Sallie Keller Smith, April 12, 2021

Dublin Core

Title

Sallie Keller Smith, April 12, 2021

Description

Sallie Keller Smith, Class of 1973, invested her time in both academics and social justice issues. Her close friendships with Black students enabled a deep understanding and respect for the disparities that existed on campus.

Date

2021-04-14

Format

video

Identifier

MCA_07

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Susan Falciani Maldonado
Samantha Brenner
Hailey Petrus

Interviewee

Sallie Keller Smith

Duration

00:28:24

OHMS Object Text

5.4 April 14th, 2021 Sallie Keller Smith, April 12, 2021 MCA_07 00:28:23 MCA-D History of Diversity and Inclusion at Muhlenberg College Muhlenberg College: Trexler Library Oral History Repository Sallie Keller Smith Susan Falciani Maldonado Samantha Brenner Hailey Petrus video/mp4 SmithSallieKeller_20210412_edited.mp4 1:|19(9)|31(1)|40(1)|51(6)|59(13)|71(13)|84(1)|91(9)|101(8)|113(6)|122(8)|132(11)|142(12)|152(1)|162(9)|173(13)|182(10)|194(8)|204(2)|216(4)|227(4)|237(5)|247(3)|259(14)|269(16)|284(11)|296(10)|309(13) 0 https://youtu.be/n2nlbUhhFG0 YouTube video English 30 The Early Influences SKS: My father went to Muhlenberg College. He went on the G.I. Bill after he got out of the Navy. And it-- it meant a lot to him that I would consider going to Muhlenberg and I’ve always--because I lived near Muhlenberg--I've always been part and parcel of the things that were available to me through the school. So, in high school, I used to use the library and I thought it was a beautiful campus, that it was an excellent school, and it would give me an opportunity to seek a career that may or may not be typically available for women at the time. Father ; GI Bill ; Muhlenberg College 86 Entering Muhlenberg SB: So, from there, can you just describe for me what it was like entering Muhlenberg? Maybe some of the people who came across, some of your friends you've met in kind of like, how those connections were made? SKS: Well, I originally applied at Muhlenberg and was accepted, but my father, who was a teacher-- an English and Latin teacher, told me that because I had a younger brother, I could either go to Muhlenberg and live at home or I could go to a state college. And so I applied at West Chester and I went to West Chester University for my freshman year, and though I had some wonderful friends, I was not particularly thrilled about the curriculum at West Chester, so I transferred back to Muhlenberg. Bias ; Off-Campus Living ; Townie ; West Chester 580 Reflections SKS: I would say that because when we went to school, it was a different time than you've experienced. We were still in the Vietnam War. We had lost our friends to the Vietnam War. We-- we were at Muhlenberg when they had the first drawing to-- to pick people to go to war. So I remember some, one of the kids, one of them, boys jumping out of a window on the third floor. It was a very raw time. Association of Black Collegians ; conservatism ; Vietnam War 901 Obstacles for Black Students in terms of changes that Diane and others may have tried to make, like we talked a little bit on the phone about trying to have a house. What did they face in trying to make those changes or in trying to do activist things or founding the Association of Black Collegians? What-- was there-- were people receptive to that? Were there obstacles? And how important was that to them? SKS: Well, I know, as I told you, Diane told me that she was really annoyed by the fact that the German students had their own house. So if you were a German major, you could live there or if you were actually from Germany or had a German background, you could live in this house and they all supported one another and helped one another and had a great time. And Diane said to me, “I don't know, I don't understand this. They bring us in the experiment to see how we do. And we are not even put together as roommates necessarily in the dorms, much less having a house of our own, which would have been much nicer and made more sense so that we could support one another and help one another.” Dean Nugent ; German House ; Scholarship Financing ; Social Competition 1160 Diane Williams Post Graduation HP: After college, we wanted to ask about, like, your continued relationship with Diane after college and kind of like, also, her post college experience, like some of the jobs she may have had and how you all’s friendship and relationship continued to grow, furthering. SKS: After college, she went back to New York, and I know that she and Natalie [Francis Shannon-Jackson] and Collette [Crum-Coates] and, I don't know who else, but at least those three got very involved with Buddhism. And I would hear from her about looking for jobs. She wanted to be a writer. And I was kind of casting about looking for a job that I wanted to do. So we would, you know, we would write back and forth. “Have you had any luck? No, but I'm doing this temporary job to pay my rent.” That kind of thing. Buddhism ; New York ; Writing MovingImage Sallie Keller Smith, Class of 1973 invested her time in both academics and social justice issues. Her close friendships with Black students enabled a deep understanding and respect for the disparities that existed on campus. Sallie Keller Smith April 