Beginning A New Year

Letters to the Community
September 1, 2021

Dear students, staff, and faculty:

Over the past 11 days, we have welcomed to campus three continuing classes of students and a brand-new class of first-year students—the class of 2025. We are joined by 133 new faculty and staff members as well. It is hard to fully describe the joy I have seen—and experienced—as this remarkable community has come together in person on our beautiful campus.

The need for pandemic precautions remains, of course; in light of the COVID-19 delta variant, we are masking indoors, testing frequently and limiting event audiences to those in our testing program. We cannot know yet whether these requirements will be temporary or ongoing; what we do know is that, as a fully vaccinated community taking careful precautions, we are well positioned for in-person teaching and learning—the heart of the Smith experience.

Introducing the 2021-22 Year on Democracies
One of the most compelling ways we will come together as a community is via our campuswide Year on Democracies. Co-chaired by Provost and Dean of the Faculty Michael Thurston and Professor Alex Keller, the themed series of programs, courses and exhibitions invite us all to examine aspects of global democracy (governmental, philosophical, cultural, organizational, ideological, methodological and more) in depth and from varied perspectives. We are very fortunate to launch this themed year with a Presidential Colloquium on Wednesday, September 8, featuring Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

Rediscovering campus
As you settle into campus, you will discover some changes. I hope the reimagined Neilson Library will be one of the first places you explore. Neilson is home to many new, flexible classrooms and learning spaces—and, of course, the Compass Café. Near the Neilson entrance, you will see a prominent addition to our public art collection—the bronze sculpture Orb by Australian artist Bronwyn Oliver. This piece, as well as Terpsichore, a bronze by Australian sculptor Clement Meadmore, located in the courtyard of Cutter Ziskind, were generously bequeathed to Smith by President Emerita Jill Ker Conway.

Working toward racial justice and equity
The college’s work to advance racial equity and justice has continued in full force, both in person and virtually. Toward Racial Justice, a plan developed in 2019, outlines the 42 actions that we are taking, 21 of which are now complete. The Office for Equity and Inclusion, under the leadership of Vice President Floyd Cheung, has begun disseminating the principles and directions of that collegewide strategic plan to each academic and administrative entity of the college, so that concrete goals and action plans can be developed at the departmental level. Floyd and I will continue to update you on progress and invite your additional ideas and feedback.

I want to also express my appreciation for a new student-launched initiative for equity and inclusion. The Common Goods Resource Center is a student-run support hub, open to all, that provides basic needs items free of charge to those who need them. You will find it on the lower level of the Campus Center, and donations of items in good condition are welcome.

Addressing the climate crisis
This year, Smith is poised to take several significant steps toward our goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Later this month, we will begin sourcing at least one-third of our electrical power from a solar farm in Farmington, Maine, as a result of our founding role in establishing the New England College Renewable Partnership. A working group of Cabinet members and trustees is actively studying ways to convert our campus heating, cooling and electrical systems away from fossil fuels. And we are moving forward on ideas outlined in our new landscape master plan, which your feedback helped to shape; look for more universally accessible pathways, plantings that require less water and designs that open up sight lines to Paradise Pond.

Beginning again
For all of us at Smith, each September promises opportunities for learning, for exploration, for growth and for celebration in the academic year ahead. Our first celebration is this evening’s convocation, which gives us the chance to come together outdoors and safely mark the beginning of a new year. I look forward to seeing you at 5 p.m. on Seelye lawn for welcoming remarks followed by festive food and the chance to greet friends and colleagues.

As we welcome the new academic year, let us remember the words of our 2021 Commencement speaker, Joy Harjo, who encouraged us to map new paths by using the tools of “truth, wildness, beauty, transformation, bravery.” Let us embrace these qualities in our work throughout the year.


Kathleen McCartney