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Welcome to the Start of the 2018-19 Academic Year

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Dear students, staff and faculty,

Welcome to the beginning of the fall 2018 semester. As I noted in my August 30 letter, it has been my tradition to start the academic year by reaffirming our shared commitment to the principles of inclusion, diversity and equity. That commitment carries even greater resonance this fall as we continue to reflect on the events of July 31, as well as on changes in immigration policy, as we work to ensure equity and belonging for all members of our community.  

In that context, we are launching new programming, including a number of education and training opportunities for students, staff and faculty. I write now to share information about our current plans.

Mandatory Anti-Bias Training for Employees
In early October, we will launch mandatory training for all staff on diversity and bias. The training, developed and hosted by the EverFi digital education platform, has been used effectively at many peer institutions. Faculty members will be strongly encouraged to complete the training as well. Please note that Faculty Council and Interim Provost and Dean of the Faculty Joe O’Rourke are committed to working through our faculty governance process to make the training required for faculty.

Critical Conversations Initiative
The Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, in partnership with School for Social Work Professor Peggy O’Neill, is beginning a multiyear initiative to build Smith community members’ capacity to engage differences. During this first year of the Critical Conversations Initiative, a cohort of 15 faculty members will be trained as instructors. The critical conversations model is grounded in noticing, reflecting upon, naming and discussing issues of power and privilege and using those observations to inform social action. The model offers opportunities to reframe how we understand our own identities in relation to one another. It has been found to be a particularly helpful tool for addressing bias and microaggression.  

Identity and Inclusion Workshops
Employees will have the opportunity to participate in workshops in which they will explore their own identities and consider how the impact of power and privilege, as well as the lack of these, can affect the ways in which we understand ourselves and others. In a second series, participants will have the opportunity to explore power and privilege through a lens of systemic marginalization, considering how our own socialization contributes to dynamics of race, class, gender, and other identities. The workshops will start in October and will be led by Dina R. Levi, director of inclusive leadership at Amherst College.

House-Based Programs for Students
Susan Etheredge ’77, dean of the college and vice president for campus life, and her staff look forward to working with the Student Government Association, the House Presidents’ Association and residence life staff to identify training and programming in student houses related to inclusion and belonging. These two issues will also be a central theme of a new Residential Experience Working Group that Dean Etheredge will convene over the course of this academic year. Composed of students, staff and faculty, the working group will conduct a comprehensive examination of how Smith, as an educational institution and a residential college, can optimize the learning potential of living and dining in community.

President’s Innovation Challenge
For the third year in a row, I will be sponsoring the President’s Innovation Challenge, an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to apply for funding to support projects that will advance inclusion, diversity and equity at Smith. Innovation grants can range from $1,000 to $10,000. Projects funded in prior years have addressed support for Dreamers, social justice mediation training, and house events by and for students of color. The program will be administered by Bill Peterson, associate provost, and Amy Hunter, interim director of inclusion, diversity and equity. Look for information soon on how to apply.

Inclusion Council
In all of our inclusion and diversity work, the college will be advised by a newly reconstituted Inclusion Council comprising students, staff and faculty. I will be announcing the members of this Council soon. Among its roles, the council will work with key governance groups to develop a strategic plan to improve inclusion. Further, they will advise on the search for Smith’s next vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity. I will name a committee for that search soon as well.

Speakers and Events
Many departments and centers will sponsor speakers and panels relevant to our inclusion goals. Here is a selection:

  • On October 13, the Jandon Center will sponsor a public day of mindfulness with Kaira Jewel Lingo, whose work includes a focus on authentic connection.
  • On October 29, as part of my Presidential Colloquium Series, I will host University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski, a leading advocate for underrepresented students in STEM.
  • On November 1, Colorado State University Professor of Education D-L Stewart will keynote our Otelia Cromwell Day convocation. The theme this year is “Healing and Resistance Through Community.”  
  • On November 13, I will host a presidential colloquium talk by Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race.
  • On March 20, Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, will be the keynote speaker for a gala dedication of our Wurtele Center for Leadership.
  • On April 8, I will host a presidential colloquium with Gabrielle Starr, a scholar of English literature whose work extends to neuroscience and the arts; Starr is the first female and first African American president of Pomona College.

I want to close by affirming Smith’s commitment to each of our new and returning students of international backgrounds, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. We are monitoring the increasing and concerning challenges to immigration policy and remain unwavering in protecting and supporting all members of our community.

As you likely know, Trump administration attempts to revoke DACA have faced legal challenges across the country.  While three federal judges have ruled that the government must continue to process DACA applications, the legal status of the program remains unsettled. In light of ongoing uncertainty, we have redoubled our efforts to support our DACA and undocumented students. We joined the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. And we established an Undocumented Student Working Group, co-chaired by Vice President for Enrollment Audrey Smith and Chief of Staff Joanna Olin. The group’s mission is to address hurdles that undocumented students might face in pursuing full participation in the academic program, the co-curriculum or any aspect of campus life.

At the same time, we are monitoring new federal guidance addressing so-called unlawful presence that could impose harsh penalties for international students, staff and faculty whose visa status is threatened. We are providing our community members with information and support to help ensure that their visa status remains in order and will continue to advocate for policies that create a welcoming environment for immigrant, undocumented and international students on U.S. campuses. In this climate of ever-tightening immigration regulations, we underscore our appreciation for the international students, staff and faculty members of the Smith community.

So much of what a college administration does is invisible to members of the community. I hope this letter provides a window into the work we are launching this year to promote inclusion and create structural change at Smith. If you have additional ideas, I would welcome hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Kathleen McCartney
President, Smith College