Otelia Cromwell Day and Diversity at Smith

Otelia Cromwell Day and Diversity at Smith

Otelia Cromwell Day and Diversity at Smith

November 6, 2002

Because we are observing Otelia Cromwell Day this week, I thought it an appropriate occasion to tell you about the progress that we are making on diversity initiatives. As I said at Convocation, and as I continue to say each time that I address Smith audiences on campus and off, diversity is one of my main priorities. I would like Smith to have a faculty, a student body, and a staff even more diverse than they are, and I would like to see more attention to the experience of under-represented minorities in the curriculum. I want to make Smith a model of a culture that values diversity and respects it in all of its forms.

Smith confronts some challenges in regard to diversity: the high cost of its tuition; the relative absence of racial diversity in Northampton and the surrounding area; the lack at Smith of an urban model of diversity, in which many cultures continually interact, without the felt need to become a single community. Smith also has great strengths upon which it can build in pursuing its ideal: its history of reaching out to international students and faculty, particularly in times of international tension like the 1930s; its strong support, dating from the early 1960s, of programs to recruit African-American students; the strength and visibility of the lesbian community on campus and in the city of Northampton; its active recruitment of faculty, students, and staff of color; its commitment to meet students' full financial need; and the seriousness with which the college as a whole takes up community issues, like those raised by the grass roots movement this spring.

In providing a report on our progress on diversity at Smith, let me first address the agreements reached by students and administration this past spring. All of those initiatives are well under way, with the exception of the review of Judicial Board procedures. Because we are in the final stages of hiring a general counsel for the campus, I thought it would be wise to wait to initiate this review until spring, when the counsel will be able to assist us. All other programs are in place or under active development. For example, we have added material on race and oppression to orientation and to pre-orientation; ongoing training of residential life staff has begun; we have linked diversity programming more closely to the residential life system; we have increased compensation for Residence Coordinators; we have provided additional structural support for the Office for Institutional Diversity; and the year-long lecture series, "Race Matters," has gotten off to a very strong start. A detailed report on progress in implementing the agreement can be found on the College website at www.smith.edu/repair/initiatives.html. I am grateful for the work of Senior Staff, and particularly Brenda Allen, on these initiatives; our progress owes much to their energy and dedication.

The faculty also have devoted significant energy this summer and fall to considering how best to bring more attention to American ethnicities into the curriculum and to provide forums in which faculty can learn about dealing with issues of diversity in the classroom. The Committee on Academic Priorities has proposed three initiatives to achieve these goals: a series of pedagogical workshops that will address the challenges of dealing with issues of race, class, and discrimination in classroom discussions and exchanges; a program to broaden coverage of issues of cultural diversity, race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in gateway and introductory courses; and a set of summer seminars for faculty designed to develop 24 new courses that focus upon race and ethnicity in American culture. The series of pedagogical workshops are already under way; the program addressing introductory courses will begin this fall; and the first of the faculty seminars will occur this summer.

In regard to admissions, I am very happy to report that the number of applications from under-represented minorities is already significantly ahead of the last two years. This, of course, is early in the admissions season, but we already have over twice the number of applications from African American students than we did at this point in 2000 and 2001; and an increase of 72 percent in applications from under-represented minorities overall in comparison to 2000 and 58 percent in comparison to 2001. We had a very successful fly-in program, designed to recruit under-represented minorities the weekend of October 26; we had 1,100 applications for 65 places. We are now planning a phonathon to contact those students that we could not fly to campus.

When I arrived on campus in June, one of the first documents to come to my desk was a recommendation from Staff Council for mandatory diversity training for all employees. I appointed a small committee to develop a proposal; it was presented to the group of senior managers earlier this fall. The committee recommended that, in addition to the diversity training required for all new employees, each staff member, in consultation with his/her supervisor, develop an annual program, made up of classes, lectures, or other activities, designed to increase knowledge of other cultures and sensitivity to diversity issues in the workplace. The committee felt that such individually designed programs would be more effective than a single mandatory curriculum because they would involve annual conversations between employees and their supervisors about diversity education and because they would recognize the variety of ways in which we learn and the different stages of our knowledge. The Staff Council also recommended that performance evaluation include attention to diversity issues.

I would like to close this letter by speaking specifically about the threats that xenophobia poses to diversity. Some Americans have responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11th and subsequent world events with hateful characterizations of some foreign populations in the United States and by calls for restrictions upon international students and faculty. It is hard for those of us who enjoy the security of citizenship to imagine how vulnerable and threatened citizens of other countries can feel in the face of such abhorrent language. It is important for all of us to speak out against such prejudice and to assure that international faculty and students know that we value what they bring to our community.

I look forward to the discussions with which we will mark this Otelia Cromwell Day. One of my wisest mentors counseled me to make sure to distinguish problems that have a single solution from those that the community continually engages. Diversity is a problem of the second sort and not the first. Only by our continual engagement with the issue in all its many forms will we approach the ideal we hold before us of a community that not only respects diversity in all its forms but sees it as essential to its excellence.

Carol Christ