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Oct. 8, 2010


Smith College to Examine Structural Inequalities in American Education During Annual Otelia Cromwell Day

Assistant Secretary of Education to Deliver Keynote Address October 26

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Despite decades of attempts—through government and legal policies and other measures—to equalize access to quality education in the United States across demographic divisions, deep disparities remain.

Educational leaders, teachers, parents, and scholars disagree about where to place responsibility for failing test scores. Some worry that federal measures of school success do not account for the challenges of teaching students and families struggling with poverty or neighborhood violence. And there is still controversy about federal interventions such as Teach for America, America Reads, and No-Child-Left-Behind.

This year’s Otelia Cromwell Day Symposium at Smith, titled “Structural Inequality and Disparities in Education,” will examine issues of unequal access to education along lines of race and ethnicity. The event, which is named for the first known African-American to graduate from Smith College, in 1900, annually reflects upon issues of social justice and injustice with particular focus on issues of diversity and racism in the United States.

Through a two-day series of lectures, workshops and performances, October 26-27, the symposium will consider how history, power, privilege and structural inequality have created an educational system that reinforces racial inequality overall in the United States.

This year’s Otelia Cromwell Day Symposium will feature a keynote address, on Tuesday, Oct. 26, by Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, assistant aecretary for elementary and secondary education with the U.S. Department of Education. Meléndez will speak at 1 p.m. in Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall.

Other events (see complete schedule below) include a series of workshops addressing educational access, a panel discussion among leading researchers looking at racial inequality and educational achievement, and a performance of Northampton poet laureate Lenelle Moise’s play “Expatriate,” in the evening.

Otelia Cromwell, the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate at Yale University, was a professor and chair of the English Language and Literature Department at Miner Teachers College in Washington, D.C. The author of three books and many articles, Cromwell received an honorary degree from Smith in 1950.



1 p.m., Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall

Keynote address given by Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, U.S. Department of Education: "Providing a World-Class Education for America's Students: Priorities for Reform."

Meléndez’s talk will be preceded by a performance by the Smith College Glee Club and a recitation of "Maven," a poem commissioned by Smith in honor of Otelia Cromwell, written by award-winning poet Nikky Finney.

3 p.m., various locations

I.  Panel Discussion: "Pathways to Urban Education" with Smith alumnae Amy Christie ’01, Bronx Lab School, Maureen Yusuf-Morales. Moderator: Lucy Mule, associate professor of education and child study, Smith. Seelye 101

II.  Panel Discussion: "The Role of Leadership in Closing the Achievement Gap": Kevin McCaskill, Hartford Public Schools; Gwen Agna, Jackson Street School, Northampton; Elizabeth Musgrave, Montague Elementary School. Moderator: Sam Intrator, professor of education and child study. Neilson Library Browsing Room

III. Screening of the documentary “Beating the Odds: Inside Three Urban Charter Schools” with a talk-back discussion with the filmmaker, Robbie Leppzer. Moderator: Tom Wiener, teacher, Smith College Campus School. Earle Recital Hall, Sage Hall

7:30 p.m., John M. Greene Hall

Performance of “Expatriate” by Lenelle Moise, Smith alumna (MFA’04), playwright, and Northampton poet laureate 2010-12


4 p.m., Neilson Browsing Room

Panel discussion: “State of the Research: Four Scholars on What We Know and What We Need to Learn about Racial and Ethnic Inequality in Academic Outcomes.” Angel Harris, Princeton University; Karolyn Tyson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Angela Neal-Barnett, Kent State University. Moderator: Tina Wildhagen, assistant professor of sociology, Smith.

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, 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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