Skip to main content

Announcing the 2021–22 Year on Democracies

Presidential Letters

Published January 13, 2021

Dear students, staff and faculty:

In 2021-22, Smith College will host an ambitious set of programs and events under the organizing theme “Year on Democracies.” Like the highly successful Year on Climate Change of 2019-20, this collegewide initiative will showcase Smith’s commitment to addressing complex, urgent subjects in innovative, interdisciplinary ways. Coordinated by Professor Alex Keller and Provost Michael Thurston, the Year on Democracies will be an opportunity to examine notions of democracy (governmental, philosophical, cultural, organizational, ideological, methodological and more) around the world through the lens of every aspect of the college’s offerings: colloquia, course clusters, exhibitions, performances, lectures, special events and more. Every individual, department and team in the Smith community is invited to participate.

I write to highlight several opportunities:

  • Two presentations in this semester’s Presidential Colloquium series will address the theme of democracies. Historian Jill Lepore, speaking February 23 on “This America/That America”; and attorney, author and human rights activist Bryan Stevenson speaking March 11 on “Just Mercy: The Movement for Justice and Redemption”; and political philosopher Michael Sandel speaking April 20 on “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?” I hope you will plan to attend these and all events in the series.
  • I have allocated $100,000 in funding for grants to students staff and faculty who would like to propose courses, programs, speakers and events for 2021–22 that address the democracies theme. Proposals will be reviewed by the Year on Democracies planning group, with particular consideration given to projects that are team-based and that address the intersecting issues of inclusion, diversity and equity with democracy. Proposals are due by March 15, 2021 via this form.
  • The planning group and I invite your ideas for the Year on Democracies. Suggestions for speakers, events and other programs can be submitted via

The Year on Democracies is an important and visible way that Smith will focus its curricular and co-curricular resources on topics and questions that lie at the heart of the liberal arts. I am very grateful to Professor Keller and Provost Thurston, as well as their colleagues in the planning group, for bringing us together in critical conversations. Examining what we mean by democracies” has never seemed more compelling nor more urgent.


Kathleen McCartney