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A Message to the Community from President Valerie Smith

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members, 

As most of you are aware, this is the last week of in-person instruction for students who are on campus this fall. Most residential students will leave campus by the end of the week. No classes will be held during the week of Thanksgiving; the final week of classes and final exams will be fully remote.

I want to thank the students, faculty, and staff members whose tireless efforts have allowed us to make it to this point. Many people thought we couldn’t get through the semester without facing a serious outbreak of COVID-19 cases. But we showed our willingness to observe the necessary safety protocols and use common sense to keep ourselves and each other safe. Moreover, we displayed the resilience necessary to persevere in the face of challenging circumstances. 

Without question, this has been a difficult time. As I have said many times, multiple intersecting crises are illuminating the persistent inequities that plague our society. It is thus not surprising that everyone is exhausted and anxious. To that end, as I announced to the faculty and staff last week, we are committed to integrating some version of a spring break into next semester.

Many of you are also aware that on Wednesday, Nov. 11, Vice President Jim Terhune, Dean of Students Tomoko Sakomura, and I received a list of demands from a student group calling itself the Black Affinity Coalition. The group threatened further action if we did not provide plans to meet their demands by today at 9 a.m. On Friday, Nov. 13, the group announced plans for a student strike, similar to those carried out at Haverford and Bryn Mawr this semester. 

I want to let you know that we will continue holding classes for the rest of the semester, as planned. I am also sharing with you below the response that I sent directly to the group this morning.

As I wrote in my note to the group, I look forward to continuing our collective work toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive Swarthmore College.

Sincerely, 


Valerie Smith
President
 

 

To the members of the Black Affinity Coalition,

Your message makes clear two things: First, we share the goal of making the College, and society broadly, a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. And second, as we endeavor toward that better future, my administrative colleagues and I need to communicate with our students around these and other issues more effectively. 

I was surprised to suddenly receive a list of demands from an anonymous source since no one from this group had spoken with me, Vice President Terhune, Dean Sakomura, Provost Willie-LeBreton or, to my knowledge, any member of the administration, beforehand. We regularly work with students to address issues of concern that they bring to us. 

I agree with the underlying sentiment of your note and many of the specific points you’ve raised. Had we spoken before you issued your list of demands, we could have shared with you that we have either done or are close to announcing some of the very things you’ve listed in your demands. For instance, we could have told you that we are committed to building in additional time off for students during the spring semester, which I mentioned in a message to faculty and staff last week. Or we could have called your attention to the eight new J-Term and spring semester courses that will be funded through the President’s Fund for Racial Justice, established this summer with the goal of supporting Swarthmore programs focused on transformative racial justice and curricular and co-curricular initiatives in local and regional communities, all with the goal of improving the lives of Black and Brown people and other minoritized groups. These are but two examples of the significant efforts underway that speak to your concerns. 

These types of initiatives emerge from our collective contributions — through the active engagement of our students, faculty, and staff members. Our journey toward a better, more just Swarthmore will be reached not through anonymous demands and ultimatums that fail to recognize the contributions, commitment, and passion so many of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others have dedicated to these issues, but through creative and critical thinking, collaboration, and empathy.

I look forward to continuing the partnership with students and strengthening our communications so that you and all members of our community are aware of the ongoing efforts to transform Swarthmore College. I know I speak for all the members of my administration when I say we hope to work with you toward that shared aspiration. 

Sincerely, 


Valerie Smith
President