14, 2021 SAMANTHA BRENNER: I&#039 ; m Samantha Brenner here with Sallie Keller Smith to talk about your life as a student when you were at Muhlenberg College. This interview is for an oral history project, part of, The History of Diversity and Inclusion Project. Sallie Keller Smith, thank you so much for your willingness to speak with us today. SALLIE KELLER SMITH: You&#039 ; re welcome. SB: Thank you. I&#039 ; d like to turn to your early life and ask you how you became interested and sought out the college experience. What were your major influences? How did you know you wanted to attend Muhlenberg College? SKS: My father went to Muhlenberg College. He went on the G.I. Bill after he got out of the Navy. And it-- it meant a lot to him that I would consider going to Muhlenberg and I&#039 ; ve always--because I lived near Muhlenberg--I&#039 ; ve always been part and parcel of the things that were available to me through the school. So, in high school, I used to use the library and I thought it was a beautiful campus, that it was an excellent school, and it would give me an opportunity to seek a career that may or may not be typically available for women at the time. SB: So, from there, can you just describe for me what it was like entering Muhlenberg? Maybe some of the people who came across, some of your friends you&#039 ; ve met in kind of like, how those connections were made? SKS: Well, I originally applied at Muhlenberg and was accepted, but my father, who was a teacher-- an English and Latin teacher, told me that because I had a younger brother, I could either go to Muhlenberg and live at home or I could go to a state college. And so I applied at West Chester and I went to West Chester University for my freshman year, and though I had some wonderful friends, I was not particularly thrilled about the curriculum at West Chester, so I transferred back to Muhlenberg. Being a transfer student and a student who lived at home, or a &quot ; townie,&quot ; as we were called, made it difficult for me to make-- to make new friends. I eventually began to make friends through my classes and through going to the union, the library, all those things. But it wasn&#039 ; t a particularly easy transition and there really wasn&#039 ; t anybody who was involved with helping transfer students at the time from Muhlenberg. So, I met, actually, I met a woman, young woman who had been on campus for a year, and then she was living off campus and she and I became friends. And through her, I began to live off campus in an apartment. I also met several of my other friends through her and people that she introduced me to. SB: And I guess just going off of these friendships that you made. How has-- how did these friendships shape your college experience and help shape your trajectory for the rest of your life and helped you become the person you are today? SKS: Well, my friend Janice, who is the first one that I really made a friendship with, introduced me to a number of the Black students who had been brought to campus under a new program that they were trying to start, integrating the campus with. And Diane Williams was one of them. And because I met Diane, she introduced me to a lot of the others. She was, I would think, my closest friend in that group. She, I think, I really, as-- as an individual, I like people who I view as being thoughtful, sensitive, maybe not big people on campus, but people who are intelligent and add a lot to their environment, either temporarily or in the long term. And she was one of those people. Also, my year at West Chester, my roommate was Black. And I just adored her. She was great. We had so much fun. And even though I didn&#039 ; t like the school, I loved her. And it was hard for me to transfer because I would be leaving her. But we did remain friends. She was just one of the brightest, most individualistic people I&#039 ; d ever met. So when I came to Muhlenberg and I met Diane, it was such a happy occasion for me because I was looking forward to being able to spend time with somebody who I recognized as being, you know, somebody who brought something new to campus. And she did. So I met some-- I had an art class with one of the male Black students and I became friends with one of the males who was a football player. So, I don&#039 ; t know. I just always thought I was very lucky to be included in their group because they-- they sort of clung to one another. They were a small group in a big white community. And I thought they were wonderful to allow me to be included. HAILEY PETRUS: So I know that you mentioned that you were, as you said, friends with Diane Williams and friends with a lot of other black students on campus. So as a result of those friendships, what are some of the things that you, like, witnessed them go through, whether it&#039 ; s with other students, with administration, academically, just some of the, maybe, trials and hardships that you&#039 ; ve seen them go through as students at Muhlenberg? SKS: Well, there&#039 ; s a-- you know, when you are, when you sort of a-- an experiment, you always feel like the harsh light of a-- let&#039 ; s say a spotlight is on you, and I think that they all kind of felt like that. And I do know that they felt there was bias on campus toward them