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The 2022 Women of UD

Alexandra Smith

Alexandra Smith



Shortly after stepping into her role as the assistant director of fraternity and sorority life in 2018, Alexandra Smith put the wheels in motion to bring national recognition to the University of Dayton’s chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council in a most visible way. A series of 10 stone monuments, one for each of the nine historically black fraternities and sororities on campus, and one for the national organization itself, now grace the NPHC Legacy Terrace outside Kennedy Union. But as Smith thinks about the nearly three years that elapsed between the idea and the installation – derailed until September of 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic – she recognizes the opportunity she was given to help students grapple and cope with the delays and disappointments that are part of life. “It took strength to say to the students ‘it’s going to get done when it’s going to get done.’ I relied on creativity and innovation.” Smith focused her attention on ways to keep the energy up for the eventual arrival of the monuments by engaging the students to make videos, to get together and talk about how excited they were going to be when the day finally arrived, to discuss how they wanted the program to look.

Throughout the wait, Smith was keen to cherish the relationships she was forging with these student leaders. During the dedication ceremony, she was humbled to hear a student speaker say, “If it wasn’t for Alexandra, the monuments wouldn’t be here.” Smith discounts the singular credit, but admits she was “in the back crying my makeup off. It was a moment I’ll never forget.” She says she has made it a life habit to “give people their flowers while they can still smell them. And I told my students shortly after the event, ‘if I never get another flower, you have given me enough flowers in this one weekend to last a lifetime.’ ”

Smith is quick to give out credit, as well, and believes the strength and humility that has helped her adapt to the uncertainties of the past couple of years come from watching her mother navigate life. Smith’s maternal grandmother died when Smith’s mother was just 23, and her maternal grandfather died on Smith’s 6th birthday. “Being able to see my mom live most of her life without her parents to go to, and then to decide to go back to school when I’m in college so that she can live out her dream of being a teacher, that inspires me. I have to give credit for the strength I carry, the courage, the ability to take risks, to my mother.” She also realizes her mother’s influence on her own ability to adapt to trying circumstances. Recently, her mother battled breast cancer, and although the family is relieved to have received good reports from the treatment team, the ups and downs and all the unknowns were trying for her mother, as well as Smith, but “we adapted. I don’t think I tell her that enough, but the development of who I am as a person, the caringness and the ability to love despite circumstance, even when it’s hard, I get that from my mom. And that is something that I pray and hope I pass on to my students.”

She sees “loving despite hard circumstance” as the Marianist principle that also will help the University of Dayton emerge from this time of uncertainty, and continue to be “the light on the hill” not only for this area, but for the state of Ohio and the Midwest. She recognizes the enormity of mission, however, because while institutions, and especially historically white institutions, might talk about forward-moving change, they also like the comfort of not changing “all the way, because that’s not how we used to do things.” She believes that for UD to be the light that will help our region heal from the impacts of racial injustices and the disparate harm from the pandemic, the University must take to heart the inclusion part of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Although Smith is encouraged when each year brings “the most diverse group of students in UD history, that’s the diversity part. I think we struggle in the inclusion part. How do we support not just our black and our brown students, but our students who come from low socio-economic statuses, or students who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. One office can’t be the place where all of that is fixed. We have to change that within all of our offices.”

Smith believes she is an effective change agent, and likes the parallel between her role on campus and the meaning of her name: “The helper of mankind.” She sees this most in the first-year students. “Their focus is on being out in the student neighborhood and all these other things, then they get into their (Greek) organization and want to become a leader in their organization. Then they have to truly deal with me.” Smith can see first-hand the shift in the way students who aspire to leadership think. “I know that the work that I do is important because I see the change in the senior who came in here as a freshman, and through their leadership development, they’ve done a complete 180. So that is my hope. They are amazing leaders who will reach beyond the boundaries of UD.”