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The Narratives Project

The Narratives Project, Smith College

With faculty and staff collaborators, we generate interactive, face-to-face curricula that motivate students to deepen their knowledge of themselves, explore their passions and personal capacities, and articulate their values and goals. During our cohort experiences, students write, talk and make videos in order to find meaning, reflect on identity, build a sense of belonging and practice leadership.

Videos: Smith Students Reflect On ...

Being a First-Generation Student

First-gen students who join “First-Gen Out Loud” participate in a yearlong cohort program during which they reflect on life at Smith and beyond.

Lily Lee ’19: My Myanmar Story
“When I was younger, I knew my mom was a genius.”
“At 8 years old, I went to go 'work' at my parents' dry cleaners.”
“Journey for My Mother's Acceptance”
“I knew I wanted to help communities like the one I grew up in.”
“I was encouraged to push myself.”
“My family told me that girls weren't supposed to go to college.”
“Growing up, I can remember my mother encouraging my curiosity ... I would always ask, ‘Why?’”
“The littlest things that made me so angry before were the things that I was now yearning for.”

Why They Do the Work that They Do

Seniors in the Jandon Center's Community Engagement & Social Change Concentration made the following videos in spring 2018.

To Fill Someone Else's Cup
Why Am I Here?
Understanding Inequalities
A Black Feminist Algorithm
My Mother's Touch

Developing Sustainable Leadership

A semester-long program, Building Leadership for an Inclusive, Sustainable Smith (BLISS) rests on the premise that effective leadership requires deep listening for personal and social transformation.

Navigating College with Resilience

The Narratives Project engages students in telling stories about managing challenges at Smith. Among other sources, Professor Benita Jackson's Psychology 240: Health Promotion course contributes to a growing collection of these stories.

“Saying ‘no’ to things that I maybe don’t want to do (or maybe won’t want to do) is hard.”
“I left the lab feeling confused and down because chemistry was something that I really enjoyed but it had always been a struggle.”
“It was very difficult deciding to leave my mother and to come out of state.”

Projects With Campus Partners


Resources for Navigating Smith With Resilience

Meeting With Professors

When you go to office hours to meet with your professors, you don't have to have a specific plan. You can talk about why you are enjoying the class and share information about yourself as a student; you can do some online investigation of the professor's research interests and ask about that research; you can inquire about out-of-the-classroom experiences that your professor might recommend for a student who's excited about his or her field.

Think of the meeting as the beginning of a professional relationship. Use these guidelines to help you gain confidence and start a productive relationship.

If You Miss a Meeting

Send a short apology over email or voice mail if you miss it without notifying the professor.

To Reschedule a Meeting

If you need to reschedule a meeting, notify the professor with a short email or voice mail as soon as possible.

Prepare for the Meeting

  • Adjust your schedule so that you will be able to attend office hours. Professors reserve office hours for the purpose of meeting with you, and they expect that you'll adjust your schedule in order to attend. If the hours really don't work for you (e.g., if you have another class or a lab at the same time) then email the professor, proposing a few weekday times that work.
  • If you are scheduling the meeting, then use email to provide basic background about what you want to discuss, even including attachments if relevant, such as a draft of an essay, or a course schedule that you want feedback on. Let the professor know in advance if you want to discuss a personal matter or speak to him or her about learning challenges that you are experiencing.
  • Don't wait to ask for help. Check in with your professors at the first signs that things are getting difficult or even if you just have questions about whether or not you are studying/preparing for class correctly. If you are particularly anxious about a course, it is fine to go talk to the professor at the very start of the semester just to let him or her know this is the case. However, it is never too late to ask about getting help.
  • If there is a personal, health or disability-related concern that you need to discuss with your professor, it is useful to meet early in the semester, rather than wait until a problem arises.
  • Be concrete but flexible: If you know what kind of help you need, ask for it, but be open to the professor's suggestions.
  • Prepare by anticipating what you'll need to have during the meeting.
  • If you are going to office hours, bring your computer and/or notebooks, and papers and/or exams for the class. If you want the professor to look at or sign something, be sure you have it with you.
  • If it is a meeting with your adviser, then bring your course catalog and notes. It's a good idea to draft schedules with various options already sketched out.
  • Show up on time.
  • Be ready to get what you need done in fifteen minutes, especially during registration periods.
  • If you have trouble remembering appointments or showing up on time, create a reminder or prompt in your online calendar or ask a friend to remind you.
  • If you have trouble speaking quickly, have an outline of what you want to say and focus on the major points. Tell the professor in advance that you may need more time for the meeting, or schedule a follow-up meeting.

