The Journey From Civil Rights to Social Justice

Photo by Leah Henry '17 | Some events that occurred on Otelia Cromwell Day this past year included a keynote address with Dr. Julianna Malveaux followed by a number of workshops.  

Anya Gruber '16 Assistant News Editor

Last Tuesday on Nov. 5, afternoon classes were cancelled for Otelia Cromwell Day 2013. Activities for the occasion included a keynote address entitled “Ain’t I a Woman” with Dr. Julianne Malveaux at 1 p.m. in Sage Hall, followed by a number of workshops in various locations on campus, and a performance in the evening in Weinstein Auditorium.

Otelia Cromwell Day was instituted in 1989 by President Emerita Mary Maples Dunn to honor Otelia Cromwell, the first African-American student to graduate from Smith in 1900. The annual event is a chance for the Smith community to come together and address topics such as racism and diversity. This year, it boasted a highly esteemed guest, Adelaide Cromwell ’44, Otelia Cromwell’s niece, another pioneer in the field of education. This year’s Otelia Cromwell Day was specifically focused on issues surrounding social justice.

The keynote address was introduced by Pamela Nolan Young, Advisor to the President, with brief opening remarks. This was followed by the Smith College Glee Club’s rendition of “I Wanna Be Ready,” a traditional spiritual hymn, and Marisa Hall ’14 reading Nikky Finney’s poem “Maven.” President Kathleen McCartney then welcomed Malveaux to the podium.

Malveaux is a well-known and respected figure in social activism, focused on issues such as race and gender in society. She has made many public appearances and published a number of books.  In her keynote address, Malveaux talked about women’s colleges and the inherent injustices present in these institutions, as well as discussing the benefits of such spaces. The relevance of her statements resonated with many students.

“Dr. Malveaux spoke a lot about writing one’s own stories if they are not being given attention by academia or institutions of higher education, and I see that happening a lot at Smith,” said Emily Leong ’15, who attended the keynote address. “For example, Weaving Voices is an amazing instance of students taking initiative to create a space for dialogues and stories to be shared about the experiences of people of color at Smith.” These kinds of spaces are crucial to further discussion about the issues around which Otelia Cromwell revolves.

Leong continued, “One thing I would have liked to hear more about from Dr. Malveaux was direction on how to move forward in addressing the issues of lack of representation and injustice in institutions of higher ed. and academia … [though] she did a wonderful job of illuminating those issues, and I think it would be helpful to hear more about concrete steps we can take to make real and significant changes.”

Said Ruth Allard ‘AC, another attendee of the keynote address, “I really appreciated her and what she had to say … I admire people who just say what they have to say and are very clear about it. She was clear and forthright about where the injustices are in academia.” Allard also found Malveaux’s critiques of educational institutions applicable to Smith: “[She] challenged Smith as an institution to do better and challenged students, too, about interactions and motivations.” As an Ada Comstock scholar, Allard pointed out the relevance of injustice to not just race and gender but to age as well.

After her address, Malveaux held a workshop entitled “History Belongs to She Who Holds the Pen,” a discussion on the importance of female writers.