with President Christ
Photo by Joshi Radin
her final profile as the leader of Smith College, President
Christ responded to questions for the Smith Alumnae
Quarterly as the last months of her tenure wound to a
close. John MacMillan, editorial director of alumnae communications,
packaged the presidentís
responses with an introduction for an upcoming feature in
the alumnae magazine, to be published in June as Christ completes
her final days on campus.
Here is an excerpt from
President Christís Q&A. Read the piece in its entirety
in the summer edition of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly,
arriving in June.
SAQ: In your first
address to the Smith community, you named access to education
as your top priority, and it has remained there throughout
your tenure. Why was that an important message to give early
Christ: For me, itís a core belief. Iíve often
said that Smith is a private college with a public conscience,
and one of our greatest responsibilities is access. Education
is the most important driver of the creative capacity of
the population. It is the most important driver in the U.S.
of mobility, one of the keys to our democracy. It is one
way to create equity of opportunity. I also firmly believe
that socioeconomic diversity makes Smith stronger. Students
need to learn how to work with and among people from different
backgrounds. What better time to learn that than in those
formative years of 18 to 22, when students are imagining
themselves as adults separate from their families.
are womenís colleges still relevant and needed in the world
Christ: If you look at the highest
levels of almost every profession, women are still woefully
underrepresented in positions of leadership. Only 19 percent
of members of the U.S. Congress are women; about 13 percent
of jobs in engineering are held by women; women are underrepresented
in positions of leadership in science and in position of
leadership in law schools. I still believe that our society
has ingrained gender prejudices and preferences, and I believe
that as long as those prejudices and preferences still exist,
womenís colleges have a very important role to play.
How have discussions about race and diversity evolved on
campus in the past decade?
Christ: When I came to Smith,
there seemed to be an assumption that diversity only meant
black-white relations. I donít want to minimize the place
that black-white relations have in our history and in the
dynamic of the U.S. today, but I think there is more recognition
now that there are multiple diversities and multiple challenges
in the area of diversity. I have admired our students because
I think they have been the real leaders around this issue.
They have learned to mobilize not just to protest but to
try to figure out what the community can do to reach both
a fuller understanding of and a better way of conducting
itself around difference.
SAQ: We often hear alumnae and
students talk about the ways Smith transformed them. Has
being here done that for you?
Christ: It certainly has. What
being at Smith has given me is an appreciation of the narratives
of womenís lives, and it has enabled me to think more about
the narrative of my own life. Iíve also become much more
humble about womenís experiences, just from meeting such
astounding women, including students, who are just so moving
to me in their energy and aspirations.
SAQ: What accomplishments
are you most proud of?
Christ: I would say the internationalization
of the campus. Providing opportunities for women from around
the world is deeply rooted in Smithís history and a direction
that is right for Smith today. Tied to that is the development
of the Women in Public Service Project with the State Department.
The launch of that initiative in 2011 with Hillary Clinton
was a very proud moment. Then Iíd say Ford Hall. When I arrived,
we knew we had to house the engineering program but we didnít
know how we were going to do it. This project took shape
entirely under my presidency.