Diversity Study to Inform Strategic Planning at Smith
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – By many measures, Smith College is a diverse community. Recently named one of the nation’s top colleges for African American students, Smith has a widely recognized commitment to providing access to underrepresented groups, including first-generation college students and non-traditional-aged students.
However, as Director of Institutional Diversity Naomi J. Miller points out, achieving and promoting diversity is never “finished.” At the direction of Smith President Carol T. Christ, Miller and a committee of faculty, staff, students and alumnae led a two-year, comprehensive assessment of Smith community members’ perceptions of diversity on campus.
Through focus groups led by an independent researcher, more than 340 Smith community members were asked to reflect on the campus climate with regard to a number of diversity measures ranging from race and ethnicity to sexual and political orientations, socioeconomic status, disability and religion. The resulting report, “Common Ground: Community in Diversity at Smith College,” was recently released to the campus and offers a number of recommendations.
“In the Common Ground project, we provided the opportunity for everyone in the Smith community to start talking about diversity,” explained Miller. “It was not a time of crisis – when discussion focuses on a specific issue – so it was the perfect moment to ‘take stock’ of where we are and where we want to be.”
Central to the report’s recommendations is increasing diversity among the faculty and staff. Regarding race and ethnicity, for example, while 32 percent of the student body declares itself to represent a minority group, only about 16 percent of the faculty and 10 percent of the staff currently do so.
To increase diversity among staff and faculty, the report recommends committing additional resources to the hiring and retention of faculty and staff members from underrepresented groups. In addition, those faculty and staff members who mentor students from underrepresented groups should receive some form of support for the work, such as grants or job recognition, the report notes.
With regard to students, the report recommends connecting student organizations of underrepresented groups with alumnae who identify with those groups, and expanding opportunities for volunteer work in local communities.
Other recommendations include reviewing Smith buildings for disability access; hiring a coordinator for the Resource Center for Sexuality and Gender; and considering diversity efforts when evaluating budget requests and planning programs.
Later this fall, Miller will present the recommendations to the Committee on Mission and Priorities, which is spearheading the college’s long-term strategic planning process. Now under development, the strategic plan is expected to guide the college – its curriculum, faculty, programs, facilities and fund-raising initiatives – through the next decade. President Christ has said the commitment to diversity will be part of every initiative within the strategic plan.
Christ described the Common Ground study as an ambitious, timely and important project and commended the students, faculty, staff and alumnae who informed it. Their feedback, she said, “lays the foundation for action that will assure that the campus community is respectful of, and welcoming to all its members.”
The Common Ground report is available online
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