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Swarthmore’s Values

We frequently make reference to Swarthmore’s values. Some people have asked us to articulate what those values are. The following quotes are all from Swarthmore’s website. In isolation, they are unremarkable, but together, they demonstrate that Swarthmore brands itself as an institution that firmly supports the common good. Quotes relating to the common good or social justice are often in the most prominent location—the introductory or concluding paragraph—on Swarthmore’s webpages. We commend the college for proclaiming these values; indeed, it is what drew many of us to the school.

Unfortunately, Swarthmore invests in companies that extract fossil fuels, effect climate change, and in doing so cause devastating health impacts and perpetuate institutionalized racism and classism. Swarthmore Mountain Justice asserts that these investments present an opportunity to the college. Swarthmore can, and should, take a leadership role in the fight against environmental injustice by divesting from these companies.


“Swarthmore celebrates the life of the mind. Since its founding in 1864, Swarthmore has given students the knowledge, insight, skills, and experience to become leaders for the common good.” (Introductory paragraph)

“So much of what Swarthmore stands for, from its commitment to curricular breadth and rigor to its demonstrated interest in facilitating discovery and fostering a sense of civic responsibility among exceptional young people, lies in the quality and passion of its faculty.”

“Swarthmore today is non-sectarian, but still reflects many Quaker traditions and values. Foremost among them is a commitment to the common good and to the preparation of future leaders who will influence favorably a changing and complex world.” (Concluding paragraph)

Out of five links on the right sidebar of the “About” page, three of them are about social justice: “Environmental Sustainability,” the Lang Center, and the Genocide Intervention Network. (The other two about the Honors program, and strategic planning).

“Inauguration of President Rebecca Chopp”

The following quotes are from President Chopp’s inaugural speech, titled “Hope in an Age of Clamor,” as reprinted on the website.

“Swarthmore has always maintained a profound commitment to social responsibility.”

“Swarthmore has also been willing to pause and reassess when it has fallen short of its own traditions of innovation and imagination. Swarthmore has also been willing to pause and reassess when it has fallen short of its own traditions of innovation and imagination. After decades of not accepting African Americans as students, Swarthmore demonstrated its full embrace of diversity and multiculturalism under the leadership of presidents Friend, Fraser, and Bloom.  Although we have sometimes failed, as all human institutions do, at our best, we have shaped our future by looking critically and courageously at the needs of our students and of the world.”

“We must educate to set anew and set aright our relationship to the earth, to our climate, to the web of all existence. Under this canopy of trees, can there be any doubt that we must do all we can to sustain the beauty of this good earth; together, in this collection, can there be any question that we must care for one another and, equally important, for those who live without our resources?”

“Three signature educational practices run through Swarthmore’s history and serve as the vibrant source of our ability to reset and renew. These are, first, rigorous intellectual analysis-our long tradition of challenging our students and ourselves to think deeply, critically, creatively. Second is the cultivation of Quaker values such as equality, community, simple living, generous giving, speaking truth to power, and consensus decision-making. Third, educating for civic and social responsibility for the world-a value so powerfully expressed in the lives of the abolitionists and suffragists who founded this school and by the many alumni whose lives speak in a uniquely Swarthmorean way through the combined strength of their intelligence, moral values, and sense of social responsibility. These three practices constitute the heart of our beloved community – of our alumni, students and their parents, faculty, and staff. There is no college anywhere better prepared to educate for setting anew and setting aright than is Swarthmore.”

“Swarthmore has never been and shall never be an ivory tower, a cloister, or just an ordinary college. In this age of clamor, Swarthmore is and shall be a radical act of hope to educate in a way that makes possible the setting aright and setting anew of the world.”

“Reflections on Sustainability”

A strategic  planning communique from President Chopp.

All the alumni I met were interested in how our Quaker heritage and our commitment to academic rigor combine to serve as a platform to prepare the next generation to address the challenge of a healthy earth able to support nine billion inhabitants by 2050.”

Strategic Planning Document (Sept. 2011 Draft)

Swarthmore’s “Five Core Strengths”:

  • “ Our commitment to academic rigor and creativity
  •  Our diverse and vibrant community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni
  •  Our Swarthmore values, derived from our Quaker founders and including respect for the individual, decision-making by consensus, simple living, social responsibility and justice, generous giving, and the peaceful settlement of disputes
  • Our desire to support access and opportunity for all students, regardless of their financial circumstances
  • Our belief in the responsibility to improve the world.”

“Board History”

“Although non-Quakers have served on the Board since 1938, and although Friends compose a small minority of students, faculty, and staff members, the College still values highly many of that Society’s principles. Foremost among them is the individual’s responsibility for seeking and applying truth and for testing whatever truth one believes one has found.”

“Teaching and Learning in a Community of Scholars” (Academics Homepage)

“The result is a vibrant community of individuals eager and able to express themselves lucidly, both orally and in writing; to interact confidently and respectfully with others despite difference of opinion; and, ultimately, to become agents for positive change in whatever sector of society they find best fits their talents, goals, and passions.” (Concluding paragraph)


“Through their generosity, alumni, parents, and friends make possible the educational experience that places Swarthmore College at the forefront of higher education in the United States and around the world. Every gift of every size plays an invaluable role in transforming the lives of students who will have a transformative impact on the welfare of their communities.” (Introductory paragraph)

“Why Give to Swarthmore?”

