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Oct. 22, 2008

On Heels of Heated Election, Otelia Cromwell Day Underscores Importance of Dialogue

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Every day in this boiling election season, the need for dialogue—between those who agree, but more importantly among those who do not—is underscored as a necessary ingredient for the peaceful progression of society.

Perhaps few could appreciate the need for civil, thoughtful dialogue more than Otelia Cromwell, the first African-American to have graduated from Smith College. In a culture rarely challenged by racial diversity at the time she graduated in 1901, Cromwell likely developed an ability to interact with others around difficult subjects.

Now, as the country focuses on the 2008 presidential election and the prospect of appointing for the first time an African-American as the country’s leader, it is a fitting time to celebrate the legacy and lessons surrounding Cromwell’s graduation from Smith more than a century ago.

This year’s Otelia Cromwell Day, on Thursday, Nov. 6, two days after the election, features the theme “Dialogues Across Difference.” A daylong series of events will highlight questions of difference—regarding race, but also experience, values, identity, social attitudes and political ideologies—and how we navigate our interactions around disagreement and conflict.

The event will begin with “Changing the World: Community by Community,” a plenary dialogue at 1 p.m. in Sweeney Concert Hall. Activist leaders Majora Carter, a MacArthur Fellow and founder of Sustainable South Bronx, and Luma Mufleh ’97, a community leader and founder/coach of the Fugees, the renowned soccer program for young refugees, will discuss their thoughts about how to achieve social change. The session will be facilitated by Paula Giddings, E.A. Woodson 1922 Professor of Afro-American Studies.

The dialogue will be followed by five associated workshops, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., in Sage Hall rooms (see schedule below).

Sarah Jones

In the evening, award-winning playwright Sarah Jones will present a solo performance tailored to the Smith community, at 7:30 p.m., also in Sweeney Concert Hall. Jones’ critically acclaimed show Bridge & Tunnel, first produced off-Broadway by Meryl Streep, became a long-running Broadway hit, garnering a Tony Award.

Otelia Cromwell Day Workshops

2:30-4:30 p.m.
Sage 215: “Off the Page and Into History: A Dialogue with Otelia Cromwell,” with Grace Hazard Conkling Writer-in-Residence and poet Nikky Finney, Sophia Smith archivist Nanci Young, and Ada Comstock scholar Lori Harris.

2:30-3:30 p.m.
Sage 15: “Facilitating Difficult Dialogues,” a workshop to develop facilitation skills relevant to leading dialogues about race, racism, and social justice.

Sage 16: “The Elephant in the Room: Having Difficult Political Conversations,” a dialogue between Smith Democrats and Smith Republicans.

3:30-4:30 p.m.
Sage 15: “Understanding White Privilege,” a workshop examining ways that white privilege impacts people’s lives, and exploring anti-racist strategies relevant to living at Smith.

Sage 16: “Institutional Power and History,” a dialogue among Smith multicultural organizations.

All Otelia Cromwell Day events are free, open to the public and wheelchair-accessible. Attendees who need disability accommodations or sign language interpretation should call 413-585-2071 (voice or TTY), or send email to

For more information on Otelia Cromwell Day 2008, consult


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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