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Remarks at a Town Hall Forum

President Kathleen McCartney, John M. Greene Hall, Monday, November 23, 2015

As you may know, I returned from a two-week trip to Asia, for Smith, last Saturday. I kept in close touch with the campus through others, especially Dwight Hamilton. I have a few thoughts to share. Then I plan to listen, which is how I see my role today.

When I met with alumnae in Hong Kong, Kyoto, Tokyo and Seoul, I spoke about our students’ leadership on issues of race and diversity at Smith. Many students across the nation, including here at Smith, have expressed how racism has prevented them from feeling fully included as members of their communities.

A number of you have told me that you are frustrated by the slow pace of progress, that you are tired of the struggle you bear as students, and that you expect more from Smith.

You want Smith to offer everyone the opportunity to focus on the academic and intellectual work each of you came here to do.

I want you to know that I have heard you — and I know there is more to hear.

Today, we will share our ideas about how to ensure real and sustained change on race at Smith. Here are three things I have heard from you since my first year:

I know you want more faculty of color. Provost and Dean of the Faculty Katherine Rowe made progress on this goal last year, and she has secured funding from the Mellon Foundation to do more; I will identify additional funds to accelerate this work.

I know you want more students of color here at Smith. I have been working closely with Audrey Smith, vice president for enrollment, on this goal since I arrived; going forward, we will further increase our outreach and recruitment efforts.

I know you want more diversity education for members of this community. We started new work last year with training for chairs of search committees as well as with a session by anti-racism activist and trainer Peggy McIntosh, an event proposed by the Concerned Students of Color.

That said, we need a fully-developed strategic plan for diversity. Dwight Hamilton and others are currently hard at work on this project, which they will share for public comment with the Smith community.

I know your comments today will surface other important goals for Smith, and I welcome this.

I would like to comment on a second, related issue: In recent weeks there have been several terrorist attacks around the world. Hundreds of people have been killed in Baghdad, Beirut, Paris, and Mali. We grieve these losses and offer our support to those in the Smith community for the suffering they bear. 

As a result of these attacks, we are facing increased Islamophobia across the country and beyond as well as in our own community; some of our Muslim students are feeling fearful as they go about their daily lives. Acts of terrorism and racism are intended to sow division, fear, and mistrust. We must do everything we can to fight this by re-affirming our commitment to inclusion, mutual respect, and peace.

I want to learn from you what would serve this community best. Your comments on process will be as important as your comments on substantive changes that need to be made. I pledge, here and now, that I will be a supporter and a steadfast ally in the work for campus diversity, equity and inclusion.