A New Year Awaits
Letters to the Community
September 1, 2022
Dear students, staff and faculty,
The beginning of the academic year is a special time for members of our college community, as we welcome new and returning students to campus. As I write this, I am reminded of Muriel Rukeyser’s poem “Elegy in Joy,” which encourages us to “nourish beginnings.” May the beginning of this year inspire us all to seize the many opportunities before us.
I want to give a special welcome to the 625 members of the class of 2026 as well as the 18 transfer students and 16 Ada Comstock Scholars who are new to Smith, along with the 48 new faculty and 42 new staff members who have joined our community; your experiences, skills and perspectives will strengthen us in remarkable ways.
In the year ahead, many events and new initiatives will reflect our commitment to creating the world we want: one that is more just, equitable, sustainable and healthy. Here are some of the highlights we can anticipate this academic year.
Learning and community engagement are essential parts of Smith’s Toward Racial Justice strategic plan. This year our community will have several opportunities to learn and to engage with others:
The Office for Equity and Inclusion will guide all departmental units in a common process of education, reflection and action planning. As these plans are finalized, they will be published on the website. The Office for Equity and Inclusion will also host a spring summit to hear from those units that have completed action plans.
Three Presidential Colloquia will address equity and inclusion. On September 7, professors Carrie Baker, Alice Hearst and Loretta Ross will explore the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization with respect to gender equity and reproductive justice. On November 10, producer Dana DiCarlo ’88 and director Julie Cohen (who directed RGB and Julia), will join us to discuss their film My Name is Pauli Murray, a documentary about one of our country’s early advocates for social justice and gender and racial equality; this colloquium will be presented in collaboration with the Department of Film and Media Studies. And on March 7, author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates will share his perspectives on politics and race.
Cromwell Day, Smith’s annual opportunity for each of us to reflect on and learn about diversity, racism and inclusion, will be held on November 15. This year’s theme is “The Necessity of Teaching and Learning About Race.” I hope you will participate in events throughout the day; attend the colloquium by our keynote speaker, sociologist and author Crystal Fleming; and share your knowledge and perspectives with the entire community.
Each of these efforts contributes to our ongoing work of achieving racial justice at Smith. The Office of Equity and Inclusion is documenting our progress on all action items on the Toward Racial Justice site.
Stewarding the environment
In so many ways, Smith is working to become carbon neutral by 2030. Our geothermal energy project—the result of the work of students, staff, faculty and trustees—is a key component of this plan. Phase one of the project began earlier this summer; details are available on the geothermal site. The college is reducing its carbon footprint in other ways as well. We are transitioning some of our service vehicles to electric cars, and Dining Services continues to reduce food waste and increase local food sources. This year, Dining Services is reintroducing Grab and Go 2.0, which provides students with reusable containers to use at any dining hall, keeping single-use containers out of landfills.
We will have the opportunity to learn more about stewardship of the environment from Robin Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. She will join us for a Presidential Colloquium—presented in collaboration with the Botanic Garden—on February 15, for a conversation about our reciprocal relationship with nature, the intelligence of plants and how we can bring together scientific and artistic methods of observation to expand our knowledge of the world.
The challenges of the past two and a half years have reminded us of how important it is to take care of our physical and mental health. In that spirit, we are launching several new initiatives aimed at supporting and encouraging wellness. Beginning today, students will have access to new telehealth resources, which will be available throughout the year (whether or not classes are in session) to traditional, nontraditional, graduate and international students. Additional information from Student Affairs will follow later today. In October, we will launch a yearlong program, On Our Way to Wellness, for employees. Each month will have a theme and will feature speakers, activities and resources related to that theme. These programs will complement existing wellness resources including the Calm app and the care.com app, available to everyone, as well as the Employee Assistance Program and Blue Cross Blue Shield Resources, available to employees. On April 3, mindfulness meditation teacher Kaira Jewel Lingo, author of We Were Made for These Times, will join us for a Presidential Colloquium, presented in collaboration with the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, to speak about ways to meet life’s challenges with resilience and balance.
Wellness advocates encourage us to find sources of inspiration to give life meaning. As many of you may know, poetry provides inspiration and meaning for me and so many others in our community. In our September 29 Presidential Colloquium, Alena Smith, the creator of the television series Dickinson, and poet Jericho Brown, who hosts a podcast about this Emily Dickinson program called The Slave Is Gone, will discuss the poet’s life and influence. This colloquium will be presented in collaboration with the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center.
I look forward to all that awaits us as a community during this academic year.