According to the “Welcoming the Classes of 2022” article published by the HWS Update before the new class of First Years arrived on campus, the Classes of 2022 include “class presidents, all-star athletes, engaged volunteers and inspired artists.”
Statistically, this same article identified that 40 percent of the Classes of 2022 applied to HWS Early Decision, 25 percent identify as students of color and nearly 15 percent are legacy students. While all these descriptors are informative, they are equally vague. Who are the students of the Classes of 2022, really? How do they differ as individuals? And what does it mean that they chose to come to HWS at a time when the institution is facing many a crossroads?
As for why many First Years chose HWS, there are a multitude of answers. Study abroad programs and financial aid were a common thread through many interviews. Some decided to come here based on specific programs. First-year Ellie Muckstadt admitted to not loving HWS until she saw the arts campus, saying, “I toured the summer before my junior year … and I hated it … I came back to look at the arts campus because I wanted to go into architecture and I fell in love with the arts campus.” International student Sky Markaki, who hails from Greece, was excited to come to college in the United States. Sal Fabio and Leela Willie both cited similarities between HWS and their respective high schools that made them comfortable with their decision.
When asked about what they knew about HWS before coming here, answers also varied, though most cited Seneca Lake as an integral part of their pre-admission image of HWS. Abigail Leyson said she “knew that most students have a close relationship to their professors due to the small community.” Others relied on current students for information about the school. Sarim Karim said he’d heard about elements of student life like Friday Flix from his friend and current sophomore Gizem Hussain. But most First Years alluded to the realization that they knew comparatively less during their Admitted Student Days than they do now as current students.
Though the First Year class is full of arts campus lovers, excited United States visitors and Friday Flix goers, they also are members of the larger HWS community and face the same campus issues as upperclassmen, including the outcome of the Presidential Search. When asked whether the resignation of former President Vincent influenced their choice to attend HWS, a good number of First Years said it didn’t, with some such as Cameron Miguel admitting that they didn’t know anything about it when they were accepted and still don’t. Others such as Dom Marshall and Jack Caniff admitted that the only information they knew about the search came from the string of emails sent to students by faculty members liberally using the “Reply All” function over the summer.
First Years were also asked what values they would like the next president of HWS to have. Cameron Miguel said he wanted “someone who can get the job done.” Freya Birkas-Dent wished for someone with a “global perspective.” Many First Years echoed Abigail Leyson’s statement that she wanted someone with “concern for the community as a whole and for individuals. You care about each student even if you don’t know them.” One HWS student who asked to remain anonymous took this opportunity to address the probability that HWS will return to having a “typical” president, saying “I don’t think it’s going to be a man of color. I think it’s going to be a white man that has the usual look, like the Interim President. There’s nothing wrong with the Interim President, but the Interim President has the typical look and has the typical background of what a college president is and I think that’s what HWS is going to do. I think they’re going to go back to typical because they can do that, because they’re allowed to do that.” They stated that they hope the future president values “acknowledging the privilege of the Colleges and the whiteness of the Colleges and trying to get in the community and actually support its students of color.”
Emma Cusanelli said that though she knew about former President Vincent’s resignation and she “wasn’t really expecting anything of that magnitude to happen” during her college decision process, what gave her more pause when accepting a spot at HWS was finding the 2014 New York Times article about sexual assault on the HWS campus, which caused her to do more research into the subject of campus sexual assault. She said she chose HWS despite the Times article because she felt “it’s better … to see schools with numbers like sexual assault and to see that they have that database, because even though a school has a small number that’s not necessarily good because the number nationally is so high.”
