After defining belonging at Smith as our main theme for our special studies, we needed to get out and talk with individuals. To empathize, we asked people questions about how and what environments made them feel as though they either belonged or didn’t belong at Smith. We each asked 5-10 people that we knew in some way three questions about belonging. What does belonging look like? What does belonging feel like? How does belonging influence your daily life? Some people drew abstract pictures of what it looked like to belong, while others explained times where they felt as though they fit in at Smith. These interviews were with various people in the Smith community from students to staff members to higher administrative heads of departments. From our empathizing we were able to ideate ways to form a greater sense of belonging here at Smith and create a variety of prototypes to test out and get feedback on.
Throughout our project, or rather projects (due to the variety of prototypes we tested this semester) we were able to continually speak with people and gain insights of how our projects helped them feel as though they belong, or didn’t have any effect. We found empathizing at the beginning of the semester helped us start off on the right foot because it gave us the opportunity to learn about the reasons behind negative feelings surrounding belonging and how to combat them with connection to the community. By focusing on empathizing and understanding our user demographic, we avoided throwing our own ideas and opinions of belonging onto our process. We used the feedback from these interviews to define a more specific problem, which is explained further in the define and ideate section, found here. Below is a sample of who we interviewed as well as key quotes that helped shape our process and thinking.
Dwight Hamilton, Chief Diversity Officer
We were able to discuss the ideas of belonging with Dwight Hamilton, an integral part of creating a positive campus climate. Enthusiastic about belonging, Dwight helped us brainstorm ways to make our ideas inclusive for the entire student body. While discussing our project, he brought up a festival held in Michigan every year called ArtPrize. Talking about the idea of an art festival with Dwight moved our project from focusing on one specific installation to creating an event with multiple moving parts. We thought that hosting an event would also allow each of our team members a chance to display individual work and would also create different venues for participants to feel as though they belonged in the Smith Community. The pleasant meeting helped us expand on our idea and inspired us to think more outside of the box.
Sue Moszynski, Dining Staff at Northrop
Interviewing Sue, one of the lovely dining staff who works in Northrop, was a very useful experience and allowed us to move beyond the scope of just engaging with Smith students. This was her first week working at Smith, so she had a very interesting perspective on the campus. Sue suggested that we focus on something to do with women or based on women. She thought it could be something made of everyone’s hands. It could potentially include drawings and personal messages of both alums and students. From being here only eight days, the places on campus that stood out to her were the arch in the quad, the tower over the bell, and all the old, beautiful architecture in the area. As for how to make the creation of art installation engage the broader community, she suggested that everybody should get a piece and then it all is brought together at the end. People could be excited about that. Sue was interested in learning more about the history of the school, and a skill she has to share is teaching people how to put up wallpaper.
Liz, a Northampton Resident
Shira ran into a woman named Liz who lived in town and was walking her dog around campus. As someone who spends a lot of time walking her dog around campus, some spaces that stood out to her were the botanical gardens, Capen Gardens, the trail by the pond, and Chapin lawn. However, she didn’t feel like anything needed to be added to the botanical gardens – she would prefer something to be added in a random spot on campus that would make you stop out of the blue. She thinks that Northampton residents would be delighted to help with creating art, and felt that including neighborhood residents would send a nice message that Smith cares about its’ surrounding community. Liz is very interested in learning many new skills, and would be comfortable teaching painting and digging in gardens.
Quotes from Student Interviews
“Don’t say ‘we’re going to make the community better.’ We need specifics.”
“Talking about issues while painting is a way to entice people into talking about real issues.”
“Gear some arts and crafts towards a voice that is silent.”
“If you’re gonna do a project on campus about belonging, it has to center the people on campus who are the most excluded.”
“Maps are inherently political. Colonial borders are reinforcing violence.”
“Whatever we create needs to fight capitalism, needs to work against the things we were taught that prevent people from connecting.”
“Confronting the things that divide us”