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An Expression of Gratitude, November 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members,

I write to share a few words of gratitude as we prepare to break for the Thanksgiving holiday. First, I’m grateful for all you’ve done to keep yourselves and each other healthy. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: In one way or another, all of you have contributed to our success in minimizing the spread of COVID-19 while carrying out our academic mission during this extremely difficult period in history. I want especially to thank our colleagues in dining, environmental services, facilities, and public safety, who have been a constant presence on campus throughout this pandemic.

The generosity of members of our broader community has allowed us to live more fully into our mission. Because of their support of our collective efforts and vision for an ever-stronger Swarthmore, I am able to share just a few updates that speak to our commitments to racial justice:

  • Some of you may recall that, in 2019, the Environmental Studies Program requested a tenure-track faculty position for an environmental humanist with a focus on Native American and Indigenous studies. I am pleased to share that the position was approved by the Council on Educational Policy (CEP) earlier this year, and a search to fill it is underway. This is the first tenure line faculty position fully dedicated to Environmental Studies. The position was made possible through generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which we secured with the help of Director of Institutional Relations David Foreman.

  • Mellon funding also supports, in part, the creation of a second faculty line — the first tenure-track position fully dedicated to the Black Studies Program. The position was requested by the program in 2018 and approved by CEP in spring 2019. After a search that ended unsuccessfully, members of the Black Studies Program asked to postpone the search until 2021 in hopes of being able to meet finalists in person.

  • In addition to the Mellon Foundation funding, the faculty line in Black Studies was made possible by two generous gifts, including one from Winston Zee P’07 and Peggy Chan P’07, who have established the College’s first endowed chair in Black Studies. At the start of the semester, several faculty members were nominated for the position. Based on those nominations, I’ve put forth my recommendation to the Board of Managers for approval at its upcoming meeting in December. The Peggy Chan Chair in Black Studies “will support a Black Studies faculty member whose work fosters innovation and interdisciplinarity.”

  • Finally, faculty who teach courses in Asian American Studies at Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr have come together to propose a new Tri-College program in Asian American Studies. This proposal, which has already been endorsed by the Curriculum Committee, brings together and coordinates courses into a coherent program of study across all three campuses. Swarthmore will take up the issue at a future faculty meeting. 

My sincere thanks to all of those who contributed their time and energy to these important endeavors that emphasize the importance of placing the experience of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color as central queries for interrogation and study in our curriculum and serve as a testament to our shared commitment to creating a more just and inclusive community.

Finally, in the spirit of gratitude — and as most residential students prepare to return home for the holiday and many of us prepare to adapt long-established traditions in light of the pandemic — I want to share with you a video message [below] from members of our Board of Managers, including Anne Schuchat ’80, the principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Board offers its encouragement, support, and appreciation for your perseverance, resilience, and empathy, and reminds us all to remain vigilant in the face of this global pandemic.  

My best for a happy and restorative holiday, 

Val Smith