Context: Race and Diversity at HWS

By Alex Kerai ’19

Editor-in-Chief

On Monday morning, April 22, 2019, spray-painted words were discovered across campus. The words noted “Make America Great Again,” the campaign slogan of President Donald Trump, and included “Trump 22” and the campaign chant “Build the Wall.” This was only the most recent in a string of incidents in the last few weeks on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Two weeks ago, a unit in O’Dell’s was egged. Campus Safety is said to be investigating the incident. The unit includes 3 international Chinese students and the eggs seemed to have been an isolated incident. (Nothing further has been reported since.) But surrounding units have been reported as using language that is negative towards minorities. The eggs and language have not been explicitly connected, but this incident made one resident feel like an outsider.

Finally, Director of Campus Safety Martin Corbett did confirm that someone ripped down a display for Black History Month in Durfee Hall recently. A separate incident happened as well where someone had drawn a confederate flag on another student’s white board. These incidents did not happen at the same time and are currently under investigation.

Those are three instances this semester. Unfortunately, this is not new to the campus.

There are many of instances in the past decade that reflect racist and abhorrent language that convey hatred, racism, and prejudice. October 2009 saw the men’s crew team dressed in blackface for a Halloween costume party, pretending to be slaves. Fall 2011 included two instances: mock business interviews where a black female student was told to make her dreadlocked hair look professional and Campus Safety checking IDs of black males because of reports of a “suspicious black male” on campus.

These were not just isolated incidents either. An article on race relations at Hobart and William Smith Colleges notes that “n-word and other racial epithets are not infrequently invoked in semi-anonymous forums, including yik-yak and other social media.” (This can be seen in Viewpoint #5.) President Mark Gearan wrote an email to the campus community in February 2016 addressing the comments. A walk-out was organized in response and We the Unheard, a grassroots movement, began to collaborate with faculty and staff to discuss issues.

Another incident in September 2016 prompted an email from President Gearan where he wrote: “There have been moments during my tenure as president when the actions of a small few have challenged our values.” There was a photograph posted to Snapchat, and also reposted to the HWS Snaps account, that was “racist, anti-Semitic and that promotes a virulent form of xenophobia.” It was an important moment among the community, as it prompted campus-wide attention for the reach of the image and led to President Gearan writing: “We must not and do not tolerate hatred, bigotry and prejudice.”

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion began following the Strategic Diversity Plan of 2016. It led to the search of a Chief Diversity Officer – a position which was filled until last year and has been vacant pending a search and hire. There was a faculty group that was in place while the Chief Diversity Officer position has been empty, which endeavored to create change and power the office, according to professors who served on the committee. It fizzled out due to other time commitments and the fact that “volunteering did not seem worth it” when there was not an active search for a Chief Diversity Officer.

According to another faculty member, the budget for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been cut to fund only the Chief Diversity Officer. Additionally, not all avenues of the Strategic Diversity Plan have been funded.

There was also a student-led Race & Racism Coalition that talked about racism (race relations) with staff, faculty, and students. The group sponsored forums and dialogue groups on campus and was led by students of color. According to a member of the group, diversity was used as a way to coopt race dialogue and the talk about equity got coopted. The coalition stopped around 2014-2015.

At HWS, student groups, along with Intercultural Affairs and Alejandra Molina, became integral in discussing and responding to instances of hate on campus. The Office of Spiritual Engagement, particularly former Chaplain Maurice Charles and current Director of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life Julianne Miller, have also engaged the campus community on discussions of hate and prejudice in campus and around the world.

In light of recent campus events, responses from the administration, faculty, and staff have become more important than ever in maintaining a semblance of community. As part of our full coverage on race and diversity on college campuses, the Herald has had interviews and discussions with faculty and members of senior staff to figure out how the administration responds to instances of hate.

In response to questions submitted by the Herald, Interim President Patrick McGuire wrote, “Hobart and William Smith Colleges are committed to fostering an educational, living and working environment in which all members of our community are welcomed and respected, and where diversity is celebrated.” In light of recent events, McGuire reiterated, “The Colleges have no tolerance for those who violate our community standards by participating in hate speech, and have in place an adjudication and hearing process to address transgressions.”

