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Black community director helps keep community together
STANFORD -- To hear Barbara Smith describe it, Stanford University's African American commencement program this year had a special, almost holy feeling.
"We had more people in attendance than I have ever seen at any black graduation program," Smith said. "There were more than 800 people in Memorial Church; we even had people in the balconies."
Smith, acting assistant dean and director of the Black Community Services Center, said the best part "was when family representatives were given kinte cloth to drape around their graduates' necks. I get chills just talking about it."
Stanford bachelor's degrees were awarded this year to 130 African American students, along with 105 advanced degrees.
A year ago at commencement, Stanford's black community was in a state of shock. Assistant Dean Keith Archuleta, then head of the Black Community Services Center, had been arrested days earlier for secretly videotaping women students as they changed clothes for photo sessions in his campus apartment.
The subsequent yearlong search for Archuleta's replacement also proved to be unsettling for the black community, as first one candidate, and then a second, declined the offer.
Finally, in May, Dean of Students Michael Jackson announced that Smith - who held down the fort this year as assistant director - will lead the Black Community Services Center as acting director for the next two years, until another national search can be conducted.
"I didn't initially apply for the position because I wanted to see someone come and bring a sense of newness to the community," said Smith. "But when things didn't happen the way we had anticipated, I really wanted to make sure that the community had stability."
As it turned out, it wasn't such a bad year. In fact, she said, "it was a good year. We were still going through a healing process, but I was really proud of the students, the faculty and staff, because people really came together and were very supportive and helped whenever and wherever they were needed."
Smith grew up in Riverside, Calif., and came to Stanford in 1980 as an accounting assistant for the Associated Students of Stanford University. She joined the Black Community Services Center as office manager in 1988 and became assistant director in 1991.
This year, in addition to organizing the African American commencement ceremony and running the day-to-day operations of the Black Community Services Center, she was responsible for planning two major campus events back-to-back: Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week festivities in January and programs for Black Liberation month in February.
She also served as an adviser and an advocate for black students with the administration, oversaw the production of the center's quarterly newsletter, The Grapevine, and helped to coordinate the center's community service project, pairing Stanford student mentors with students from Menlo-Atherton High School.
"Normally," she said, "when you get thrown into a position like this, you're nervous and you don't know what to expect. But even though the amount of work was a little overwhelming, the programs were very successful. It's been a tough year, but I'm really proud of the accomplishments that we've made. Everybody participated in the healing process."
Smith has begun her own search for an assistant director, whom she hopes to have in place by Sept. 1.
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