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William A. Smith receives Distinguished Professor Designation

William Smith

The College of Education announces the appointment of William A. Smith as a Distinguished Professor, a prestigious honor recognizing his outstanding contributions to academia and his dedication to teaching.

Smith is the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair in the School of Medicine, chief executive administrator of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, professor and former chair of Education, Culture & Society and professor of Ethnic Studies. He is the only African American in the history of the University of Utah to achieve this distinction and only the second person in the College of Education.

The Distinguished Professor Advisory Committee, along with the University's Board of Trustees, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Mitzi Montoya, and President Taylor Randall, selected Smith for this esteemed recognition. A ceremony honoring his achievement will occur at the university-wide commencement scheduled for Thursday, May 2, 2024.

The rank of Distinguished Professor is reserved for individuals whose accomplishments exemplify the highest standards of scholarship, as evidenced by recognition from peers with national and international acclaim, coupled with a demonstrated commitment to exceptional teaching recognized by students and colleagues alike. Professor Smith's Distinguished Professor designation is a testament to his remarkable contributions to academia and his career-long commitment to advancing equity in education. His pioneering work has significantly enriched our academic community, and we are proud to celebrate his historic achievement. 

Just over 20 years ago, Professor Smith coined the groundbreaking academic concept of “racial battle fatigue,” an internationally renowned framework that gives voice to psychophysiological symptoms experienced by people of color living in historically white spaces. Smith has described the framework as “a systemic racism-related repetitive stress injury.”

Today, “the number of national and international universities, professional organizations, and corporations that draw on Professor Smith’s scholarship in creating their own resources to address racial trauma is extensive,” said Nancy Butler Songer, inaugural associate provost of STEM education and former dean of the College of Education. “Nearly every week, Professor Smith’s work is referenced, discussed or part of an interview in local, national or international media. This kind of impact is exceptional. It brings exceptional visibility and recognition to the College of Education and the university” as a whole.

“Dr. Smith’s contributions have been key in defining the University of Utah as a cutting-edge institution for research and practice in racial and mental health education issues,” said Frankie Santos Laanan, dean of the College of Education. “His scholarly influence has created a ripple effect, extending from Utah to the broader academic and professional communities worldwide. His work enriches the academic milieu and serves as a practical guide for education and medical practitioners and policymakers within the College of Education, the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, the School of Medicine, the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, and the broader healthcare and educational sectors.”

“What a life it leads,” Kathryn Bond Stockton said of Smith’s racial battle fatigue framework. Stockton is a Distinguished Professor of English and former inaugural dean of the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, where Smith holds a joint appointment as faculty. Stockton noted the “ongoing, spreading, newly emergent extensions of [Smith’s] scholarship,” its growing impact and its “swifter and deeper” influence.

“The propensity for research to matter — hold sway — in the porous domains beyond our campus is what it’s all about. Sometimes this influence seeps slowly, sometimes it floods. The work of William Smith is at its flooding stage. Where a stimulating, moving, world-changing pressuring of ideas is needed, you will find Professor Smith,” Stockton said.

Professor Smith’s impact indeed extends far beyond the classroom, inspiring countless students and colleagues to advocate for transformation and inclusivity. In addition to his many roles, now including Distinguished Professor, Smith serves as a co-creator of a proposed center to advance research and initiatives aimed at fostering a more equitable and inclusive campus community.

Dr. Smith serves as the primary spokesperson for “Love, Your Mind” a national anti-stigma campaign launched in October 2023 by Huntsman Mental Health Institute and the Ad Council. The campaign features an interactive website, partnerships and PSA’s designed to resonate with the millions of U.S. adults, including Black and Hispanic men who experience mental health challenges while also holding attitudes and beliefs that my discourage them from seeking help. “Dr. Smith’s leadership work on the campaign is profound. His ability to empower audiences is unparalleled”, Dr. Mark Rapaport, CEO, Huntsman Mental Health Institute said of Smith’s commitment to the institute’s mission to end stigma.

Smith's appointment as a Distinguished Professor marks a historic milestone for the University of Utah and the College of Education. Please join us in congratulating Professor Smith on this well-deserved honor.

Last Updated: 5/9/24