When You Arrive

  • Wait outside of the office if another student is inside or if the door is closed. If the door is open, lightly knock and say something like, "I have a 10:00 appointment with you, are you ready for me?" or "I'm early, would you like me to wait?"
  • When your professor invites you in, it's a good idea to remind him or her of your name and class section.
  • Call your professor "Professor Smith" or "Professor Jones," using his or her last name instead of just saying "Professor." (It's good to wait to be invited before using his or her first name.)
  • If you want to ask a professor to be your adviser, just go for it. You can say something like, "I'm ready to declare my major and I want to know if you would be my adviser."
  • Avoid disputing a grade or asking for it to be changed, but do ask how you can do better, or what you can do next time.
  • It's always nice to thank your professor at the end of an appointment, even if you've been told something you don't want to hear, such as "I don't give extra credit in this class."

Speaking & Listening in Class

You have arrived at Smith with your own associations for the idea of "speaking up," and with your own level of comfort about talking in groups. Whatever your comfort level may be, your professors will encourage you to both speak and listen during classroom discussions, because most of them believe that robust classroom discussion allows everyone in the room to learn from each other. This page includes thoughts, advice and strategies for students who would like to speak (or listen) more in class.

Some of the tips below were adapted, with permission, from The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton.

Before Class

Understand that there are many ways to prepare.

"Talk back" to your readings. Make sure that your readings are formatted and printed in a way that allows you to "talk back" to them. Write notes, questions and criticisms in the margins of assigned articles. If you can't afford to print all of the Moodle readings for a course, refer to the syllabus to get a sense of the course's trajectory, and choose at least one article per class to print and mark up.

Create a study group. Get in touch with people from class, asking if they'd like to meet to go over study questions and other course material.

Talk to your friends about what you're learning in class. Describe some of the course's content to your friends over dinner, and tell them what you think.

Write to your professor. Say something like, "I tend to be quiet in class, and it's not because I'm not engaged. I plan to speak up more this semester; I've made it a goal, and I want to let you know."

Use office hours. Talk to your professor about your own goals and tell him or her about your specific learning needs. What do you want your professor to know? Do you have trouble jumping into the flow of a conversation?

Make a plan with your professor. Make a plan with your professor that you are going to come to class prepared to make the first observation or ask the first question.

Try a "cognitive restructuring" exercise. Designed by Smith College psychology professor Patricia DiBartolo, this exercise will lead you down a thought path in order to help you start thinking differently about speaking in class.

During Class

Understand that there are many ways to contribute.

Ask for more information. "Can you say more?" "I think I know where you're going with that, but I'm not sure."

Explicitly link two contributions. "I see a connection between comments that two people made..."

Explicitly link a conversation point to an important theme or goal of the course. "There's a connection between what we're talking about here and some of the larger themes we've been discussing..."

Pose a question that links the topic of the day to an important theme or goal of the course. "I'm wondering how the example that we're discussing relates to..."

Talk about why another's idea is useful. "Your idea is really interesting because..."

Add to a point that's been made. "I'd like to expand on what she said..."

Paraphrase and add to a point that's been made. "So the point that you're trying to make is this..."

Find a theme. "I see a theme here, based on what a few different people have said..."

