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Samara Smith pairs education with service and advocacy

Smith serves on Designing DePaul’s Black Equity Initiative Committee

Samara Smith
DePaul senior Samara Smith is currently studying abroad in Mérida, Mexico this winter quarter while participating virtually on DePaul's Black Equity Initiative committee. (Photo courtesy of Samara Smith)
​​While studying abroad in southern Mexico, DePaul senior Samara Smith still finds time to log onto Zoom for regular meetings with Designing DePaul’s Black Equity Initiative Committee​. In between studying the humanities, volunteering at an after-school program with her fellow DePaul classmates and living with a host family in the city of Mérida, Smith is contributing to the committee’s strategic plan. Together, the group is working to plan out the support and work needed to achieve equity for Black students, faculty and staff.

“DePaul formalizing their commitment to stand in solidarity with the concerns of Black students, faculty and staff was just something I felt compelled to be part of,” Smith says.

Set to graduate this June with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in history, Smith is already working on her master’s degree in education through the College of Education’s TEACH Program​, which will allow her to receive a secondary teaching license from the State of Illinois.

Following graduation, Smith plans to work in education policy. First, she will first spend time teaching in a Chicago Public Schools classroom. “My philosophy is that if you’re going to work in education policy, you should first have experience in the classroom,” she says.

Amplifying Students’ Voices Across Campus

One goal of DePaul’s Black Equity Initiative is to transform the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff on campus through positive and successful outcomes that highlight, support, retain and foster success. Smith has already been doing this work as part of DePaul’s Student Government Association, serving as the Senator for Intercultural Awareness as a junior before becoming the Community Engagement Coordinator this year.

“My goal in being on SGA was to represent marginalized communities on campus and bring more visibility to their issues and needs,” Smith says.

As part of the BEI Committee, Smith raises awareness about DePaul’s resources. “How do we create spaces for students to feel comfortable and gather? How do we make sure students know about and find places like the Black Cultural Center?” she asks. “And how do we expand the resources we have now? Building community for all groups is important. It’s nice to see faculty and administration allowing students to be on these kinds of committees and contribute.”

Commitment to Community and Education Come Full Circle

Smith’s interest in education and community goes back to her childhood. She grew up in Chicago’s Roseland Pullman neighborhood, attended Chicago Public Schools — Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park — and chose DePaul for the smaller class sizes and the opportunity to interact and build relationships with her professors.

Early on, she realized how much education meant to her. “I believe in a society where the center of community is education,” she says.

In high school, Smith attended After School Matters, a program designed to inspire Chicago’s teens to discover their passions, develop skills for life beyond high school, and make friends along the way. She took classes in creative writing and learned how to garden in Grant Park. Since 2022, she is back with After School Matters as an Executive Office intern.

DePaul faculty recognize Smith for bringing leadership and insights into the classroom.

“Samara helped elevate discussions and other students’ learnings,” says Valentina Tikoff, an associate professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences who has taught Smith in multiple courses. “She helped foster a learning environment where students took ideas and work seriously — one that was also supportive and open to multiple ideas and perspectives expressed in respectful and constructive ways.”

This past summer, Smith received a Social Transformation Research Collaborative Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which allows rising juniors or seniors affiliated with the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences to pursue humanities research on some aspect of the histories and cultures of people of color, in the U.S. or in diaspora. Smith analyzed Beyoncé’s visual album, “Lemonade,” and researched its Haitian Vodou elements.

“Samara is a rare student who is motivated by a deep intellectual curiosity. This is demonstrated by her participation in numerous opportunities including the STRC Summer Institute and the McNair Program,” says Ashley Stone, the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in DePaul’s African and Black Diaspora Studies department who worked with Smith during the STRC Summer Institute.

“Her scholarship — which is focused in part on popular culture — not only has value in the academy, but also for broader audiences, and examines the relationship between art and the identity development of consumers. I am excited to see what she does next.”

Learn more about the Black Equity Initiative on the Designing DePaul website.​​​