Professor Henry Smart III Becomes a 2019 ELEVATE Fellow

Professor Henry Smart III Becomes a 2019 ELEVATE Fellow

Professor Henry Smart III Becomes a 2019 ELEVATE Fellow

Several early-career faculty working at Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) are getting a boost in their professional development. Through the ELEVATE (Enriching Learning, Enhancing Visibility and Training Educators) Fellowship, educators, like John Jay’s very own Henry Smart III, Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Management, will take part in a program meant to support and promote life-long learning, and increase the educational contributions of MSIs. “The opportunity to apply to ELEVATE was brought to my attention by a member of the leadership team here at John Jay. After reading the program description, I knew I had to apply,” said Smart. “ELEVATE supports the notion that it requires a certain skillset to teach at a Minority Serving Institution, and they will provide me with the necessary skills to teach here. I take great pride in knowing that I am helping to cultivate the next wave of caretakers of our society. And, I take even greater pride in knowing that our students will add an element of diversity to the public sector.”

“I take great pride in knowing that I am helping to cultivate the next wave of caretakers of our society.” — Henry Smart III

While Smart has found his home as a professor at John Jay, his career didn’t start off in the classroom. After graduating high school, he left his home in Jacksonville, Florida, for the U.S. Marine Corps. After 15 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps and National Guard, Smart knew it was time to follow his destiny and pursue higher education. “For a large portion of my life, I have taught in some form or another. I knew I would eventually end up teaching in higher education, but I wanted to explore more practical opportunities. The shift was a gradual decision and the seeds were planted well over two decades ago,” said Smart.

After getting his Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Affairs at Virginia Tech, Smart became a professor at John Jay. At the College, Smart has been conducting research on colorism and its influence on administrative decisions, narratives related to policy agreements, and the intersection of the presidential pork barrel and disaster preparedness. We spoke with Smart to learn more about his research on colorism, teaching at John Jay, and what it means to be an ELEVATE fellow.

What inspired you to research colorism? 
Colorism is a form of racism that is centered on the disparate treatment based on perceptions of skin color. I noticed that inmates of African descent were more likely to be dark-skinned. This is not to say that there aren’t inmates of African descent with light skin. However, it appears that dark-skin individuals are more predominate within this population. This observation aligned with my previous knowledge about colorism, so I decided to focus my dissertation on this concern, but within the context of local policing. I recently published an article on colorism that proposes a conceptual model of how this phenomenon might occur within public organizations. I followed the notion that the decisions of public servants could be influenced by colorism, and I presented my argument in a recent article that was published in Social Justice Research.

What was it about John Jay College that made you want to teach here?
I was deeply impacted by the shooting death of Sean Bell. After his death, I had a chance to commune with his family. The residue of his life unsettled my life and how I viewed law enforcement. I became a critic of police officers. However, at some point, I knew I would need to insert myself versus critiquing from the outside. When I was applying for professorships, I looked for institutions where my research on local policing would be supported. My interview with John Jay faculty left me with the impression that my ideas would be challenged but supported. I was impressed with the diversity of the student body and excited by the idea of having some general commonalities that could enhance the learning exchange. After the warm welcome by the faculty, I knew that this was an ideal environment for me.  

Henry Smart

“I was impressed with the diversity of the student body and excited by the idea of having some general commonalities that could enhance the learning exchange.”—Henry Smart III

Was there a teacher that inspired you to become a professor?
I had several negative experiences with teachers during my childhood. One teacher sat me in the back of the class and ignored me whenever I tried to participate. I think most of these experiences had something to do with the era I grew up in and being raised in the south where some people were stuck in the mindset that black people had little to offer. These negative experiences left a bad taste in my mouth and I began to avoid interaction with teachers. It wasn’t until my last year in high school when I met Mrs. Castro, who taught chorus. She was set on breaking me out of my shell. I knew I loved music, but I was definitely not a great singer. Under her tutelage, that changed. I fought her encouragement and she fought right back. I attribute my ability to apply myself to her demand for excellence.

What type of courses do you teach at John Jay?
I currently teach an undergraduate and graduate course on policy analysis. Policy analysis is an opportunity to improve service delivery and public outcomes. I am drawn to this subject area because it has the propensity to equip students with the skills and abilities to detect and address unethical behavior. It brings me great satisfaction when I see my students demonstrating that they have absorbed the material and can apply it to the outside world.

“If justice is just for a few groups, it is not actual justice.”—Henry Smart III

You’ve been named a 2019 ELEVATE Fellow at the Penn Center for MSIs. How will this fellowship help with your professional development?
ELEVATE provides workshops on topics like work-life-balance. I started working at John Jay last semester and I have yet to strike the right balance between work projects and my personal life. I find myself spending more time working on projects that benefit others, but the projects are a detriment to my personal time. It is my hope that the ELEVATE fellowship will provide me with the tools I need to overcome this predicament. I also anticipate that I will bolster my network with new people who are facing similar challenges. ELEVATE will provide me with the necessary skillset to produce MSI-related research that will add the voice of minorities to the conversation and offer our students the chance to diversify the public sector.

John Jay is a College focused on justice. How does teaching play a role in pushing the needle forward on justice issues?
Educators plant seeds. In my current role, I am able to affect change for generations to come. I am critical of how the justice system treats vulnerable populations, such as brown and black people, the mentally ill, and the LGBTQ community. One way to address these concerns is to expose my students to a set of values that run counter the current disparities in our justice outcomes. I believe that we can achieve equitable justice, at least more so than we have in the past. There is a need for crime control, but we must make sure that in our pursuit for safety that we don't endanger the lives of vulnerable populations. If justice is just for a few groups, it is not actual justice. It would just be one more way that privilege is expressed in our society.

What advice would you give to students who might be considering a career as a professor?
Gather some experience in the world of work. This will add value to your delivery of course content. Also, question your motives before you fully commit to the grooming process. If your self-inventory has a tinge of self-centeredness, you may want to rethink your decision. Quite a bit of what “professing” entails is for the betterment of others. Your aim should be to make a positive impact in the lives of others. I would tell them that the road to securing a professorship is a tough journey. So, be sure to surround yourself with people who will support your aspirations and keep you grounded before and after you attain a doctoral degree.