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Welcome Back

September 9, 2019

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I’m delighted to welcome you back to a new academic year at Swarthmore. I trust that the first week of classes was inspiring, energizing, and perhaps even a little daunting as the rhythm of the academic year takes shape. I’d like to extend a special welcome to our new community members — those joining the faculty and staff, as well as our new students, including 418 first-year and 23 transfer students. We look forward to getting to know each of you and wish you much success as you settle into this community and make it your own.

Let me take this opportunity to call your attention to some exciting initiatives that are underway.

In April, I announced that we are dedicating this academic year to Celebrating Black Excellence at the College. This celebration acknowledges the 50th anniversary of the Black Cultural Center, the 50th anniversary of the Black Studies Program, and the 25th anniversary of the Chester Children’s Chorus — milestones that underscore the values that lie at the heart of Swarthmore’s mission: the promise of a broad education enriched by diverse perspectives that help educate and enlighten our students and our community. Under the theme of “Celebrating Black Excellence at Swarthmore College: Honoring Our Past, Imagining Our Futures,” we plan to explore a complicated history and promising future. In the weeks ahead, we will share more with you about a kickoff event on Sept. 27 and other special events that will take place throughout the academic year. 

We also celebrate the opening of Phase I of Maxine Frank Singer Hall. Named for renowned molecular biologist Maxine Frank Singer ’52, the building serves as a testament to the extraordinary scientific achievements and contributions of Swarthmore alumni, faculty, and others and provides the campus with an impressive new space for interdisciplinary connections and community gatherings. Construction will continue through next summer to ensure that the final phase of the building will be ready in time for the start of the fall 2020 semester. At that time, we will hold a dedication event for our campus community. My thanks to those of you who have invested your time and energy into bringing this extremely complex project to fruition. Moving into a new facility can be challenging for all involved; thanks to everyone for your ongoing patience and flexibility as you acclimate to this new building amid the ongoing construction. 

On a related note: The Biology Department will fully relocate to Singer Hall from Martin Hall for the start of the fall 2020 semester. Preparations are underway to renovate and expand Martin, which will provide much-needed space for the Computer Science and Film & Media Studies departments. We are in the early phases of that project and will keep you apprised as it progresses. 

Work also continues on the Sharples Dining Hall and Community Commons project. This project will allow us to reimagine the residential experience we offer students and enable greater opportunities for rich and meaningful interactions across the campus community. The design of the project has been informed by last year’s extensive community conversations on learning, dining, and socializing on campus. Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown will share more specific details about  this project in the coming weeks. In addition, we will hold a number of town hall events in October to continue gathering your feedback as we aim to begin work on the project next summer, pending final approval by the Board of Managers.

Thanks to the generosity and leadership of Board members Jane Lang ’67 and Lucy Lang ’03, work on a significant and much-needed renovation of the Lang Music Building will begin next spring. In February, the Lang family designated $7 million for this project from Eugene Lang ’38, H’81’s Fund for the Future and issued a challenge to donate $1 million more if the College could raise an additional $1 million. A number of other Managers combined to meet $500,000 of that goal. Raising the additional $500,000 remains a focus of the Changing Lives, Changing the World campaign. 

Let me take this opportunity to underscore an important point: Our continued investments in campus infrastructure — which are ultimately investments in our mission to educate students for full, balanced lives marked by intellectual curiosity and responsible citizenship — are aligned with the College’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2035. We are imagining new and exciting ways to achieve our sustainability goals together.

Now in its final year, the Changing Lives, Changing the World campaign continues to inspire individuals to support the College. As we work to conclude the campaign in summer 2020, I want to recognize the great success we have already achieved. For instance, through the campaign we have raised more than $75 million for financial aid — more than double the amount raised in any previous campaign in the College’s history. Most recently, thanks to a $2 million commitment from James ’79 and Anahita Lovelace, the Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program will be supported in perpetuity. Gifts at all levels have a meaningful impact on advancing our mission. Last year, 65% of donors to The Swarthmore Fund made a gift of $100 or less, and their collective generosity totaled $363,102. In all, more than 20,000 alumni, parents, friends, faculty, staff, and students have donated to the campaign thus far, and more success stories are on the horizon. Their engagement is a testament not only to the enduring value of a Swarthmore education, but also to you — our students, faculty, and staff — and your passion and commitment to living the mission of the College.

Finally, in the spring I asked Vice President and Dean of Students Jim Terhune and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Sarah Willie-LeBreton to oversee the development of new ways to engage students, faculty, and staff in an effort to strengthen and expand meaningful relationships within the campus community. We are particularly interested in strengthening our shared governance, appreciating varying perspectives, and establishing a foundation of honesty and mutual respect, as we find creative ways to grow empathy and trust, and continue to transform this campus. Dean Terhune and Provost Willie-LeBreton spent the summer engaging a number of their colleagues across campus in planning this initiative; they will be sharing more information in the coming weeks. 

In my First Gathering message last week I encouraged students to be curious about new people, new ideas, and new areas of study, and to let that spirit of openness infuse their entire experience here. I extend that invitation to each of you. Such openness is at the heart of Swarthmore and is the source from which the liberal arts derive their power.

I wish you much success in the coming year.

Valerie Smith