Mac Hamilton and Nahee Kwak’s Remarks to the Smith College Board of Trustees Campus Life Committee, 2 March 2012
There has been quite the ruckus on the Smith campus surrounding Anne Spurzem’s inflammatory Letter to the Editor that was published last week. Discussions about class, race, sexuality, and privilege have spread across campus like wildfire. While some students have discussed their experience in the Smith Bubble—in some minds a post-classism, post-racism, post-gendered world, others have shared their experiences with classism, racism, and heterosexism at Smith. One student told the SGA Senate on Tuesday that another student had told her, “This is what it’s like in America,” assuming that because she had Asian heritage that she was not an American citizen. A student at our Monday night conversation on sexuality and gender shared the response of self-identified lesbians in her house when she revealed that she was bisexual: “Wow, I would never date a bisexual person.” A transgender student also shared his truth. “It’s embarrassing when a professor calls my given name in class when I now go by a different name.” All of these cases exemplify under-served populations at Smith; populations that are an invaluable asset to our classrooms, houses, and community.
The Student Government Association is addressing these diversity issues on campus in a variety of ways. Since the beginning of the semester, the Diversity Committee has been planning a series of three campus-wide discussions with students, faculty, and administration to focus on sexuality and gender, class, and race at Smith and the direction in which we would like to see Smith move. The SGA Senate has also expressed their intention to increase dialogue about how to make Smith more equitable to students of all classes and races. The SGA Cabinet is undertaking a campaign to express to alum groups what Smith means to students, which can be used to increase mutual understanding of the Smith of today and also help Smith in recruiting students who believe in our mission of educating and empowering students to develop leaders for society’s challenges.
While we as student leaders have taken the initiative to spark discussions on these critical topics, there is only so much we can do without the help of the Board and Smith administration.
The topic of diversity is vast in its complexities, and we are proposing a few developments that we believe will vastly improve aforementioned issues.
It is a common misconception that because our campus is so diverse that we are well educated on the topics of gender and sexuality. But some people do not understand these issues and have a hard time knowing where to begin and where to go to learn more. We are proposing that Smith provide training and resources to Smith faculty, staff, and students on these subjects.
As students from all Five Colleges attend Smith classes, it is vital that Smith professors interact with all students in a helpful and respectful way. Part of this includes respecting students’ preferred names and pronouns. Training for faculty and staff members on gender diversity would not only serve students, but would also help professors learn how to interact respectfully with students of all gender identities and presentations.
Our next request is a better-sourced Resource Center for Sexuality and Gender. Students have been positively affected by the new resource centers for global studies, the environment, community collaboration, and work and life. We think that properly resourcing Smith’s oldest centers, the Resource Center for Sexuality and Gender and the Women’s Resource Center, would also affect students favorably. One challenge to the centers as they stand today is that they do not have a staff. When we looked at how peer institutions support their queer populations, we found that Wellesley and Amherst both have full time staff members to support LGBTQ students. We applaud them for these efforts, and would like to see Smith take the same step to support these populations. The RCSG and Women’s Center, merged together, would be an invaluable resource to students questioning sexuality, questioning gender, and coming out, as well as provide a space for students interested in learning more about this aspect of the Smith community. Merging the two centers would increase the effectiveness of each, creating an environment where all view points are welcome and no questions are “too obvious to ask.” The center would be a resource to all students, providing a place to continue much needed discussions of diversity on campus and further educate our community.
Smith is a place where students make discoveries about themselves and the world around them. This is part of what makes us so strong. Students are exposed to points of views that they may never have known even existed. A full stack of literature and a guiding, reassuring full-time staff will help the difficult process of working through sexual and gender identity. Having a member of the staff to help them through this process is vital to supporting Smith students. The center will not only help students questioning their sexuality or gender, but will also help allies on campus who are interested in learning and engaging with these campus issues.