Traci Williams AC
Rooted in the recognition and respect for the questions and concerns of entering first-year and transfer African American students about their experience at Smith College and their place in the community, Smith’s Department of Multicultural Affairs established the Bridge Preorientation Program, now affectionately called Bridge, in 1970. Understanding that all students of color may have questions and concerns, Bridge opened its doors to welcome all first-year and transfer students of color to participate.
The program provides an introduction to Smith and its surrounding community through culturally responsive workshops, activities and discussions. It offers mentoring partnerships between current Bridgees and new Bridgees, as its alums and participants are dubbed. It creates an open and comfortable environment for establishing friendships, building a community and educating students on college and community resources specifically tailored to address the needs of students of color. As its webpage proudly boasts, the Bridge Program delivers the entirety of this preparation “all before other students even arrive on campus.”
Last year, Bridge celebrated its 45th anniversary. It also celebrated a first. Eligible as a transfer student, an Ada Comstock Scholar (nontraditional student aka Ada) accepted the invitation to participate and complete the program. I was that Ada.
Upon returning to campus to begin my junior year, I reached out to check-in with Mrs. L’Tanya Richmond, director of Multicultural Affairs, and to express my gratitude for Bridge. I was delighted to learn four Adas participated in the program this year.
My delight sparked a curiosity and I sought to learn the experiences of this unique 2016 Bridge class including all of its Bridge Leaders, Adas and Trads (Adas’ nickname for traditional students).
Traci Williams ’AC: Why did you choose to participate in Bridge?
Caira Anderson ’20: It was a great opportunity to get to know the school in a smaller environment while having fun getting to know amazing people.
Sherita Flourney ’AC: I saw Bridge as an opportunity to get sort of in tune with campus. The thought of arriving at Smith with days before classes started for orientation was a cause for anxiety for me, and I was so happy there was not only an alternative choice, but a program specifically for women of color to come together I felt very much relieved.
TW: What was it like to live so closely/intimately 24/7 with strangers?
CA: It was sort of strange, at first, but we all [made] efforts to get to know [and to support] each other [so] that we built a really positive community pretty quickly.
SF: Waiting for the shuttle pick up with a number of other Bridge girls [who were] all traditional students, I felt sort of nervous. They were sweet and we had some good laughs on the ride, but my age was starting to show, and I began to worry. Was I going to be the only Ada in the program? All of the Bridge Leaders were super welcoming. [As] Khadidja [helped] me with my luggage, we chatted and laugh[ed] and my worries dissipated from there. I never saw any of my fellow Bridgees as strangers, just future friends.
TW: What did you appreciate about your interactions with Adas/Trads?
CA: It was great to get to know women who’d [experienced] being college students and [had participated] fully in adulthood. [The Adas] had really great advice to give and were protective of us.
SF: I was completely able to be my authentic silly self with [the Trads]. I blended in fine. [At times] there [was] a lack of judgement with the traditional students that I absolutely loved. They never treated me differently. When [discussing my experiences], they were just interested in [the experience] not so much that I was an older women.
TW: Bridge Leaders, how did you appreciate the mix of Adas and Trads? Were you prepared with activities/talks to actively engage both groups? Any surprises or setbacks? Would you like to see more Adas participating?
Daisy Astorga ’19: I had the opportunity to participate as a first year and now as a Bridge leader. Both of these experiences were impactful and wonderful. The first time, I came in nervous and afraid. I left confident and with a “familia”. The second time, I went in excited to help others. They did not know what Bridge meant at the time, but I knew they would at the end. I appreciated Bridge even more as a Bridge leader because I was able to interact with all of the Bridgees.
Cecelia Lim ’17: The Adas were a wonderful addition to the Bridge cohort this year. It was humbling to be their Bridge leader because while there is an age difference, they still look to the leaders for guidance in navigating Smith. They also bring so much life experience and wisdom to the mix, and so both the Bridgees and Bridge leaders have a lot to learn from them. I hope more Adas participate in the years to come!
Libby Grant ’18: I appreciated the mix of Adas and Trads and really enjoyed watching [them] become friends and support each other. I was not as prepared as I wish I had been with talking to Adas. I had a small setback during my workshop because I [didn’t] know what it [was] like to live off campus. Yes, I would like to see more Adas participating.
What would you like to say to Smith?
SF: Thank you for your continued work to acknowledge the different experiences women of color. I appreciate [your efforts] to start students [of color] off with a community, which I am sure will last throughout their time at Smith and beyond. I look forward to watching the growth of my Trad Bridgees and my fellow Adas from the program.
LB: Thank you for having this program. It really helps to make connections and friendships before classes start.
DA: Bridge is more than coming two weeks earlier than everyone else. Bridge is a community. “Bridge es una familia”,