However, the notion of repercussions has always been a question, especially since incidents become publicized among the campus community but actions taken against individuals remain confidential. McGuire did elaborate and note that a Bias Incident Response Team was created in 2015 by the Division of Student Life and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. This team, Vice President for Student Life Robb Flowers explained, “includes faculty and staff from across areas and departments on campus in reviewing what we have, what’s being reported, what response should the colleges have, and to let people know that there’s a place for people to report this.” Flowers did note that “we have expelled students for acts – when we have been able to identify students that have committed acts of hate speech, harassment, true threats – we have expelled students both through the Committee on Standards and the administration.”

When discussing funding, which is something many culture clubs and their leaders have discussed (as can be seen in Viewpoint #13), Flowers said that “we created the Diversity and Inclusion Fund so

that folks can apply for funding – it’s in addition to BAC – but it’s to ensure that our culture clubs and organizations have access to the funding they need for the important work they do on campus.”

Flowers did say that discussions relating to diversity and race are “happening nationally and it’s a conversation that I do not in any way think we have the solution. We have a process with which we’re looking to move forward, but it is a process that has to evolve as the conversation goes on – both on campus and beyond campus.”

In an effort to create equitable classrooms and a community, “the faculty passed a resolution titled ‘Guiding Principles of Speech and Expression at Hobart and William Smith Colleges,’ commonly referred to as the ‘Principles of Free Speech,’” according to Interim Provost DeWayne Lucas. The resolution “defines eight principles of speech and expression that should be embodied in campus and classroom discourse and stresses the value of inclusive speech.”

Looking to equitable classrooms, Provost Lucas noted that when discussing the number of faculty of color who have left in recent years, “There is, however, more that we can do to make certain that we are attracting and retaining exceptional scholars who represent a wide variety of backgrounds, viewpoints, and perspectives. Our commitment to this work has not wavered.” This was in response to numbers noting that three faculty of color had left in recent years and that the retention rate for faculty from 2000-2009 was 79% for white, non-Hispanic faculty and 48% for all other races/ethnicities, according to the Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice Committee.

There has also been an examination of admissions numbers from other colleges in the New York 6 Consortium to provide the most accurate understanding of diversity – from a purely numerical perspective – at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

According to institutional research data from fall 2018, the Colleges have 498 students of color who do not identify as white. That is just under a quarter (22.3%) of the student population.

However, it is important to recognize progress in the last fifteen years of data collection. In an interview with Dean of Admissions John Young, he noted that “When I started working here in 2005, 9% of the class were students of color.” With the current class of 2022, 25% of the student population – approximately 155 students – is “multicultural” or students of color. Last year’s class was 19%. If the upward trend continues, in four years the student of color population would be approximately 28%, an additional increase of 6% over four years. These numbers are in line with what Young said in the interview: “We will always clamor for more diversity, and that’s not a bad thing – it’s a good thing. But we are making progress. Maybe not as much as we want in every single area, but the place is without a doubt more diverse than it was when I walked in the door [in 2005] and that’s due to a ton of different factors.”

When discussing admissions Young noted, “From a recruitment perspective: You diversify a class by recruiting a broad range of applicants rather than trying to tilt scales during selection … [Then] we review every applicant [for selection] within the context of their high school, neighborhood. Any community that they’re a part of plays a role in helping us learn more about the student … It’s not about counting the student in one column or another, it’s about getting to know students as best we can and then making the smartest admissions decision that we can based on that student’s application in front of us.”

Young noted that admissions has been working “to target more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds” for applicants. “I always am a proponent for a more diverse faculty and staff to attract a more diverse student body … But, at a place like this, we shouldn’t be bringing in students who aren’t excited about meeting people with different life experiences than their own. That’s a huge part of what college is about,” he concluded.

Although this contextual article, and the section of viewpoints, is focused on Hobart and William Smith Colleges, it is important to note that this is not just an HWS problem. This is a structural problem, existing across colleges and universities in the United States, leading to the mentality of “us versus them.” This can be seen in how students have functioned recently as a way to challenge the administration instead of working with them. In order to make progress, discussions are needed, action is required, and collaboration is a must.

 

Corrected: April 26, 2019. A Previous version of this article misspelled Alejandra Molina’s name.

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