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Welcome to the Start of the 2015–16 Academic Year

September 8, 2015

​Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

I write to greet you at the start of the semester and to highlight a number of important events and projects that will bring us together as a community this year.

Last night, at Opening Convocation, we welcomed 610 new first-year students, 40 transfer students, 25 Ada Comstock Scholars, and a number of new faculty and staff members to the Smith community.

Michael Thurston, speaking on behalf of the faculty, reminded us that resilience comes from experiencing failure on the way to success. “It’s when we fail,” he said, “that we best learn.” Dwight Hamilton, our new chief diversity officer, reflected on the fact that the turmoil we see in the world doesn’t stop at the Grécourt Gates. However, we have the opportunity “to be an exemplar of what the outside world should be.” “The Smith community belongs to all of us,” he affirmed, “and we all have a role to play.” Meghna Purkayastha ’16, SGA president, challenged students to consider how they will engage  in the upcoming presidential elections and, more broadly, in the issues of the world at large. “What will you do? Where will you be? What will you say?” she asked. “Let your fervent voices transcend Smith’s borders. Make every moment count.”

I echo and endorse our speakers’ counsel. In the spirit of a new year and a new beginning, let us use our time together to build a bright future—for ourselves, for one another, for our communities, and for Smith.

We have a number of influential speakers coming to campus this year. Many of their talks will address a common theme: the challenges and responsibilities of public discourse, or “Thinking in Public in a Networked World.” This series and its theme reflect a key recommendation developed last year by the Campus Discourse Working Group to explore deeply and affirm our commitment to a culture of open conversation at Smith. Please mark your calendars for Smith’s Constitution Day speaker, distinguished Supreme Court journalist Linda Greenhouse (Sept. 18); author and New York Times columnist Frank Bruni (Oct. 20); Princeton University Professor of African American Studies Imani Perry (March 21); social media scholar danah boyd (March 30); computer scientist and scholar Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College (April 12); and ethicist, Harvard law professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig (April 20).

In addition, I want to draw your attention to four special events this fall:

A Conversation With Maya Lin, noon–1:30 p.m., Wednesday, September 16, Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall
This event will celebrate the beginning of our community-wide engagement with Maya Lin as she leads the reimagining and redesign of Neilson Library. Library planning will begin in earnest this fall via the architects’ intensive engagement with us to understand what Smith’s library of the future should be—defining intellectual excellence at Smith in a sustainable, accessible, exemplary and welcoming way. This work will be complemented by a cluster of courses in the fall and spring on the history of libraries, the history of the book, the design of knowledge and more. The library renovation has attracted generous leadership gifts from Smith alumnae, including Trustee Emerita Jane Chace Carroll ’53, Lile Rasmuson Gibbons ’64 and former board of trustees chair Cornelia Mendenhall Small ’66; I am grateful for their support and early investment in this transformative project.

Celebration of the opening of the Carol T. Christ Asian Art Gallery,  5 p.m., Thursday, October 15, Smith College Museum of Art
I look forward to welcoming back President Emerita Carol Christ, as well as Presidents Emeritae Jill Ker Conway and Mary Maples Dunn, as we dedicate the Carol T. Christ Asian Art Gallery, a 1,250-square-foot showcase for the most rapidly developing areas of the museum’s holdings. Funded by gifts from alumnae and trustees, including a foundational gift from Peggy Block Danziger ’62, the new gallery will honor Carol’s legacy in advancing Smith’s global presence and engagement.

The Dalai Lama at Smith, 1 p.m., Friday, October 23, ITT
In collaboration with the Mind & Life Institute, we will join Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts in hosting Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, for a conversation on secular ethics. Ticket information, including tickets for families visiting for Family Weekend, will be announced later this week.

The 2015 Otelia Cromwell Day Ceremony and Keynote Address, 1 p.m., Tuesday, November 3, Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall
Our keynote speaker will be attorney and documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter, creator of Gideon’s Army (2013) and Spies of Mississippi (2014). I thank the Otelia Cromwell Day Committee for inviting her and look forward to her reflections on race, justice, mass incarceration and the U.S. public defender system.

This year will be an important one in our strategic planning process. Last week, I hosted a retreat for some 40 faculty, staff and student leaders to begin the process of refining and prioritizing more than 190 strategic planning proposals submitted by the Smith community. Under the leadership of the Committee on Mission and Priorities (CMP), we have formed working groups to consider proposals around common themes—e.g., Classroom, Creative Campus, Curriculum, Global Initiatives, Research Experiences and Sustainability—seeking to align and refine ideas with the greatest potential to advance and distinguish a Smith education in the coming decades. If you submitted a proposal and would like to know how it has been routed for further consideration, please reach out to Tom Bernard at In concert with CMP, I look forward to providing regular reports on our progress, with the aim of a draft plan available for community comment in the spring semester.

Later this fall, in concert with the Board of Trustees, I will convene a Study Group on Climate Change. Over the course of 2015-16, the Study Group will facilitate a campuswide examination of how Smith, as an educational institution and a residential college, can most effectively respond to the challenge of global climate change. Through broad community input and consultation with experts, the Study Group will explore opportunities to mitigate climate change impact on our campus and consider, more broadly, how Smith can contribute to climate change solutions. Look for an announcement of the group’s formal charge and membership soon.

Extending and expanding last year’s work on campus discourse, Dwight Hamilton and the President’s Diversity Council are preparing to launch a comprehensive campus diversity and inclusion initiative. A centerpiece of the work will be a campus climate survey, intended to surface challenges and opportunities around these issues. The survey will drive action plans to support the well-being and full engagement of all members of the Smith community. We have engaged the firm of Rankin & Associates to support us in this work, in order to access best practices and ensure a thorough and unbiased assessment of campus climate at Smith. You will be hearing more about this initiative in the weeks to come. In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out to Dwight and to his colleagues in the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity—Sarah Harebo, Title IX coordinator, and L’Tanya Richmond, director of multicultural affairs—with your ideas, questions and support.  

I am excited for this year and the many initiatives underway. We enter the final 16 months of our Women for the World campaign having achieved an important milestone: surpassing $350 million raised toward our $450 million goal. I am happy to say that last year was Smith’s most successful fundraising year. The dedication and generosity of Smith alumnae, parents and friends is a part of Smith’s history of which we can be very proud.

This year will entail a good deal of travel for me, including a trip to Asia in November that will include outreach to alumnae, parents and prospective students in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Kyoto and Seoul. On campus, I look forward to seeing all of you and celebrating the best of Smith—including Mountain Day and the return of the restored Grécourt Gates in mid-October.

I wish you a terrific year.


Kathleen McCartney