Working Group Report
On April 10, 2019, hundreds of students, staff, and faculty paused from our normal activity to participate in a day of learning called Inclusion in Action. We engaged in face-to-face dialogues, attended workshops, and answered the Your Voice Matters survey about campus climate. On April 11, more students added their specific concerns and ideas via a demonstration and presented a list of demands to President McCartney.
We promised that Inclusion in Action was not a one-time pro forma event. Rather, it was the beginning of a renewed effort to improve inclusion and build community at Smith. A dedicated working group met weekly over the summer to advance this effort. Led by the new vice president for equity and inclusion, Floyd Cheung, the group read through all of the survey data and reflected on what we heard. Thank you for entrusting us with your words and thoughts. We write now to share the themes that emerged from our analysis of the data and our plans for next steps. Five key themes emerged in our attempt to acknowledge the campus community’s existing inadequacies and capture the essence of our common aspirations: Identity/Representation, Education/Learning, Communication, Engagement, and Justice.
We invite all students, staff, and faculty to give us feedback on this working document. Are these the right areas of attention to focus on going forward? What’s missing?
After hearing from you, we will charge action teams, comprising members of the entire Smith community, with moving this work forward. Each team will focus on one key theme. With the assistance of the Office for Equity and Inclusion (OEI), which is creating a map of equity and inclusion efforts across campus, action teams will identify what in their area is already being attended to and what needs attention. They will present their findings on Otelia Cromwell Day, November 7. Campus community members will then be invited to submit proposals for Innovation Challenge Grants that will be focused on addressing areas of need within each theme through active, community-building initiatives.
The college made significant progress over the summer. President McCartney provided funding to hire two new staff members in OEI who will attend to the needs of marginalized groups such as low-income, undocumented, transgender, and first-generation students; residential life launched an affinity housing program to cultivate and foster a sense of belonging for students of color; and a new associate vice president for human resources will be partnering with the OEI to advance equity and inclusion among staff.
While the college has much more to do, we are heartened by efforts underway and hope that the new ideas that arise from this process will help promote equity and inclusion at Smith.
Inclusion in Action Summer Working Group
The central aim of equity and inclusion work at Smith is to ensure that all campus community members feel a sense of belonging and can participate fully in the life of the college. Based on feedback from April 10 and the Your Voice Matters survey, below are five areas where members of the Smith community seek focused improvement. Please note that quotations are meant to be illustrative, not representative.
- “As a person of color, I felt that it is incredibly important to acknowledge the current state of our institution regarding how we treat our people of color on campus. We’re filled with racism, micro aggression, sexism, and we were using the conference as a damage control.” (a student voice)
- “Diversity equals different points of view. To have a healthy discussion about any issue, the variety of people has to be proportional, and it’s not. Staff at Smith is predominantly white, especially management.” (a staff voice)
- “...desire a space in which I am comfortable being myself and I don’t censor my sexual, religious, or ethnic identity.” (a faculty voice)
Smith is committed to being a community that is welcoming to people of diverse identities and backgrounds. Yet, the survey data reveals a gap between that image and the daily experiences of many campus community members. This experience reveals itself in a number of ways. Many respondents commented on the fact that there are too few people of color in the faculty, staff, and administration. The survey responses also revealed that not all members of the Smith community feel equally valued or equally comfortable being their authentic selves. Each of us possesses more and less visible dimensions of identity that are not always acknowledged or respected.
This action theme is about closing the gap between the promise of acceptance and the lived realities of many at Smith by expanding the community’s appreciation of diversity and understanding of intersectionality, and finding more ways in which to uphold the value of difference at Smith.
