Decade Summaries

Disclaimer: The majority of the timeline events were taken from the Smith Sophian newspaper, although project members have also sought out other perspectives through conversations and interviews with students, alums, faculty, staff, and administrators. These are not perfect narratives.

1950s: White students debate issues related to people of color: (de)segregation in the U.S., apartheid in South Africa. Tokenization of international students of color like Ng’endo (Florence) Mwangi ’61 and Haruko Uramatsu ’61. People of color come to campus as entertainers and to talk about race.

1960s: Student interest and actions around civil rights with some conflicting messages (Martin Luther King Jr. comes to campus in 1961, George Wallace comes to campus in 1963), lectures and conferences on issues of race and the Vietnam War, Southern Student Exchange organized, few students of color (41 Black students in 1968 when the Black Students’ Alliance is officially chartered). Black Students’ Alliance issues demands to the college in 1969 and works toward making Smith’s curriculum, faculty, and student body structurally inclusive of Black people and Black voices.

1970s: Black Students’ Alliance continues organizing to effect structural change at Smith in tandem with the Five College Black community in 1970: Black Studies department approved, Bridge program established. After Quad move, Black Solidarity poster set on fire. Other students of color recruited to Smith in small numbers. Student protest over dismissal of Spanish professors in a Eurocentric Spanish department in 1972, continued conversation and protest over Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa.

1980s: Students organize various actions urging Smith to divest from its shares in apartheid South Africa in 1986-87, culminating in a week-long occupation of College Hall after trustees vote for partial divestment on a vague timeline. Smith divests. Racist incidents (graffiti, several instances of hate notes), no civil rights policy, and departure of tenured Black faculty member and two Black administrators from 1987-1989 as student of color population grows. Students form Concerned Students of All Colors, voice grievances, organize protests, issue demands, and gather information to file formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. In response, administration creates the Smith Design for Affirmative Action and Institutional Diversity: A Call to Action in 1988 and, after more hate notes, student protests, and demands, Otelia Cromwell Day in 1989.

1990s: After years of being denied their own space, students of color in Smith’s 8 cultural organizations come together under the banner of UNITY in 1990 and demand Smith create physical space for them to meet. Week-long occupation of College Hall alongside other actions. Smith creates Unity House. Racist incidents (hate notes and decapitated black doll, lynching drawing), racist discourse linking intelligence to genetics in a professor’s book in 1994 and student responses. Student voices help bring Ruth Simmons into the presidency in 1995, who effects institutional change at Smith (engineering program, Praxis, diversity initiatives) and goes on to become the first Black president of any Ivy League institution after leaving Smith in 2001.

2000s: Prolonged racial conflicts in several Smith houses and series of homophobic and racist hate notes lead to the organization of the Students’ Grassroots Organizing Group and student actions throughout Spring 2002. Grassroots issues demands and works with administration on Smith College Repairing the Community agreement and institutional changes. In 2007, white Smith student comes to party in blackface, administration sends email.

2010-2014: Weaving Voices created in Fall 2010. In Spring 2012, a series of racist hate notes and weak administrative response led to students organizing protests and an open letter as the Mobilizing Smith College group and the Respect Existence or Expect Resistance Facebook page. Weaving Voices Archives created in Fall 2012. Christine Lagarde from the International Monetary Fund steps down as Commencement speaker in Spring 2014 after student dissent and protest. In Fall 2014, white alum justifies using the n-word on panel without reproach from President McCartney (who is moderating), grand jury decisions in police shootings of black people and “all lives matter” email from President McCartney; student responses, No Happy Holidays protests, and participation in Millions March. Concerned Students of Color group meets with administration.