from some of the other students, some of the white students. And it was both frustrating for them and it angered them, which I could certainly understand. I mean, they were coming from the Bronx, from Manhattan, not necessarily from homes where there were advantages or a lot of money. And they came to be at Muhlenberg. And there were a number of white students who did come from families that had a lot of money. So. It was, I&#039 ; m sure, a time where they were feeling like they were odd man out and didn&#039 ; t have the same opportunities, and I know they came the summer before school so that they could receive tutoring. Some of them didn&#039 ; t have the same advantages as far as the ability to write well or to speak that well. And they had to learn all of that. Diane&#039 ; s mother was a single mother, and she sent Diane to Catholic school when she was very little, and she went all the way through a Catholic school, because her mother felt that she would get a much better education. And she did. She was very well spoken. Her writing was excellent. And I think that she, in turn, probably helped a lot of her friends at school. I know that she would spend time with them if they had papers to do, helping them to put them together. But it wasn&#039 ; t something that she went around and bragged about or talked about a lot. It was just something that she did. SB: I guess just thinking about, like, looking at your college experience as a whole, do you regret anything that happened or anything that you didn&#039 ; t do or did there? Was there anything, you think, that you wish you had done differently? SKS: I would say that because when we went to school, it was a different time than you&#039 ; ve experienced. We were still in the Vietnam War. We had lost our friends to the Vietnam War. We-- we were at Muhlenberg when they had the first drawing to-- to pick people to go to war. So I remember some, one of the kids, one of them, boys jumping out of a window on the third floor. It was a very raw time. I did not grow up in a family where we compared ourselves to others. I didn&#039 ; t grow up in a family where we were biased or prejudiced. I grew up in a family where if somebody or a family needed help, we provided it. It wasn&#039 ; t any kind of discussion about, well, we&#039 ; re not going to help that family because they are whatever. And I lived in a small town, but I knew that there were people there that I grew up with who were different than me. My experience at Muhlenberg wasn&#039 ; t necessarily very happy. I did not leave Muhlenberg feeling sad that I was leaving. I knew that my dad was very proud of me for having graduated from there. But, I didn&#039 ; t like (chuckle) Muhlenberg, and the lot of that has to do with who was the president at the time. And-- and I think although I had some very good professors, I also had some real jerks. And, the school continued to protect them, even though they should have been fired. So why, my friends, to this day, my really good friends, don&#039 ; t have a good memory of the school, don&#039 ; t like to support the school financially. And it&#039 ; s sad because things have changed and things are getting a lot better there. But that is, you know, that&#039 ; s the facts of the early 70s, the late 60s and the early 70s. People were very concerned about what was going on in the world, and we were going to a school that was extremely conservative and wasn&#039 ; t supporting, wouldn&#039 ; t take a stand on anything, we just wanted to sort of, be a centrist school in a world where all of the big colleges and universities were taking stands against the war and were either having peace rallies or going to Washington and marching or doing something proactive. And we were doing nothing. As one of my professors said we were a hotbed of tranquility and we were. We did ... you know, it was-- was a boring school as far as I was concerned. And here&#039 ; s something that you women will appreciate. My sophomore year when I came to school at the beginning of the fall semester, the boys from the frats would sit on the steps of what was then the library, which is now the administration building, and they had signs that they would hold up to grade us as we walked by. So, you would get, you know, one to ten and they would all hold up their signs and then they&#039 ; d, you know, give you the average as you walked by. So, I was so enraged by this that I made a whole bunch of the same kinds of signs and handed them out to my friends and other women that I didn&#039 ; t even know. And we sat on the steps and we did that to the men. And it stopped. But that&#039 ; s the kind of thing that we put up with. They would take us in buses over to Lehigh University for frat parties and drop us off there, or dances. They never-- they never came over to us. But we went to them like we were, you know. I don&#039 ; t know just bodies going, you know, to be, to entertain people. They were objectifying us. So, yeah, I was, I was glad to (chuckle) graduate (laugh). SUSAN FALCIANI MALDONADO: One of the things that I think we&#039 ; ve talked about a little bit, and I know that the students have some other questions, and we&#039 ; d like to follow up a little bit more on Diane herself, but if it, in