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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life April 22, 2016

An Essential Support: Reflections on Smith's Bridge Program

Participants and leaders of this year's Bridge pre-orientation program for entering students of color.
Participants and leaders of this year's Bridge pre-orientation program for entering students of color.

When she entered Smith four years ago as a student of color and first-generation college student, Yenelsa Duran ’16 says it was hard to feel that she belonged on campus.

Looking back, Duran credits Smith’s Bridge pre-orientation program with giving her the confidence she needed to find her way as a Smithie.

“Bridge reminded me that I do deserve to be here,” Duran says. “In just a few days, I made really close friends. By the end of my first year, I felt like this was my school.”

Founded in 1970 as a way to support the recruitment and retention of African American students at Smith, the Bridge program has expanded over the years to welcome all students of color who are interested in establishing cross-cultural friendships, while also becoming part of the larger Smith community.

Through interactive seminars and group activities led by faculty and student leaders, incoming students share their perspectives with peers to better understand and appreciate similarities and differences.

As Smith continues to address issues of inclusion and diversity—including with a new campus climate survey that will be implemented this fall—Bridge participants say the program is a model for supporting students of color in their crucial first year at the college.

“Bridge gives students a head start on making friends and becoming familiar with this environment,” says Floyd Cheung, associate professor of English language and literature and a Bridge faculty mentor. “It helps to make inclusion in the greater Smith community possible.”

Forty-five years after it was founded “Bridge continues to be an important and meaningful part of many of the lives of Smithies of color,” says L’Tanya Richmond, the college’s director of multicultural affairs.

“The program is more important now than ever,” Richmond adds, “both as a resource for students and a way of having conversations about how we create an inclusive campus.”

Here’s what five Bridge participants had to say about their experience.

What drew you to Bridge when you first came to Smith?

Zakiya David ’16: “I came from a predominantly African American high school and I knew it would be an interesting transition to Smith. I definitely wanted to make friends and connections. I didn’t want to come into this space alone.”

Yenelsa Duran: “I came to visit Smith and was hosted by a student who had done the Bridge program and told me I should sign up. I thought, this is a new start for me, and I need a way to build connections.”

Alyssa Mata-Flores ’16: “I was used to being in predominantly white educational institutions because I’d gone to a mostly white high school in a small town. I knew Bridge would be important to me at Smith. My mom had gone to college and knew what it was like starting out. She thought I should look into Bridge.”

What impact has Bridge had on your time at Smith?

Alexys Butler ’16: “It made an impact from the start. As a first year, I was in a house with not a lot of other people of color. A Bridgee I’d met started inviting me to her house to watch “Scandal.” It was so nice that a senior wanted to spend time with me! She’d ask me how my classes were going, did I need any help? Those moments meant a lot.”

Audrey Olmos-Govea ’17: “I came to Smith from California with one suitcase and a duffel bag. My roommate had gone to boarding school and she came with all kinds of stuff. On that first day, her parents asked me if I needed help moving my things in, and I had to say ‘This is all I have.’ I went and talked to my friends from Bridge, and they understood how I felt. I still go to those same people for support.”

What do you feel is most important for fellow Smithies to know about Bridge?

Duran: “I’m the first person in my family to go to college and trying to navigate that without Bridge would have been impossible. ”

Mata-Flores: “As students of color, we have a particular experience and we come to Smith with a different knowledge set. The program offers a space where people who live our lives can share. The reason I became a Bridge leader was because I wanted to do for other students what had been done for me when I first started at Smith.”

Olmos-Govea: “I think it’s also important to understand that Bridge is student-run and a big part of that is building relationships. When you meet a Bridgee from a different class year, you already have a bond and a level of trust. That’s been so essential to my success here.”

How would you like to see Bridge carry forward?

Butler: “I think Smith is trying to be more inclusive. That’s going to take time. Smith has the goal of having women for the world and the world is full of different kinds of people. That’s why I think there needs to be an emphasis on programs like Bridge.”

David: “As a senior, I’m thinking a lot about how I made it to this point and how Bridge will stay with me after Smith. I wish there was a Bridge program in the workplace!”

If we were creating a word cloud about Bridge, what words would you use?

David: “Family.”

Olmos-Govea: “Essential.”

Mata-Flores: “Love, support, responsibility.”

Duran: “Connection.”

Butler: “Special.”

Some alumnae reflections on Bridge:

Kendra Danowski ’12, program coordinator, civic engagement and social justice, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School

“Bridge is a necessary community that ensures incoming students of color are seen, welcomed, supported and belong on campus—not just at the start of their Smith experience, but throughout their four years and after graduation. Being a Bridge leader was a critical turning point for me in experiencing the collective power and pride that comes from team leadership in a women-of-color-centered and student-centered space.”

Kalia Wright ’11, academic adviser, Accelerated Study in Association Program, Borough of Manhattan Community College

“Describing Bridge as just an orientation would be an understatement. It is a family. The bonds I formed during Bridge were instantaneous and genuine. To this day, my closest friends were the ladies I met during Bridge…The biggest lesson I learned from Bridge that helped me in my life after Smith is the responsibility I have as an alumna to pay it forward. As an adviser who works closely with students who are looking for colleges that meet their needs, I always discuss my experiences at Smith and the amazing bonds I fostered from the moment I stepped on campus as a Bridgee.”

Jennifer Hammond ’90, director of alumni and parent engagement, Deerfield Academy

“Bridge was a pivotal moment in my life. The program helped me want to claim my Asian identity because I had people around me who understood what I was feeling. It was a special bond…I remember Bridge hosting a documentary screening about the Japanese internment camps the federal government set up in World War II. In high school I’d had no exposure to that history. It was a moment of realization for me… People often fail to understand the value of support networks, especially when you are not a member of the majority group. That’s why we need Bridge.”