June 2, 2020

Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,

These are intensely challenging times, including the sobering national and international events of the past week in reaction to the horrific death of George Floyd, with both peaceful demonstrations and violent acts occurring against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic. I reiterate from our recently ratified strategic plan that the Colleges must continue to stand for willingness to engage in dialogue, treating all with dignity and respect, and working toward a better world. Over the weekend, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Khuram Hussain sent a message to faculty, staff and students that clearly encapsulates the role of higher education at this moment. He writes: “In these extraordinary times, we must forward the best of what a liberal arts education can activate: a critical, ethical and broadminded approach to the deepest social problems that confront our world.” And in his May 30 note to the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Bishop Michael B. Curry ’75, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, writes that the work of racial reconciliation, “…must go on when racist violence and police brutality are no longer front-page news. It must go on when the work is not fashionable, and the way seems hard, and we feel utterly alone.”

I couldn’t agree more with both of these statements. There is clearly much work ahead to tackle these endemic social problems in order to create a more just and equitable society. This work is underway in Geneva, which over the past two days has been the site of three peaceful demonstrations during which community members marched side by side with Geneva Police Officers. I will be at the NAACP’s rally in Geneva at 6 pm Wednesday in Bicentennial Park to express my own support and commitment to change.

At junctures like this, it may be hard to envision a way forward. That’s why Dr. Hussain will be holding two important sessions in the coming days. The first, a webinar on June 5 for alumni, alumnae and parents, will allow for a re-imagining of diversity and the liberal arts today. The second, a teach-in for students, faculty and staff, cosponsored by Africana Studies and Intercultural Affairs, will involve members of our community in examination of national protests and criminal justice reform. I will be attending both of these sessions and encourage you to join as well. Details will be provided to you soon.

As we wrestle with multiple points of pain and isolation that we face daily as a result of systemic racism, and as we take positive steps to envision a new future, we must also make time for events that unite us, providing social connection and a beacon of hope – so that we understand that we are not alone. I’m especially grateful that Bishop Curry has agreed to return to campus to deliver the Commencement Address to the Classes of 2020 when we hold their in-person ceremony. This ceremony will occur on the morning of Sunday, June 6, 2021. This date corresponds with the last day of Reunion Weekend, allowing generations of Hobart and William Smith community members to gather as a family to celebrate with the Classes. More information and details will be provided in subsequent communications.

Until we see each other again, please stay safe yourself and watch for the safety of others. Know that we are working hard here at the Colleges, perhaps the hardest we have ever worked, to try to live up to the principles that we have articulated while we tackle numerous matters of consequence.


Joyce P. Jacobsen