Pose a cause-and-effect question. "Can you explain why if [this] then [this]?"

Show appreciation. "I really appreciate what you said, because it helped me understand this in a new way."

Respectfully disagree. "It sounds like you're saying [this], and that's interesting because [this], but I disagree because [this]."

After Class

Write to your professor. After you have spoken in class, write to thank your professor for creating a climate that made you feel comfortable speaking up. Identify why you felt comfortable; for example, it could have been because you had a chance to practice your ideas ahead of time, or because the questions were open-ended.

Outside of Class

Talk when you are with out-of-the-classroom groups or workshops. Speak up in your outside workshops or meetings and make it a goal to say something.

Go to a Jacobson Center lunchtime workshop on public speaking. You will get tips to help you speak in front of any kind of group.

Audition for a play or register for an acting class. The theater is a great place to practice your speaking skills.

Join a singing group. Harvard Business School Professor Ron Heifetz asks every graduate student in his leadership course to improvise a song in front of everyone. The idea is to practice improvising and risk-taking in front of a group.

Learn to Listen More

If you're someone who speaks a lot in class, then work on listening. Make a deal with yourself that you'll allow for 30 seconds of quiet before jumping into the conversation, and time yourself with a stopwatch.

Don't feel like you have to take care of the professor by warding off silence! Your professor will be OK. Really.

It's important to know that some students may need silence in order to gather their thoughts. When the professor asks a question and there's silence... then more silence... and you still don't jump in... pat yourself on the back. You're allowing others time to gather their thoughts, and you'll likely benefit from finally hearing the interesting ideas or questions that those quieter students will add to the conversation.

Don't Judge Others

Don't buy into the sound-bite mentality of labeling a fellow student as "that girl." It's kind of a bullying stance, and you're above that.

Did you know that every context has its "that girl" person who talks a little too much or talks off topic? It's part of life; use college as a chance to get used to working with it.

Further Reading

Speaking & Culture

You probably understand that you've developed your associations to speaking up within the context of your own culture and family. This article is about the meanings that different cultures attach to the act of speaking:

Kim, H.S. & Markus, H.R. 2005, "Speech and Silence: An Analysis of the Cultural Practice of Talking," in L. Weis & M. Fine (eds), Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, Race and Gender in United States Schools. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 181–196.

The Benefits of Shyness

In "Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?" (The New York Times, 6/25/11), writer Susan Cain argues that "we need to rethink our approach to social anxiety: to address the pain, but to respect the temperament that underlies it."

Email Etiquette

You want to write clearly, concisely and appropriately to your professors—and they want to hear from you. Email is a great way to communicate, but it's important to remember that the tone of your email is like the body language that you'd use in a face-to-face conversation. Using the right "digital body language"—as WCWL leadership consultant Rachel Simmons says—helps the online conversation go smoothly so that you can start building solid professional relationships.

Sending an Email to Your Professor

Before sending an email to your professor, consider the timing and subject. Is email the right way to communicate?

  • If a question can wait, it is better to ask in person (before, during or after class)?
  • If you are asking for feedback on a paper, exam or other classwork, it is better to go to office hours.
  • If you are asking multiple questions, it may be better to go to office hours.
  • Avoid asking for information that is readily available online or that your professor has already given you (e.g., in the syllabus).
  • Before writing about missing a class, look on the syllabus or class Moodle site to find information on the professor's policy about missed classes.

However, if an email is the best way for you to communicate, use it rather than not communicating at all.

Missing a Class, Test or Quiz

Your professors often appreciate your letting them know—before the fact, if it's a planned absence, or after the fact if you were ill. If it's a large class, the professor may not want you to email about missing it, unless you'll be missing a test or quiz. If you do need to miss a class, it's best to ask another student (rather than the professor) for the notes from that class.

Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Think of this request as a two-step process:

  1. Ask if your professor is willing to write the letter; you can say something like, "I'm wondering whether you might be willing to write me a recommendation for..." You can also add a line that says something like, "If you do think that you'll be able to write the recommendation, then I will be sure to follow up with all necessary materials in a timely manner."
  2. Prepare everything your professor needs so that you can give the materials to him or her all at once. (Materials often include a resume and statement of intent.) Provide a list of all addresses and e-addresses to which a letter needs to go, and include the due date under each address.

For more tips on requesting letters of recommendation, refer to this handout from the Lazarus Center for Career Development.

How to Write the Email

  • When sending an email about academic or advising matters, always use your Smith email address.
  • Be sure you have the right email address for your professor.
  • Identify your purpose for the email in the subject box
  • When you first write to a professor, it's good to be formal: Start with "Dear Professor XX."
  • Be sure to identify yourself: "This is Linda James from your Research Methods class." Include the section number if appropriate.
  • Keep your message short and specific. If you have a lot to say, an in-person meeting is a better idea.
  • When making a request, make sure it's written as a request and don't assume it will be granted.
  • If you are attaching a file, double-check that the label is meaningful; for example, "JamesPsy192LabA" instead of "LabA."
  • End with "Sincerely, Joan Doe."
  • Avoid "P.S." comments, as they are easy to miss.

Before Sending the Email

  • Read it over and make it shorter. How can you edit your email so that the reader is able to quickly understand what you're asking?
  • Review your email again and make sure the main point comes at the beginning. You may need to cut and paste, moving your last couple of sentences so that they're first.
  • Check spelling and grammar. Use spell-check if your email program has it. If it's a very substantive or important email, or if you have trouble with spelling, then you can write it in your word processing program, spell-check it, and then paste it into the email.
  • Don't use slang and abbreviations. What passes as acceptable for communicating by text is not appropriate for professional or academic communications.

After You Send the Email

  • Wait 24 to 48 hours (not including weekends and holidays) before following up. To follow up, you can forward your original email and say something like, "Dear Professor XX, I know that you receive many emails, and I'm not sure if you missed mine, so I'm following up. You'll find the text of the original below."
  • If you need an immediate response, then try to contact the department's administrative assistant, who may be able to assist you or may know where to find your professor.
  • When the professor replies, it's a good idea to acknowledge the reply and thank him or her.

Smith Funding

Do you have a great idea for a special studies or summer project but need extra cash to get it going? Do this semester's courses require books that exceed your budget? Is the cost of your new pair of eyeglasses only partially covered by insurance? Whatever the reason that you're applying for Smith funding, we aim to demystify the process.

Make a Realistic Budget

Be explicit about what you are requesting, and show that you have done your research. Be exact. For each request that you make, include a specific dollar amount and any other details regarding cost.

Save Your Receipts

Save all receipts! This is especially important if you are receiving funding retroactively, which is often the case with events that involve multiple expenses, like travel to a multiday conference. You may have to explicitly ask for receipts when you wouldn't normally, like at a toll booth. Remember, receipts are your only proof of the money you've used. Without them, you may have to give money already awarded back to the source, or, if being rewarded retroactively, you may never receive funding.

Write Thank-You Notes

Express your gratitude to the people involved in making your experience possible. Share a little bit about who you are and how you were able to benefit from the grant. The Study Abroad International Experience Grant web page offers a good general outline of what to include (and what not to include) in a thank you note.

Use a Single Application If Available

You don't need a different sheet of paper for each fund. The following funds are covered by a single application called the Student Special Funding Form: the Dean's Academic Conference fund, Institutional Diversity fund, Chapel fund, Ada Comstock Scholar fund and Rothchild fund. (You use that one form, and people in the Class Deans Office and Dean of the College Office decide where the money will come from.) All other funds (SGA, SSAS, etc.) have their own applications.

Check for Funds in Your Department

For academically related work (conferences, presentations, etc.), always check with your department to see if it has funding available. You may be able to supplement funding that's provided by another source, or save broad-use funds (for example, a Dean of the College fund) for something else in the future.

