23 October 2003: Grecourt Gates: opening Smith to the community
The Sophian
October 23, 2003

Opinion/Editorial (page 8)

Not Elsewhere Classified

Grecourt Gates: opening Smith to the community Not my title, just for the record.
Elizabeth Sweeny

The Grécourt Gates was [I hate that this is singular. It may be grammatically correct, but it just sounds so wrong to me.] dedicated nearly 80 years ago, on October 18, 1924. In office at the time, President William Allan Neilson [WTF? I did NOT write that. I wrote “Then President William Allan Neilson ...”] during his dedication speech said, “May the story of the Smith College Relief Unit be your heritage and your pride, and may its story be told to each succeeding generation.” Unfortunately, the story is not one which permeates Smith culture, though images of the gates adorn everything from bumper stickers to chocolates.

Serving today’s administration, [WTF? I did NOT write that. I wrote “Current President Carol Christ told the story...”] President Carol Christ told the story in her speech at Convocation last year, talking about Smith students embracing their responsibility to the world. Reading about the Smith alumnae who went over to Grécourt, France, in 1917, I can’t help but feel in awe. [I wrote “a bit awed,” not “in awe” -- not only is there a different meaning, but “feel in awe” sounds like ass.] That it took only three months to secure volunteers, funds, and equipment is in itself remarkable. The volunteers [There was a “then” after that for emphasis.] stayed in a burned out village for two years and eight months, helping 16 villages other get food, water, and clothing. Sacrificing one’s own necessities to help people never before met is perhaps, truly extraordinary and kind. [Compare that final sentence with my “Giving up that much to help people you’ve never even met before is truly extraordinary.”]

Discussing issues within the comfort of this institution is a crucial part of Smith culture, but there comes a point when people need to actually get out there and do something. Of course “doing something” doesn’t always necessitate working one-on-one with the people one is concerned about, but the 17 Smith alumnae who went to Grécourt 86 years ago are good models to keep in mind, as sometimes issues become [I think the deletion of my “such” there was an accident or the first step in a rewrite which didn’t get finished.] abstract topics of debate that we forget about the real people involved except as rhetorical fodder. In her convocation address, President Christ mentioned that Smith was not meant to be an ivory tower. Rather, Smith College played a practical role in the town of Northampton. [No no no. I said “In her convocation address, President Christ mentioned that Smith was meant to be not an ivory tower but a practical part of the town.” The original intent was practical integration with the town, but see how my next sentence questions whether that ever happened?] Regardless of how well that intention has been fulfilled over the years [I didn’t have “over the years” there. Can anyone show me proof that at the beginning Smith did play a practical and integrated role in Northampton? Because i can accept the changes if they are correcting factually incorrect assertions/implications.], it is important that we not lose ourselves in this bubble, forgetting about the very real things going on outside the institution’s walls.

There has been a lot of talk about the handling of Iraq post-war and about bringing troops home. The troops are over there for much the same reason the Smith College Relief Unit was in Grécourt: to help citizens rebuild their country after a war. Regardless of one’s opinions about the war itself, damage has been done and having helped cause it, we are obligated to help fix it. Troops already stationed over there are probably in the best position to do so.

At times it seems that the only activism one can do at Smith is to sign petitions or stage walkouts or candlelight vigils. These actions can have great value, but there is so much else that can be done as well. Though the kind of work the Smith College Relief Unit did is certainly not for everyone, their story serves as a reminder of just how involved in the world we can be. While few of us can take time off to go work in war-torn countries, we can do things like work at a soup kitchen or tutor young children. After all, the people down the street are just as important as the people across the ocean.


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