Update from Mission, Values, and Goals Working Group

Chair: Koof Kalkstein, Board of Managers

Co-Conveners: Liz Braun, Dean of Students
Maurice Eldridge, Vice President for College and Community Relations

We began by reviewing the values that emerged from a number of conversations held among a wide variety of students, faculty, staff, board members, and alumni early in the fall. Recognizing that there was tremendous congruency on the core values and mission of the College – including a commitment to academic rigor and creativity, an inclusive community of respect, civil responsibility, Quaker values, and sustainability – we turned our attention to the “goals of a 21st century Swarthmore education,” what that means and what we do to help achieve that goal.

To that end, we subdivided our work into three areas: community, leadership and life skills, and balance and resilience, with the thought that we would return to the task of articulating the common understanding of values and mission as our work comes to completion.  Each subgroup has established a set of questions on which to focus and begun to suggest ideas for ways to address the implied issues. We’ve outlined a few of these questions and suggestions below. We, of course, welcome any reactions, questions or suggestions of your own.

  • Community: How do we strengthen our sense of community? How should we even more deeply and explicitly incorporate our Quaker values in the habits and traditions our community practices? How do we establish and build on shared experiences which bring us together at the same time that we champion the multitude of ways our community is diverse? Recognizing both the challenges presented by and the opportunities created by technology, how do we most effectively employ and, if necessary, dissuade the use of technology to facilitate the kinds of interactions we most want?
  • Leadership and Life Skills: What types of skills—oral and communications skills or the ability to really listen to those with perspectives not like your own, for example—do we think are most important to nurture and develop in an effort to prepare the next decade of students for the challenges they will face over the next 20 years? In what emerging fields ought we facilitate student experiences–social entrepreneurship or environmental sustainability, for example? How can we help students reflect on their experiences in and out of the classroom (having come to some consensus that this is a valuable activity for most students)? How do we help students navigate the College both structurally, helping them to know how to seize the variety of opportunities we offer, and substantively, helping them to make connections between activities, ideas, and habits developed in different spaces? Perhaps even more importantly, how do we work with students to help them develop their skill at navigating new and unknown environments and bureaucracies?
  • Balance and Resilience: How do we develop strong decision making skills? Understanding that stress is an unavoidable part of life, how do we both take care to create the right kinds of environments where stress isn’t overwhelming and nurture in students the techniques necessary to moderate stress in their lives? How do we help students make good choices around eating, sleep and exercise, complementing the ways in which we help them make good choices for their intellectual development? Perhaps we could consider creating a  meditation center (in some bucolic location like the edge of the Crum) where students would be exposed to a variety of principles and techniques for reflecting, relaxing and recomposing oneself, a place in which we would encourage students spending time to recover and refresh.

Our working group is also paying close attention to how core themes such as diversity and inclusion, environmental sustainability, and global citizenship impact each of the subgroup’s areas.  We will meet with a broad range of faculty, staff, and students to get more information, review institutional data, and investigate best practices at other institutions.