In August, two elected diversity representatives from each house returned to Smith early to participate in an intensive two-day training session. It would be the students’ job to act as advocates and information resources for their housemates.
The new training is part of the college’s response to racially insensitive incidents on campus last spring that shook the Smith community and sparked charged conversations across campus about how to combat intolerance.
I spoke to Diversity Chair MacKenzie Hamilton ’13, and two diversity reps, Micah Collins-Sibley ’15 and Brittany Bennett ’15 about their training, and about their roles in their houses.
Student representatives participated in a series of workshops that focused on different aspects of diversity and systems of oppression; on combating racism, classism and sexism, for example. They defined different issues and discussed how to combat them in houses. In one workshop, they discussed the importance of making sure house councils are sensitive to class difference, and inclusive of everyone.
Another major way the representatives plan to be more active this year is through a number of subcommittees, called “working groups,” that will address diversity concerns as they arise.
“I’m on a working group to try to make the support systems on campus more accessible, and make sure there are more of them,” said Collins-Sibley. “Right now, we have health services and the resource center for sexuality and gender, located in the basement of Haven-Wesley, which is mostly a space for groups to hold meetings, but has a limited staff. We’d like to change that.”
There is also a publicity and journalism working group, created with the goal of making issues of diversity more public, and advertising events that address social justice issues. Other groups are working with the House President Association, Student Government Association, and Counseling Services to start or reenergize conversations about diversity and social justice and make Smith a more aware and supportive place.
The representatives have been busy creating ways to educate and support the Smith community.
Recently, they devised an initiative called “The Assumption Project,” which Collins-Sibley described as a way of “bringing to the surface how damaging making assumptions about other people’s identities can be. We tried to think of a way to make students aware of diversity without putting them on the spot or making them feel unsafe.”
Diversity representatives are happy with the conversations their training helped start, and feel that their roles as will be more meaningful and significant going forward.