Empathy in Action

When Whitney Smith ’22 sees a need, she fills it

By Annie Breen, USF News Posted Thu, 10/01/2020 - 09:46

When Whitney Smith was a senior in high school, she held a woman in her arms as the woman’s father died of a heart attack, the doctors unable to save him. Smith felt helpless. Soon after, she applied to USF.

“I knew that I never wanted to feel the way I felt while I was holding that woman ever again,” Smith said. She accepted a place in the nursing program, Class of 2022.

Ever since she started at USF, Smith has been everything except helpless.

She has joined Black Lives Matter protests in her East Bay hometown of Dublin, as well as in Oakland and San Francisco.

She helped to organize Juneteenth at the Lake, a protest at Lake Merritt in Oakland.

And, in July, she self-published a book called Quarantined Demons, about her anxiety brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pages from Quarantined Demons book

Conquering Fear Through Art and Instagram

Smith’s book began as a project in her Comics in the Margin art class. She sketched out inner demons she felt were holding her back. The project coincided with the onset of the pandemic, and Smith found she couldn’t stop drawing.

With each sketch, Smith felt her fears shrink. Then she had the idea of turning her pieces into Instagram posts, and invited her followers to join her in depicting their biggest fears in the hopes that they, too, might start to overcome them.

The submissions rolled in, and Smith realized she had something more than just a hashtag on her hands.

“Once I saw what people were creating and being vulnerable enough to share, I knew I couldn’t just keep these drawings in a virtual drawer. They needed to be seen,” Smith said.

She taught herself all about self-publishing and printed 200 copies of Quarantined Demons, sure that she’d have about 175 left in boxes on her floor.

She doesn’t have a book left from that initial printing.

“I’m just happy it resonated with people,” she said. “I knew that if it helped me, it could help someone else. And their drawings are amazing!”

Hands-on Healing

True to her need to get involved, Smith is now living on campus at USF so she can physically take part in clinical work. She recently wrapped up her training on a neurosurgery unit and has just begun serving in a mental health facility, helping in the recovery of those in drug and alcohol programs.

“I always have that woman whose father died in the back of my mind,” Smith said. She’s making sure that when she sees a need, it’s followed by an action.