Recommendation 2. Swarthmore should draw on the tradition and strength of its community to serve as a model for substantive communities in the 21st century.

As a residential college we must build and sustain a strong and vibrant substantive community, attentive to the opportunities and challenges of diversity, civil discourse, and sustainability. We must resist the practice of defining community merely as a collection of interest groups and find meaningful new ways to join together socially and intellectually. We must welcome and support new members of the student body, staff, and faculty and prepare our students to live in and nourish communities that are diverse, inclusive, and engaging—honoring the Swarthmore values of respect, listening, developing consensus, and the peaceful settlement of disputes. We must create physical and cultural spaces that help us use differences as a resource for inclusive interaction and extend our respect for the earth and simple living to sustain the campus and ensure that our students learn to serve as good stewards of the earth.

This recommendation has five parts:

Create new common spaces and re-imagine existing ones to support our objectives for the community. The perspectives, ideas, and cultures students bring to campus benefit Swarthmore greatly, and bringing together people with different ideas and experiences is one of the many ways Swarthmore supports students as they grow intellectually, socially, and as citizens. This exchange is central to our sense of community, and we must offer spaces that provide opportunities for dialogue, collaboration, and sharing, both intentional and serendipitous.

We need large spaces to accommodate the community gatherings of students, faculty, and staff who take part in teach-ins stimulated by events that are shaping our world; who gather to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and creative productions; and who come together for eating, exercise, relaxation, and fun. This need has sometimes been expressed as the desire for a “student center” since Tarble burned in 1983. Sharples, our dining hall since 1964 has at times served as a large gathering space. Unfortunately, now Sharples is too small to accommodate our entire student body and would require extensive work to meet current standards for food preparation and service, let alone to become an environmentally friendly building. Designed to fill this role, Tarble-in- Clothier is also too small and incapable of supporting the programs students desire.

Physical spaces, when intentionally designed, have incredible power to draw people together in creative, substantive, and meaningful ways. Ideally these spaces should support and cultivate the creation of community committed to diversity and inclusion, civil discourse, and wellness. 

Liz Braun, Dean of Students

Given these needs and the limitations of Sharples and Tarble-in-Clothier, we recommend that Swarthmore develop a new campus commons that (1) includes a new dining facility to accommodate all of our students and (2) renovated and repurposed forms of Sharples and Clothier to support programming in more effective ways, with Sharples becoming a more flexible space that encourages new modes of collaboration, performances, rehearsals and the varied activities of student groups. This would provide a central “hub” of campus activity near the new dining hall. We would then also create more effective means to support community through Tarble-in-Clothier, the new media commons, and improved wellness and fitness spaces.

Our campus commons, with a nucleus of activity near Sharples and a new dining hall, would also extend throughout campus and support the activities that are part of our commitments to sustainability and wellness and offer new venues where students, faculty, and staff can meet casually or intentionally. With the capacity to attract and collect all the members of our community in varying numbers and configurations, the commons would encourage, inspire, and sustain the kinds of stimulating experiences and memories that have always been hallmarks of Swarthmore.

Before sustainability became a watchword, Swarthmore’s Facilities Management Program was guided by a Quaker ethic of frugality that has yet to leave us. Waste was anathema best embodied by a quote I was given as I walked in the door ‘Why use new when used will do?” 

Ralph Thayer, Director of Maintenance and Co-Chair, Sustainability Committee from remarks given during Alumni Weekend 2010

Continue to recruit and support a staff whose devotion to the community make such a profound impact on our students and others. Residential colleges are multifaceted living and learning environments. In addition to meeting the high levels of excellence and demands within their individual areas, Swarthmore staff also routinely goes beyond the call of duty to support, mentor, and nurture students in and out of the classrooms. Across the campus from the residence halls, to the dining hall, athletic facilities, performance and exhibition spaces and common community areas, and across all walks of campus life, College staff model and facilitate community for our students, deepening their connections to Swarthmore and instilling in all of us a sense of pride in our collective efforts.

Swarthmore is fortunate to have a dedicated staff, and many choose to stay for most of their careers. The commitment, talents, and expertise of our staff strengthen our community immeasurably. We must continue to attract and retain the very best staff in higher education and fund professional development opportunities—both on and away from campus—that contribute to their increasing expertise.

Develop a plan for diversity, inclusivity, and engagement that supports the campus as a model learning and living community for an increasingly complex global world. We should expand efforts to educate and encourage students to create positive relationships with one another and with regional, national, and global communities, consistent with our mission of addressing broader ethical and societal concerns. We should establish specific goals that recognize our global environment and help all members of the community develop cross-cultural skills.

One goal of any Swarthmore plan to expand our commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and engagement must aim to recruit and retain a diverse faculty and staff, as well as students. The plan should nurture the culture of trust that enables us to share differences freely while exchanging ideas and perspectives that might conflict.

Support the common good and civil discourse by reimagining “Collection” as a time to bring the entire community together in dialogue informally, and to engage in civil discourse. We should work closely with student groups to create opportunities for such gatherings to occur. In all of our programs, we should emphasize our values of listening, respect for others, and peaceful settlements of disputes combined with our academic commitment to evidence, clarity of arguments, and collaboration as key components of civil discourse. We should invite speakers and guests who challenge our opinions, and embrace a diversity of opinion as we build the common good.

Invest in sustainable practices including preserving the Crum Woods by instituting a cohesive, broad-based program of sustainability that reflects our values of simple living and respect for the environment and builds upon the work of the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee, the Environmental Studies Program, the Sustainability Committee, Earthlust, and other environmentally conscious student groups. The College should also appoint a professional sustainability director to guide progress, coordinate communications, and facilitate alumni outreach. The director would also coordinate the efforts of students, local community members, and alumni to help work in the Crum Woods.