Annual Family Income: The Economic Side of Family Weekend

Photo by Carolyn Brown '16 | Smith has made efforts to make Family Weekend more geographically accessible and affordable.  

Veronica Brown '16 Associate Editor

Last weekend, an estimated 450 families arrived at Smith to visit their students on Family Weekend. Approximately 1,100 visitors not only reassured homesick first-years but also brought considerable business to Northampton restaurants, shops and hotels.

Although individual stores do not release sales data related to Family Weekend, Jody Doele, marketing manager of Thornes Marketplace said, “Smith Family Weekend boosts foot traffic downtown, which translates to increased sales at our shops and restaurants.”

The United Way of Hampshire County takes advantage of Family Weekend each year by hosting the Downtown Lives United Day. Local businesses donated a portion of the day’s proceeds to the United Way or contributed to the charity organization in other ways.

“We picked [Family Weekend] because it’s just smart business,” said Debra Foley, director of development and marketing for the United Way of Hampshire County. “It’s a win-win situation. People who go into a restaurant or shop … their purchase goes towards helping the community.”

Massachusetts remains the most represented home state of Smith students, enabling some families to visit their students for just one day. With each year, however, more students are coming from farther regions of the country and world. Of the United States, California contributes the third-most students to the college, with 259 to Massachusetts’s 539.

Kristine Chin ’17, who is from the San Francisco Bay area, said, “It’s a pretty far distance to travel to only visit for a couple of days. Family Weekend has never been an incentive for [my family] to make the trek.”

Additionally, international students now compose 19 percent of the student body. The school welcomes more students from abroad than students from any single state except Massachusetts. China alone sends more students than all but three states.

“Family Weekend is a known difficult time for international students,” said Ashavan Doyon, who planned Family Weekend with the rest of the Office of Student Affairs. International Students Day used to take place during Family Weekend “to help provide a sense of community and support for the international students,” said Doyon. Recent increases in Family Weekend programming, however, have forced International Students Day to be rescheduled to the following weekend.

This increased geographic diversity means many relatives would need hotel rooms or other expensive provisions to attend Family Weekend.

The Autumn Inn, the more affordable of the two hotels within walking distance of Smith, was sold out Family Weekend for about two months in advance, according to Hogan Merrill, the hotel’s front desk supervisor. “It’s definitely a lot busier than on a standard weekend,” said Merrill. On most weekends, the Inn is between 60 and 70 percent full. For Family Weekend, guests were only able to book rooms if they were staying multiple nights.

This year, Smith tried to make Family Weekend more affordable by eliminating the cost of on-campus meals. In previous years brunch cost each family member nine dollars, but this year students were allowed to bring as many family members as they wanted to a dining hall brunch.

“If it was up to me, the whole [weekend] would be free,” said Marge Litchford, assistant dean of students and one of the organizers of Family Weekend. “We don’t have any way of housing parents, so I have thought about working with local hotels or even Airbnbs … It’s on my mind,” said Litchford, who works with first-generation students at the college.

In 2014, the New York Times named Smith fourth in a list of the most economically diverse colleges based partly on the percentage of entering first-years who came from low-income families. As Smith continues to strive for increased diversity in students’ backgrounds, traditions such as Family Weekend will have to adapt as well.