Office of Alumnae Relations hosts Smith’s first-ever legacy tea

Photo by tsemone ogbemi ‘21 ||  Legacy culture is changing rapidly at Smith, Patience Kayira ’20 writes. 

Photo by tsemone ogbemi ‘21 || Legacy culture is changing rapidly at Smith, Patience Kayira ’20 writes. 

Patience Kayira '20
Assistant Arts Editor

Without a doubt, Smith has a past of being a very special place for the very wealthy. Yet, in 140 years, the college has changed. 

Some may agree and some may raise an eyebrow. Despite the college’s ever-changing landscape and student-body, Smith upholds a culture of tradition. Convocation, Mountain Day, Ivy Day and as of this year “Legacy Teas.” On the first day of this past family weekend, the Office of Alumnae Relations organized a “Legacy Tea” for “legacy” students and their families. 

With Friday’s tea marking the first “Legacy Tea” at Smith, the event raises questions on the visibility and/or invisibility of legacy culture at Smith. 

According to Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Alumnae Relations, 9 percent of Smith students are legacies. 

“Legacy,” as a term, carries some positive but mostly negative connotations. A “legacy” is a student who attends an institution where their parent or relative is an alumn. Yet the word conjures a lifestyle of entitlement, privilege and old money. These were some responses students gave when asked, “What does the word ‘legacy’ make you think of?” 

For Elsa Weintraub ’20J and her mother, Ingrid Hopkins ’85, “legacy” represents an unfair advantage in the admissions process. “It’s not a word I would really use. It makes it seem like certain spots are reserved for legacies and certain spots for sports,” said Hopkins. 

Yes, the history and use of “legacy” alludes to unequal practices and selectivity in college admissions. The importance of a student’s legacy status appears to be a greater topic of discussion for private institutions. 

In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Hoover presents reasons for and against legacy preferences in college admissions. He writes, “Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admissions at Georgia Institute of Technology argues that legacies improve retention rates and represent the possibility of higher donorship.” 

Money plays a large role. At the same time, Clark adds that “legacies uphold college tradition.” 

Tradition. This was the selling point Director Chrisler used in reasoning a “Legacy Tea.” With the clink of a glass, Chrisler ’92, began her brief speech with a “welcome back” to the alums and to the students. 

“Legacies hold a special place to thisinstitution,” Chrisler said. For Chrisler, the legacy tea provided a special opportunity to thank the alumnae who introduced their own family members to Smith

The Alumnae House Living Room buzzed with a hum of conversation and connection as parents became alumnae and students legacies. Students smiled politely, following their parents conversations and enthusiasm. Red tee-shirts with, “The Smith College Legacy” printed in white block letters sat on a table outside of the living room while Chrisler assured attendees that“The alumnae house is always your place.”

Smith has always celebrated its legacies. From 1904 to 1966, there was a Granddaughters Society of Smith College. Much like the concept of a legacy, students were granted access to this organization if their mothers or grandmothers graduated from Smith. 

Knowledge about the “Granddaughters Society of Smith College” remains unknown for most Smith students. For the students who were uninformed about this club, reactions varied from pleasant surprise to indifference. “I think that’s so cool. I’m all here for the community that Smith fosters between folks.” replied Sophia Buchanan ‘18. “This just shows me how the culture around legacy students was a lot more visible and alive in the past,” said Lily Pearl ’18.

Today, Smith does not have a prevalent legacy culture amongst students. While most legacies carry pride for the tradition they represent, their legacy “status” does not add or subtract to their experience at Smith. 

Kelly Lincoln ’20, believes that it is good that Smith does not have a strong legacy culture. Lincoln is also a self-identified “fourth-Generation Smithie” who does not consider herself a legacy but is proud of her familial ties to the college. 

Pearl, also a legacy student, emphasized the changing stereotypes surrounding the term. “More and more students of color are legacies because of siblings or relatives going here because the times had changed a bit.” 

Although its an institution with diverse identities, Smith still values its history. While legacy status may serve historic importance to admissions, it does not hold much value among the student body. 

Everyone at Smith deserves to be here, and the idea of what a legacy looks like is steadily changing. At the same time, heralding events like “Legacy Teas” trigger nervous laughter as ideas of entitlement, privilege and old money come to mind.  Perhaps the Office of Alumnae Relations should reconsider renaming the event a “Multi-Generational Tea” for first, fifth and tenth generation students at Smith. Afterall, aren’t all Smithies legacies in some way?