terms of changes that Diane and others may have tried to make, like we talked a little bit on the phone about trying to have a house. What did they face in trying to make those changes or in trying to do activist things or founding the Association of Black Collegians? What-- was there-- were people receptive to that? Were there obstacles? And how important was that to them? SKS: Well, I know, as I told you, Diane told me that she was really annoyed by the fact that the German students had their own house. So if you were a German major, you could live there or if you were actually from Germany or had a German background, you could live in this house and they all supported one another and helped one another and had a great time. And Diane said to me, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t know, I don&#039 ; t understand this. They bring us in the experiment to see how we do. And we are not even put together as roommates necessarily in the dorms, much less having a house of our own, which would have been much nicer and made more sense so that we could support one another and help one another.&quot ; Socially, as I said before, some of the men, lot of the men were very good looking. And so you had a competition going on between the black women who found them attractive and white women who wanted to also be their dates or go out with them or whatever. So they found themselves vying for attention and dates from these men. And the women were there, the white women were their competition, which didn&#039 ; t make it easy for them to even want to be integrated or seek friendships with white women. So there were all these big chips on everybody&#039 ; s shoulders about that. And then black men found it great because they had double the attention and they could, you know, bounce one woman off on another to get even more attention. It was-- and I know, that they had been promised a full ride at Muhlenberg. And at some point, I don&#039 ; t remember what&#039 ; s-- what semester was or year, but at some point, the school said to them, well, we&#039 ; re thinking about dropping that agreement and charging you for room and board. Or charging you for everything for the semester. And they-- these students were furious, obviously, because the agreement was now off the table. How could they do that? And whose decision was it? Just the president&#039 ; s or was the dean of students going along with it? And we had a dean of women then, Dean Nugent, who was-- she was terrific, but she was an older woman. And I think she really tried to give them the support that they needed, but she was looking at retiring shortly, and I don&#039 ; t know that she wanted to jump into that fight with both guns blazing. I just don&#039 ; t think she wanted to. There weren&#039 ; t a lot of women on campus in positions of power. So they were probably treated rather harshly by the men who were in positions of power. The dean of students was a very good guy, but I don&#039 ; t know how much power he really had. HP: After college, we wanted to ask about, like, your continued relationship with Diane after college and kind of like, also, her post college experience, like some of the jobs she may have had and how you all&#039 ; s friendship and relationship continued to grow, furthering. SKS: After college, she went back to New York, and I know that she and Natalie [Francis Shannon-Jackson] and Collette [Crum-Coates] and, I don&#039 ; t know who else, but at least those three got very involved with Buddhism. And I would hear from her about looking for jobs. She wanted to be a writer. And I was kind of casting about looking for a job that I wanted to do. So we would, you know, we would write back and forth. &quot ; Have you had any luck? No, but I&#039 ; m doing this temporary job to pay my rent.&quot ; That kind of thing. And she then sent an invitation to my friend Janice and to me to come to New York to some ceremony that they were involved with, with Buddhism. And we didn&#039 ; t really understand what was going on. It was just this very short invitation. And we said we would come. So we drove up. It was in the morning and maybe it was on a weekend and we went to the ceremony. We didn&#039 ; t understand a whole lot about what the real goal of it was, but it was beautiful. And I know that she was very happy that we came. And afterward, I think, we went out and had lunch and then Janice and I left. But then, we, Diane and I, stayed in contact. She would send me things that she had written and things that she was going to have published and we would end up going someplace. It would be Diane and Janice and our friend Elaine and I going someplace together. So, yeah, we stayed in contact. But Diane was always casting about looking for the next better writing job, and it was very hard for her, very hard for her to get the job that she wanted. You know, she wanted to write for a great magazine or she didn&#039 ; t necessarily want to be a reporter for a newspaper. She wanted to be part of something to do with journalism. You have to understand also that when we went to Muhlenberg, drugs were a big deal (laugh). So often we would go to concerts together, all of us, three or four of us, and we&#039 ; d be stoned, or we&#039 ; d have taken Quaaludes. And, you