Letter of Response: In Response to Bridge Program Editorial

In her opinion piece “Rethinking Smith’s Bridge Program,” Dominica Cao ’19, while celebrating the Bridge program’s success, inquired why the program does not provide its benefits to other students, such as first-generation college students who are not students of color or students with disabilities.  I affirm that Smith does, in fact, have supportive resources for first-generation students, including a first-gen-focused orientation, and for students with disabilities of all races.

The Bridge Program, however, addresses the specific realities that students of color face in acclimating to Smith.

Put simply, race still matters.  Students of color face a challenge at selective, predominately white institutions that persists even when factoring out non-racial factors such as socioeconomic class or first generation status.  That challenge is developing a positive racial identity in an environment where one is underrepresented.  

In her landmark book “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”, former Spelman College President and current Smith College Trustee Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum discussed the importance and need for the positive development of racial identity for students of color, particularly those who are educated in a predominately white environment.

Dr. Tatum stated: “Predominantly White colleges concerned about attracting and retaining Black students, need to take seriously the psychological toll extracted from students of color in inhospitable environments and the critical role that cultural space can play.  Having a place to be rejuvenated and to feel anchored in one’s cultural community increases the possibility that one will have the energy to achieve academically as well as participate in the cross-group dialogue and interaction that colleges want to encourage.”

The Bridge program provides an environment where students of color can positively develop their racial identity on a campus where they are underrepresented. For many students of color, the Bridge program is the only ethnically, racially and culturally diverse student experience they will share. The Bridge program allows students of color the needed space to acclimate to the Smith community, if only for a few days, in an environment that is supportive, nurturing and community-building.  As evidenced by yearly feedback from its participants, students of color have transitioned better at Smith because they attended the Bridge program and were better prepared for the pressures and environment at Smith.

As Smith admits increasing numbers of students of color, so too has the challenge risen of creating an inclusive environment where these students feel valued, respected and included.  Smith has an abiding commitment to addressing that challenge.  That commitment is one of the many reasons why the Bridge Program has thrived for 45 years.

Dwight Hamilton
Chief Diversity Officer

L’Tanya Richmond
Director of Multicultural Affairs