- “Sometimes professors and most students look to me to be the 'voice of reason' or the expert whenever matters of race are involved. As a first year, this is distressing.” (a student voice)
- “I don’t know who to talk to in order to improve.” (a faculty voice)
- “I still have a lot of learning to do in how to create an inclusive space.” (a staff voice)
A key strength of Smith is the level of enthusiasm and dedication that members of the college community feel about the educational mission of the institution. Survey data underscores that many students, staff, and faculty want to see increased learning about difference on campus. This includes teaching all students through the lens of equity and inclusion. It also means addressing the role that unconscious bias plays in interactions at the college. There is a clear desire for more learning opportunities that break down barriers between students, staff and faculty, and for capacity-building opportunities that help improve sensitivity to inequities, while also instilling the ability to communicate about difficult issues and collaborate for positive change.
This action theme is about promoting a growth mindset and attitude of life-long learning regarding equity, inclusion and diversity.
- “...desire for more transparency.” (a staff voice)
- “...feeling ‘out of the loop’ in important decisions at the department or college level.” (a faculty voice)
- “Students are excluded from the decision process/conversation of choices that directly impact us.” (a student voice)
A key takeaway of the summer working group is that the college needs to get the message out that inclusion results from a communal effort and is a dynamic, ongoing process. Many survey respondents cited a need for greater transparency in official college communications about inclusion and diversity--both in terms of what’s lacking and what’s being done. Some would like the college to focus more on remedying structural inequities at Smith in contrast to calling out the behavior of individuals. Overall, respondents want the administration to improve information sharing about ongoing inclusion work at Smith, including affinity housing, inclusive teaching, and peer mentoring.
This action theme is about raising college-wide awareness of our structural problems, encouraging communal efforts to solve those problems, and creating clear processes for expressing concerns and sharing ideas for improvement.
- “...discourse in general is less civil or productive when groups (e.g. students and employees) may be working separately from one another, communication breaks down between groups, and when assumptions are made erroneously.” (a faculty voice)
- “I think there’s a tendency to silo ourselves into factions based off identity and beliefs and values, which is typical. In inclusion, we can say all we want about dialogue and having conversations, but no one wants nuance.” (a student voice)
- “It seems like there is often a lack of listening, and much more of a desire to find the faults of someone or something.” (a staff voice)
Students, staff, and faculty are eager for more opportunities to interact across differences, including events and activities that help break down barriers among people of various identities and experiences on campus. Survey respondents were critical of equity and inclusion efforts that seem merely performative. Instead, they’ve expressed the hope that conditions can be created for genuine relationship building. This would have to happen across multiple dimensions of diversity including race, gender, sexuality, age, class, religion and political belief, among others.
This action theme is about acknowledging that while diversity is a fact, inclusion is an act. Representation is only a start. The ways that we treat one another are true indicators of our inclusiveness. Members of the campus community need to feel more engaged in the work of inclusion and equity as part of their own sense of purpose and belonging.
- “I feel like Smith has not done enough for marginalized students such as undocumented students, poor students from extremely low income families, students of color and lgbt identities. Personally, I do not feel as encouraged as other students at Smith specifically due to my ethnic background, socioeconomic background, and my experience as a woman of color.” (a student voice)
- “I did not hear any voice from the Smith administration that acknowledged the hurt and pain from the summer event that prompted outcry from the student body and which was the original impetus for having an institutional response in the form of the inclusion in equity day.” (a staff voice)
- “...having each person feel empowered to navigate those challenges as they arise, in a way that does not take a toll on any individual or group of individuals, especially not weighing more heavily on people with marginalized identities.” (a faculty voice)
Many survey respondents observe that the college needs to do better with regard to promoting justice. Some expressed a desire for the college to become a haven in which students, staff, and faculty marginalized in the wider community can feel safe and be valued as integral at Smith. Others pointed to a need for tolerance for mistakes and missteps as the community works to remove obstacles to inclusion. Examining the history of exclusion at Smith—the specific harms done by racism, classism, and other forms of discrimination—as well as the structures that maintain inequities, is a necessary step toward healing, survey respondents said. Many cited a need for more resources and supports for low-income, undocumented, transgender, first-generation, and other marginalized members of the Smith community.
