Excerpt from Smith Alumnae Quarterly
For 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 president’s 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 Christ’s 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 on?
President Christ: For me, it’s a core belief. I’ve 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.
SAQ: Why are women’s colleges still relevant and needed in the world today?
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, women’s colleges have a very important role to play.
SAQ: 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 don’t 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 women’s lives, and it has enabled me to think more about the narrative of my own life. I’ve also become much more humble about women’s 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 Smith’s 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 I’d say Ford Hall. When I arrived, we knew we had to house the engineering program but we didn’t know how we were going to do it. This project took shape entirely under my presidency.