The new standing committee on the HWS Board of Trustees underscores the Colleges’ commitment to ensuring a sense of belonging, valuing diversity and fostering equity.
During the spring meeting of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Board of Trustees, members voted unanimously to approve the formation of a new Committee for Belonging, Diversity and Equity. The new Committee will focus on a series of goals that instill the values of belonging, diversity and equity throughout the culture, systems and practices of the HWS community. The Committee is an outcome of the work of a taskforce chaired by Trustee William T. Whitaker Jr. ’73, L.H.D. ’97 with Trustee Jane Erickson ’07 serving as vice chair.
“The Board is determined, both now and in the future, to do all we can to ensure that our entire community feels valued and supported as students, scholars, employees and individuals,” says Chair of the Board Craig R. Stine ’81, P’17. “This new permanent Committee for Belonging, Diversity and Equity affirms those aspirations and provides a structure to assess progress and make positive change. With the Hobart Bicentennial on the horizon, the Committee’s work will be vital to our success over the next 200 years.”
In its efforts, the Board has noted that a sense of belonging is a key outcome of the Committee’s work, ensuring that all members of the Hobart and William Smith community feel supported and part of the Colleges, valued for who they are and the work they do. The Board considers diversity broadly as individual differences, such as life experiences, and group or social differences, which include race/ethnicity, class, gender identity, sexual identity, country of origin, and disability/ability as well as cultural, political, religious or other affiliations.
“This is an important development for the HWS community, with wide-reaching implications for all aspects of life on campus,” says HWS President Joyce P. Jacobsen. “I’m immensely grateful to Bill Whitaker and Jane Erickson for their diligence and commitment to the Colleges and our values. The Board’s leadership and support are critical to our efforts, and I join with them in working to build a strong community of belonging at Hobart and William Smith.”
The Board of Trustees appointed a taskforce last fall that engaged in a nine-month process to discern the state of diversity, equity and inclusion at HWS and to understand best practices for board governance going forward. With guidance from the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), the taskforce conducted focus groups, completed research to surface best practices, gathered and disaggregated quantitative data, and collaborated with the DEI office to identify priorities and opportunities.
That process defined the Committee’s responsibilities and produced a number of initial goals, which were ratified by the Board this month.
Whitaker says the groundwork for the new Committee will position the Colleges to better recruit and retain exceptional students, faculty and staff. “Belonging, diversity and equity are integral to our vision for the Colleges’ future, and I am grateful to the members of the taskforce, our campus community and our colleagues at AGB, who together helped produce a roadmap to get us there,” Whitaker says. “At a moment when communities, organizations, and colleges and universities across the country are facing similar challenges, we are committed — and ready — to create real change here at HWS.”
Comprised of selected members of the Board as well as all student trustees, the new Committee is responsible for setting the Colleges’ BDE goals and developing tools for ongoing assessment, learning and dialogue. Members will be appointed in July.
Importantly, the Committee will provide support for the advancement of the HWS Strategic Diversity Plan. With support and input from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, led by Vice President for DEI Khuram Hussain, the Committee will produce and share publicly an annual report assessing progress toward achieving the Colleges’ BDE goals. Immediate priorities include encouraging a more diverse mix of students, faculty and staff to attend and work at the Colleges, to build toward a campus population that better reflects the diversity of the U.S.
In order to foster a welcoming campus environment, the Committee will recommend a set of institution-wide core values to foster diversity, equity and a sense of belonging. Other recommendations and goals include support for ongoing BDE training for the campus community, encouraging a culture of belonging through shared discourse, and incentivizing a faculty and staff that affirm the values of BDE in their work with students and with one another.
Finally, the Committee will support the rest of the Board in advancing BDE in their respective committees, ensuring that members are equipped to further BDE goals through a shared understanding of concepts and issues.
The establishment of the BDE Committee marks the first time in many years that a new standing committee of the Board has been created, part of the continued strategic reorganization that follows decades of an established Board structure. Members of the taskforce included Trustees William T. Whitaker Jr. ’73, L.H.D. ’97 (chair), Jane M. Erickson ’07 (vice chair), Linda D. Arrington ’88, Edward R. Cooper ’86, P’16, Margueritte S. Murphy, Michael E. Rawlins ’80, P’16 and Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh; Student Trustees Albright R. Dwarka ’21, Audrey G. R. Platt ’21, Gib Shea ’22 and Nuzhat Wahid ’22; and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Khuram Hussain.