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Update on Campus Initiatives

Message Highlights

The following message provides updates on various campus initiatives, including: 

  • Our Mission Statement
  • A Land Acknowledgement Process
  • The President’s Fund for Racial Justice
  • Presidential Office Hours for Students
  • The Upcoming Budget Essentials Course
  • Understanding the Curriculum

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members, 

I write to share a number of updates on several campus initiatives, many of which reflect a shared interest in improving transparency and communication. But first, allow me to take a moment to recognize the significance of this moment in time. A year ago, I wrote to the campus community with news that the COVID-19 pandemic would force us to move to a remote environment for what we anticipated would be a few weeks. At the time, the destructive course the virus would ultimately take was unimaginable. And while the past year has been filled with grief, anxiety, and fear, I’ve marveled at our community’s flexibility, resilience, and perseverance. We united together in the face of a global health crisis unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. We adapted, we made difficult decisions, and, ultimately, we did what was necessary to protect our own and each other’s health and safety while continuing to fulfill our educational mission. 

So let me express again how grateful I am for your continued vigilance in helping limit the spread of COVID-19. We have seen very few positive cases on campus so far, which is a testament to the care you’ve taken in following our safety protocols and policies. That’s true of everyone who is on campus, as well as those of you who are studying and working remotely. We simply could not manage the pandemic as successfully as we have so far without your efforts. Thank you for doing all that you can to keep yourselves and each other safe and healthy. 

Our Mission
Last spring, I wrote to you about our work to codify our mission statement, which stemmed from a recommendation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education during our recent reaccreditation. Informed by feedback from students, faculty, staff, and alumni, the Mission Statement Committee developed and the Board of Managers approved this mission statement for the College:

Swarthmore College provides learners of diverse backgrounds a transformative liberal arts education grounded in rigorous intellectual inquiry and empowers all who share in our community to flourish and contribute to a better world. 

We commit to this mission by:

  • Offering a robust, liberal arts curriculum connecting the arts, humanities, natural sciences and engineering, social sciences, and interdisciplinary programs.
  • Fostering innovative research and creative production and encouraging collaboration among faculty, students, and staff.
  • Building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive residential community that enriches our experiences and expands our worldviews.
  • Stewarding our resources through intentional daily and long-term sustainability practices, honoring our location on the ancestral land of the Lenni-Lenape people.
  • Creating opportunities for education and growth among faculty, students, staff, and alumni by sharing in the multitude of talents of the College community, exploring the beauty of our natural environment, and actively engaging in the rich cultural diversity of our region and our world.
  • Committing to peace, equity, and social responsibility, rooted in our founding as a coeducational Quaker institution.

I want to thank the members of the Mission Statement Committee for their good, hard work, and for creating an inclusive, collaborative process that resulted in a clearer, stronger statement for why we are here and what we hope to achieve.

Land Acknowledgement
The Mission Statement Committee dedicated time to discussing the College’s location and relationship with the Unami tribe of the Lenni-Lenape people. It is, for many of us, a long-standing topic of interest and importance. For at least the past several years, various members of the College community have talked about developing a formal land acknowledgement. Some have even drafted individual statements for use in various settings. I believe it is past time for Swarthmore to act with intention and purpose in developing an official land acknowledgment, and I plan to convene a task force later this semester comprising students, faculty, and staff members to begin this important work. My hope is that the process will enable us to form deeper connections with representatives from the Lenni-Lenape people and that we are able to partner with them in this endeavor. I will share more information about this initiative as details emerge, but I want to thank all of you who’ve raised this important issue, including the Mission Statement Committee, which recommended we engage in this work.

