Featured Senator — July 30, 2018
Wendy Smooth started her Senate work after a call from then-Senate Secretary Tim Gerber. She first became aware of the Senate's possibilities after Dr. Gerber spoke at what is now the Big Ten Alliance Academic Leadership Program the previous year. She had never really considered the Senate, she said, but afterward could see it as a space to help move issues to the forefront and have a real voice.
The Senate also allowed her to learn more about other parts of the university. I had long been working to advance diversity issues in my college and across the university but had not been as involved with questions of student-athlete wellbeing. I have learned so much from our student athletes and how they enrich the university, both on and off the field. I have cultivated a deeper appreciation for what athletics brings to the university. I've really come to recognize just how much all of the university can learn from athletics in terms of student support and attentiveness to overall wellbeing, particularly mental health and wellness. I don't regret taking on what at first seemed to be two really big service engagements.
Though Senate service initially entailed a learning curve, she came to value the opportunity it provides faculty, staff, and students to have their voices heard. The [Senate] body really has the potential to have a great impact on moving the university in innovative directions. We have a great deal of potential to direct outcomes, though so many like myself never consider it a place of impact.
Initially, Dr. Smooth declined to lead the Senate Diversity Committee when asked by the outgoing chair to take over, but she later agreed when elected by the committee. Under the previous chair we'd started on a series of strong agenda items and I didn't want to see that go by the wayside. The very departure of the existing chair (to another university) served as a real reminder of just how critical the work we are doing on recruitment and retention of faculty of color is to our university goals of excellence.
As a committee chair, Dr. Smooth also serves on Faculty Cabinet, a position that has broadened her perspectives and allowed her to work with faculty across the university. She has especially appreciated meeting faculty from the Wexner Medical Center and regional campuses who she might never have met otherwise. These are the colleagues who are really willing to dig in and use their energy and creativity to bring forth solutions.
Overall, the Senate has enriched her understanding of her role and responsibilities as a faculty member. Now, when a colleague comes to her with a concern, she is able to refer them to a Senate committee that addresses the issue. My thinking has been enriched by seeing the actual structure and mechanisms of university operations beyond my department. In our Ohio State culture, there is tons of room for broadening, deepening, and engaging.
As the chair of Senate Diversity, Dr. Smooth has the opportunity to work with her committee to address important issues, such as the divisive socio-political climate that ensued after the presidential election and the November campus attack. The committee focused on how we create a climate and university community where all feel welcome, and we continue to work together, she said. The committee also will look at how the university recruits and supports diverse faculty, as how it can bring in the most diverse student class possible. The committee is also interested in the success and support of transfer students, the importance of DACA, sexual civility and empowerment, and campus safety. These are all issues that speak to creating an inclusive campus environment, she said. Our committee members are highly engaged and focused on not only bringing together a more diverse community of faculty, staff, and students, but addressing how we treat each other once we're all here together.
To faculty thinking of joining the Senate or a Senate committee, Dr. Smooth says do your homework. You want to make sure you are landing in the right space, a committee you can bring your energies and creativity to. She cautions against joining a committee that does not fit your interests, but adds that there are many committees, with many different charges. Your voice can be useful, and chances are people are really needing to hear your perspective. She encourages women, and women of color especially, to consider Senate service as a place to contribute and be involved in important university issues. There are a lot of ways that women faculty are often tapped to do particular kinds of service that are not necessarily the kinds of service that the university most values, but I would say that getting engaged with the Senate is different. To Smooth, the Senate provides an opportunity to have your voice and perspective heard, a place where it is most needed and often very underrepresented.
Wendy Smooth is an Associate Professor in the department of Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies, with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Political Science. Her research and teaching focus on women's experiences in political institutions and the impact of public policies on women's lives. Dr. Smooth first began her Senate work in 2015, when she joined both the Diversity Committee and Athletic Council. In 2016, she was elected chair of the Senate Diversity Committee, and was recently reelected as chair this year. Next year, she will be the chair of Athletic Council. She is also an active voice at Senate Steering, Faculty Cabinet, and Faculty Council, where she spoke about campus climate and academic freedom last year.