This fall, Michelle A. Smith, JD, will join UF to work with the Levin College of Law and the College of Health & Human Performance as the assistant dean for inclusion.
This fall, Michelle A. Smith, JD, will join UF to work with the Levin College of Law and the College of Health & Human Performance as the assistant dean for inclusion. Smith is a triple Gator – earning a JD from the Levin College of Law, a master’s degree focused on exercise and sport sciences from HHP, and a Bachelor of Arts in sociocultural anthropology from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Smith will be returning to UF after leaving Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), a multi-service utility owned by the City of Gainesville, where she served as the chief change officer, a role charged with implementing enterprise-wide strategy for culture change.
Welcome back to UF! What’s changed and what’s still the same? (Or rather, what do you think has changed and what do you hope is still the same since your time as a student here?)
Thank you so much! It feels so good to come home. Hmmm...what has changed? The growth of the campus. I started at UF in 1990. And, there has always been some sort of construction, renovation, expansion taking place. The technological advancements also blow me away. I mean, I was here before we even had hardwired internet access, and laptops were a novel luxury. The most immediately relevant change for me, personally, is the creation of this role, and many like it across the university. We have a chief diversity officer and more than 20 diversity liaisons among the colleges. UF prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) as being essential to its preeminence. That is right-thinking, right-action, and it is HUGE!
What remains the same is the FEEL of UF and HHP. Gator pride is a real “thing.” The energy and sense of community is distinct and palpable. My time will be shared between HHP and the Levin College of Law. Both colleges have their own unique culture. I have an appreciation for, and share a kinship with both schools; recognizing the strengths of two very different cultures, areas of study, research and professional development. At the same time, I also note their unifying similarities as one Gator Nation. Acknowledging and celebrating unique distinctions, while also acknowledging unifying similarities is all part of my role.
What excites you about this position?
Everything! The nature of the work, of course. I am excited about the fact that my alma mater is at a point in its evolution to create a formal structure that prioritizes DE&I, and that HHP has created the Inclusion Working Group (IWG) to advise our college leadership on programming and advocacy around the issues of diversity and inclusion. I’m really looking forward to working with each of them to flesh out actionable goals that will have a real impact on our community. I’m also excited about the newness of this role. Inclusion captures a lot. The breadth, flexibility and opportunity to collaboratively develop this role into what best meets the needs of students, faculty and staff is very exciting.
What goals do you have for your new position?
The strategist in me sees “goals,” and I automatically think strategic plans, hard and fast goals, objectives, tactics, activities, measurable results. We’re not there yet. What I do have is a very flexible framework, some ideas and more questions than answers. I’ve had some very meaningful starter conversations with students, faculty and staff that have given me surface-level understanding of some of our strengths, as well as potential areas of opportunities. So, my short-term goals are to establish relationships, build rapport, open lines of communication and develop trust within our HHP community, with departments across the university and with other colleges. I need to have a deeper understanding of where we currently sit; perhaps starting with whether we’re all on the same page about what inclusion means, what it would look like and feel like for us, as a whole. I need to know what resources, programming, activities we currently have to support an inclusive environment. And I absolutely need thoughts and ideas from students, faculty and staff to create what may not currently exist to realize an inclusive teaching, learning, scholarship, living experience; with the IWG being our core team of collaborators and change agents within HHP.
What is something about you that is important for the UF community to know about you?
It’s important for everyone to know that this is life purpose, passion and calling for me. I truly believe that the sum total of my personal and professional experiences up to this point in my life and what I have done with those experiences, have lead me to be of service to others in this role. It pleases me, immensely, that the position title is Assistant Dean for “Inclusion.” Because, in the vital discussion of diversity, equity and inclusion, it is the “action” component.
Where do you go for inspiration?
Living is my greatest inspiration. Truly being present and truly living freely gives me space to create. What is inspiration for, if not to create? Simple stuff, like sticking my hands in dirt in my garden; hanging out with my four fur babies; belly-laughing with my closest friends and new friends who will become close friends; journaling; pushing around heavy weights in the gym.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I have two:
“I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou
“...for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And, there are so many silences that need to be broken.” ~Audre Lorde
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
I’m paraphrasing, and this came from a collection of people sprinkled throughout my life. And, it is this…”Love yourself enough to be safe with YOU. Then you can offer that to others.”