President’s Fund for Racial Justice
As you may recall, last year during the resurgence of Black Lives Matter activism, I established the President’s Fund for Racial Justice (PFRJ) to support Swarthmore programs focused on transformative racial justice, especially those in our local and regional communities, with the goal of improving the lives of Black and Brown people and other minority groups. Initially, the fund provided support to the Chester Children’s Chorus and Swarthmore Black Alumni Network internships. We’ve since been able to provide funds to eight courses across the January term and spring semester, as well as several spring events, including:

  • Race, Racism, and the Liberal Arts,” a new initiative undertaken by Swarthmore’s Aydelotte Foundation. 
  • “Anti-Racism in Psychology: A Conversation Between Two Scholars,” which featured a conversation between Nayeli Chavez of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and Howard Stevenson from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • “Stereotype Threat and Identity Threat: The Science of a Diverse Community,” a lecture by distinguished psychologist Claude Steele from Stanford University organized by Associate Professor of Psychology Cat Norris. In addition to the PFRJ, this event received funding from the Sigma Xi Diversity Initiative Fund, the Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program, and the Psychology Department.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive report, but rather examples that demonstrate the ways in which the PFRJ is fulfilling its intended purpose. Other events and programs are being planned for later in the semester; I look forward to announcing them once details have been finalized.

Office Hours for Students
Throughout my presidency, I’ve held regularly scheduled office hours for students who are interested in meeting with me. This semester, I’ve reserved the following dates and times for those who may be interested:

  • Monday, March 29 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. ET
  • Monday, April 12 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, April 21 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. ET
  • Thursday, May 13 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. ET

If you are interested in scheduling a time to meet with me, please email my executive coordinator, Jenny Gifford, at

Understanding the College’s Finances
For the past seven years, Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown and other members of our community have offered the program Budget Essentials, during which they cover topics related to the College’s budget, including financial aid, our endowment, and fundraising. This year, the program will be conducted virtually with opportunities for small-group discussions. It will be open to all students, faculty, and staff members. Budget Essentials will take place on four successive Tuesdays (April 6, 13, 20, and 27) from 3:45 to 5 p.m. Please keep an eye out for an email invitation with more information on how to sign up and participate.

Understanding the Curriculum
Among the many things we’ve learned during this extended period of disruption and adaptation is that many of our students, if not others in the community, have an interest in learning more about the College’s curriculum, how it’s developed, and the opportunities that exist for students and faculty members to engage in that process. In response, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Sarah Willie-LeBreton has offered to host a workshop this semester called Curriculum 101. This informational session is open to all Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff members, though it is geared toward a student audience. Please register for the session in advance. You may also submit questions ahead of time, if you’d like. My thanks to Sarah for investing the time and energy into this new program, which I’m sure will be quite interesting and informative.

A Shared Commitment to Improving Transparency and Communication
Provost Willie-LeBreton’s idea for a Curriculum 101 highlights another lesson learned this past year: We can do a better job of communicating with the campus community, and with students in particular, about ongoing initiatives and the day-to-day workings of the College. 

One way we can improve transparency and communication is through our existing channels of shared governance. In that vein, I am happy to be working with the leaders of the Student Government Organization to ensure we have more regular conversations between SGO leadership and members of the President’s Staff. I believe doing so will help:

  • Open new avenues for communicating with each other and with campus more broadly. 
  • Keep the campus community better informed about the work going on at the College.
  • Provide a better understanding of each other’s interests and priorities.

I’m grateful to the SGO leadership for their willingness to engage in these conversations, and I look forward to strengthening our relationship and working together to improve on issues of transparency and communication.  

I also want to take this opportunity to lift up an example that demonstrates how effective our system of shared governance can be. As Provost Willie-LeBreton shared earlier this month, the faculty recently voted to extend the drop deadline until 11:59 p.m. ET, Friday, April 16, and extend the add deadline by a week to 11:59 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Feb. 24. These changes recognize the immense pressure the pandemic has placed on students and their academic pursuits, and they came about thanks to SGO forming a proposal and, after seeking advice from Student Affairs, bringing it to the appropriate faculty committee, the Council on Educational Policy (CEP). After careful consideration and discussion, CEP brought the proposal to the full faculty for discussion and, ultimately, approval. 

Not every issue is as clear; shared governance isn’t always as clean, nor should it be. But this does show how our system can work, and I hope it serves as an example to draw upon when we face similar issues in the future.

I look forward to ongoing conversations about these and other issues, and I hope you continue to find this semester intellectually stimulating, rewarding, and successful. 


Val Smith