and the college’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Toward Racial Justice At Smith
A Living Document for Community Comment
by Floyd Cheung, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
in collaboration with the Equity and Inclusion Team
This document is the first phase of an emerging strategic plan for racial justice at Smith College. It reflects the work of the Smith College Equity and Inclusion Team. This ten-person team was reformulated in 2019–20 to encompass an inclusion trainer/facilitator, a program/outreach coordinator, the director of equal opportunity and compliance/Title IX coordinator, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, the vice president and an executive assistant. The proposed recommendations that follow have been informed by student, staff and faculty contributions to Inclusion in Action work last year; consideration of student and alumnae/i demands; and discussions with the Inclusion Council and the President’s Cabinet. We share this document now for comment by all members of the Smith community—students, staff, faculty and alums. In this time of urgent racial crisis, we invite critique and refinement of this emerging plan as well as new thinking and ideas.
We begin by acknowledging that our country was built on lands originally belonging to Indigenous peoples and with stolen labor performed by enslaved Africans and their descendants. Structural racial inequality is built into the very fabric of our nation. As a result, all people of color have historically suffered from the effects of white supremacy. As a premier educational institution that values equity, inclusion, and the fundamental worth and dignity of all people, Smith College must educate its members regarding the 400-plus-year history of racial injustice in America, reflect on its role in this history and act to dismantle systemic racism on its campus. Our goal must be true inclusion for each and every person at Smith. While we have made efforts in this direction, as a college we have not done enough. This plan charts a new, more vigorous path.
This summer, protests against anti-Black violence have galvanized the nation, as white people have begun to recognize not only their privilege and power but also the need for reflection and action. We, too, are committed to giving specific attention and energy to redressing anti-Blackness in all its forms and to supporting Black students and colleagues who have been deeply disadvantaged by the history and actions of this country and this institution.
We recognize that white supremacist legacies, historic and systemic, have affected and continue to affect not only Black lives but also those of many other races and identities. Therefore, we will take an intersectional approach to this work, recognizing that race operates in complex conjunctions with class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and other registers of identity.
We will work at multiple levels—individual, departmental and institutional—because we recognize that change will have to happen at, and be enabled by, efforts in and across these domains.
As individuals, departments and as an institution, we will cultivate a growth mindset with regard to equity and inclusion. We will inform our work with a knowledge of our past and an assessment of current conditions. As the scholar and author Michelle Alexander recently wrote, “We must face our racial history and our racial present. We cannot solve a problem we do not understand.” In this particular moment, it is imperative that everyone learn about the history of race in America, especially the long-standing impacts of land dispossession, slavery, and the evolution of the latter into systems like policing, incarceration, employment and educational discrimination, medical racism, and red-lining.
At an individual level, many of us have been educating ourselves through reading and conversation, sometimes supported by programs at Smith such as a book-club discussion of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and a group for white staff and faculty committed to anti-racism. Last spring, 86 students and 12 staff and faculty auditors participated in the course IDP102: Thinking Through Race, which engaged such topics as the history of race in America, the intersection of race with other registers of identity, and the contemporary effects of this history.
To enhance learning about race and its intersection with class, gender, ability, age, and so on, the college will consider
- Requiring students to take an introductory class like IDP 102: Thinking Through Race; staff and faculty could also audit
- Encouraging students via the Latin Honors system, to take at least one additional course that deepens their understanding of race in a national or global context
- Collaborating with the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning to enhance and disseminate inclusive teaching practices throughout the college
- Developing a collegewide equity and inclusion curriculum for staff and faculty and make participation required
- Supporting student-facing educational efforts like the Smith Equity Education program and LEAD (Leading for Equity and Action-Based Design), which is under joint development by the Wurtele Center for Leadership and the Office for Equity and Inclusion
- Implementing an inclusion-focused learning event in the spring that would serve to extend and deepen the objectives of Cromwell Day in the fall
- Observing Juneteenth every year as a day of rejuvenation for Black staff and faculty and a day of learning for white and non-Black staff and faculty
- Providing staff members with scheduling flexibility and paid time to participate in inclusion- and identity-focused learning opportunities
- Charging the College Archives to collaborate with student organizations like Weaving Voices to create and maintain a history of race, racism and resistance at Smith
What is the state of our “racial present,” as Michelle Alexander calls it? How are we doing with regard to equity and inclusion, and how might we improve? Which of our practices support anti-Blackness? We cannot make progress toward racial justice without reflecting on these and related questions.
