Baer and Kaenzig Challenge Social Norms – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Baer and Kaenzig Challenge Social Norms

This spring, 45 students attended a discussion, titled “Challenging Norms at HWS,” that was hosted by Hobart Dean Eugen Bear and William Smith Associate Dean Lisa Kaenzig.

“The idea of tackling this project came from the students in the Spring 2012 HWS Leads cohort,” said Leadership Fellow Jerry Wohletz. “Each semester, students in the class take on a project together, and this semester the class decided they wanted to raise awareness about social norms on campus. They created a list of what they believed were the most widespread social issues and stereotypes, and then designed the forum to create a space where students could discuss the issues and develop solutions to combat stereotypes.”

Associate Director of the Centennial Center for Leadership Amy Forbes noted that, although the event was geared toward educating the community and creating more leaders on campus, the organizers of the event were just as impacted, if not more so.

“The HWS Leads students learned a great deal about inspiring others to change, gaining buy in on important issues and creating spaces where individuals can discuss their views freely,” explained Forbes. “I think a number of leadership learning outcomes were met.  I really applaud their efforts and am very proud of their work this semester.”

Designed to encourage dialogue on campus concerning social barriers, the discussion aimed to examine campus stereotypes and to promote a friendly environment at the Colleges. 

“Push yourselves beyond your comfort zone by moving out of your regular group of friends,” encouraged Baer. “Participating in campus events will give you the opportunity to meet people from a variety of backgrounds. As a diverse campus, you have a real opportunity here at HWS to learn from individuals who can offer a different perspective and life-experiences.”

Kaenzig also weighed in on the matter, sharing her feelings about the social atmosphere at HWS. “HWS is a friendly place, where social clichés actually form out of a general desire to fit in or belong,” explained Kaenzig. “While affinity groups can be important, we are all responsible for reaching out to individuals in an effort to welcome, include and create relationships beyond our social groups. A recent study of first years indicates that they are actually happier when they have formed friendships across a variety of social groups.”

Following the deans’ remarks, students broke into small groups facilitated by the HWS Leads spring cohort and discussed topics ranging from SAGA sitting patterns to Barn parties and general campus interactions. Groups were then prompted to present their views to the entire audience, with many agreeing that, although clichés and stereotypes were prevalent on campus, it was each individual student’s responsibility to move toward fostering greater inclusion and an even friendlier campus community.

“I felt that the Challenging Social Norms event was a great way to address the separation that occurs in the student body and provide solutions,” said Rose Cherubin ’15, a public policy major and potential writing and rhetoric minor. “The event itself brought in a variety of people who all had a common goal: to find ways to make Hobart and William Smith a close-knit community, where diversity is not what separates us, but brings us together.”

The spring 2012 cohort of the HWS Leads leadership certificate program, which is sponsored by the Centennial Center for Leadership, organized the event.