Welcome to the Start of the 2016–17 Academic Year
September 7, 2016
Dear Students, Staff and Faculty:
As we begin the new academic year, I write to call attention to three college commitments I hope will unite us as a community, in pride and in purpose, this year and beyond.
Our most consequential commitment as a community is to continue our sustained work to build a just and inclusive campus. We will have a number of opportunities to educate ourselves and to take this work forward; Dwight Hamilton, vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity, will keep us informed of others throughout the year.
Understanding our current campus climate is a critical first step in advancing our commitment to inclusion. On September 27, we will launch the Pathways Campus Climate Survey to assess the learning, living and working environment at Smith. This survey will help us to 1) identify successful initiatives, 2) uncover any challenges facing members of our community, and 3) develop strategic initiatives to build on the successes and address the challenges. I encourage you to participate in this confidential survey when it goes live.
I also want to highlight a few key events scheduled during the course of this academic year:
- On October 14, Smith will host two co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement—Opal Tometi and Janaya Khan—who will be featured speakers at a symposium on women of color feminisms honoring Professor Paula Giddings and the journal Meridians.
- On October 28, we will welcome Harvard psychology professor Mahzarin Banaji to campus to lead a workshop for our community on implicit bias. She is the author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, and leads trainings around the world on how to counteract prejudices—our own and those of others.
- On November 3, we will celebrate Otelia Cromwell Day. This year’s theme is “Advancing Change: The Responsibility of Higher Education in Times of Crisis” with featured keynote speaker Sonia Sanchez.
- On December 6, the Poetry Center will present a reading by Ross Gay, winner of the prestigious Kingsley Tufts and the National Book Critics Circle awards, and finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry as well as the NAACP Image Award.
- In January, the senior leadership team of the college will participate in the Institute for Healing Racism, an intensive two-day workshop led by facilitators from the Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion, which will address institutional racism and anti-racism strategies.
- Also in January, the Board of Trustees will focus its 2017 retreat on creating and maintaining an inclusive and equitable campus.
- On March 1, as part of a year-long series of events focusing on creating inclusive learning environments, the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning will present a talk by trustee Beverly Tatum, a widely recognized expert on race in education and author of ‘Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?’ And Other Conversations About Race.
- Finally, as I announced in July, we are moving to create funding opportunities to support research, teaching, learning and activism that aim to address issues of justice and inclusion, especially racism which lies at the heart of so much violence in the world. Proposal guidelines will be available on September 16. For Smith to be successful we need the ideas of every member of our community.
The second commitment concerns global climate change, an accelerating and urgent problem that affects us all. This summer, in its largest single sustainability-related investment to date, the Smith College Board of Trustees approved the investment of $8.5 million of the endowment in a private equity fund focused on energy efficiency and sustainable manufacturing processes. This “impact investment” comes at a time of increasing focus on climate change and climate action at the college and in the world. Two campus groups—the Study Group on Climate Change and the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility—are studying ways that Smith, as an educational institution and a residential college, can respond to the challenge of global climate change on campus, contribute to wider sustainability solutions, and ensure that the endowment continues to be invested in a manner consistent with Smith’s mission and values. As you may know, each committee has representation from students, staff, faculty, and trustees. I look forward to receiving and sharing the recommendations of both groups when they complete their work.
Finally, I want to call out our commitment to education access. For more than 60 percent of our students, including the 660 traditional first year, 32 transfer and 32 Ada Comstock Scholars we are welcoming this fall, a Smith education is possible because of generous scholarship aid that meets their full demonstrated financial need. That was certainly the case for me, as a first-generation college student who relied on work-study and financial aid. I am proud to share that we have raised $101.7 million for financial aid so far through our Women for the World campaign. That figure includes two recent $10 million gifts and 29 $250,000 endowed fund gifts, all from alumnae and friends. I could not be more proud of—and grateful for—the support that generations of Smith women are extending to the Smithies of today and promising to the students of the future. Financial aid will remain a fundraising priority for me throughout my presidency, so that Smith can be accessible to all qualified women of promise who seek a rigorous liberal arts education.