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About Valerie Smith

President Valerie Smith

Valerie Smith, a distinguished scholar of African American literature, is the 15th president of Swarthmore College, where her priorities have included strengthening and expanding initiatives focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion; supporting curricular innovation; improving the campus’s facilities and infrastructure; ensuring the College fulfills its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2035; and strengthening relationships between the College and the region.

In service of those priorities and under President Smith’s leadership, Swarthmore recently concluded Changing Lives, Changing the World, the largest comprehensive fundraising campaign in the College’s history. The campaign raised more than $440 million, including more than $110 million for financial aid. This unprecedented support for students will help the College continue to diversify its student body, including by supporting more low-income and first-generation students. Swarthmore remains one of the few colleges in the country to practice need-blind admissions — admitting students regardless of their ability to pay tuition. 

The campaign has also helped fuel transformative facilities projects that provide new opportunities for collaboration and community building. In 2020, the College opened Maxine Frank Singer Hall, the new home of Swarthmore’s biology, psychology, and engineering departments. The building features flexible classrooms, state-of-the-art laboratories, and numerous spaces for collaborative activity. A new dining hall and community commons, currently under construction, will not only provide an expanded and reimagined social and dining experience for the community, but its innovative sustainable design will also facilitate the College’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. 

President Smith’s commitment to sustainability is also reflected in the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship program. The fellowships match motivated students with small teams of staff and faculty mentors to research, develop, and implement high-impact sustainability projects in a yearlong course and associated internship.

In 2020, amid escalating instances of racial violence and xenophobia across the country, President Smith established the President’s Fund for Racial Justice, which supports programs focused on transformative racial justice and curricular and co-curricular initiatives that promote engaged scholarship, especially those in the local and regional communities — improving the lives of Black and Brown people and other minoritized groups.

President Smith is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the boards of the American Council on Education, the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, and Fulbright Canada. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bates College, she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Virginia. Previously, she was a professor of English and African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature, founding director of the Center for African American Studies, and dean of the college at Princeton University. She is the author of more than 40 articles and three books on African American literature, culture, film, and photography, and is the editor or co-editor of seven volumes.