July 6, 2020
Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,
On behalf of the Student Trustees, Hillel & the Abbe Center for Jewish Life, Sankofa, the Office of DEI, and with the support of President Jacobsen, we write in response to recent images circulating from our yearbook archives. One image is of an individual adorning a KKK robe, another captures a gathering in a room with a Nazi flag on the wall. Regardless of the intent or context of these pictures, these symbols represent genocidal violence and retain evil and ugly significance. We also want to make clear that some individuals were, unfortunately, falsely identified as being in these photos.
It is one thing to say that racism and antisemitism existed in our community; it is a far different thing to see, in stark relief, evidence of hatred in places where we all wish to belong. These photos remind us that we need to come to terms with our past, and understand that for many in our community, the iniquity in these photos remains a part of our present. Hobart and William Smith must do its part to address, rectify, and redress centuries of harm embedded in the fabric and culture of our community. Last year’s decision to have our yearbooks accompanied by a statement acknowledging some content as antithetical to HWS’s values was a good step.
We must also acknowledge that enslaved people were brought to the Finger Lakes to toil on land that was taken from the Haudenosaunee. We must attest that the Ku Klux Klan once had a presence in the Finger Lakes and marched on Main Street. We must accept that Alger Adams was not permitted to live on campus because he was Black. We must remember that students seen as different – whether due to their race, ethnicity, religion or intersecting identities – were not welcome in campus spaces and organizations. We must recognize these things because this history is not only in our past; it persists in our legacy and shapes the campus we inhabit, contributing to the mistreatment many still experience.
Transformation is not easy, but it is possible. We see examples of this every day by those in our community who show up with openness and vulnerability. We saw it in last Wednesday’s decision by Geneva City Council to move forward with historic law enforcement reforms, which came after sustained engagement by many community members, including HWS alums, students, faculty and staff. Looking ahead, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will convene a Symposium on Belonging during the academic year with students, faculty, staff and the wider Finger Lakes community to acknowledge our past and envision a different future together. We also welcome other offices and organizations to join us in the work to repair our community through a restorative recognition of our past and commitments to change our practices.
Ultimately, the work of rebuilding community is a shared responsibility that we must all take part in. We can each resolve to do our part.
Hillel & The Abbe Center for Jewish Life
Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion