Welcome to the Start of the 2017–18 Academic Year
September 6, 2017
Dear Students, Staff and Faculty:
For the past several years, I have begun the fall semester with an update on our shared, sustained commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and access. The recent hateful actions of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as the ending of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), make this commitment even more urgent and more central to our mission and institutional values. This letter highlights opportunities to educate ourselves, in our roles as teachers, scholars and learners, to recognize and oppose racism and other forms of hatred and bias and to foster communities based on justice and respect.
Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity search
We are at the beginning stages of the search for a new vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity. I am grateful to the following members of our community who have agreed to serve on that search committee: Provost and Dean of the Faculty Katherine Rowe, chair; Trustee Neelum Amin; Professor Floyd Cheung; Associate Vice President for Human Resources Larry Hunt; Natalie James ’18; Professor Nnamdi Pole; Associate Dean of the College Danielle Ramdath; Director of Disability Services Laura Rauscher; and Trustee Mona Sinha. They will be assisted in their work by the firm of Spelman and Johnson. We will announce several open forums for members of our community to share ideas about the qualities and experience important for success in this role. The first open forum, for students, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 19, in the Carroll Room, Campus Center.
This fall, the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity and the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning are partnering on a campaign to encourage all members of our community to help improve campus climate. They will be offering practical strategies for strengthening our community in positive ways. One such strategy is to develop community habits of “micro-affirmation” to systemically counter implicit bias—small, concrete actions done to support others and help them succeed.
Our alumnae will offer programming as well. Over the course of the year, “Diverse Smithies: Connecting, Coaching, and Celebrating Together,” a project coordinated by the Office of Alumnae Relations, will bring alumnae of color to campus to offer a series of workshops for students on such topics as addressing implicit bias, using one’s authentic voice for change and building inclusive and just communities. The goal of the project is two-fold: to build skills and to foster connections among diverse Smithies across the generations.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Students’ Alliance (BSA) at Smith. BSA President Natalie James ’18 and Co-President Gelonnie Smith ’18 will be announcing a series of events, including opportunities for students to connect with alumnae.
On November 2, we will welcome writer, professor and commentator Roxane Gay as the Otelia Cromwell Day keynote speaker. The author of the essay collection Bad Feminist and the memoir Hunger, among other works, Gay will address the 2017 Otelia Cromwell Day theme "Resist. Act. Persevere.”
On December 5, as part of its 20th anniversary series, the Poetry Center will host a reading by Afaa Michael Weaver, described by Henry Louis Gates as “one of the most significant poets writing today.” The son of a sharecropper, Weaver grew up in working class Baltimore to become the author of fifteen books of poems and the recipient of numerous awards. His acclaimed “Plum Flower Trilogy” tells of his search for cultural and racial identity.
On April 13, 2018, in conjunction with the Office of Alumnae Relations’ Women of Color Conference, I will host a presidential colloquium address by Juana Maria Rodriguez, professor of gender and women's studies at the University of California Berkeley and author of two books, Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces and Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures and Other Latina Longings.
The Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning is focusing its programming on creating inclusive learning environments. Guest speakers will present on topics such as culturally responsive teaching in STEM and lessons from cognitive science about effective teaching. Sherrerd staff will also be working with the Classroom Committee on a survey to inform the renovation of our classrooms for more inclusive pedagogy.
The Wurtele Center is expanding its advising and support work with first-gen students, including an initiative in which students produce digital narratives of their academic and personal successes.
The Mwangi Cultural Center will soon be hosting its programs in renovated space, thanks to improvements over the summer designed to make it more flexible and effective for group gatherings.
2017–18 President’s Innovation Challenge
For the second year, I will be offering grants to fund innovative projects that promote inclusion and strengthen our community. Proposals can come from students, staff and faculty, individually or in groups. In light of responses to the Pathways Campus Climate Survey, I am especially interested in funding ideas to advance inclusion and belonging in student houses. Please see last year’s funded projects for ideas and look for a formal call for proposals soon. The Innovation Challenge reflects my strong belief in supporting the wisdom, creativity and activism of this community; I hope many of you will apply.
I wish each of you a successful and fulfilling year. I look forward to seeing you tonight at Convocation.