Bookstore Credit

Wait to buy your books. Only use your bookstore credit when you are 100 percent sure that you are taking a course. Then, look over the course syllabus and see how frequently the assigned books are being used, and at what point during the semester you'll need them. Some professors will list a book as required but only assign a few chapters. If this is the case, it may make more sense to use the copy on reserve at the library, or to share a copy with a classmate. One other strategy: If a book is not assigned until the middle or end of the semester, then you have time to look for a less expensive copy online.

Save your bookstore credit for pricey books. Do any of your courses require books that you can find used, either online or at a local bookstore? If so, then use your bookstore credit for expensive books—such as the most recent edition of an academic textbook.

Be mindful of expiration dates. Bookstore credit expires the same day as the deadline for dropping a course. If you don't use your bookstore credit by this date, the award disappears.

Want to invite a guest speaker to your house tea, but you're not sure where to start? Below is a comprehensive list of possible tea-time themes. Visitors are happy to give an informative talk in the comfortable setting of your house. If you have an idea for a tea that is not on this list, please email Program Coordinator Janelle Olsen.

Ada/Trad "Meet-and-Greet" Tea

Invite members of the Ada Comstock Scholars class who don't live in a Smith house to participate in the campus tradition of house teas. To set up a house tea with members of the Ada class, contact the current Ada class coordinator, Sydney Hoversten at

Alternative Medicines Tea

Jennifer Nery '98, licensed acupuncturist, runs CLINIC Alternative Medicines, a multidisciplinary clinic in Northampton. She is happy to be invited as a guest at any house tea to speak about Chinese medicine, do demonstrations or talk about alternative medicine as a career path. Email Jennifer at

Archives Tea

Learn about the history of your Smith house by inviting staff from Smith College Archives. Email Nanci Young, college archivist, at


Invite Smith's Asexual & Aromantic Community and Education Club (A.C.E.) to come to your house and lead an Asexuali-Tea. Learn about what asexuality is, the myths associated with it, and some of the common obstacles that asexual-identified people face. Email

Career Development Tea

Representatives from the Lazarus Center for Career Development are available to speak at any Friday afternoon house tea. Discussions may range from a general-interest talk about the center and what it offers, to a more specific discussion (e.g., senior year job search) depending on the interest of the house. Email Jason Bauer-Clapp, Associate Director, at Please allow several weeks of advance notice to accommodate a request.

Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center (CIEC)

Invite a representative from the Jill Kerr Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center (CIEC) to speak at your house tea about a wide range of business, financial , and entrepreneurial topics. Email

The Counseling Service Tea

Staff at The Counseling Service have hosted teas on a variety of topics in the past including stress management, relaxation techniques, and others.  They can also do educational programming on a variety of mental health struggles and interpersonal issues.  Email Associate Director of Counseling, Kristing Evans, at


Interested in holding a tea on green-related topics and initiatives? Contact CEEDS with your ideas.  Email Johanna Walter at

Executive Education Tea

Invite representatives from Smith College Executive Education to talk about how Smith's executive education for women accelerates leadership learning. Email Iris Newalu, director of Smith Executive Education, at

Interfaith Teas

Contact the Center for Spiritual & Religious Life to organize an interfaith tea to give Smith students of different beliefs and religions an opportunity to come together.

Libraries Tea

Susan Fliss, Dean of Libraries at Smith, is happy to speak as a guest at house teas on the topics of "What's up at the libraries?" and "What should be up at the libraries?" Email Susan at

Office of Student Engagement Tea

Want to learn about organizing programming on campus, and what resources are available? Invite representatives from the Office of Student Engagement. Email

Pamper Party Teas

De-stress with Yogassage, aromatherapy, massage education and organic bodycare goodies! To set up a pamper party in your house, email Rachel Besserman '10 at Visit

Peer Sexuality Educators Tea

Invite Peer Sexuality Educators (PSE) to lead fun games and activities that enable participants to talk openly and safely about topics related to sexual health and sexuality. Email

