Democracy Prevails and Smith College Fails

Karen Gross
2 min readJan 20, 2021

Last night, with simple but profound words and 400 candles, we honored the 400,000 plus Americans who died from the Pandemic. During the preceding months, we never honored those whom COVID attacked; we failed them — until now. And moving forward, our work is before us.

Today, at the Inauguration, we saw a simple ceremony filled with poetry, music, emotion and authentic rhetoric. It was historic and stood in sharp contrast to the self-promotion and fiery language of the last four years. Rhetoric, we observed, can be used for good.

Stark contrasts all. And, I could not help but think about the profound personal suffering this new president has experienced, including the unthinkable loss of two children, a spouse and a host of medical issues. He is, in a very real way, the perfect leader for now. He has empathy; he has respect for tradition; he speaks truth while in power.

In the midst of the inaugural speech, I must share an interruption I experienced — as a reminder that all is not well in leadership of our institutions. At 12:05, my alma mater — Smith College — sent an email saying that the new wings of the college’s library would be named after two former presidents (one of whom is a minority woman). Seriously, this news came in the middle of the inaugural address. What poor role modeling. What bad timing. What ridiculous news to release today of all days. The focus must be on our nation’s new President not Smith’s prior presidents, however good they may have been.

I had been at odds with Smith since 1970. Efforts to get on the same page have failed. Smith has never had one of its own as its president. Ironic, eh what? Some of us have been college presidents and I now teach at a School of Social Work (Rutgers) NOT Smith. But, the timing of this Smith President’s email takes the proverbial cake and it points to how hard President Biden and VP Harris’ work will be.

Even our most prestigious institutions can’t see the need to focus on what is happening outside their bubble. Think about that.

At the moment, we would be wise to focus on the world beyond our personal door. Democracy requires nothing less. The challenge is real because even educated leaders are wearing blinders.

I still have hope. Not for Smith. I have given up. But for our nation. I do have hope. Perhaps more people will realize the importance of speaking truth and speaking truth to power.

Listen to the words of the young Poet Laureate. Remarkable. Hope hasn’t been lost.



Karen Gross

Author, Educator, Artist & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor