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Southern Student Exchange

In 1961, Smith College students initiated the Southern Student Exchange program. Designed to allow students to visit selected southern colleges for a two week period, with a reciprocal visit by students from these institutions, the program was administered by the Student Government Association. Initially, southern African-American colleges were targeted for the exchange. The program would give Smith women an opportunity to visit previously unknown environments and through their encounters “form insights into student attitudes different from their own.” Over the 7 years that the Program operated, 18 colleges and universities participated, ranging from small, liberal arts colleges of 300 students to large, urban universities; from single-sex to co-educational colleges; from integrated to non-integrated colleges and universities; and from religious-based to sectarian institutions. In return, students from the southern institutions would arrive on campus for a two-week stay. The students stayed in a wide variety of Smith houses, attended Friday teas, attended classes, met with President Mendenhall, toured Northampton and environs, met with the mayor, and participated in an open forum in the Neilson Browsing Room to exchange ideas and impressions with the broader Smith community.

Southern students related many impressions about the opportunities available to Smith students both educationally and socially. To the southern students Smith appeared less strict in social rules, dress and encouraged more open discussion. There was more choice in extra-curricular activities and in lecture courses. Smith students noted that there was a strong sense of regionalism in the south and that students rarely continued discussions outside of the classroom. As one student put it, she was made more aware of the “sheer excess of opportunities” at Smith.

Throughout its operation, the Southern Student Exchange program had difficulties. Detractors suggested that the small number of people who benefited from the program did not outweigh the costs. Funding for the program came out of the Student Activities Fund. Others attacked the presumption of Smith to send students for a short period of time to ‘assess’ other institutions. Some suggested that the two week period was not enough time and worked toward developing a semester-long program. In 1968 the SGA stopped funding and administering the program.

Stories of the women who participated in this program are published in the Sophian and the Smith Alumnae Quarterly. For each individual, the effect of the exchange program was different and profound.

Nanci A. Young College Archivist

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