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Letter to the Community

Published September 15, 2022

September 15, 2022

Dear Smith students, staff, faculty and alums,

On behalf of the Smith College Board of Trustees, I write with great pleasure to announce that we have elected Sarah Willie-LeBreton as the 12th president of Smith College. A professor of sociology and provost and dean of the faculty at Swarthmore College, Sarah has championed curricular initiatives in interdisciplinary studies, established new co-curricular initiatives, and increased diversity among the faculty.

In Sarah, we have found the extraordinary leader that the community intended when we began the search process. She has the vision, energy and strategic leadership experience necessary to move Smith toward our highest aspirations and goals for the future. Sarah believes deeply in educating students who are united in their quest to create a better—more inclusive, sustainable and just—world. Throughout the course of her career, she has demonstrated the courage to engage in challenging conversations and make difficult decisions while simultaneously exuding the joy, warmth and curiosity that is required to lead an institution with empathy and integrity. And finally, she has the experience and expertise, both in her scholarship and her leadership, to build and strengthen one of our greatest assets—our remarkable community.

An accomplished scholar of social inequality, social theory, education, and African American culture, Sarah held faculty positions at Bard College and Colby College before joining the faculty at Swarthmore, where she chaired the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Her research informs higher education practice. Specifically, she is the author of Acting Black: College, Identity, and the Performance of Race, and editor of and contributor to Transforming the Academy: Faculty Perspectives on Diversity and Pedagogy. Sarah earned her bachelor’s degree from Haverford College and her master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University, all in sociology.

Sarah’s appointment follows a comprehensive international search informed by substantial community engagement. Both the Presidential Search Committee and the board of trustees were unanimous in their strong support for Sarah as the next inspiring leader for our community. She will begin her term on July 1, 2023.

The strength of the Smith community played a significant role in attracting an outstanding slate of candidates. We heard from you—students, staff, faculty and alums—about what is distinctive and enduring about Smith as well as how Smith might be an even better version of itself. With your input, we created our position description for the next president. So, to every member of the Smith community—thank you. Because of you and your unwavering connection to this institution, the search committee was able to reach this momentous conclusion.

Equally critical in attracting such an exceptional president-elect is the foundation laid by our current president, Kathleen McCartney. Smith’s impressive upward trajectory was compelling to many candidates in our diverse and deep pool. Thank you, Kathy, for all that you have done for Smith and will continue to do in your final nine months as president.

I am incredibly grateful to the Presidential Search Committee, brilliantly led by Susan Molineaux ’75, who worked tirelessly and thoughtfully over the summer on behalf of the college. Thank you to Anu Aiyengar ’91, Deborah Keiko Reeves Berger ’86, Darcy Buerkle, Mattie Peterson Compton ’72, David DeSwert, Terry W. Hartle, Peggie Ward Koon ’74, Daphne Lamothe, Tiffany Lin ’24, Kate Queeney, Kimberly A. Scott ’91, Deborah Weinberg ’81, Gregory White and Elena Palladino. We all appreciate your dedication and commitment to this important work over a very busy period.

You will have many opportunities to get to know Sarah in the months ahead. I’m thrilled to share that the first of these will be today! I invite all members of the Smith community to join us in John M. Greene Hall today, Thursday, September 15, at 12:15 pm to meet her (or you can join us virtually via livestream). Afterward, we will gather on Chapin lawn for a reception. I look forward to welcoming and celebrating our next president with all of you. I hope to see you there.

With joy and gratitude,

Alison Overseth ’80
Chair of the Board of Trustees
Smith College