Zoya Azhar ’20
Assistant Opinions Editor
The Board of Trustees visited Smith this past week to check in with initiatives that the Smith community is brainstorming and striving to formalize.
The Board includes Smithies who graduated as early as 1963 and as recent as 2017. One of the events on their schedule was a dinner with student leadership to discuss hot-topics like Affinity Housing, on-campus dining and community programming.
The House Presidents Association and Residence Life Student Staff members were invited to represent the Smith community and elaborate on the issues that crop up in houses and across campus. President Kathleen McCartney’s Cabinet was also in attendance.
My experience at this dinner was promising. I had honestly expected meaningful conversation to drown in pleasantries about our individual experiences at Smith.
However, this was far from what transpired at the event. I’m sure many student leaders will agree with me when I say, most Trustees were present simply to listen.
Each small table was populated with two or three student leaders and two or three Trustees. The conversation at my table began with an alum bringing up Ruby Bridges’ controversial comment during the Q&A and asking us what we thought of it.
Bridges—a Civil Rights Movement icon—visited Smith at the beginning of February and when a student posed a question about affinity housing, responded with an insistence that students of color need to try harder.
The conversation evolved into an engaged discussion about what Bridges’ response meant, how it affected the Smith community and what other factors have pushed the affinity housing initiative into the spotlight.
We also discussed what we thought the administration needed to improve on. Our table’s unanimous response was the need for better communication.
We suggested organizing a monthly public forum where representatives from the offices like the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity are present to answer questions and set records straight when it comes to racist activity on campus. The latter suggestion came out of a tangential discussion of how Smith Confessional plays into unsubstantiated accounts of racism, as well as a disturbing gauge of problematic opinions on-campus.
We also talked about how the Smith community does not see a distinct response from the administration when cases of racism surface; at most, we receive an email or two but we never hear about any action being taken against the perpetrator.
One of the remarks at the table led to a discussion of how people of color move out of predominantly white houses and thus the lack of community for people of color in houses becomes a cyclical problem. There is no community, so students of color move out and students of color move out for the very reason that there is no community.
One alum inquired whether there were certain areas which were unofficial affinity housing anyway because most students of color opted to live there, and if such areas existed, why those weren’t enough.
Our table’s collective response was that informal arrangements are well and good however in these situations there is no affirmation and acknowledgement of the problem by Smith administration. The latter is necessary to validate students’ struggles as well as to actively strive for a solution.