Photo courtesy of xavier.edu | Dr. Taj Smith will leave his current position as Director of the Center of Diversity and Inclusion this Friday to take a similar job closer to family.
Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Taj Smith will close the door to his office for the last time this Friday.
After four and a half years at Xavier, Smith will take on his new role as Director of Diversity Education at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, in February. The new position allows him to be closer to his family and partner while still working in a university setting.
Smith assured that he did not take this decision lightly.
“These kinds of decisions are never easy, and we all have to make them as part of growing up,” he said. “I really valued my time there, the four and a half years that I was able to call it my home-workplace.
“I hope people recognize that it is just one of those life opportunities that I just had to take, but I very much will miss the community.”
Although he is excited, Smith recognizes that there will be differences at his new position.
“A major part of my job right now is advocating for students,” he said. “…At my new job I won’t have that.”
Additionally, Smith noted that dialogue surrounding social justice might differ on RIT’s campus.
“Their mission isn’t rooted in justice and solidarity and all these other great Jesuit values,” he said. “That could be a different type of student to work with as well as faculty.”
Smith also said that he believes the Xavier community is noticeably invested in societal issues.
“While Xavier has room to grow, people, particularly students, are invested in that conversation (of social justice),” he said. “I’m not sure if my next school will be.”
Despite this unknown, Smith expressed his hope to bring conversations about social justice to students and faculty on campus.
One of Smith’s most well-known accomplishments include his role in the creation of the Bias Advisory and Response Team (BART). He was also a familiar face in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion as its director.
Despite his involvement with high-profile BART cases or campus programs and groups, Smith said he feels his greatest contribution to the Xavier community was building relationships across a multitude of diverse spaces.
“He was always personable. It was never just a ‘hi’ or ‘bye,’ he actually cared about your day,” first-year Kylah Coleman said.
Senior Carolina Wamburga agreed with Coleman that what struck her about Smith was his care and concern for students.
“I remember when we had the wall of expression last semester and Stephanie was concerned about a student’s comment on the wall,” Wamburga said. “Taj was walking by, he heard Stephanie’s concerns for the student and he immediately went into action. The way he cares for students is inspiring and has really stuck with me and made me strive to be a better person.”
Senior Benmun Damul also spoke highly of Smith, though she has not warmed up to the idea of his departure.
“Taj has been fantastic. I like how he is able to balance a good relationship with students and administration,” Damul shared. “I’m hurt, and I feel a little betrayed because he’s always been a part of my Xavier experience, but I understand and I’ll come to terms with it because my anger can’t fix it.”
One of Smith’s favorite memories at Xavier was seeing students arrive on their first day of Smooth Transitions. Smooth Transitions provides an additional orientation experience and a year-long mentor program for incoming first-year students from underrepresented backgrounds.
“They have this sort of eagerness of wanting to become whoever they are going to become and that they just need the tools and time to actually learn what that looks like,” Smith said.
When it comes to parting words of advice, Smith expressed encouragement for the entire Xavier community.
“I would encourage everyone to continue doing the work,” Smith said, “The work is never done. Even if I stayed at Xavier another 10 years, the work would never be done.”
Smith’s final message to students? “Make sure you hold the university accountable. Keep doing what you need to do… Hold each other accountable in respectful ways as long as other people are showing you respect and make Xavier an even better place.”
An interim director will be appointed for the rest of the semester. BART protocol will continue to operate during the transition.
By: Brittany Wells | Staff Writer