Swarthmore dean, focus of student protests, resigns

Keyanna Ortiz-Cedeno, 21, a junior who participated in a sit-in protest at Swarthmore College earlier this month, adjusts her sign outside of the office of Associate Dean of Students Nathan Miller.

H. Elizabeth Braun, Swarthmore College’s dean of students, announced her resignation Wednesday in a campuswide email.

“After many years of leadership positions in higher education, I am planning to launch my own consulting firm specializing in higher education,” Braun wrote in announcing her departure, effective June 30. “It has been a privilege to serve Swarthmore College these last eight years, and to work with dedicated and talented staff, faculty, and students across campus, and particularly the staff in the Dean of Students Division.”

Braun’s announcement made no mention of the recent protests embroiling the school by Organizing for Survivors, a campus-based group that advocates for the victims of sexual assault.

Students from the group staged a nine-day sit-in in Braun’s office earlier this month and called for her resignation over what they described as the mishandling of sexual-assault investigations under the Title IX federal civil rights law. Their occupation ended May 9 after the group had a formal meeting with Swarthmore’s president, Valerie Smith, and other officials.

Camera icon Vinny Vella / Staff
Students from Swarthmore College papered the walls of dean of students H. Elizabeth Braun’s office with protest signs during a nine-day sit-in.

Smith described that marathon, two-hour meeting as a “productive, open – though not always easy — exchange with one another.”

“I am confident we share a commitment to upholding Swarthmore’s essential values, and to continuously making them better,” Smith said in a statement provided after the meeting. “Now we plan to figure out how we can move forward together.”

On Wednesday, Smith said she will appoint an interim dean to succeed Braun and oversee the “division of deans” at the school until a national search is completed.

“Since Liz joined the Swarthmore community … she has worked tirelessly to support and advocate for students,” Smith added. “Her passion, unwavering commitment, and collaborative spirit are a testament to her dedication to ensuring that all students have the resources to further develop their talents and skills while also providing them with a range of opportunities to build upon and expand the connections between their academic work and the broader world.”

Smith praised Braun’s tenure at the college, particularly her development of  “a more intentional case management approach to ensure that students receive the support they need to thrive in and out of the classroom.”

The student protesters took a different stance on Braun’s legacy.

In a statement, Organizing for Survivors said her resignation  “reflects the depth of Swarthmore’s failures as well as the power the students possess to bring to light those failures and revolutionize a broken system.”

“We celebrate this victory, particularly what it means for survivors and other students who have been mistreated by Dean Braun or as a result of her leadership,” the statement continues. “Her resignation is an implicit recognition of the severity of harm that she and other administrators have caused. We will not allow the narrative around this moment to be rewritten.”

Organizing for Survivors issued a list of demands to college leadership in March, one of which called for Braun, as well as associate dean of students Nathan Miller and associate director for Title IX investigations Beth Pitts, to resign. After claiming that none of the demands were fully met in 60 days, the group staged the protest as the academic year wound down on the Delaware County college’s campus.

Members of the group, many of them the victims of sexual assault themselves, said they were motivated to act, in part by similar protests at the school in 2013 that made national headlines.

At their final protest rally outside Braun’s office, members of the group said they were bolstered in their action by a letter of support from 130 alumni involved in those earlier protests who had heard “the same platitudes and promises from the administration.”