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Navigating Challenging Times as a Community

Sun in the sky obscured by fall foliage with Clothier Belltower standing in background against blue sky.

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members,

Sadly, after a brief pause in fighting in the Middle East, the war has resumed. The ongoing loss of innocent life is heartbreaking, and the conflict continues to inflict pain and suffering on millions of survivors whose lives are forever changed — people of many backgrounds and faiths. Palestinians and Israelis. Jews, Arabs, and Muslims. I grieve for all those affected by the violence.

The dramatic rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab hate around the world is devastating. These circumstances are having a profound effect on members of our campus and our extended community. I’m sure many of you are aware of the horrific shooting in Vermont in which three college students of Palestinian descent, including one from our Tri-College partner, Haverford, were senselessly attacked in an apparent incident of anti-Arab hate. I know I speak for our entire community in condemning this heinous violence. My thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.

Many of us are experiencing a range of emotions, including anger, sadness, and fear. Please know that you do not need to navigate these feelings on your own. I urge students, faculty, and staff members in need of support to explore the resources listed below.

I also want to recognize that some of you want to give voice to your emotions and speak out in support of your beliefs. Swarthmore has long valued freedom of expression — freedom to protest and dissent peacefully. Our Academic Freedom and Responsibility Policy embraces the expression of differing opinions, recognizing that our ability to understand and engage with diverse views and lived experiences is vital to Swarthmore’s educational experience.

Since the start of this latest violence in the Middle East, community members have held multiple campus vigils, protests, and other demonstrations of free expression, and have done so without interference, and in some cases with support from the College. Many of these events have lived into the spirit of the College’s belief in peaceful dissent. 

However, we must maintain our commitment to cultivating an environment free of intimidation, harassment, and discrimination. Unfortunately, we have witnessed and heard from students, faculty, and staff about incidents that failed to uphold that commitment. Buildings have been vandalized; pictures of Palestinians killed in the fighting were placed on a faculty member’s door and his photo and name were removed from the department bulletin board after he publicly expressed his views about the conflict; Jewish and Muslim community members have reported antisemitic and Islamophobic harassment and intimidation; and posters hung in accordance with our Banners, Chalkings, and Posters Policy have been ripped up by those with opposing views. Some of the behavior during the protests, such as the use of a bullhorn and drums in enclosed spaces and in close proximity to others, have caused emotional and physical harm on more than one occasion.

Whatever the intent of these actions, they result in intimidation, harassment, and discrimination. Those committing such actions are suppressing, if not silencing, members of our community based on their views and beliefs, which flies in the face of academic freedom and our core values.

We are actively investigating these and related incidents, and we will hold accountable anyone found to be in violation of our policies. The Division of Student Affairs has issued warning letters to several students — including those supporting Palestine and those supporting Israel — who are believed to be involved in these incidents, urging them to discontinue such behavior. Many of the students received these letters after initial conversations and other attempts we made to discuss ways for them to engage in peaceful dissent without violating the rights of others.

As I started to write this note, students from Swarthmore’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine and their allies began a sit-in inside Parrish Hall. We are working to reach a peaceful resolution to this latest demonstration, and we will say more about this in the near future. 

Some of you may read this message and feel the College is trying to quell speech on campus. That is most definitely not the case; we respect your right to advocate for your beliefs. We are a community bound by our commitment to peace, mutual respect, and inclusion. Those who choose to exercise their voices must do so in keeping with these values.

We are committed to eradicating antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of discrimination within our community. If you feel you have witnessed or are the victim of such behavior, it’s critical that you report it to the College’s Bias Response Team. We expanded the team’s membership to increase its capacity and strengthen its efforts to inform the College's responses to bias. We are also exploring ways to develop and promote new and existing opportunities to build upon how we recognize, confront, and prevent bias and hatred.

Times of conflict and intense disagreement often present productive learning opportunities.  Members of the Swarthmore community hold a diverse spectrum of individual and shared identities. My recent conversations with students, alumni, and others have reaffirmed for me the benefits of hearing each other’s complex viewpoints. We can all benefit from this type of learning if we remain in dialogue with each other and engage in the practice of active listening.
I conclude by sharing with you reflections on the conflict in the Middle East from several of our faculty members who represent a range of disciplines. Their observations powerfully demonstrate who we are at our core: a community dedicated to curiosity, creativity, and the quest for knowledge and understanding — a community that exists, in the words of our mission statement, to empower individuals to flourish and contribute to a better world. I renew my call to treat each other with grace, compassion, and empathy.  


Val Smith

Campus Support Resources

Resources for Students
Students may reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services or the Interfaith Center. The student deans in the Division of Student Affairs are also available to assist in a variety of ways. 

Resources for Faculty and Staff
Faculty and staff members have access to support through our employee assistance program, Carebridge. Each of the College’s medical insurance plans includes mental health benefits through Magellan as well. Both Carebridge’s and Magellan’s services are secure and confidential.