Ariyana Smith Encourages Students To Question Where They Stand

The Center for Women’s Studies lounge in East Hall was filled to capacity on Tuesday, January 19. Student athlete and activist at Knox College Ariyana Smith sat at the front of the room as students and faculty ate their lunches and prepared for the talk. Smith was here as part of the MLK Week series that Colgate hosted.

Instead of delving straight into her talk, Smith asked everybody in the audience to turn to the people around them and introduce themselves to emphasize the importance of sharing stories with each other. 

“I want this to be not so much a formal gathering. I want us to capitalize on what we have here,” Smith said. 

As everyone introduced each other, conversations ensued that Smith asked

people to share. She explained that this type of interaction would give us insight into where we come from and also where we should go. 

Smith began the conversation by describing how being historically grounded would impact our ways of being, and that there is a power and a consciousness in being able to recognize this. She then went on to discuss the power of inclusion in all aspects, and how that has been influenced, especially in the millennial generation, by systemic violence. Smith used the killing of Michael Brown as an example, and explained how such incidents really affect our generation. There’s a disconnect between the races when these things happen. When white people see it, they see a stranger. When black and brown bodies see it, they see their sons, brothers, nephews, etc.

To stress the importance of student activism, Smith spoke briefly about her stand out during the national anthem at a basketball game against Fontebonne University in Clayton, Missouri, the same place where the grand jury came to its unpopular decision about the Ferguson case. This resulted in her suspension from the team. Though she was the only one punished, Smith spoke about how she was not alone. She had the support of her team and of her college. 

Smith also discussed how looking for a clear-cut solution is the wrong approach to solving this problem. When asked about how to overcome the obvious divide at Colgate and other campuses, Smith explained that self-awareness was an important aspect. 

“I think there’s been a hyperfocus on the solution, a hyperfocus on what is the end result of this, and not enough attention is paid to what is the process. How am I inhabiting this space? Why is there a disconnect between you and I?” Smith said. “There needs to be an awareness of where you are.”

First-year Kendall Ferguson shared her reaction. 

“I think she made really good points, and I have a new awareness now. She would say something, and I thought it was really inspiring of her to step out the way she did,” Ferguson said. 

It takes an act as impressionable as what Smith did to impact change.