Turning the conversation to Title IX as a whole, the incoming First Years had a varying amount of experience with Title IX before coming to campus, though all learned much about it through Orientation and Kaleidoscope. Reed Herter said she knew “an okay amount about the sports side of it” but through discussions in Kaleidoscope has learned the “specifications” and has appreciated that it’s allowed her to “gauge kind of where other people are” in their knowledge of Title IX and “find all of [the First Years] on the same page.” Sarim Karim said that the Title IX Office “seems a lot like an afterthought” and that having the Title IX Office was something HWS thought “should happen but realized too late.” Emma Cusanelli shifted the discussion of campus sexual assault away from the Title IX Office itself and toward the discussion of rape culture and student attitudes towards sexual assault when she stated, “there’s still that culture that’s still on campus and you can see it, I think, with some people, but it’s hard to change the culture.”
When asked about how she thought students could change the culture on campus, Cusanelli recommended “being open, trying to be more empathetic towards what’s going on.” Sal Fabio said that as a male student “[he] can get really creative in getting [another male student] to come chill with [him] … and [get] him away from a really intoxicated girl.” Leela Willie recommended a more activist approach where more clubs try to raise awareness for the issue with “flyers or brief skits … maybe during lunch in Scandling Center. That would grab people’s attention.”
The last major issue First Years that sat down with the Herald were asked to consider was the coordinate system. Though many did not know that “the coordinate system” was the name for the relationship between Hobart College and William Smith College, all were aware of its existence. When presented with the different arguments for keeping or doing away with the coordinate system, Jack Caniff stated, “In all honesty, I wouldn’t really care if it changed. I don’t think it would really change anything. It’s the same education, same everything, it’s just names. I assume the only pushback we’d ever get from something like that would be alumni.” Sky Markaki stated that though she appreciates the opportunities the coordinate system provides for women to bond because she feels “girls are more dynamic when we stick together,” she doesn’t like how the system might exclude students who identify as transgender or non-binary. The student who asked to remain anonymous addressed a feeling that Hobart College and William Smith College hold their students to different standards, saying, “don’t talk about a united college ‘cause I know you both have different expectations of different students and I know one of you has lower expectations and lower standards about what your students can do than the other one.”
This same student, in addition to addressing the divide between Hobart and William Smith, also addressed feeling a racial divide on campus during the first few weeks. Addressing an incident in which a friend of theirs overheard two white students calling African American students on campus “loud” and “ratchet,” they said they realized “there’s a lot of microaggressions that come from white people towards us students of color in the Colleges, microaggressions and just full blown aggressions.” They went on to say, “It is harder as a student of color to be in a predominately white campus. You don’t see yourself as often. You don’t see staff that looks like you as often. You don’t see your history. You’re not the majority here and your culture’s not the majority here … so maybe teach your white students how to be accountable for that and have those difficult conversations that make them uncomfortable … because they are needed. Some of these students come from a very closed community where they have never met people of color and then there are other students who do know and who are told and who are just plain racist.” Leela Willie echoed these sentiments when she stated that she hoped a future president of HWS would have “honor, justice as well, not really putting aside any racial or Title IX issues that happen on campus, really investigating that rather than just brushing it aside in order to take the good name or the good reputation of the school.”
With all the challenges HWS is facing in mind, all interviewed First Years were asked what they think the values of the HWS community are. The majority of First Years stated felt inclusivity and supportive community were values they’d experienced at HWS. Some diverged from this refrain of community in compelling ways. Sal Fabio said, “People love what they do at Hobart, at Hobart people get really passionate.” Sarim Karim stated that HWS values “teaching students to learn for themselves and not to just take everything at face value.” If “lives of consequence” was mentioned at all, it was only sarcastically.
All opinions expressed by the First Years are of course first impressions from a first month that is as much of a whirlwind as all upperclassmen at HWS remember. Many, like Reed Herter, were quick to point out that they were just “trying to get [their] feet wet” in the first few weeks of classes. Though these are first impressions, first impressions are telling both about those who express them and about the community they reflect. The view of a First Year can be a refreshing lens for those who have been on the HWS campus for years. Whether it is their perspective on the Presidential Search, Title IX, the coordinate system or discrimination, let us not forget the voices of the newest members of the campus community. Welcome Classes of 2022!