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A letter from President McCartney, June 4, 2020

Dear students, staff, faculty and alums:

It has been less than a week since Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Floyd Cheung and I wrote to the campus community; yet, in that short time, so much has happened across our nation. Black people and their allies have organized demonstrations in cities large and small, while political leaders and extremist groups have taken advantage of protests to sow division and undermine free speech. It is a good time to remind ourselves that needed reforms have originated as protest against established practices that we knew to be wrong. Protest is a right.

The deliberate and brazen suffocation of George Floyd by a police officer, while three other officers stood by and did not intervene, is emblematic of the suffering Black people have endured in this country for more than 400 years. It is little wonder that our nation is convulsed with anger and anguish as it confronts the horrific legacy of slavery as well as the pernicious effects of institutional and societal racism that endure to this day.

I am sickened by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless others. It is time to acknowledge that the work of anti-racism is white people’s work. As we bear witness to the entrenched pain of Black people who are telling us that they are “not okay,” we must learn how to be more effective allies by truly reflecting on our privilege—and risking that privilege in moments that matter. Beyond vigils, beyond marches, we must commit ourselves to learning and to action.

Since George Floyd’s murder, I have heard from a number of Black students and alums about the many ways Smith has not protected them, not done enough to prevent harm and pain, not created the conditions for full equality and true belonging. Know that I understand that learning cannot happen in an environment where people feel frightened and oppressed. The heart and soul of Smith College rests on all of our students feeling safe, valued and included. Smith College must change to ensure this.

As members of a community founded on educational access and committed to the pursuit of knowledge, we must open our eyes to the violence around us, understand and confront its root causes and raise our voices for change. We must name white supremacy and anti-Blackness—society’s unwillingness to recognize the humanity of Black people—for what it is and dismantle the structural barriers that keep racism alive.

At Smith, here are several examples of work underway to dismantle structural inequality.

First, students have advocated important changes that we have implemented, such as affinity housing, resources for the Mwangi Center and programming for students of color.

Second, we have been working with and the All-In Campus Democracy Challenge to register voters and get out the vote; we need leaders at the local, state and national levels who are committed to sponsoring anti-racism legislation and to preventing acts of voter suppression.

Third, we have revised our hiring processes so that members of search committees have been trained to recognize implicit bias, with the goal of recruiting a diverse faculty and staff that is reflective of the nation.

Fourth, we are building our own police force from the ground up to reflect Smith community values; importantly, our team in the Office for Equity and Inclusion will provide newly conceived training for that department to prevent racial profiling in all its forms. I am proud of our 10-person team in the Office for Equity and Inclusion; together they are leading important programming throughout the college and gathering resources from which we can learn.

Importantly, each one of us can support organizations and candidates who are fighting against white supremacy, racism and anti-Blackness in all its forms.

I realize that much work awaits us. Yesterday, I saw a protestor with a sign reading “Silence costs lives.” I will not be silent, even though I know I will make mistakes. And I will also be listening to and learning from others as we move forward as a community.


Kathleen McCartney