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Writing & Public Discourse at Smith


Writing about what matters. Having the courage and conviction to speak up and speak out. These are hallmarks of what it means to learn and study at Smith College, and to live a life as an engaged global citizen who is ready to address society’s challenges. Thanks to a dedicated faculty and staff, and supported by prestigious foundations, Smith is transforming how we teach students to write across courses, disciplines, programs and events, with public discourse at the center. Students don’t just practice writing in the classroom, they get a chance to put their ideas into action and make a difference in the world.

Read more about the program in the Winter 2022 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly

Taking Initiative

Thanks to nearly $1.6 million in funding, since 2019 Smith has embarked on writing and public discourse initiatives that will continue through 2022 and beyond. These initiatives involve every level of the college, from revising and developing individual courses, to bringing on new faculty members, training faculty in a Writing Enriched Curriculum, and infusing the college at an institutional level with a philosophy that puts writing and public discourse at the forefront.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Writing in Service of Public Discourse. This prestigious grant is funding visiting assistant professors who also write for the mainstream press, as well as a robust set of innovative courses with public discourse writing at their center.
Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing. Modeled after courses started by David Lindauer at Wellesley College, these capstone seminars translate disciplinary knowledge to broad audiences, letting students fully explore how to use their voices to effect change.
Writing Enriched Curriculum Supported by the Davis Educational Foundation. This grant supports departments in rethinking their writing curricula to make them more public-facing, a process grounded in the model developed at the University of Minnesota.



Real-world writing. Smith students express insightful opinions based on compelling evidence and strong argument. They regularly publish articles in mainstream media outlets and scholarly journals, either independently or with faculty. The Jacobson Center provides editorial guidance.

Ideas That Resonate

Olivia Petty ’26, “Pull Up a Chair: A Student Perspective on Free Speech,” Smith Alumnae Quarterly, January 10, 2023.

Helen Bezuneh ’23, “It’s Time We Talk About Blackfishing,” Ms. Magazine, January 13, 2022.

Hanna Beck ’23, “Feminist Wishes for 2022: We Were Never Meant To Do This Work Alone,” Ms. Magazine, with Martha Garbarini ’22, December 30, 2021.

Leela de Paula ’23, “Smith’s $500K donation solidifies its relationship with city,” Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 27, 2021.



“I think my opposition to a future career in public writing stemmed mainly from an insecurity that I could not create something worth reading. Journalism and all of its cousins have seemed unattainable to me, like there was a standard for it that I would never understand, let alone reach. In this way, this seminar has had such a profound effect on how I view myself as a scholar and the avenues open to me as an English major, as I now no longer shrink away from job postings with the word ‘journalism’ or ‘writing’ in them.”
—Student from a Calderwood Seminar
“Students’ writing improved dramatically over the semester. Their growing ability to convey relatively complex sociological content in clear prose impressed me. Their ability to edit and workshop each other’s writing also improved. At the beginning of the semester, they were more tentative and more focused on copy editing; by the end, they were engaging with questions about organization, rhetoric and the underlying ideas that writers sought to convey. The sense of community and mutual respect in the class was palpable.”
—Nancy Whittier, Professor of Sociology
“I feel as if this course filled a gap in my skill set and education that I didn’t quite realize I had: how to articulate (for myself, but then for a larger audience) exactly why my thoughts and ideas are important. While my entire education has encouraged me to think deeply, and to feel confident about my thoughts, this was one of the first times in which I felt able to connect certain patterns of thinking and analysis to mainstream media and knowledge, and then, to a piece of writing accessible to a larger audience.”
—Student from a Calderwood Seminar



“My Words Could Help Others”


Juliet Schulman-Hall ’22 discusses her experience in a Calderwood Seminar—and how working on everything from film reviews to scholarly articles helped her reach her full writing potential. She has now started a career in journalism at a nonprofit news organization.

Associated Faculty


Julio Alves
Director of the Jacobson Center

MJ Wraga
Professor of Psychology

Hélène Visentin
Associate Dean of the Faculty; Professor of French Studies


Writing & Public Discourse Committee Members

Julio Alves, Director of the Jacobson Center; co-chair
Sara Eddy, Assistant Director of the Jacobson Center
Travis Grandy, Associate Director of Learning, Research and Technology
Liz Klarich, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Katwiwa Mule, Professor of World Literatures; CAP representative
Jane Stangl, Dean of the First-Year Class
Camille Washington-Ottombre, Associate Professor of Environmental Science & Policy
MJ Wraga, Professor of Psychology; co-chair

Calderwood Seminar Instructors

Marnie Anderson, Professor of History
Carrie Baker, Professor of the Study of Women & Gender
Sergey Glebov, Professor of History 
Suzanne Gottschang, Professor of Anthropology and of East Asian Studies
Benita Jackson, Professor of Psychology
Barbara Kellum, Professor of Art
Daphne Lamothe, Professor of Africana Studies
Dana Leibsohn, Alice Pratt Brown Professor of Art
Tom Roberts, Assistant Professor of Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies
Julianna Tymoczko, Professor of Mathematics & Statistics
Camille Washington-Ottombre, Associate Professor of Environmental Science & Policy
Nancy Whittier, Sophia Smith Professor and Professor of Sociology
MJ Wraga, Professor of Psychology
Melissa Yates, Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor of Public Discourse in the Disciplines: Philosophy


Writing & Public Discourse Initiatives

To share ideas or questions about Smith’s Writing & Public Discourse Initiatives, please contact Julio Alves at the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching & Learning.