Taj Smith

Taj Smith

Dr. Taj Smith serves as the Director of Diversity Education at RIT. Dr. Smith has a graduate degree in Social Justice Education. For fun, he enjoys fashion, trying out new restaurants, online shopping, sports and watching the Walking Dead.

1. How Do You Teach Applied Critical Thinking?

As a staff member who is responsible for educating faculty and staff about diversity, inclusion and equity, I have to use various strategies to help people understand those complex concepts and realities. I facilitate workshops on campus for employees and on occasion students. Throughout those experiences, participants are being challenged to understand why they think and behave in specific cultural ways. I tend to use a lot of open-ended questions to invite them to participate in the process.

2. Why Do You Think Applied Critical Thinking is Important in Your Domain?

Critical thinking is key to thinking beyond yourself and empathizing with different perspectives and lived experiences you are unfamiliar with. It requires challenging values you were raised with and realizing not everyone shares those or have the same life circumstances as you. If you are unable to critically think then you can’t actively engage diversity in authentic ways.

3. Can You Share a Story Where Quality Applied Critical Thinking Was Key to Your Success?

A common question I receive is, “how do I effectively communicate with people who are different from me?” One strategy I suggest people take is to turn your initial response of disagreement into a question of curiosity. This allows the other person to enter a critical inquiry process and hopefully a healthier exchange of ideas. It doesn’t work all the time, but it is effective when it does.

4. How Do You Use Critical Thinking in Other Areas of Your Life Outside of RIT?

I’ve been in a college environment for most of my adult life, so I’m lucky to be in a space that tends to actively encourage critical thinking. I’ve noticed that some people who lack a college education aren’t afforded the time to really enhance this skill. I’ve witnessed this when volunteering or serving on boards. I also notice the challenge of turning down (if not off) critical thinking when I’m outside of RIT. For example, I’ve learned to turn down my social justice critical analysis when I’m watching certain films or streaming series. Sometimes I’ve got to give my brain a break and not overly apply critical thinking to every aspect of my life.

5. Any Last Critical Thoughts?

Despite my previous remark about cautiously applying critical thinking, I do believe as a society we need to engage in this practice more often. It really is a life skill. I’d like to see this be a focus on K-12 institutions. I believe there has been intentional effort to minimize and remove the value of critical thought as we grow from children to adults in the United States of America. Our values indicate education and critical thinking are not as important than making lots of money, watching reality tv and sports, and gun ownership.