Interview: Dwight Hamilton On His First Year As Smith’s Chief Diversity Officer

Molly McHuire ’18News Editor

This past academic year, students and faculty discussed at great length issues of racism on campus. The Sophian sat down with Dwight Hamilton to reflect on his first year as the Chief Diversity Officer and to look forward at his future goals surrounding making Smith as inclusive as possible.

What would you say was your greatest accomplishment this year?

When I started last year, I wanted to improve our policies, procedures and resources on Title IX issues.  We're in a much better place now. Our Title IX coordinator, Sarah Harebo, has been invaluable in getting us where we needed to be.

Our utilization of more inclusive recruitment and selection processes is bearing fruit in more diverse faculty and staff hires.  I'm also encouraged that faculty has been engaged in workshops and discussions about creating inclusive classrooms. More work certainly needs to be done, but I'm happy that inclusion has become a priority.

What are your goals for the future

The two biggest areas where we need to advance inclusion for students are the classrooms and the houses. That's no big surprise because that's where students spend most of their time and face their greatest barriers to belonging.  I also want to devote more attention to improving our mental health services and making our campus more accessible.

I want to address inclusion issues for our staff as well and intend to be more intentional in addressing their needs.

What was your biggest challenge this year?

Although we are making progress in advancing inclusion, the challenge is ensuring that our community members actually feel that progress.  I can continue to advocate for inclusion at the institutional level, but whether someone truly feels included is based on their direct interactions with faculty, staff, administrators and other students.  So we don't just need to just make changes to our policies and procedures, we must also change our culture.

How have you and the administration worked to ensure that the processes to make Smith more inclusive are transparent to the student body?

We have engaged in increased student outreach this year, including holding the Town Hall meeting, hosting listening sessions, conducting focus groups and engaging with student organizations. I'm hoping to use social media in the new year to have ongoing dialogue on our actions.

You mentioned in an all-campus email that the class of 2019 is the most diverse class in all of Smith's history, and that the class of 2020 will have similar levels of diversity. What resources will be (or are already) in place to make sure that these students will feel welcome at Smith?

The most significant improvement will be the hiring of the Assistant Director for Multicultural Affairs.  Our Director of Multicultural Affairs L'Tanya Richmond has done so much to support and retain students of color.  I'm so glad that she will have some help.  This hire will enable us to better support our students of color. We will be able to provide more robust programming and develop the Mwangi Center and the Unity House into more vibrant and supportive spaces.  The Unity organizations do a tremendous job, and we want to supplement the great work that they are doing.

We're also looking to expand the Bridge Program both in programming throughout the year and in the number of students that can participate.  I want to extend the student orientation process beyond just the week before classes start, not just for Bridge but for other student communities, such as first gens and international students.

What are some ways in which students can be involved in the future with these changes?

I encourage all students to participate in the Pathways campus climate survey this fall.  This is a direct way for student voices to be heard and to help inform our actions.  There are other opportunities as well.  For example, my student advisory board will continue in the new academic year and I will seat new students on that board and on my Inclusion Council. I will also continue to reach out to student organizations.