Progress Toward Addressing Student Demands & Recommendations
May 2, 2019
Before the semester closes, I want to update you on progress toward addressing student demands and recommendations. To date, I have received three sets of demands: from the Unity Presidents Council, from Students for Social Justice and Institutional Change (i.e., the April 11 protest organizers), and from trans students; in addition, members of my team and I have met with several other student groups, for example international students, who have shared additional recommendations. Although each group has a different perspective, they share a common goal that reflects a priority of many members of the Smith community, specifically to create a more just and inclusive Smith where all can thrive.
As I noted in my April 15 letter, I have convened a working group of senior administrators at the college to work on next steps. They have been working to identify the larger problems that underlie the concerns of students, including:
- The need for additional staff support, especially for students who feel marginalized by their identities
- The fact that Smith can be difficult to navigate
- The fact that many students feel isolated and lonely
- The need for additional financial resources
- The desire for students to have a greater role in decision-making
- The desire for spaces for affinity groups
One of the lessons for me this past semester is that we face a process problem. Students want greater clarity on how change is made at Smith, while administrators struggle with how to work with student partners. As a result, many questions remain: What should our priorities be to make Smith more inclusive? What are the solutions most likely to be effective? What are we doing now that students value? What are we investing in that students do not value—and should we sunset these activities and redirect the resources?
A second lesson concerns the need to think harder about our shared governance system, because it shapes how we work together in this complex organization. The trustees have fiduciary responsibility for the college; the faculty have curricular responsibility for the college; and the administration has responsibility for long-range planning and day-to-day operations for all units—from student affairs to admission to facilities to IT to communications to fund-raising and more. What, then, should be the role of students as partners in this work? What is the role of the Student Government Association and/or other student leadership organizations? Going forward, my team and I plan to look to students for advice to answer these questions.
For now, I want you to know that I have heard you and that my team is committed to working with you. I plan to identify funds to hire at least two new staff to support students. I will rely on Dean of the College Susan Etheredge ‘77 and our new vice president for equity and inclusion to identify areas of greatest need, and they will consult with student leaders.
Rest assured that my team and I will be working hard over the summer on the issues that concern students most. Further, we will create a living document to make our work more accessible and transparent to students as well as other members of our community.
On Wednesday, a student came to my office hours to ask me how I felt about the April 11 student protest. I told her that I strive to see criticism as caring about the institution. And as I told the students at the protest, it was clarifying for my team and me to learn what kinds of supports students feel they need to be successful and to thrive. Going forward, my team and I hope we can find ways to communicate more effectively with students so that we can work together collaboratively. Each of us is always only an email away.
I wish you all the best with the end of the semester. And to the great class of 2019, I look forward to celebrating with you often during senior week.