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About This Project

My name is Liv Combest, I’m a junior at Smith College majoring in American Studies and Spanish and concentrating in Archive Studies, and my Archives 340 capstone project is on the history of student activism at Smith College. Colleges have long been considered a hotbed for protest and change — one prominent example is the American college response to the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, when many college students held rallies protesting both draft policies and the Vietnam War itself.

The reason I felt this topic was so timely was because of the recent scandal involving a Smith staff member who spoke out against Smith College for its supposed racism against white people. Following her accusations, several news outlets (including the New York Times and Fox News) ran pieces debating whether or not college students (specifically Smithies) had become too “emboldened” in recent years.

The people that made that argument were probably picturing an antiquated version of Smith in their minds — girls in dresses playing scientists before settling down and becoming housewives after graduating. But Smith was never meant to be a finishing school! It was a radical place from its very inception by simple virtue of its mission to educate the women of tomorrow in a world that would prefer they remain docile and dependent on men. Sophia Smith didn’t found a school for students who wanted to sit idly by while injustice occurred on and off campus. I think she would be proud to see how Smithies have continued to devote themselves to social justice a century and a half past Smith’s founding.

My visits to the Smith College Special Collections were incredibly powerful in their ability to make me feel such a strong sense of connection Smithies of the past. Seeing a sticker that a student probably wore to a protest, or a journal used by students organizing a sit-in, and took care to salvage for future students to see and draw inspiration from made me remember why I fell in love with this school in the first place. While working on this project, I kept coming up against the question of how this project could have been different in non-Covid times. I mourn for the time lost on campus and in community with others, but this project allowed me to feel some level of connection to Smithies of the past, present, and future. It reminded me that even though this pandemic feels simultaneously apocalyptic and like an insurmountable new normal, there will always be more work to be done. As we plan to return to campus in the fall, it will be interesting to see which issues garner the most immediate attention — will it be racism? Classism? Health advocacy and awareness in the name of avoiding another outbreak like we have been handling for the last nearly 14 months? It’s unclear, but after researching Smith’s activist history, I can say confidently that regardless of the topic, I know Smithies will return in the fall ready to continue the work for social justice and equality that has been the school’s hallmark for so many decades.