Hobart and William Smith Colleges President Mark D. Gearan outlined his vision for the year ahead – to foster and enhance a culture of respect – during his 2014 Convocation Address on Stern Lawn on Monday, Sept. 1. Opening the official ceremony, Gearan called upon the entire HWS community to reflect on key areas including high-risk behavior, social and residential spaces, student life, and the academic program, among others. Gearan will appoint a steering committee of faculty, staff, students, alums and parents to guide efforts going forward.
“I challenge all of us to engage in the honest, robust and respectful dialogue that will be required to model programs and initiatives to better serve our students,” Gearan said. “We have the opportunity to be leaders in this contemporary social issue – honoring our legacy of engagement and activism. We have the opportunity to channel our renewed focus and energy on these issues and create the campus community that we all aspire to be a part of — imbued with respect, empathy, civility and compassion, one that truly prepares students to lead lives of consequence. I will ask everyone to join us in this effort. We need your ideas and perspective.”
As HWS begins the 2014-2015 academic year, Gearan said the campus is engaged in a process that requires a shift in individual and collective thinking. Recent media coverage of a reported sexual misconduct case at HWS has led to significant dialogue on approaches to address these issues. Earlier this year, in an effort to combat sexual assault on college campuses, a White House Task Force moved forward with its “Not Alone” initiative, which coincided with the Department of Education’s release of a list of colleges and universities about which it has a received a complaint, including HWS. Addressing the national dialogue regarding sexual assault on college campuses, Gearan said the Colleges are focused on positive change. Included among those changes are: expanding the Title IX office, revising policies, providing increased training around sexual misconduct and bystander intervention, and identifying tasks designed to ensure student wellbeing and safety.
“All campus constituencies must be engaged if we are truly to have the kind of inclusive dialogues that are essential,” Gearan said. “The summer months have left us with a desire, a yearning, and demand for meaningful change. But it has also left us with an opportunity to engage these topics of campus culture with purpose and conviction. Let us seize it.”
Following the official opening of this year’s Convocation by Professor of Biology Beth Newell, who served as Faculty Marshal, as well as Gearan’s opening remarks, the HWS community welcomed to the stage internationally renowned expert on AIDS, Dr. Christopher C. Beyrer ’81, for the keynote address. In addition, a processional featuring a bagpipe band and nearly 100 students carrying flags that represent the countries of origin and study abroad destinations of students and faculty also helped to ring in the ceremony.
“You’re all now engaged in an intellectual journey, an academic one, but also a profound personal and social one-for many of you, this will be the start of life independent from your families and the friends you grew up with,” Beyrer said, addressing first-year students. “It’s to these social and community issues that I want to turn, because they are so important to your success here and after-and because while it may seem distant from the study of literature or politics, engineering or biology, the reality is that how each of you interact with each other, shapes how you will engage with the wider world ahead.”
Beyrer said the Classes of 2018 are members of the most tolerant generation the country has seen in decades, noting that it’s because of their efforts and the influence of their peers that real change is happening everywhere. Though, he said, there is still much to be done, particularly around issues of AIDS/HIV, and inequalities faced by people all around the world. He said people need to focus on treating each other with respect, tolerance and compassion.
“Because the best part of respect, of dignity, and of gender equality is that it so profoundly feeds the soul,” Beyrer said. “Nothing feels better than taking care of others. Nothing is more rewarding than giving. And finding love, in all its varied forms, is the hidden jewel at the center of our desires.”
Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09 spoke about the developments on campus this summer “with our students, faculty, staff and alums in conversation and idea-building around our community standards. Even in the midst of such sobering conversations, I have been impressed by the civility and compassion this community has displayed to one another, and the seriousness of intent that has been shown,” she said. “We enter what promises to be an exciting and eventful year at the Colleges, one in which all members of our community will have opportunities for expression and input.”
At the ceremony, Provost and Dean of Faculty Titi Ufomata introduced Assistant Professor of Philosophy Rodmon King for the faculty address. During his remarks, King invoked a question once posed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Where do we go from here?” He called for all members of the HWS community to work together, toward full inclusion.
“We can dispel the darkness of ignorance, bigotry, violence, hatred, and prejudice,” said King, the recipient of the 2014 faculty prize for teaching. “We can make this community (and others like it) into a place where everyone is an ally and partner in the struggle. Where full inclusion and participation for all is the rule not the exception. We can create and support educational programs that promote awareness and inspire empathy and action. We have the power to dismantle those structures and institutions in our communities that foster and re-inscribe privilege, prejudice and hate. We have the power to free our communities of violence, racism, ageism, sexism, able-ism and all forms discrimination, oppression and marginalization so that no one must dwell in the basement of the great house of humanity.”
Following the Faculty Address, tradition continued with the introduction of the student Convocation speakers, Student Trustees Nicolas Stewart ’15, introduced by Dean of Hobart College Eugen Baer P’95, P’97, HON’07, and Caroline Demeter ’15, introduced by Dean of William Smith College Catherine Gallouët. Stewart and Demeter both shared insights with the Classes of 2018 about life at HWS. Addressing the first-year students, Stewart reminded them that opportunities abound for their involvement and impact.
“Dedicate yourself to those things that mean the most,” he said. “Start a movement, join a club, do Honors, graduate summa cum laude, volunteer as a Geneva Hero, and commit to something that will enhance the growth of our campus community and the Geneva community.”
Demeter said members of the Colleges are known for being engaged, dedicated and passionate people.
“We have a unique and dynamic campus community; we are fortunate that we can develop great relationships with professors, staff and peers,” she said.
Chaplain Lesley Adams HON’12 offered the closing remarks. “May we make the promise of our future, the reality of our present,” she said. A recessional of the platform party and distinguished faculty led by the bagpipe band concluded Convocation.