to be able to build this inclusive community, we need the resources to do it. Along with the resources, we need to understand what our shared vision is of what this inclusive community looks like or what it could be. Our shared vision, or what I like to call the “blueprint before we build,” has been informed by our various campus assessments, studies, and continuing committee work.  

What I have found in my quest for ways to approach this work in many college settings and at Swarthmore College is that an inclusive community does not always agree. It is not always positive. Discourse and decisions in an inclusive community will not always be welcomed or agreed upon. And the building process will not be easy, but anything we want bad enough we have to work hard for.

An inclusive community:

“Does everything that it can to respect all its members, it gives them full access to resources, and promotes equitable treatment and opportunity. An inclusive community Works to eliminate all forms of discrimination. Engages all its members in decision-making processes that affect their lives. It values diversity,” equity, inclusion and equity-mindedness[1].

Building an inclusive community means promoting access, enhancing inclusive classroom experiences, building on our inclusive pedagogy, creating an inclusive and accessible environment, engaging in inclusive sustainability practices, and developing inclusive leaders.

Building an inclusive community means providing resources to enhance and leverage the daily work of our departments and programs and our identity based, centers, programs, and initiatives. 

Building an inclusive community means being self-aware and critically conscious of our own identities, backgrounds, and perspectives and focusing on our interconnectedness while having fun, and believing the best of intentions in everyone through it all as we learn together, grow together, make mistakes together, forgive together, play together, create together, innovate together, and build together.

Together we will prioritize building an inclusive committee by increasing access through financial aid, continuing to build on the Dean’s Discretionary Fund so that students can contend with the social determinants of higher education, and increasing the resources for faculty and staff to promote co-curricular initiatives on this campus, to enhance professional development funding so faculty and staff can provide inclusive classrooms and living spaces for students. To provide opportunities for faculty, staff and students to communicate, engage and innovate together.

I look forward to continuing to serve as a resource as we work collaboratively to build Swarthmore’s beloved and inclusive community.

Thank you for your time.

[1] Definition-Based on Community Toolbox: Building Inclusive Communities 

Submissions Welcome

The Communications Office invites all members of the Swarthmore community to share videos, photos, and story ideas for the College's website. Have you seen an alum in the news? Please let us know by writing