Education dean favors diverse approaches

Kimberly White-Smith became the Dean of the newly named LaFetra College of Education in 2016. She began her career while attending UC Berkeley, where she worked for a non-profit organization that helped low income and minority students gain higher education. White-Smith has been an educator most of her life and has a library to show for it. /Kathleen Arellano
Kimberly White-Smith became the Dean of the newly named LaFetra College of Education in 2016. She began her career while attending UC Berkeley, where she worked for a non-profit organization that helped low income and minority students gain higher education. White-Smith has been an educator most of her life and has a library to show for it. / photo by Kathleen Arellano

Humberto Fabian
Staff Writer

In her first six months serving as dean of the LaFetra College of Education, Kimberly White-Smith has devoted her time to setting forth the college’s revamped mission statement.

Growing up in foster care and seeing the struggles her brother with special needs had to go through with the education system led White-Smith to dedicate her career to helping underprivileged students.

Recently White-Smith sat down for an interview to discuss changes implemented since she started at the University, as well as her vision for the future.

What attracted you to ULV and drew you to apply for the position as dean of the LaFetra College of Education?

My career has been built on the tenants of social equity for all students. My whole life I have been acutely aware of the inequities that students in inner cities and rural areas have to overcome in order to get a positive or a quality education in the public school system.

When I saw the University of La Verne and I read about the mission and the 20/20 vision of the University and they’re embracing difference and diversity, that is very unique.

There’s a lot of potential here, the students receive a high quality education, you have more access to faculty—that creates an amazing experience to students.

What has been your main focus since your time here serving as Dean?

So at the LaFetra College of Education, I have been leading us through a whole strategic planning process where we are envisioning who we are with the new name of the college.

We wanted to restructure who we are, we wanted a new vision statement that expresses or really mirrors who we are, what we are about and what we are doing. We wanted a mission and statement that also reflected our students in all of the places that also have our education programs.

LaFetra College of Education will lead the national conversation on advancing the careers of professionals and scholars who are highly competed advocates for equity and justice.

We have a new secretary of education that doesn’t really know anything about public education, teacher education, special education, and so we really need to develop in all aspects.

What can students expect under your leadership?

They can expect that I am a student advocate, that I am accessible and in fact, we’re going to be having a dean’s town hall with the student union this week where I will be on a panel.

I try to be accessible to students, I listen to students and provide feedback for my programs and for my faculty. Student centeredness is important for me, students are what drive the mission, the vision, and the programming.

Was there a teacher/faculty that inspired you? If so, how did he/she do this?

I grew up in foster care. I had really amazing foster parents who I called mom and dad, but they died when I was relatively young and so from 16 on I was emancipated, but I still went to private school.

So my college advisor basically sat me down and told me that despite my high GPA and my high SAT test cores, that people like me didn’t go to college and that she would help me try to enroll in cosmetology school.

I wasn’t interested in anything that had to do with cosmetology but there was another advisor that overheard the conversation and she said, “come and talk to me.” I would meet with her every week and she would help me fill out college applications.

I had a best friend who was a peer college counselor at another school who would help me apply to the UCs, and it was through that support through my best friend and through this other college adviser and she cared enough to go out of her way to see that an injustice was made and to correct it, that set an example for me.

Your work has had a significant focus on minorities and low-income students. Why were you drawn to this, and how would you like to influence that element in LaFetra College of Education?

Being a minority, having been a foster kid and the experiences with my brother is what kind of got me on track to understanding, why does this happen, what is racism, what is sexism, and to kind of grapple with that in my career.

I developed GE classes for that, for instance, quality education as a constitutional right which is an organization that was founded by Bob Moses, who was a part of the civil rights movement. I taught a class on the history of civil rights and education and how education has played such a major roll in the changing of America’s racial climate in general.

I think that we are uniquely positioned being a minority serving institution in a private institution, so we’re not bound by the same rules and regulations that a public university might be bound by.

We have the potential to really do so some good work in the areas to be an advocate, to develop support to the students, to give a voice for the voiceless, but also, to be a partner.

In what folks are going through now; the fear of having your parents or even yourself deported from a country that you have grown up in since you were six months old, I can’t imagine what that feels like and how that might impede your desire or motivation to engage in the education process.

If there is anything that we can do to figure out, let’s have a conversation, about what ways can we come together to solve these problems.

Give us a glimpse of who Dean White-Smith is outside the office. Where would people most likely find you when you’re not at work?

Everyone who knows me knows the most important element in my life is my daughter Chloe.

She is also a cognitive divergent learner, she experiences dyslexia, and I have learned so much from her.

She has been very affected by what has been going on in the world right now and especially in the United States.

She woke up the other morning and she goes, “Mommy I just want everyone to look and see the other person’s light because if we see their light then we know who that person really is.”

I love that she thinks differently because she is able to problem solve outside the box in ways that I could never.

This last weekend we went snow boarding. I’ve skied for many years, but it was my first time snow boarding and I got really familiar with Mother Earth and being on the ground a lot.

You’ll see me with her a lot, volunteering at her school or doing events and activities with her.

Some other things that I like to…yoga, and I like to meditate. One of the meditations that I love to do is envision myself in a ball of white light because negativity cannot penetrate with light.

Humberto Fabian can be reached at humberto.fabian@laverne.edu.

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