The working group has been guided by not only community voices but also two equity and inclusion scholars: Beverly Daniel Tatum reminds us that the ABCs of inclusion are affirm identity, build community, and cultivate leadership. D-L Stewart reminds us that justice is central to the work of community building, as follows:
- Diversity asks, “Who’s in the room?”
- Equity responds: “Who is trying to get in the room but can’t?”
- Inclusion asks, “Has everyone’s ideas been heard?”
- Justice responds, “Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?”
This theme is about finding ways for Smith to walk the walk as an inclusive community.
In addition to identifying areas of need, the working group reflected on how staff, students and faculty expressed their desires for achieving diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at Smith. The following represent ideals which we internalized after living with and discussing the Your Voice Matters survey data all summer. We hope they inspire action groups as they begin to do their work.
- We desire to be a truly inclusive community, where our actions and interactions uphold the value of difference, and all Smith community members feel that they belong.
- We desire to be a community in which faculty, staff and administration mirror the diversity of identities in the student population.
- We desire to be a community in which the lens of equity and inclusion is foundational to the mission, strategic priorities and student experience at Smith.
- We desire ongoing opportunities to develop skills, competencies and learning in order to be better able to acknowledge, understand and address bias and inequities in ways that strengthen our community.
- We desire to be a community that recognizes and respects differences that exist in entry points to learning and believe that no matter where anyone is on the journey, learning is a continuous process we engage in together.
- We desire ongoing and regular opportunities to encourage and support one another, and to build a community inclusive of differences and identities.
- We desire transparency and visibility in communicating Smith’s experiences, efforts, challenges, and accomplishments in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.
- We desire that the voices of those most affected by exclusion and bias be central to and influential in the efforts to change policies, practices, and other structures of inequality.
- We desire Smith to be an institution which fosters brave spaces for learning experiences and education—a place where everyone can extend beyond their comfort zones, have room to make mistakes, and grow together.
- We desire a commitment to repair harm, foster collective accountability, and create a sustainable community of inclusion, now and in the future.
Summer Working Group
The members of this working group voluntarily answered a call in eDigest to follow up on the Inclusion in Action day of learning. Many of us had worked on the Inclusion in Action conference steering committee. Some of us were simply inspired to help. The working group consulted periodically with the Collaborations Group, Inc., who also had advised the conference organizers. Perhaps because this work took place over the summer, no students and only one faculty member joined. Staff members came from many areas of the college from Facilities to the Museum and beyond. The new VP for Equity and Inclusion led us in weekly meetings, where we discussed the survey data, shared our own experiences and perspectives, disagreed, wrote, revised, and came to embrace our iterative, messy process. Inclusion work is not easy or linear, and it is certainly never finished. We did our best in the time we had, and now we invite the broader Smith community—students, faculty, alumni and additional staff—to check our work and entrust next steps to those who join Action Teams, the Office for Equity and Inclusion, and the administration as a whole.
- Kate Aloisio ’13, Assistant Director, Institutional Research
- Bee Buehring, Conference Coordinator
- Floyd Cheung, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
- Annie Cohen, Leadership Development Designer, Wurtele Center for Leadership
- Raven Fowlkes-Witten ’17, Program Coordinator
- Jess Henry-Cross, Financial and Systems Coordinator, Museum of Art
- Marissa Hoechstetter, Senior Director of Alumnae and Donor Relations
- Amy Hunter, Title IX Coordinator/Institutional Equity Officer
- Queen Lanier, Assistant to the VP for Equity and Inclusion
- Minh Ly, Associate Director for Assessment, Institutional Research
- Whitney Mutalemwa ’20 (present at the very end of summer)
- Dana Olivo, Assistant Director of Residence Life for Residential Education
- Kathy San Antonio, Events and Scheduling Systems Administrator
- Barbara Solow, Assistant Director for News
- Janet Spongberg, Circulation Coordinator, Libraries
- Stacey Steinbach, Assistant Director of Residence Life for Development
- Johanna Walter, Facilities Services Representative
- Tian An Wong, Lecturer, Mathematics and Statistics