The college has appointed Smita Ruzicka as the new vice president for student affairs (VPSA). The position has remained vacant since the previous VPSA, Baishakhi Taylor, left in April 2020.
Along with overseeing the student affairs division, Health and Wellness and Public Safety, Ruzicka will be responsible for “removing systemic barriers and building new structures that will enable all of Middlebury's students to thrive.”
“At the end of the day, my biggest goal is for each and every student to feel like they belong and are valued,” Ruzicka said.
A core part of her job as vice president for student affairs will be to improve diversity, equity and inclusion on campus and incorporate restorative practices into student affairs. Ruzicka’s own experiences as an Indian immigrant have left her committed to championing racial justice efforts in higher education.
Coming to the U.S. for the first time as an international college student, Ruzicka often found herself alone as the only South Asian woman in the room. She took on the added burden of having to teach those around her about racism while simultaneously dealing with the “emotional trauma” of its effects.
“College shouldn't be something that you just sort of survive. You should thrive,” she said. “And so many times, especially our underrepresented students are coming to institutions of higher education and don't feel safe on those campuses. [They] barely survive and leave those institutions with additional trauma.”
Ruzicka plans to spend the fall semester getting to know as many students as possible, attending sporting events, performances and hanging out in residential and dining halls. She hopes to form a bridge between administrators and students to address students’ needs and help them mold Middlebury into the institution they want.
“I try not to speak for students, but with students,” Ruzicka said. “ And part of that has been really thinking about how to bring students to the table for important institutional decisions in whatever space I've been in.”
Ruzicka comes to Middlebury with 18 years of experience in student-life administration. She previously served as dean of student life at Johns Hopkins University, where she was responsible for “a wide portfolio of services and programs aimed to enhance the overall student experience,… [including] student leadership and involvement, diversity and inclusion, health and wellness, residential life, crisis management and support services.”
Prior to that, she was assistant vice president for campus life at Tulane University. There, she oversaw new student orientations, student organization management, sorority and fraternity life, student government, campus-wide programming and leadership development among other responsibilities. While serving in various leadership positions within the student dean’s office, Ruzicka earned her PhD in higher education administration at the University of Texas at Austin.
Ruzicka earned masters in counseling psychology from Texas State University and worked as a therapist for YEARS, Her experience in mental health continues to inform her work as an administrator, work that is animated by her desire to form relationships with the students around her.
Ruzicka chose to come to Middlebury after pandemic isolation inspired her to reflect on her life and career. She recalled her own experiences as an undergraduate at Trinity University, a small liberal arts college in Texas. The school president at the time knew many of the students by name and frequently invited students over to her house for meals. Ruzicka realized she too wanted to work at a college small enough for such intimacy to be possible, and Middlebury seemed the perfect fit.
“I want it to be in a place where I could really have the opportunity to truly get to know as many students as possible not just by name, but by their stories, by their experiences,” Ruzicka said.
Ruzicka describes herself as an optimist, a huge foodie who can’t cook, a practical joker, and a lover of the theater. She often bursts into song when the mood strikes her; these days she and her four-year-old son enjoy belting out Beyonce’s “Who Run the World” or U2’s “It’s a beautiful day.” She smiles often and widely.
Ruzicka has never visited Vermont and has yet to taste a maple creemee, but she hopes to put down roots and make Middlebury a home for her and her family.
Sophia McDermott-Hughes ’23 is an editor at large.
They previously served as a news editor and senior news writer.
McDermott-Hughes is a joint anthropology and Arabic major and Spanish minor.
Over the summer, they worked as a general assignment reporter at statewide digital newspaper VTDigger, focusing on issues relating to migrant workers and immigration.
In 2018 and 2019, McDermott-Hughes worked as a reporter on the Since Parkland Project, a partnership with the Trace and the Miami Herald, which chronicled the lives of the more than 1,200 children killed by gun violence in the United States in the year since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.