"The True Grinnelian" returns to campus
On Thursday, October 28, 2021, Mrs. Renfrow Smith returned to Grinnell College for the opening of "The True Grinnellian: An exhibition to honor Edith Renfrow Smith '37." Curated by Feven Getachew '24, the exhibition included 12 enlarged photograps from Mrs. Renfrow Smith's family album. In addition, three display cases housed images of Mrs. Renfrow Smith from her 1932 Grinnell High School and 1934 Grinnell College yearbooks, as well as a certificate signed by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin of his July 2021 Congressional Record tribute to her.
Students, faculty, staff, and community members in attendance eagerly took in the visual display of Mrs. Renfrow Smith's life, which retraced her biography -- from her origins in the Renfrow family through her 2019 honorary doctorate -- in powerful images.
The exhibition set the stage for the official re-dedication of the Edith Renfrow Smith '37 Student Art Gallery, a ceremony that included the installation of a new plaque whose text Feven Getachew '24 wrote. In addition to providing a biography of the namesake, the plaque connects Mrs. Renfrow Smith's values to that of the space:
The Edith Renfrow Smith '37 Student Art Gallery is a space for Grinnell's past and present. With floorboards taken from the old Darby Gym, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed the campus in 1967, the Gallery is a tribute to Edith’s love of the arts and encourages students to engage in self-expression in the service of inclusive community and social justice.
In her spoken remarks, Ms. Getachew elaborated her reasons for naming the exhibition, "The True Grinnellian":
I believe all Grinnellians try to uphold at least five core values during their time as students and beyond. Those values are compassion, modesty, helpfulness, optimism, and civic mindedness.... Edith Renfrow Smith is one of the Grinniellians who has embodied the core values, and she continues to carry them beyond Grinnell, into the world. I am inspired by her accomplishments and contributions to the communities she lives in whether it is here in Grinnell or in Chicago. I aspire to reiterate her legacy, and for this reason, I organized 'The True Grinnellian' exhibition.
As she opened the re-dedication, Dr. Tamara Beauboeuf, the Louise R. Noun chair in Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies, addressed Mrs. Renfrow Smith's significance and legacy as a Grinnellian:
Although you tell us that attending Grinnell was just following your dream, we all know and celebrate you for paving a way where none existed. You are the first, and you have made it possible for so many others to imagine themselves here.
President Anne Harris spoke to Mrs. Renfrow Smith's place in the College's collective biography.
"The word 'dedication' is related in language to ideas of 'devotion' and 'consecration' and I invite us all today, to dedicate ourselves to ... understand, to feel, and to honor the impact of Mrs. Renfrow Smith’s legacy, and the centrality of Black student experience, in the history of Grinnell..... All of us gathered today, all of us who walk through this meaningful space, are delegates of the legacy of Mrs. Renfrow Smith. May that be an honored and cherished responsibility for all of us."
Radiating her characteristic warmth, grace, and humor, Mrs. Renfrow Smith engaged many attendees in intergenerational conversations about life and being Grinnellians. Read an account of her visit in the Scarlet & Black campus newspaper here.