Samuel Albert Smith
Instructor, Continuing Education Program, University of Colorado-Boulder
Ph.D. (Geography), 2018, University of Colorado-Boulder. M.S. (Geography), 2008, Penn State University. A.B. (Geography and Economics), 2005, University of Chicago.
I was a volunteer on Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008, and helped to organize my neighborhood democratic precinct caucus in 2016. Since then, I have made a number of small ($20 or less) donations to political candidates across the country, including Beto O'Rourke (TX-Sen, 2018), Jacky Rosen (NV-Sen, 2018), and Sara Gideon (ME-Sen, 2020). I have also made small donations to several bail funds during the 2020 "Black Lives Matter" demonstrations. In addition, during the 2020 campaign season, I wrote letters to sporadic voters through the Vote Forward organization, encouraging them to participate in the electoral process.
I am currently a board member of the Colorado Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance, a nonprofit group that organizes folk dances in Denver and Boulder. I work to coordinate the group's monthly "Hands Across" gender-neutral dance series. Professionally, I am an active member of the American Association of Geographers and the Social Science History Association.
In my Ph.D. dissertation in Geography, I analyzed the work Colorado museums do in presenting civic identities and negotiating the rapid social and economic changes of the contemporary West. As part of this research, I traced how these museums showcased the history, culture, and continuing presence of a range of groups across Colorado, paying particular attention to the roles of ethnicity, class, and gender. This work not only highlighted the geography of Colorado's diverse citizenry, but also how successful conversations can build civic identities that bridge these divides.
Political redistricting is a complex and challenging process. While I am glad that the people of Colorado have chosen to make this process less directly political, it inevitably involves balancing multiple sets of interests, perspectives, and desired outcomes. On the one hand, we desire districts that will ensure that everyone has elected officials that will fairly represent their views and interests, and who they feel comfortable approaching. On the other, we also seek boundaries that are not dominated by particular groups, but which will instead lead to competitive elections, lively debates, and political engagement across the community. This is even more challenging because redistricting must negotiate multiple sets of boundaries. Some of these boundaries are clear and well-defined--for instance, those of cities, counties, or those based on natural geographical borders. Others, however, are more nebulous and permeable, as between self-identified and overlapping communities. Defining districts is thus a process of brokering compromise between overlapping interests and claims. As with any compromise, nobody will get everything they want. But we must ensure that the process itself is rooted in clear data and thoughtful analysis, and is representative, transparent, public, and accountable. I believe that I have training and skills that would allow me to make a strong contribution to this process. I have extensively studied Colorado's geography and communities, and have training in mapping and geographical analysis. Moreover, my teaching career has helped me to develop the skills to communicate clearly with both colleagues and members of the public, and to facilitate respectful and productive conversations.
Maintaining clear respect for all opinions is an absolute foundation for consensus-building, but successful conversation involves much much more. Rather than glossing over differences of opinion, we must be aware of different interests, explicitly acknowledge the backgrounds behind our own perspectives and desires, and explicitly solicit the perspectives of others, particularly when those perspectives are less vocal or well-represented. In the classroom as well as in conversations with the broader public, I seek to include minority points of view, to ensure that every perspective is heard, and to cultivate an atmosphere of respectful dissent.
As a geographer studying the American West, I have not only an extensive familiarity with Colorado, its people, and its communities, but also a wide range of research, analytical, and mapping skills. I have worked extensively with GIS software (teaching courses in ArcGIS for several years), and have produced maps for my own and others' publications. More generally, my work as a teacher has given me skills in making clear and effective oral and written presentations, as well as in brokering and facilitating discussions in the classroom and with the general public.