Smith College (Take 2)
“We’re educating women of promise for lives of distinction.”
Smith is the only women’s college with an open curriculum. There are no required classes other than 1 writing intensive class and those needed to complete the major. One student said, “It’s not about what you don’t have to take. It’s about exploring the richness of what’s out there and embracing interests.” Students take responsibility for their education, and are intentionally advised to use it intentionally to pull together extra-curricular interests, study abroad, and internships. “When we look at the classes students choose, many of them would have completed a core, but they did it on their own. They’re curious and want to learn. Everyone in the class wants to be there,” said one of the reps. One student said, “My classes definitely aren’t dull here!” Another said, “I feel like I have to bring my A game every day because otherwise I’ll be disappointing my classmates.”
Over 40% of Smithies major in STEM fields. However, “we’re strong across the curriculum. We’re the first women’s college, and still 1 of only 2 [the other being Sweet Briar] to establish an accredited engineering program.” A student said that she does not feel like a second class citizen in the engineering classes; she’s definitely developed confidence here.
Smith is a member of the active 5-College Consortium, the 2nd oldest in the country after the Claremonts. They share 2000 faculty, 5300 courses, resources. Students can take classes and join clubs. Smith can join UMass Marching Band “which maybe makes up for Smith not having a football team.” Figure skaters can continue skating at UMass. There are some special programs available through the Consortium, including Native American and Indigenous Studies; Culture, Health, and Science; Digital Humanities; and Buddhist Studies. On the Smith campus, they offer some unusual majors like Medieval Studies, Astronomy, Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, and Statistical and Data Science.
Students don’t live in dorms but in mixed-year houses ranging in size from 12-100 students (all of which have a piano). It’s a vital part of being at Smith. “It’s often the first information alumni share,” said a rep. “Houses are places to live, not just sleep. They graduate by houses.” Houses are all self-governing and provide another level of leadership development. “Leadership becomes a habit.” They are piloting Affinity Housing for 2019-20. This is a student-driven initiative; there will be one focusing on African-American culture; the other is more generally for students of color (which make up 1/3 of the student population). “This is a PWI. We’re not unlike other campuses in this regard but we’re committed to taking steps for inclusion.”
They are also working hard to shift how we talk about women’s colleges. “They’re still relevant. We talk about them in terms of what they don’t have or what they’re not. Let’s address that.” She went on to talk about a lot of the myths or “problems” that they hear about women’s colleges:
- It’s not the real world… “Like Harvard is the real world??”
- There’s no male perspective … “The whole world is the male perspective.”
- There’s no fun … “They can still do what they want. The beer-drinking frat party is around. You just have to take a bus to it!”
- Who wants the drama of all girls!/It’s all lesbians … “We don’t engage with the lesbian thing. Get over it.”
Here’s really want women’s colleges are:
- Intentional communities where women are at the center.
- Not equal opportunity but EVERY opportunity.
- Lead from ahead and push from behind. “We surround them with bold people who can encourage them to be bolder.”
- Empowerment is not having to compromise any part of who you are. You can choose to go – or NOT go – to UMass. You don’t have to apologize for being smart. You’re expected to hold your own. You don’t have to apologize for having a point of view.
Smith provides extensive research opportunities. About 1/3 of faculty-published research has student co-authors. Praxis provides a $3000 stipend to all students for internships. Students have worked everywhere from a California cricket farm, ABC in London, with a doula in a maternity hospital in Mexico, and the Smithsonian in DC.
Admissions is test-optional except for international citizens who must submit test scores. If the scores are reported (self-reported on the application or sent officially), they will consider it. However, it’s weighted “very low in the process. It’s one piece of information. If you think they reflect you as a student, send it – but there’s no red flag if scores aren’t there.”