“One student, educated in the Swarthmore tradition, can positively affect the lives of thousands.”


Swarthmore is a “college with a conscience.

“Think Global, Act Local”

The quotes on this page are from individual professors, and prominently displayed on this section of the website, which is also labeled “Academics at Swarthmore.”

“No one consciously prepares students to be global citizens, and no course or department can bear that burden. I hope the College as a whole does that. Part of the vocation of the College is to prepare students to be in the world and to do so with a sense of social responsibility.” (Introductory paragraph) (Quote from Professor Aurora Camacho de Schmidt)

“We must ask ourselves this question: What does it mean for a young person to be a student in one of the best colleges in the most powerful country in the world? Globalization means an unprecedented level of hegemony-military, economic, political, even cultural-for the United States. Because of that power, preparing North Americans to be global citizens is not the same as preparing students from any other country. It would be tragic to let our students graduate without the capacity to exercise not only critical thinking but self-critical thinking. They must understand their own position and social responsibility as citizens of the United States, where decisions are made every day that affect the quality of life in every corner of the earth.

I hope our graduates learn to recognize the other side of globalization, the invisible forces of hope in the organization of immigrant workers the world over, or the struggles for human rights at home and abroad, the movements to abolish torture and the death penalty, the efforts to stamp out segregation, the antiwar movement. I want to think that teaching language and literature is part of that tall order. That is my hope and my wager.” (Quote from Professor Aurora Camacho de Schmidt)

 “For me, globalization means being a part of a larger global community. It’s important to provide a larger sense of the world to students, regardless of where they come from. I want them to be aware of the history of their place in the world and what they can do to make it more just. At graduation, President Al Bloom urged Swarthmore students to be responsible citizens in the world after college. I hope my courses play their part in that project.” (Quote from Professor Bakirathi Mani)

“Students are sometimes uncomfortable when they realize they are a part of a certain historical narrative. But history matters. It’s all about who you are right now. History is not just in the past, but it also shapes the future and how you’re going to be. It’s also about making decisions in a responsible manner from now on. Students can’t help but notice how the world is changing even while they’re in the classroom.” (Quote from Professor Bakirathi Mani)

“Diversity at Swarthmore”

“This representation of ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic diversity only partly characterizes the kind of enrichment Swatties enjoy; through the openness of both students and faculty, Swatties experience one of the most valuable forms of diversity — diversity of thought.  With this appreciation for and acceptance of diversity of thought, Swarthmore achieves a major part of our mission: preparing you to create and act on big ideas, to lead debate, and to create alternatives to business-as-usual.”

“Swatties often say that one of their most rewarding experiences is coming to terms with differences and finding common ground.  As you interact with students of all types, you will become better prepared to be a force for change in the creation of a better world.”

“For Counselors”

This page is a letter from Dean of Admissions Jim Bock to high school counselors, along with some resources. These quotes are from the section of the letter entitled, “What Remains Special About Swarthmore?”

“The mission of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility is to provide education for civic and social responsibility in a context of academic excellence. Our goal is to prepare students for leadership in civic engagement, public service, advocacy and social action. The Lang Center serves as a home base for many activities and programs linking the campus to communities in the U.S. and abroad through service and social action. Learn more at”

“Students have prodded corporate America to extend employee anti-discrimination policies to sexual orientation; taken on e-voting giant Diebold and won over the right to publish company memos on the Internet; begun War News Radio, a sophisticated Internet-based radio program on the war in Iraq; and launched the U.N.-recognized Genocide Intervention Network, which is in the forefront of the fight to bring to an end the humanitarian disaster in the Darfur region of Sudan.”

“Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility”

See entire page.

“Committee on Social Responsibility”

“The Committee on Social Responsibility is charged with reflecting upon the College’s commitment, in association with the fulfillment of its institutional mission, to prepare and motivate students to engage issues of social responsibility facing our communities and societies and to set their own paths as responsible citizens toward shaping a more inclusive, just, and compassionate world. The committee will suggest, encourage, evaluate, and facilitate the development of internal community practices, educational programs, and institutional outreach initiatives, which build on the distinctive strengths of the College in meeting these ends.”

“The Greening of Swarthmore”

This document was produced by an Environmental Studies capstone seminar in 2007. It is prominently cited on the sustainability page of Swarthmore’s website, as an example of Swarthmore’s commitment to sustainability. It includes the following quotes.

“Individuals and institutions have been making a statement by investing in companies with socially responsible – or ‘green’ – practices and products. Among the key ways a college impacts the wider community, whether it be a city, state, country or world, is through its investment decisions. Colleges and universities can positively affect the environment by investing in green companies and supporting renewable energy funds. Because colleges are very public institutions with large endowments, Swarthmore’s investment decisions inherently make a statement; we would like to see that statement be proactive in their investment decisions and increasingly commit to socially responsible investment strategies.”

 “Short-term goals: Recognize the way we invest our endowment funds is inextricably linked to long-terms sustainability. Greening investments is more than a symbolic gesture, it is a concrete display of our commitment to fostering healthy communities and environments.”

Enough about values, you say? Click here to learn why, even in purely economic terms, fossil fuels are a bad investment.


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