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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life August 1, 2022

The Insider’s Guide to the Jandon Center for Community Engagement

Illustration of a school building embracing a diverse group of people under a bright yellow sun
Illustration by Ellen Weinstein

The Big Idea

Smith’s enthusiasm for community involvement is all but etched into its DNA. It exhorts students to get involved in the communities where they live and work. Faculty do research and coursework with community components. And the college has supported a range of volunteer programs within the community.

For years, many of these efforts were carried out through the Center for Community Collaboration. In 2015, with the help of a gift from Don Cecil in memory of his wife, Jane Grossman Cecil ’50, Smith renamed the center the Jandon Center for Community Engagement—a portmanteau of the couple’s first names—and expanded its programming.

Director Denys Candy says the funding allowed the center to build on an already strong foundation. While the center continues to maintain Smith’s longtime relationships with local public schools and nonprofits, it now also offers academic coursework paired with paid internships and volunteer activities.

“The Jandon Center was designed not simply to be an umbrella organization for the many separate initiatives linked to community involvement,” Candy says, “but to be a support hub for more comprehensive, integrated programs of community engagement.”

One such program is the Community Engagement and Social Change concentration, in which students combine interdisciplinary coursework and 300 hours of volunteering to get a nuanced understanding of the ways in which important issues and communities intersect.

Another major initiative, the Smith Alliance for Justice and Equity (SAJE) Fellowship, launched in fall 2021. A one-year experiential learning program, it links students with community organizers to participate in meaningful social change work paired with coursework on collective organizing.

While the center offers invaluable academic and research opportunities, Candy emphasizes that he and his staff never lose sight of its larger mission. “We want every project that comes out of the center to be ethical and reciprocal in nature,” he says. “It’s important that we’re always supporting the larger goals established by our community partners.”

The Pivot

When COVID curtailed in-person activities in 2020, the Jandon Center was challenged to adapt. It wasn’t long before new opportunities blossomed. In addition to a significant boost in web-based programming, including an online public lecture series, students stepped up to improve local nonprofits’ websites and support their social media efforts.

The lockdown also led the center to tap into the expertise of Smith alums. Civil liberties organizers and environmental justice leaders are among the alums from across the country who have given online talks and offered to work with students. “We benefit a lot when alums support our work,” Candy says.


‘Work That Connects Me to the Broader Community’

Claudia Olson holding a pamphlet entitled, "Organizing is for Everyone" by herselfEarly on during her time at Smith, Claudia Olson ’22 got interested in a variety of efforts linked to education and disability justice. When she joined up with the Jandon Center in her senior year, it added rocket fuel to her efforts.

Olson became a Smith Alliance for Justice and Equity (SAJE) fellow last fall. As part of her fellowship, she took a course on community organizing. Olson, who has dwarfism, was also part of a team that developed a print publication addressing disability as an identity in the Pioneer Valley. Fellow SAJE scholars pursued projects with Riquezas del Campo—an immigrant-led, worker-owned cooperative farm in Hatfield, Massachusetts—and Transhealth Northampton, an independent transgender health center.

For Olson, the Jandon Center has been an avenue to think big about what is possible. Through the center, she says, “I do work that I find meaningful and that connects me to the broader community.”


Jandon Center, By the Numbers

3,500
people, including 464 Smithies, participated in a Jandon Center event, program, or project in 2020–21.

700-plus
hours of knowledge sharing via the center’s Public Lectures Series in 2020–21.

1,500
masks created for the community early in the pandemic through the center’s Crafting for Community initiative.


‘I Have a Lot of Dreams to Get to’

As a single mom and first-generation student who plans to become a doctor, Asmae Lichir AC already had a lot on her plate when she arrived at Smith. But when she learned about the Jandon Center, she knew she wanted to do even more.

Through the center, Lichir spent two years working with the BIPOC Youth Justice and Healing Fellowship, a Baltimore-based organization that uses meditation and other tools to pursue justice. She has planned events and worked on finance-related projects during her fellowship.

Lichir says the Jandon Center has helped her do ambitious work within a supportive and caring community. “I’ve always loved community service, and the Jandon Center helps me bring love for others to create a better world,” she says. “That’s what Smith is all about.” And while she admits that juggling it all can be a challenge, she thrives in the bustle. “Someone asked me once when I relax, but I don’t want to relax,” she says. “I have a lot of dreams to get to.”


This story appears in the Summer 2022 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.