Swarthmore’s December 2011 Strategic Directions document invokes “inclusion” 12 times, “diversity” 23 times, variations of “engagement” 43 times, and “community” or “communities” about 93 times combined.
All of these numbers – without context – do little to describe Swarthmore’s current state or future priorities. Dean Braun says the same is true for evaluating what diversity means to a community.
“A lot of times when people talk about diversity, they think about it only in terms of numbers,” she said in an interview last week, “but I think in order to truly have the kind of learning environment we want here, you also have to have inclusion, which means that everyone is working on these issues.”
With Swarthmore’s first Diversity Symposium in the spring, Dean Braun hopes to move beyond the numbers. Working with individuals and groups across the entire community, the Symposium aims to foster campus-wide engagement in the college’s current diversity policy and its possible improvements in the future. The Symposium will include four events over a two week period, culminating in a keynote address from Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum and a Collection to reflect on the Symposium the following day.
In addition to the Dean’s Office, the Symposium has received early support from Director of Equal Opportunity Sharmaine LaMar, Vice President for Planning Garikai Campbell, Associate Provost Patricia Reilly and the Provost’s Office, and President Chopp and the President’s Office.
The Diversity Symposium will begin after spring break with a Sharples Takeover to catalyze discussion and solicit student feedback. As in Student Council’s Sharples Takeover last spring, which collected student input for the Strategic Planning Council, the event will feature table tents with discussion topics, as well as index cards for students to submit recommendations. In addition to this school-wide event, Braun and LaMar will hold smaller dinners and discussions with a range of student, faculty, and staff groups on campus.
Olivia Ensign ’12, Dean Braun’s intern and assistant in planning the Diversity Symposium hopes combining these two strategies will incorporate the voices of both niche groups and individuals in further discussion. “That’s why this is so helpful,” she said of outreach efforts, “in terms of different groups kind of figuring out points of intersection.”
Recommendations will then go to the Diversity and Inclusion Implementation Committee, a group of faculty, staff, and students who will plan the Symposium and future discussions. Lamar said she will be seeking “thought leaders” for the committee in the coming weeks, community members able to gather input from their peers and generate provocative ideas for the future.
“Diversity means a lot of different things to different people,” she said. “We need to define it for our community.”
Proposals for the evolving definition of diversity will no doubt be central to the second event of the Diversity Symposium, a faculty panel discussion. Members of the panel are yet to be determined.
For the next Symposium event, President Tatum of Spelman College—a historically Black liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, Georgia—will give a keynote address on Thursday, April 6th in LPAC. President Tatum, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, is the winner of the 2005 Brock International Prize in Education and, most recently, the author of 2007’s Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation. Previous to her current post at Spelman, President Tatum was the dean and acting president of Mount Holyoke College, where she hired Dean Braun as director of student life.
“She’s a tremendous intellectual, and writer, and thinker, and practitioner when it comes to higher education,” said Braun. “She’s just a fantastic speaker and I think it’s a terrific way to kind of kick things off.”
The final event of the Diversity Symposium will be Collection in the Swarthmore Quaker Meeting House on the Friday following President Tatum’s address. The Strategic Directions envisioned a “re-imagining” of Collection, in which Collection would be one of many spaces that “bridge communities closed off by political beliefs, racial lines, religious beliefs, or class differences.”
Dean Braun emphasized that the Diversity Symposium is part of a continuing effort to evaluate and implement an inclusive sense of diversity to fit Swarthmore’s changing community. In the spirit of the mandate from the Strategic Directions, Braun hopes to continue conversations with student groups, events featuring outside speakers, and faculty panels on diversity into the fall.
“When it comes to things like diversity and inclusion,” she said, “our work is never done.”
Correction: The Daily Gazette originally reported Spelman College was in Decatur, GA. The college is located in Atlanta, GA.