Inclusion in Action: Remarks from the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life


Below are the remarks and prayers shared at the opening ceremony on April 10, 2019, the Day of Inclusion in Action by advisers at the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. Matilda Rose Cantwell, Kim Alston, and Rhonda Shapiro acknowledged the important inclusionary work we have ahead of us at Smith College through the lenses of their faiths. It is our hope that action continues to spring from the words exchanged at this important conference and the student-led protests that followed.


Your Friends at the CRSL

Matilda Rose Cantwell, Director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life

Matilda delivers opening remarks.

As we call to mind our ancestors, we are faced with our participation in the historical cycle of victimizing and being victimized. At the very same time we are emboldened by this reclamation and recognition, the profound potential and hope that rests before us—on land that was originally designated as sacred– in this very moment. A glitch in the system of oppression, a light in the darkness of hate, a path in the wilderness of fear.

Let us welcome each other today as full human beings—staff, faculty, students. Those among us who give hours of work to this institution every day, those who study and teach, those who tend bodies and minds, those who clean our classrooms, keep up our grounds, cook our food….

Welcome to queer and straight, typical and nuerodiverse, somewhere on the continuum of mental health and emotional struggle. Welcome to  all that you are—no one of you can be reduced to what a system, group, or institution tells you you are or can be. Welcome to black and brown and international, first gen and nontraditional students and students of life—and may your beauty and your importance be reflected not somewhere, but everywhere you look, staring today and forevermore.

Welcome to those of you who are tired, distracted, or anxious. Welcome to those of you who are deeply cynical about what we are doing today; it is good you are here. May you continue to speak truths and may they be gleaned and harvested toward the good of this institution.

Today your feelings may be raw and your minds may be restless, but if you do this work, your souls will be alive. We are made of compassion and anger, worry and assurance, wisdom and struggle, but in the words of Malcom X we need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”

So let unity not be a bad word. To quote activist Linda Sarour, guess what, right now, we’re all in this together. We either rise together, or we’re all going to fall together. All of us are in oneboat, you either help it float, or the boat is going to sink and we’re all going down with it.

Today, we all must pick up our oars and row.

As we know in the past few years white nationalist movements have re-emerged in visible and full force, and have sought in particular to terrorize and destroy the lives of worshippers– expressing their most intimate vulnerable practices of faith. Many of us have been hurt or alienated by organized religion, but faith does not mean you have to believe in a deity.

Faith is how we make meaning in this treacherous but beautiful world. We all have that. Today we will hear two prayers of invocation from the Jewish and Muslim faiths, each deep and rich and beautiful, to honor two of the faith groups who have been targeted by hate and violence, and in return offer prophecy and love.

Prayer offered by Kim Alston, Muslim Student Adviser

Kim Alston, Muslim Student Adviser

As Salaam Alaikum (Peace be unto you) I will now recite the Al Fatihah, the oft-repeated prayer of the Muslims:

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah,

the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful;

Master of the Day of Judgement. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.

Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed

Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.”

  • Holy Quran 1:1-7

Prayer offered by Rabbi Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser, Jewish Student Adviser

Rabbi Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser, Jewish Student Adviser

Holy Source of blessing

shamar v’haya, who spoke and all came into existence

Please guide us in our speaking today

Holy source of life who spoke v’hi or, the words of light, and vayahi or, there was light

Help us to see the light in each other

And know that Lait atar panui me nei. That there is no place empty of the Divine.

And so we say the blessing that Jews have recited at momentus occasions for over 2000 years:

Baruch atah Yah makor ha olomim shechianu, vikimanu, v’higianu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you Yah, source of all the worlds, who has enlivened us, preserved us and brought us to this moment.

Matilda Rose Cantwell, closing

Today our charge is to listen for what is sacred in the wild and wonderful cacophony of voices–as if your life depended on it. Listen and see so that you can be transformed by the power of if even just one simple moment of imaging what life is like in the skin of another.

You have heard it said this today is just the beginning of a process, and it will be because it must be. Perhaps this boat we are about to sail has been there, beams and scaffolding have been added, but it has been safe in its port, void of its purpose and mission. Today we set sail. The wind may be fierce and it may be gentle but it will surely be unpredictable. To stay the course, we must be the rudders to one other.

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