At the individual level, staff members are currently required to reflect on how they have contributed to “an inclusive campus environment” in the course of annual performance reviews. Faculty members complete a Faculty Record Sheet annually, which prompts reflection on their contributions to equity and inclusion. With the help of advisers, students are asked to develop the essential capacity “to engage across difference in place, culture and time.” Academic departments are asked at decennial and midterm reviews to reflect on their policies and practices with regard to equity and inclusion. All of these are laudable practices, but the quality and depth of these periodic reflections vary. Some departments, such as the Picker Engineering Program, set an ambitious example of self-assessment, ongoing learning and resolve for change. Others including mathematics, music, physics and Latina/o studies, have begun this work as well. Similarly, nonacademic units such as the Smith College Museum of Art, the Office of Admission and the libraries, have been engaging in listening sessions, consultations with the Office for Equity and Inclusion, and other modes of self-study and improvement. The Science Center Committee on Diversity has been engaged in this work for many years.
The Smith College Board of Trustees endorses and embraces work toward anti-racism and racial justice and regularly devotes meeting time to full-board training on these issues. It plans to do so again at its January 2021 board retreat. The President’s Cabinet, the senior staff, and all administrators and managers are guided by the college’s strategic plan, a pillar of which is “inclusion, equity and diversity.” In addition to these foundational, institutional commitments, this moment in our racial present calls us to consider
- Increasing the accountability of individual staff, faculty and students at performance reviews, merit calculations and advising sessions, by tying equity and inclusion more closely to incentive and compensation structures
- Increasing the importance of departmental reflection and progress on equity and inclusion by developing appropriate incentives
- Acknowledging the significance of emotional and spiritual dimensions of reflection and integrating it where appropriate
- Charging a collegewide team or teams to review institutional structures, policies and procedures regarding equity and inclusion and to make recommendations for change, by asking such questions as:
- How can we improve our recruitment, hiring, onboarding and retention policies and practices to mitigate against bias and increase the diversity of our workforce to match the diversity of our student population?
- How can we create a work environment that is welcoming and provides opportunities for personal and professional growth to promote retention?
- How are we focusing on manager training to provide the resources, skills and accountability for the inclusion of every employee?
- How might we adjust faculty lines, major requirements and other aspects of our curriculum to correct for past injustices and enact our present-day values?
- How are we spending and investing our resources? What opportunities can we take to increase our support for Black-owned businesses specifically and local partners more generally?
- What symbols at the college, including building names, require review and possible change?
- How can we properly acknowledge and reward the work done by students, staff and faculty to advance equity and inclusion at all times but especially when such work is often invisible? How can we turn the identity tax into a valued part of a colleague’s work, if they choose to engage in it?
- Are employees across different registers of identity (race, gender, age, etc.) compensated equitably, based upon job expectations clearly defined by role descriptions and experience?
- How can we continue to highlight the importance of reporting incidents of discrimination or potential discrimination and civil rights compliance?
- How can advisory groups, such as the one anticipated for our Campus Safety Department, serve as models for other forms of accountability and collaboration in opposing racism?
- Who is represented in governance and leadership at Smith College? How and when do we hear from the widest range of perspectives when making decisions?
- How do we affirm the identities of our community members in our technologies and communications? (The Affirming Identity Through Technology Working Group has begun to address this question; how can we support and deepen their work?)
- In what ways can we improve accessibility to not only physical spaces but also opportunities? (The Accessibility Inclusion Committee has begun to address this question; how can we support and deepen their work?)
- How can we ensure sufficient and responsive mental health and wellness resources for community members, especially Black students and colleagues, who bear heavier burdens?
- Collaborating with the board of trustees to keep them informed about the campus today, learn from their perspectives and implement changes that require their approval.
Changes in policies, procedures and structures surely will follow from education and reflection. We must keep in mind, however, that the work will never be done. We will not solve systemic racism in a year or two. To sustain this work over the long term, we recommend that it be transparent, supported and routine. To these ends, the college should consider
- Requiring all units to develop, publish and solicit regular input on action plans for advancing equity and inclusion; for academic units, the Picker Engineering Program’s plan might serve as one model
- Providing self-assessment tools and consultation to departments in order to align their plans with collegewide goals regarding equity and inclusion
- Tracking where and how equity and inclusion work takes place throughout the institution; one way might be by updating this map
- Soliciting and publishing regular feedback from the community on institution-wide progress on equity and inclusion and campus climate
- Supporting all community members in their learning and reflection while acting
This work will unfold in stages, the first of which includes inviting public comment on this plan. We will also seek feedback from the Smith community in other settings, such as meetings of the Student Government Association, Staff Council, Faculty Council, the Unity organizations, staff/faculty affinity groups and the board of trustees.
The next stage of work will include implementing ideas that have sufficient collective resonance and debating ideas that may require more consideration or refinement. We will provide an update on the status of this plan on Cromwell Day 2020, the theme of which will be “Tackling Anti-Blackness: Moving Past the Abstract.”
Committing to racial justice and equity is the most consequential work we can do as a community of learners and educators. We are called to build a just and inclusive campus, one whose systems, actions, pedagogies and traditions uphold the worth and humanity of every member. This work must be planful and sustained, visible and tangible, valued and prioritized at every level. President McCartney and her Cabinet, as well as the board of trustees are invested in taking transformative action and look forward to further shaping this plan through the collective wisdom of the Smith community.