Formerly the Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, Dr. Darryl Smaw has returned to Swarthmore for the 2013-2014 school year to serve as the College’s Interim Director for the Intercultural Center (IC). Previously, Smaw was a member of the College administration from 2002 to 2011, before announcing his plans to retire in Portland, OR. Prior to his position at Swarthmore, Smaw worked at Harvard as the Associate Dean for Program Development at the Graduate School of Education and the Assistant Dean for Student Life at the Divinity School.
Isabel Knight: So you’ve been in Portland for the past two years…
Darryl Smaw: Well, actually, no. I retired to Portland and then [my partner and I] discovered that the stock market was going to be a lot worse than we had anticipated, so after having a wonderful year in Portland, we decided to return to the East Coast and see what the job market was like here.
It worked out quite well — we moved back to Media and we enjoy it. This job just happened because I periodically check the website for Swarthmore because Swarthmore always has great speakers and the Cooper events. So that’s how I came across this position, because I was searching the website for performances, et cetera. And then I saw the Interim Director for the IC job, so I said, “Why not? I’ll just see what happens.” And so I pushed send. And here I am.
IK: So what is the difference between the job as the Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs you held previously at Swarthmore in 2011, and this position as the Interim Director for the Intercultural Center?
DS: So before, I was one of the Senior Staff, so the Assistant Dean and Director of the BCC [Black Cultural Center] and the Assistant Dean and Director of the IC reported to my position. When I came on board as the Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, there were only four organizations that made up the IC, and now there are 26 affiliated groups — which is what I was hoping would take place over my time.
If you’re talking about how [to] increase the work of diversity on a campus, then you provide opportunities for all those groups to start to say, “Where’s a place we can locate ourselves and feel safe and call home?” For a lot of students, it meant they could do this through the IC, so the numbers just kept growing.
IK: So has the IC changed at all since you left?
DS: There are a few more organizations that now call the IC home, but beyond that, the goals of the IC still remain the same. We have a Program Administrator now — Brianna Serranto.
IK: Are there any new obstacles that have arisen?
DS: There’s always something going on because it’s Swarthmore. There’s always an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to engage with the broader community on a diversity of issues because that’s what community is all about. It’s learning from each other, adjusting to each other, understanding how each of us sees the world politically, et cetera. That always generates what I believe is good, positive energy and discourse.
What I anticipate is working with the students to determine what some of the basic issues are that are affecting them in each organization, and then determining how I can, in the short time that I have, move some of those agendas forward, both for students and faculty and staff.
I also hope to set the IC up so that it is in a good position to welcome a new permanent dean who will then be able to move forward with a series of things that are already being worked on so they can continue that work and implement a new vision for the IC.
IK: I know you did the orientation diversity workshops, you did workshops with faculty and staff on diversity in the classroom when you were here before. I was wondering if you had any game plans for this year since you don’t have a lot of time and you know these things are going to have to be continued by someone else in a year. Do you have any projects that you are looking at?
DS: No. I think in this short period of time, the most important thing is to listen to the students and take my cues from them, and the framework for doing a lot of that stems from my past experience here as associate dean.
I hope to see where there may be some overlap on some of what I was working on that I might be able to re-engage some of that. I don’t want to start big picture items only to leave at the end of June. I’d rather see what the most pressing things are that the students have identified they believe I should be working on to get ready for a new person coming on board. It will be a way of being transparent. I don’t want any of these things to lose relevance simply because I leave, so I want everything I do to be from the students.
IK: Speaking of transparency, how does the IC get in touch with students? How do you get that contact going?
DS: That’s a good question and that’s what I’m working on right now. Because in order to put the agenda together, I have to be in touch with the students, so I’ve been working with the eight IC interns, who are each responsible for three or four of the various groups that are affiliated with the IC.
Through them, we’re going to do one, an online survey, two, small focus group meetings that cut across the various organizations, and three, office hours that I’ll be having for drop-in conversations. So for this period of information-gathering, we will put all this info together, do the research, prioritize, and then send that back out to the students to say, “This is what the data tells us is important,” and that’s where I’ll begin my work at the beginning of January.
I want people to feel much better about where we’re going as an institution and where the IC is going as one of the centers on the campus. And it’s not just about the IC. I’m about coalition building between athletics, Greeks, RAs [Residential Advisors], the BCC, faculty, staff — all of us that make up the Swarthmore community. It’s when we work together as a coalition fighting for issues of social justice that we define this great intellectual environment that’s who we are. That is what I love about Swarthmore.
IK: Do you feel like having a break from Swarthmore has given you a different perspective on how you approach Swarthmore?
DS: Yes. While I saw it as my retirement, I have begun to look at it as more of a two-year sabbatical, paid for by myself. Being away gave me an opportunity to see all the schools out there in the Portland area, and it gave me an opportunity to do a lot of reading that I wanted to do, and gave me the thinking time.
You know, one thing about being in higher-ed administration is you don’t always have time to do the thinking. We’re always thinking because we’re in this intellectual community, but there are times when you need to just step back and read these amazing articles and books being published and [try] to figure out, “How does that fit into Swarthmore? How can I try to advance the work we’ve been doing here in a new and different way? What are the best practices that have been taking place around the country, places that may have been building off what we’ve been doing, or other places that have been going beyond what we have been doing?”
I’m also really excited about the new hires that have taken place, about Lili Rodriguez, and see that as a continuation of what I began. And now to be a part of a little of that change is really great.
IK: In closing, you said in your last Daily Gazette interview before you left that one of the things you loved most about Swarthmore was the quirkiness here. So I was just wondering, for those of us who don’t know you previously, do you have any quirky traits you’d like to share with us? Are there any interesting things about you that you’d like to share?
DS: I am an ordained American Baptist clergy, I am a nightclub entertainer, preacher, singer, composer, dancer, educator, counselor, I love all of these things. All of that is me.
A lot of people think they know you because they’ve got you in a box — they think because they know your title, this is the way you should present yourself. I learned that over time, I just needed to be myself because the more I tried to fit into a box, the more it frustrated me as I watched friends and colleagues try to fit into what they were supposed to do. Why don’t we all just be ourselves? It doesn’t mean everybody’s going to like us, that’s what diversity is about.
I don’t want “yes” people. I want the community to engage me. There is a light in each one of us, and it is different. There is a different lived experience, and we need to listen to each other, learn from that, and realize, “Wow, I would have missed this had I gone to some other place, but I’m at Swarthmore.”