Briana Brady ‘21
Last Thursday, Smith College celebrated the annual Otelia Cromwell Day with special lectures, workshops and talks all honoring the first African-American graduate of Smith College, Otelia Cromwell.
The main event of this year’s Otelia Cromwell Day ceremony took place in John M. Greene Hall and featured a keynote speech by Roxane Gay, a best-selling prolific writer and activist. The ceremony also included performances by Smith College’s Blackapella and Concert Choir, and a reading of “Maven,” the poem written by Nikky Finney in honor of Cromwell.
Roxane Gay is a prominent author and cultural critic who has published award winning books such as “Bad Feminist,” “Difficult Women” and her most recent work, “Hunger.” Gay spoke about the 2016 election, noting not only what she regrets not doing and saying prior to the election, but also discussing what she hopes to see come from the turmoil that the country has experienced since that day.
“We will know true equality when black people are allowed to be as mediocre as white men,” Gay said to much applause.
She also spoke to the importance of affinity housing and commended the efforts being made by various students to bring such housing to Smith College. As President McCartney introduced Gay, students dropped banners from the second level of John M. Greene Hall, advertising an event for affinity housing at Hopkins House last Saturday. “Otelia couldn’t live here,” one banner read.
Following Gay’s keynote address, lectures and workshops took place throughout the Smith Campus moderated by Smith faculty members. Sessions discussed topics varying from reproductive injustice in respect to white supremacy, to police violence.
The tradition of Otelia Cromwell Day at Smith began in 1989 when then-president of Smith, Mary Maple Dunns, proposed it in response to a series of hate crimes that had occurred on campus. The activities and workshops of the Otelia Cromwell Day aim to highlight what should be an ongoing conversation about efforts to counteract racism and inequality at Smith and across the country.
After graduating from Smith in 1900, Cromwell went on to pursue a master’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate degree from Yale University. In addition to her numerous accomplishments, she was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from Yale.