T. Shá Duncan Smith: Empathy Through Meaningful Connections

T. Shá Duncan Smith has over 18 years of experience developing and implementing strategic plans and initiatives to promote diverse, equitable and inclusive cultures for students, faculty and staff. She has taught courses on leading during racial crises, accountability, and incentivization for advancing equity goals at the University of Southern California Race & Equity Center Equity Institutes, where she is also senior strategist for their Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance. She was previously director of diversity and inclusion at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and before that was intercultural programs manager for the University of Michigan’s Center for Global and Intercultural Study and coordinator of diversity initiatives and academic support for the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.


After a long hiatus, the VOSC crew finally returns with an amazing guest, the new VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion here at SCU, T. Shá Duncan Smith. In this episode, we discuss how Shá’s childhood influenced her career path, key lessons she’s learned during her 12+ years at the University of Michigan, significant measures of success in the DEI space, the most fulfilling aspects of her career, the factors that led to her interest in SCU, and goals she would like to achieve at our university within the next 1-3 years.

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Interview Highlights

0:38 - To begin, I’m curious to learn more about what motivated you to pursue this career. Could you tell us about your hometown, childhood, and how these experiences formulated your passion for this work?

3:00 - How has the skill of meeting new people and creating relationships contributed to your success during the first few years of your career?

4:25 - You held several roles at the University of Michigan for over 12 years, what were some of the key lessons you learned during this time that helped build your higher education foundation?

7:50 - What are some things that really drive you to do good for others despite the lack of recognition? What drives you to help folks behind the scenes?

10:15 - In that same vein, with this vast experience in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, what are the most significant measures of success for you in this role? How do you gauge impact?

14:30 - With the history of working for a few different colleges, have you noticed/experienced any difference in regards to the DEI initiatives of universities in varying geographic locations? If so, what differentiates them? (Ex, West Coast, Midwest, etc)

17:23 - What are some of the challenges in this space and how do you approach mitigating risk?

19:15 - On the flipside, what are some of the most fulfilling moments working in DEI?

21:48 - As someone who has spent many years in academia, we are curious to learn about the driving factors that led you to be interested in this brand new role at Santa Clara University?

26:19 - With a role that holds so much importance for the future of the university, what are some goals/objectives that you would like to accomplish within the next 1-3 years?

32:23 - VOSC custom questions.