November 19, 2007
To the Smith Community:
A disturbing and offensive incident took place at Smith over the weekend. On Friday evening, a Smith student and her male guest came to a theme party in black face and caricatured black clothing and accessories, impersonating black celebrities. When confronted by students who told her they found her costume offensive, the student left the party. She has expressed deep remorse for her actions, and wants to do anything she can to see this issue addressed.
In the hours and days following the party, there has been much posting on Facebook and the Daily Jolt about the incident. Some of the statements are incendiary, racist, deeply offensive, and entirely contrary to the values of Smith College. We all need to ask ourselves hard questions about a campus culture that seems to license anonymous, ignorant, prejudiced, and hurtful comments of this sort.
The corrosive heritage of racism is the greatest burden that our country takes from its history. It is troubling that colleges and universities continue to experience incidents that reflect the bigotry that is so shameful a part of our national past. Because we are colleges and universities, we all need to share in the responsibility to educate ourselves and our communities about racism and privilege and to work together to change our culture.
The recurrence of racist incidents in our culture and on our campus shows us we have much work to do. I will bring the question of how best to move the community forward to the faculty meeting scheduled the week after Thanksgiving. Also in that week, we will hold a campus forum devoted to the issues that this incident -- and the responses to it -- have raised. Going forward, I will charge a group of faculty, staff, and students to advise me about programs we might create to give everyone in our community the opportunity to confront issues of race -- including an all-college meeting about race, values, and our community at the start of the spring semester.
Just six months ago, Smith adopted a new statement of its mission, in which we affirm the values of the community we seek to be. “Smith,” it reads, “educates women of promise for lives of distinction.” This is a charge to all of us, and I ask each of you to consider your role in creating the learning community we all deserve.
Carol T. Christ