Last updated on October 27, 2019
In June of 2019, the Smith College community was profoundly shaken by the passing of the wonderful Marc Steinberg after his year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. Our community still feels the reverberations of his loss to this day. Marc was the Sydenham C. Parsons Professor of Sociology, and has been at Smith since 1994. During that time, he published three incredible books based on his research of labor laws and class formation in early industrial England, as well as priest activists in Boston during the Catholic church child abuse scandal. His scholarship was immaculate, and having spent many lengthy hours conducting painstaking archival work, he was in the perfect position to aid his students in being as critical and analytical as they could be.
Marc came into my life in the Spring of 2016 when I took his “Social Movements” course. I’ll never forget his way of memorizing our names on the first day of class: making us line up with our nametags for a photo op. It was my first class with a large semester-long group project, but it was also the first time I was really granted academic freedom to choose a topic (within the realm of “Failed Social Movements”) and run with it. I took this class and “How Power Works”, both taught by Marc. His ability to reach his students in sometimes unorthodox ways has stayed with me since. He had this gag where he would pretend to telepathically transmit important pieces of the course material to us. This always got a few laughs, but most importantly, always made the knowledge ‘stick.’ The following semester, when he went around asking everyone to introduce their names and majors, I put him on the spot: “Sociology; if you’ll be my adviser, that is.” I later apologized, but he didn’t mind, and he’s been more than an adviser ever since.
Not only did he contribute to my academic enrichment in ways that far surpass the responsibility of any professor, he was kind, gentle, and endlessly compassionate. He never faltered in supporting me, even in his most difficult times. I have stood, and continue to stand in awe of him and his ability to make his students feel at ease and comforted. He was a force, comedic and quirky by all accounts. He routinely wore a shirt that read “I am a social construct,” not to be outshined by his jeans with the chain. He always changed into New Balance sneakers right before class, the reason he was often running to get there in time. I once likened him to Robin Williams, mostly because of his sweet temperament, but also because he never failed to make light of a situation when he could. It was this side of him that led me to sob in the stairwell of Wright Hall after he attempted to make a joke about being ill — he couldn’t quite carry it through for something of this magnitude.
In life and even beyond, he has supported people facing adversity. One of his wishes was that people make donations to local charities such as Safe Passage, Friends of Hampshire County Homeless, Northampton Food Bank, and Hospice of the Fisher Home. Inspired by his legacy, a fund is being developed in his name for Smith students pursuing research. A memorial website has been set up in Marc’s name, which I urge you all to look at; it has incredible photographs from Marc’s early years right up until his Smith days. There is also a space for people who knew Marc to share a testimonial.
Marc, you were, and continue to be, a light where there would otherwise be none. Your legacy — of justice, of a deep compassion for others, of scholastic integrity right to the end, and of a quiet chaos that fit you well — will be a light for the Smith community for years to come.
You changed my life, rest gently.