Award-winning author and Smith English professor Ruth Ozeki ’80 shares insights into her fourth novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, which recently received the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction and is this year's Smith Reads selection.
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‘I’m Proud That Our Students Hold Us Accountable’
I recently found an old T-shirt that reads: “709 – 686 = 23 PROUD BLACK WOMEN OF THE SMITH COLLEGE CLASS OF 1988.” I don’t remember the T-shirt. I do remember being one of the 23. I remember when the N-word was painted on the steps of Lilly Hall, where the Mwangi Cultural Center was then located and where the BSA [Black Students’ Alliance] held meetings and parties. I remember how hurtful that act was for many of us and the subsequent discussions in Lawrence House about race.
Such incidents were not unique to Smith, just as today’s microaggressions are not unique to Smith now. The silver lining that results, however, is unity. Community. Our community comes together to support those who are hurt by racism and intolerance. I am proud that it’s our students who insist on action, who call for justice, who hold us accountable.
I’ve worked in the admission office at Smith full time since 2009 but started at Smith a few years prior as a part-time admission counselor. Last year, I became the dean of admission. When prospective students ask me to name my favorite part about Smith, I have a ready and deeply felt answer: “Community.” Usually I only have enough time to describe community as a mere feeling of welcome, but I wish I could more fully express the enormity of what the word means to me.
As a student, my community was limited to my house. Typical of many Smithies, I developed fast friendships that have lasted a lifetime. I was fortunate to have a diverse set of friends—racially, geographically, socio-economically and by sexual orientation. My friend group had it all.
Although I chose Smith because I felt welcomed before I even applied, I didn’t realize community was so important until I needed it. Today, students arrive at Smith already equipped to understand its importance. When prospective students ask about it, I tell them there are many ways to find community here. Sometimes you have to search for it beyond the doors of your house, but often a sense of community greets you at the Grécourt Gates and stays with you a lifetime.
Deanna Dixon ’88 is dean of admission at Smith College.
This story appears in the Spring 2019 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.