Abby Perce ’24—one of 582 new students at Smith this fall—is pursuing her passion for medicine in remote classes and research. Learn more about her in the first of a series of profiles of new Smithies.
Read Smith’s UPDATED plans as of August 5, 2020,
for an entirely remote fall 2020 semester.
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A Conversation with Baishakhi Taylor
As plans for student life for fall semester continue to unfold, one thing is certain, says Baishakhi Taylor, dean of the college and vice president for campus life: “We are committed to fostering a sense of community—a sense that everybody belongs at Smith.”
The college’s Culture of Care response plan to COVID-19 “is more than just a phrase on a website,” says Taylor, who began work at Smith on July 1. “It’s about how we show to all of our students that we genuinely care for them, and that caring is not an individual act—it happens in community.”
Taylor, who grew up in Kolkata, India and came to Smith from a position as dean of students at Middlebury College, is responsible for multiple facets of student life at Smith, including academic advising, international students, residential life, student engagement, health and counseling services, athletics, career services and disability services.
With the arrival of the coronavirus nationally, she has taken on the role of co-chair of Smith’s campus life response planning group to help identify ways that students can engage in the daily life of the college this fall, while maintaining the health of the community.
“Just like the institution itself, there is a lot of resilience and grit and a sense of humor” involved in that effort, Taylor says. “It’s an opportunity to really think about what we are doing well, and what it is that this moment, this crisis, gives us an opportunity to do better.”
Here’s what else Taylor had to say about her work at Smith.
What drew you to Smith?
“I would say all of my 20 years in the United States. I came [to the U.S.] to study women’s studies because I was really interested in women’s leadership. And I strongly believe that where we are right now in this country and in the world, if we don’t invest in women’s education, we are going to regret that decision. It sounds cliché, but I do believe that the future is female, and if I can help move that forward what better place to do so than at Smith?.”
What in your previous experience is helping you do your work at this very challenging time?
“I would say the biggest thing is that I am familiar with change. I’m the first one in my family to leave India and move to the U.S., and be here without family. The ability to adapt, to really stay nimble and open and curious to changes—fully knowing that they are hard—gives us an opportunity to connect to different people and new adventures in a way that helps us grow.
What’s important to know about student life at Smith this fall?
“What has stood out for me is the way the institution really cares about how best to support students through this time. I’ve seen that in the way the faculty are thinking about classes; the way the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness is thinking about providing support and care to students; and the ways that residential life is thinking about programming for both students studying remotely and students who will be back here on campus. … As difficult as circumstances are, we are looking forward to welcoming you.”
You’ve been hosting webinars for students and families. What are you hearing in those sessions?
“That this situation is hard. It’s very hard for juniors and seniors not to be able to come back this fall; hard to say that fall study abroad is not happening; incredibly hard for athletes to lose their season. And there’s also just the uncertainty of coming back at a time when the pandemic is still very much present.
“My message is, do what makes you feel most comfortable. We are taking all precautions to make sure your experience is safe and that you stay healthy. It’s really about us doing this together.”
How are students involved in the Culture of Care?
“President McCartney has asked us to create a student public health leaders group and they are working on not just how we normalize the new health and safety guidelines within which we have to operate, but how we develop messages that will bring about culture change in a way that is sustainable.
“SPHL is a group of students dedicated to partnering with the student body to keep our Smith community safe and healthy throughout the pandemic. We hope to provide support and foster ‘normalcy’ and community change by practicing and modeling best public health practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“A culture of care doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it happens in community. We wear masks and we follow the health guidelines because we care for the community, not just about ourselves. We are really thinking about what Smithies value. For me, the focus is on building that togetherness.”
What’s the most important thing for people to know about you?
“Reach out! I’m very available, and I draw energy from outside contacts. I’m always welcoming the opportunity to connect with students. Just email me!”