For Demetrius Smith, Georgia is home.
As an undergraduate at Georgia Southern University, Smith was involved in the student government organization, the Black Student Alliance and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
“That’s where I originally fell in love with student affairs,” said Smith. “I had strong student affairs professionals who I can truly say saved my life when it came to the trajectory of my life and where I would eventually end up. I am a first-generation college student from a low-income background, and if it wasn’t for passionate student affairs professions that really cared about me, I don’t know where I would be.”
Smith worked in the Office of the Registrar at GSU during his master’s and, after graduating, took a position at Middle Georgia State University as director of the African American Initiative Program and residence life coordinator. He then came to the University of Georgia to complete a Doctor of Education in student affairs leadership.
After completing his doctorate in 2018, Smith took a position at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire as program coordinator for equity, diversity and inclusion before becoming the special assistant for the vice chancellor for equity, diversity, inclusion and student affairs.
Three years later, the opportunity to return to Georgia presented itself, and Smith took it.
Smith joined UGA as a staff member in February 2022 as associate vice president for student affairs, overseeing the Multicultural Services and Programs (MSP), International Student Life (ISL) and the Pride Center. He will also lead diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts in student affairs moving forward.
Smith aids in the cohesive mission of the different student affairs programs and spends much of his day-to-day time meeting with and supporting the programs.
“A few of the staff that I work with closely say they wish they could put a tracker on my wrist where you can track my steps, because I’m one of those people where I don’t like to just sit in my office—I like to go,” said Smith. “If I’m working with MSP or ISL or the Pride Center, I just walk over and have a conversation to see what’s going on for that day. If we’re working on a project, I’ll go over, let’s meet, let’s talk about it.”
MSP, ISL and the Pride Center all have the same goal—student inclusion. However, they target different student populations to cater to more specific needs.
Multicultural Services and Programs at UGA works to create an inclusive campus for students from multicultural backgrounds, recognizing their identities, perspectives and worldviews.
“What I do with MSP has just helped to create an overall vision and really execute that vision,” Smith said.
International Student Life targets international students that have chosen UGA as their home away from home.
One ISL initiative, part of International Education Month in November, was Worldfest, which “teaches people about international students, educates our campus and provides resources for international students,” according to Smith.
Citing privacy concerns, Smith said a lot of the work of the Pride Center is unspoken, but the overarching mission is the same as the other student affairs offices—supporting students.
“Let’s talk through what you’re going through and what you’re navigating. How can I provide you with resources to help?” Smith asks. “That’s what drives me, being able to do that for other students. You know, everyone can use help, resources and support in some way. I think [this job] gives me the opportunity to do that.”
Moving forward in his role, Smith will spearhead the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives in student affairs.
“It’s not the cliché ‘let’s come together and kumbaya.’ It’s slower—let me look within myself to look at those natural barriers, those biases that I have, so that I can become a better person for my family, for the future workplace that I might have,” Smith said.
Part of the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiative is the launch of peer educators, meaning students who are trained in major topics related to DEIB and are able to relate those topics to other students. Smith said he sees himself in other underrepresented students, and the DEIB initiatives will help those students succeed at UGA.
“I know what a lot of our students are going through. Of course, we’re not a monolith by any means, but I feel like I have an extreme passion for our students and want to see all of our students succeed. I want to see them walk across that stage and obtain their goals. That brings me the most joy,” he said.
Community is also important in Smith’s personal life. He loves to travel out of the country, particularly with his family and fraternity brothers who he has stayed close with since college. He has also found a comfort in being close to his family once again.
“Now that I’m back in Georgia, another thing that I love is spending time with family. If the pandemic taught us anything, family is so important. I think that has been a huge help in my overall self-care,” he said.