On March 16, applications for the new Diversity Peer Advisor (DPA) program opened, asking students to “serve as resource for students who are targeted and/or marginalized on basis of identity and social memberships” and “challenge the campus culture and climate.” A pilot program with eight advisors is rolling out next semester. DPAs were distributed mainly among the new first-year only halls, with some serving in other dorms.
The impetus for the program was that “a number of students felt unsupported in their identities on campus, and felt that diversity was not being adequately addressed as part of campus life at Swarthmore. They approached Dean Rodriguez and requested a diversity mentorship program,” wrote Residential Communities Coordinators Karina Beras and Heather Loring-Albright in an email.
The issue of identity is key to the program. Future DPA Jennifer Beltran ‘18 said that “it will also encourage more discussion about the numerous identities on campus and how we come together to form a community.”
Bryan Lin ‘17 echoed this hope for further discussion. “I hope students will be more aware and conscientious because (to my understanding) Swarthmore is one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges,” Lin said. “And I know this awareness and knowledge helps build relationships and community between minority groups and white people.”
On a practical basis, DPAs will serve alongside other residential resources such as SAMs, RAs and Green Advisors and will seek to complement their roles. They will be peers as well as leaders to support their hall mates through facilitating dialogue. The DPAs will be reporting to Beras and Loring-Albright.
Creating a new position will allow hall resources to be spread across a larger team of people. “As a SAM, we were involved with the entire facilitation program during orientation for freshmen,” said Jigme Tobgyel ‘17. “This can typically be very difficult to navigate for RAs and SAMs apart from our own specific roles. To have this burden lifted from us and have people trained for this purpose as a year long position is a great addition to campus resources.”
Native American Students Association president Daniel Orr ‘16 shared his vision of DPAs. “What I really like is that they can point students to a lot of concrete resources out there, especially for low-income students, or people who are just looking for communities out here that are on campus,” Orr said.
Beltran echoed Orr’s vision. “I envision my day to day role as a DPA as an accessible resource for my hall and any other students who need/want to discuss issues on campus regarding diversity, inclusion, and fairness,” Beltran said.
In selecting who to become DPAs, Beras and Heather-Albright sought students who not only could bridge differences and create connections, but also have experience behind them. “As it is a pilot program, we looked for folks with facilitation and leadership experience, as well as a contextual grasp of the many different kinds of identities and experiences that are part of Swarthmore,” wrote Beras and Heather-Albright.
When it came to implementation, Orr said that he wished there was further explanation for this role, which he saw as part of a recent wave of initiatives to address student concerns. An anonymous source claimed to be part of the group that raised demands for the program; however, they were not asked for input during the development of the program. Nonetheless, Orr’s first impression of this program was positive: ‘When I hear the name “Diversity Peer Advisor,’ it makes me think that they’ll be educating incoming freshmen and not make awful mistakes.”