An interview with President McCartney Reflections on her fourth year in office


Katherine Hazen ‘18 Editor-in-chief

As another school-year draws to a close, President Kathleen McCartney talked with The Sophian to reflect on the past rather tumultuous year and where Smith is headed.

What was the highlight or biggest achievement for Smith this year?

One of the most significant external events affecting Smith this year was the outcome of the presidential election. It generated a climate of fear for many citizens in our country --  around immigration, race, religion and identity -- including students, staff and faculty at Smith. I am proud of the way the campus came together with compassion and action, to support every member of our community, irrespective of nationality, religion or immigration status.

What did you make of the Smith community’s response to the presidential election this year and the results in general? 

Many people have told me that they are becoming more active in politics, and I think this is a good thing. For many of us, the election was a call to action. Members of our community participated in a number of demonstrations, including the Women’s March across many cities, DACA, climate change and more. In true Smith fashion, we stood up for our values, actively caring and advocating for those potentially at risk and supporting their right to pursue their education, at Smith and beyond.

The results of the campus climate survey revealed pretty low levels of general “comfort” among students. And of the 10 percent of respondents who indicated they had received unwanted sexual conduct, their cases were rarely reported. What do you make of those results, and how is the college looking to change that going forward?

Sue Rankin, who designed the survey and analyzed the data, spoke on campus and said that the data are consistent with findings at other U.S. campuses. Smith students report less unwanted sexual contact than the national college incident rate; however, it’s important to note that any number greater than zero is unacceptable. So, we have more work to do, especially in ensuring that our community members are treating one another with respect. Some of this work will involve making the houses more inclusive for all students. The next step is to turn the Pathways data into action. Dwight Hamilton, vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity, is forming a Pathways Implementation Team to take the lead on identifying actions to improve our campus climate that can be accomplished within the next academic year and beyond.

The survey also revealed that perceived academic success was lower among students of color and students of lower incomes than their majority counterparts. As someone with a long career in education, what is your take on that finding, and again how is the college looking to change that?

I think we need to dig into the qualitative data to try to understand where these perceptions are coming from. Then we will know better how to support our students, which is a central goal of Pathways. Faculty members are meeting later this month to discuss the data regarding students’ experiences in the classroom. Building of its successes this year, the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning has committed half of its weekly programing in the next academic year to helping faculty create more inclusive classrooms. Going forward, I will continue to host events with leaders from Unity Organizations as well as with first-generation students and other student groups to learn more. Recently, I hosted a tea for first-generation students, which resulted in a list students generated concerning how faculty and staff can support them better. The Sherrerd Center has already acted on some of these suggestions.

Where do you see Smith headed in the next year?

Next year, my team and I will be building on work we started this year. We will be working on projects outlined in the Strategic Plan, making design decisions for Neilson Library, implementing ideas from the report of the Study Group on Climate Change, fundraising for financial aid, and so much more. And I know new ideas will emerge from student, staff and faculty voices.

Editor's Note: 

President McCartney has been the president at Smith College for four years. We made a mistake on the paper issue saying she reflected on "third year" at Smith and we sincerely apologize.