Rachel Simmons - House Teas on Perfectionism and Stress Culture

Our very own Rachel Simmons helps lead student designed and facilitated teas that encourage students to talk about perfectionism and pressure on campus. Rachel will help you explore strategies to pursue success at Smith without sacrificing wellness.To hold a tea in your house, email Rachel Simmons

Registrar's Tea

Invite a member of the Registrar's Office to your house tea to answer any questions related to course registration, deadlines, honors, transfer credit, requesting transcripts and exams. Email Karen Sise AC '10, Assistant Registrar,

SCCS Chorus Performance Tea

Invite the Smith College Campus School (SCCS) student chorus to perform at any Friday afternoon tea. These fourth through sixth graders enjoy sharing their efforts in musical performances throughout the year. Email Chorus Director Cynthia Naughton at

Sessions House "Coffee House" Teas

In the past, Sessions House has held "coffee house" teas where students and Sessions House fellows perform, entertain and educate guests on a variety of topics. Students can share their artwork, poetry, music, writing and other creative pursuits and cultural customs. Email Becca Ziemann '19 at

Smith College Museum of Art Tea

The Smith College Museum of Art staff is happy to join you at your house tea to share information about the work they do and the exciting happenings at the museum. Museum staff can also work with you to arrange a tea-time museum tour for your house. Email .

Sophia Smith Collection Tea

Staff from the Sophia Smith Collection are available to lead afternoon tea talks throughout the academic year. Learn more about this body of women's papers and archives of women's organizations—the oldest such collection in the United States and one of the largest in the world.

Study Abroad Teas

The Office for International Study is happy to visit houses or other campus groups to talk about study abroad procedures and options. Email Lisa Johnson, assistant dean for international study, at

Tapestry Health Tea

Tapestry Health, a local, nonprofit healthcare provider, can visit your house to talk about its services and opportunities for internships and volunteer work.

Trans 101 Tea

Invite Tobias Davis '03, assistant director at the School for Social Work, to come to your house tea and lead a discussion about the intersections of gender, social justice and the Smith community. Email Tobias at

Wellness Education Tea

Invite Smith's Community Health Organizers and Director of Wellness Services, Kris Mereigh, to answer questions about all things wellness-related: nutrition, sleep, sex, stress, body image, relationships and more. Email to request a workshop.

You can listen to podcasts from past panels on confidence and on rejection, developed by members of our Student Advisory Board.

"Everyone's Got It All Together: Deconstructing Perceptions of Confidence in Daily Life"

"Rejected But Not Defeated: Reframing Rejections in Our Personal and Professional Lives"


Featured Event

There are no events scheduled at this time.


Jessica Bacal

Director of The Narratives Project
413-585-4914 |
Before coming to Smith, Bacal worked as an editor, an elementary school teacher and an educational writer and consultant. Her book Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect On What They Got Out of Getting It Wrong (Random House, 2014) includes interviews with high-achieving women from a variety of fields.

Benita Jackson

Faculty Adviser to The Narratives Project
413-585-7694 |
At Smith, Jackson directs the Society, Psychology, and Health Laboratory, where her team conducts research on how psychological processes link society and health. She is committed to preparing undergraduates and post-baccalaureates with a wide array of backgrounds for rigorous graduate study.

Janelle Olsen

Program Coordinator
413-585-4678 |
Janelle Olsen completed Smith's Ada Comstock Scholar Program in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and previously worked as a veterinary assistant for nine years.

Deborah Keisch

Special Consultant to The Narratives Project
Keisch is a cultural anthropologist who is committed to research and teaching practices that support the work of social change, and she is particularly interested in both the power and complications of using digital tools in social justice efforts. She is currently a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Narratives Project

Clark Hall, Third Floor
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

We are open by drop-in or appointment Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Please email Janelle Olsen, program coordinator, to schedule an appointment.