The Lives We Lead: KP Perkins ’85

Every alumna who comes back to Smith for Reunion has a story to tell. In this series alumnae reflect on the experiences that have shaped their lives since graduation.

KP Perkins 85Major: French and African American studies

House: Baldwin, then Dawes

Junior year: Paris

Hometown then: Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Now: Chicago, DC, Cherry Hill

Career: Higher education, international development

What I discovered: Coming to Smith was my “aha” moment because it was the first time I had been exposed to the variations within my own culture, to “my” history. My background was different than that of most of my peers. They had grandparents who had been slaves, who had a history of segregation and oppression. My grandparents were voluntary immigrants from the Caribbean, and my parents were first-generation Americans. I wanted to add ethnic studies and triple major.

Trying it all: I had a hunger to find out about things. I wanted to read everything. I tried everything: photography and film and acting in plays. I wrote poetry for Alliance, a journal for students of color. I danced with the Celebrations dance troupe. I DJed for WOZQ.

Life after Smith: I went to UC Berkley intending to become a professor of ethnic studies and teach at the college level. I had already started my dissertation when I was recruited by Gallaudet University to head up their multicultural students’ program. I had been exposed to sign language as a child, and was intrigued by deaf culture. I was there thirteen years, then moved to international development. Recently, I returned from a two-year contract coordinating disability services in Papua, New Guinea, with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

What Smith taught me: As a woman, and as a woman of color, I was encouraged and affirmed. I believe I can do whatever I want. My professors always encouraged us to see how high we could fly. There’s nothing you can’t do, is what they told us. Intellectually, emotionally, they taught me to have an open mind and gave me the tools to succeed. They are the reason I wanted to be a professor, so that I could be the kind of mentor they had been to me.

Memorable words: Beverly Sills was our Commencement speaker. I remember her talking about how challenging it is for women, how they think they have to do it all, motherhood, a career. How you can do it, but there’s a price to pay. I could definitely relate to that.

Fall ’10 SAQ