know, we would be helping each other get to where we were going to go and getting back to our rooms. It was, if you asked my friend Elaine, she&#039 ; ll say she doesn&#039 ; t really remember very much about Muhlenberg because she was stoned all the time. And I think, you know, when you get to be as old as I am, you&#039 ; ll begin to understand (chuckle) that there are years in your life that sort of aren&#039 ; t as clear as some of the others. If I&#039 ; m not answering your questions, well, remind me what the question was. SFM: Well, you&#039 ; re doing it and we do want to be respectful of your time. And I think one question that just dawned on me, just for--for-- do you know if Diane has any? She didn&#039 ; t-- she didn&#039 ; t have children, right? SKS: She had a step, well, not even a stepdaughter. She was involved with a woman who had a child, a boy. I lie. It&#039 ; s a boy. I remember we were in Washington. All four of us were in Washington, D.C. and we were sitting at this neat restaurant outside. It was a nice day. We were sitting outside and we were all talking about relationships. And she had a relationship with this woman who she seemed very happy to be with. And she had a young boy. And Diane was spending a lot of time helping him because he had some emotional problems being raised by a single mom who is now in a lesbian relationship. And Diane was trying to help him with friends, with his friends and his, you know, his acquaintances at school who may be giving him a hard time. And she, at the same time, wanted to support him in sports and whatever he was involved with outside of school. So I think I just saw a real happiness in her that I hadn&#039 ; t seen before in the fact that she had this relationship with this young boy and she had taken him shopping and was buying him clothes. And it was fun for her, fun for her to spend time with, you know, a boy instead of all girls. And she was also very happy in her relationship. I think it took her a long time to either come forward and say that she was gay or to realize that she was gay. Because when we were in college, she had a big crush on one of the handsome black guys that everybody else had a crush on, too. And she was sort of heartbroken because he, you know, he was always just her friend. SFM: We-- we did-- we spoke with Natalie and Colette last Monday night, and they were-- they were great. SKS: I bet. SFM: They kept referring to-- to Larry Cameron, just not telling what I was thinking about, what I knew from you, just about that side of the story. But they just-- they just kept mentioning him over and over again. Well, he was done with this. SKS: He was just this gorgeous man who was also funny. Very, I thought, bright. And he-- he had this great smile and he was also dating this tall, great looking white woman who came from a family with a lot of money. And Natalie, and there&#039 ; s Diane with this crush on him, like following him around. And it was an odd situation. And at the same time, you could just see that he thought it was great (laugh). SFM: So, it is-- it is about to be 2:45. So we wanted to make sure that we let you go. And to say thank you. The students are, in addition to interviewing people, they&#039 ; re working on some digital projects that will be ready at the end of the semester to, kind of, reflect on different aspects of the different diversity initiatives and experiences then and now in Muhlenberg history. And I suspect, I mean, yes, we will be back in touch, probably over the summer. I hope-- may knock on, you know, whatever. I would love for you to come to campus and have lunch, you know, and Kate, Tony and I. SKS: I would love to spend more time with all of you. There&#039 ; s so much about Diane that is rich in-- I wish I could share more of her with you. She--she was a very bright star, and I felt that, I still do. So sad that she&#039 ; s not here anymore. SFM: I think if, if you feel moved to, I think we would love to do this again sometime or maybe in person, do it in a few months. SKS: Yes, I&#039 ; d love to. See, I&#039 ; m trying to dredge up pictures from, you know, when we were all at school together. And I-- I think I will be able to do that. SFM: That would be-- that would be fantastic. SFM: Does anybody else have any thoughts or like, closing moments? KATE RANIERI: Thanks very much. SKS: It&#039 ; s nice to meet you all. Thank you very much. Copyright remains with the interview subject and their heirs. video The interviews collected as part of the project &quot ; The History of Diversity and Inclusion at Muhlenberg College&quot ; are hereby shared with the consent of the participants under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0). Under this license, the interviewees have agreed for the interviews to be publicly available in the Trexler Library archives and as a freely available resource on the internet for educators, scholars, students, and others who wish to explore the many stories about Muhlenberg College’s path toward diversity and inclusion. 0

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“Sallie Keller Smith, April 12, 2021,” Muhlenberg College Oral History Repository, accessed November 29, 2022, https://trexlerworks.muhlenberg.edu/mc_oralhistory/items/show/81.