Principle 2. Swarthmore cultivates an intentional, substantive community in order to shape engaged and thoughtful leaders who will contribute to a more just, civil, and inclusive world.

The grand ambition of the liberal arts college, America’s unique contribution to higher education, is that the residential experience should inspire students to pursue their own passions even as they learn to create and tend to the multifaceted dimensions of democratic community. Through engagement with extracurricular activities as well as the academic program, students develop their capacity to appreciate culture in all its many and diverse forms. In this social learning environment, students are educated to be leaders who contribute to society in a wide variety of ways. Swarthmore, as a liberal arts college, should be the exemplar of how a residential college supports the work of developing individuals and building democratic communities in the world.

“There were times when I worked 24 hours straight on papers, and that’s a real part of life here. But there’s such a huge payoff, and that comes from the friendships I’ve been able to form, the relationships with teachers and staff, and the different activities I’ve been involved in. Soccer has been an integral part of my life, and the group of guys that I play with [have] become brothers to me.” 

Philippe Celestin,’11

Students, faculty, alumni, and staff frequently remark on the distinctive nature of the Swarthmore community. Alumni describe the friendships developed, ideas learned, hard work shared and often enjoyed, skills developed in areas as varied as debate, lacrosse, music, and more as well as the parties, pranks, and performances etched in their memories. Programs including Garnet athletics, the Socially Responsible Leaders Initiative, and those shepherded by The Eugene M. Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility provide opportunities for students to cultivate and become leaders within the community. Swarthmore must continue to support students to engage in a wide variety of extracurricular experiences, thereby enlarging their habits of appreciation, deepening their civic and social commitments, and expanding their leadership skills.

Swarthmore’s residential environment is not meant just for the satisfaction and maturation of the individual but, as is true to our tradition, is aimed also at educating leaders of a particular type who can address the opportunities and problems of the day. Swarthmore leaders lead in both quiet ways and through major roles. They are driven by their passions and abilities to fill a particular need, challenge, or opportunity. Swarthmore understands leadership as the principled practice of working collaboratively and ethically, and using knowledge to improve the world. We must constantly ask: What are the most pressing challenges and opportunities our students need to address in building substantive community in the future? We have identified three areas of immediate opportunity and challenge as we imagine the next chapter of life as a community: diversity and inclusivity; civil discourse; and sustainability.

We must attempt to represent the world in all of its diversity among students, faculty, and staff and also provide an inclusive, challenging environment. Residential communities offer students the opportunity to listen deeply and share experiences with those who have different viewpoints and to simultaneously celebrate that difference while discovering and embracing commonality. Intentional residential communities also can develop robust new practices that foster even greater inclusivity and engagement.

In a world marked by increasing partisanship and fundamentalism, the second challenge is to learn new ways of living that cross over longstanding fault lines of communication and bridge communities closed off by political beliefs, racial lines, religious beliefs, or class differences. Swarthmore must foster a community that elevates the virtues of civil discourse, reflecting our tradition to respect the dignity of the individual while also honoring our commitment to live in community. We will need spaces in which to bring larger groups of students, faculty, staff and alumni together for deliberative discussions and for social interactions.

The third area, sustainability, fits naturally with Swarthmore’s values of simple living, respect for others, and justice, and is central to the College’s commitment to educating students to be leaders and global stewards. Sustainable use of resources, equitable distribution of the benefits and consequences of technology, and an understanding of the complex interactions between natural- and human-made systems are all vital to our mission.