December 14, 2020

Dear Alumni, Alumnae and Friends,

I write at the end of the fall semester – a semester unlike any other – with deep appreciation for your support of the Colleges. This has been a time of challenge and, as a result of the pandemic, unique commonality when we have all had to change how we navigate the world. Although there were considerable obstacles and some positive COVID-19 cases on campus, thankfully none severe, we finished the semester in-person as planned with the vast majority of students on campus. Despite the stresses of the protocols and precautions we took to stay healthy, the cancellation of study abroad and other opportunities so integral to HWS, and the elimination of all fall and winter athletics competition (a disruption not seen since World War II), our community rose to the challenge. Students worked with dignity, diligence and integrity to complete their coursework, growing intellectually and personally, and building toward their bright futures. They benefitted tremendously from our faculty and staff who, in the face of uncertainty, displayed strength, kindness and empathy, and from the many alumni, alumnae and friends of the Colleges who reached out with financial support, career advice, and words of encouragement. The power of your continued financial support and the confidence that it sends cannot be overestimated.

Although the health and well-being of the campus community certainly dominated the fall semester’s timbre, we also made significant headway on a number of key strategic initiatives. Admissions tours have been bustling – both in person and virtually, as we were forced to pivot our Admissions outreach to the mainly virtual world. Our Career Service Office recently launched PeopleGrove, a new networking platform that allows students to connect directly to alumni, alumnae, parents and friends of the Colleges for career direction. I encourage you to sign up for this initiative as your advice and support have the positive capacity to change students’ lives. Facilitated by Provost and Dean of Faculty Mary Coffey’s leadership, faculty have been involved in enormously interesting conversations regarding the nature of the curriculum. Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Khuram Hussain, in addition to being involved in these curricular discussions, has been hard at work with colleagues and students across campus to realize the priorities of the Colleges’ Strategic Diversity Plan. A great number of students, faculty and staff have been deeply engaged on this topic, advocating for equity and justice here on campus, in Geneva and around the world, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work together to make the Colleges a more inclusive environment for all. One very tangible action under way is the long overdue renovation of the Intercultural Affairs Center. We recently engaged an architectural firm that has held meetings with students, faculty, staff and alums to consider how to expand this fundamental campus facility.

The Colleges will follow a schedule for the spring that tightens the semester in order to limit travel to and from campus once students have returned. We intend for campus to remain open throughout as it did in the fall, but as always, we will follow New York State and Ontario County guidance regarding any required closures. Based on information we have received from New York State, the Colleges are preparing to serve as a vaccine distribution center for employees and students, and possibly for the general public as well. We are preparing now to be able to vaccinate our campus population once we receive vaccine doses and the go-ahead from the County to proceed.

As we look to the spring semester, we intend to create new, joyful experiences at HWS as well as revive and refine traditional ones. For instance, in January, we will hold an outdoor Winter Wonderland festival on campus for our students. We are looking forward to celebrating the 200th birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell in early February, a moment of great institutional significance. Coaches and the training staff are working hard to prepare for the spring, when I’m hopeful that competition can be a reality, although still dependent on league decisions. We are also considering when we can begin to send faculty and students abroad safely. Finally, we have every intention of celebrating Commencement for the Classes of 2021 on May 16, Commencement for the Classes of 2020 on June 6, and Reunion on June 4-6. We will be sure to alert you as plans develop or change.

Although the days ahead will no doubt contain challenges we cannot yet imagine, I’m encouraged that our conversations are beginning to shift from how to survive and exist within this pandemic to how we will come out of this darkness and what cheer lies beyond. It is my hope that we will emerge from these challenging times with an enhanced institutional resilience and an even deeper sense of community.

With gratitude and well wishes for the holiday season,

Joyce P. Jacobsen