Dear Smith Community,
July first marks the end of my first year as diversity officer here at Smith. I began that year by going on a listening tour through Van Munching Hall; I sat down with staff and simply listened to them speak about their experiences and what Smith meant to them – which was hard for me to do without piping up, if you know how much I like to talk.
That experience was beyond valuable for me. I love my work; I can go in every day knowing that I will love what I do and that I can truly be myself. By taking the time to listen to their experiences and thoughts, I learned that many members of our community leave a piece of themselves at the door when they walk into Van Munching Hall and pick it back up again when they leave. As it stands, Van Munching hasn’t been an environment where people feel like they can be themselves – their entire selves – and that needs to change.
As Diversity Officer, I know how many diverse people are represented in the Smith community. The amazing diversity of thought, talent, and background that we enjoy is accompanied by the challenge of ensuring all our represented groups feel welcome. When walking our halls, each student, staff member, and faculty member should feel free to be proud of every aspect of who they are, regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexuality.
I’m proud to say that the whole of the Smith community is dedicated to that goal. The Diversity and Inclusion at Smith Committee is our faculty and staff coalition devoted to cultivating a thriving environment that celebrates the different kinds of people represented in our halls and classrooms. They work tirelessly to:
- Create a vision statement that truly describes what Smith is about;
- Provide experiences and opportunities for diverse students; and
- Diversify the voices of leadership so that those who make the decisions in our school represent the people they affect.
Sara Herald has my thanks for her service as chair; she has kept the committee and its goals intact and dedicated to nurturing the environment of inclusivity and support that’s been so vital in allowing our students to thrive during their time here.
The students of Smith are just as dedicated as the faculty and staff in creating a truly welcoming environment in Van Munching Hall. The Diversity Empowerment Council (DEC), overseen by Jeanette Snider, is comprised of graduate and undergraduate students who care deeply about the experiences of diverse students within our community. Their goals are to:
- Represent the collective views of the student body;
- Facilitate interaction within the community at large; and
- Unite Smith so that we may thrive together, rather than struggle separately.
The commitment that the students, faculty, and staff have towards fostering a culture of unity and diversity will be plain to see as the year progresses. There will be several meaningful activities and events taking place, from the upcoming Faculty-Staff Race Dialogue in July to Latinx Heritage Month, which spans from mid-September to mid-October. An updated calendar of events can be found at rhsmith.umd.edu/diversity. All of this is to reinforce the same key idea – we are all in this together.
Know that even as you encounter challenges and hurdles during your time here at Smith, we are all behind you. Know that, as Diversity Officer, I am a point of contact available to any of you who may be struggling during your journey, whether you need help overcoming an obstacle or simply need a listening ear. Faculty, staff, or student, I’m available to meet one-on-one with you to determine how to best tackle the challenges you may be facing together.
Van Munching Hall should be a place where you can comfortably be who you truly are. And, with the combined efforts of our community – faculty, staff, and student – I firmly believe we can make that a reality.
Victor C. Mullins, PhD