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Speeches & Media

Good Ideas Move the College Forward

Innovative initiatives prepare students for engaged citizenship

Kathleen McCartney, Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Fall 2017

Wise leaders know that some of the best ideas arise from members of the community. A faculty proposal led to our Design Thinking Initiative, which has changed how we teach and learn. Staff Council requested that we add the position of an ombudsperson, which has helped our community deal with conflict. Alumnae suggested we host an alumnae of color conference, which will take place next April. Throughout the year, we support numerous student initiatives, including a new program to replace disposable takeout containers with reusable ones, and the Food Recovery Network, spearheaded by Beverly Lipsey ’18J, which takes leftover food from the dining halls and brings it to Conway House and to local social service organizations.

Last fall, I reached out to the campus to issue a special innovation challenge. Using presidential discretionary funds, generously donated by a member of the class of 1974, I offered $10,000 grants to individuals or groups proposing solutions to a significant real-world challenge: the need to advance inclusion, diversity and equity, on campus and beyond.

Applicants stepped forward with brilliant creativity. Following a rigorous review process, we funded 11 projects relating to teaching, research and activism. Students were involved in the majority of projects, and I am confident that these experiential opportunities will prepare them for engaged citizenship.

These inclusion projects have already begun to change campus culture, and I delight in sharing the wide range of work underway.

Several projects focus on skill building and training, for our campus community and beyond. School for Social Work faculty members developed online training for mental health providers to help them meet the specific needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming people. A member of our psychology faculty hosted a leadership development program for 11 students focused on ending racism. The program taught deep listening skills and techniques for sharing life stories in service of social change.

Other projects support the expanding refugee population in the Northampton area. School for Social Work faculty hosted a conference for workers, including therapists, teachers and police officers, on the specialized needs of displaced people. The Jandon Center for Community Engagement is using its grant to help the college and the city coordinate refugee support. Among other activities, the center ran a clothing drive for refugee families and hosted a speaker on model practices for working effectively with refugees and immigrants.

Some groups are using their funds to expand understanding through travel. Twenty students and faculty members visited the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., to, as they said in their proposal, “spark a broad conversation around the questions of justice, equity and moral responsibility that emerge from the museum’s dramatically expanded sense of the nation’s history.” Beverly Morgan-Welch ’74, associate director for external affairs at the museum, helped secure admission to the often sold-out museum. Writing later about the trip, one student reflected on it as “a pilgrimage for so many.” A delegation of student leaders and residence life staff traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, to participate in NCORE, the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education. This fall, they are working with staff mentors to share what they learned and conducting projects that integrate their conference learning into their work as student leaders and organizers.

Several groups are approaching inclusion via sports and wellness. Smith athletes and coaches, as well as students and faculty in our Urban Education Initiative and Project Coach, plan to launch a recreational sports league for middle-school students from disadvantaged families in Holyoke, Springfield and Northampton. Engaging Identity, a joint project by student affairs and the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness, offered twice-weekly workshops and panels on topics, like race, gender and mental health, to help students identify and celebrate their identities.

Alumnae are engaged as well. Starting this fall, in a project coordinated by the Office of Alumnae Relations, a diverse group of alumnae will offer a series of on-campus workshops for students on such topics as addressing implicit bias, using one’s authentic voice for change, and building inclusive and just communities. The goals of the project are to build skills and foster intergenerational connections among diverse Smithies.

A key job of a leader is to create the conditions for people to do their best work. I will continue to support the good ideas of this community, in the best Smith tradition of education for the greater good.