July 1, 2019

Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,

This morning I made the first of what will be many walks from the President’s House on South Main Street across campus to Coxe Hall, where presidents of the Colleges have had an office since it was constructed in 1901. I passed through the science buildings – Lansing, Rosenberg and Eaton, each one bustling with summer research students and their faculty mentors who are investigating a wide range of issues from cancer inhibitors and invasive aquatic species to thermal noise and conservation genetics. I walked across the sea of grass that is the Quad, surrounded by historic buildings and presided over by St. John’s Chapel. At the southwest corner of the Quad is the sculpture of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female to earn a medical degree in the United States. Created by Professor of Art and Architecture A.E. Ted Aub in 1994, it’s a beautiful and fitting tribute to a woman who, against all odds, pursued her dream and, in 1849, graduated from Geneva College, later renamed Hobart College in honor of its founder.

Much has been written about Dr. Blackwell’s courage, about the male students who voted unanimously to accept her into their ranks, of the many challenges she faced in her professional life, and of all that she accomplished. She came from an extraordinary family of suffragists and abolitionists, people who were resolved to act on their values, who believed strongly in the power of higher education to transform lives, and who threw themselves body and soul into the work they believed in. The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University has a collection of the family’s papers, and I recently ran across the following paragraph in one of the library’s newsletters, written by Pat Harrison:

“When she [Elizabeth Blackwell] received her medical degree, in 1849, the news traveled far. The editor [Gamaliel Bailey] of The National Era, a weekly [abolitionist] newspaper in Washington, DC, wrote a long article about her. ‘She is one of those who cannot be hedged up, or turned aside, or defeated,’ he concluded. ‘She is a woman, not of words, but of deeds; and all those who only want to talk about it, may as well give up.’”

What a wonderful description of a groundbreaking innovator! Dr. Blackwell, quite simply, could not be stopped. Written 170 years ago, The National Era’s characterization of Dr. Blackwell resonates powerfully with what I am beginning to learn is a distinguishing feature of the people connected to Hobart and William Smith and, indeed, of the Colleges themselves. This is a place of action and integrity, of scholarship in service to humanity. Hobart and William Smith faculty, students and alums cannot be “hedged up, or turned aside, or defeated.”

I have much to learn about the Colleges and in the coming year, it is my intention to listen closely to your ideas and perspectives. I recently started a podcast as an invitation to all members of the HWS community to join me on that adventure of exploration. I’ve also created a webpage – Explore HWS – that will be updated often to reflect some of the new things I’m learning. On that webpage, you can also share what you’d like me to know and explore at the Colleges. This is the beginning of what I anticipate will be a rich and rewarding  dialogue about the future of Hobart and William Smith – where we want to see the Colleges in the next decade and beyond, and what we must do to achieve our goals.

I am immeasurably grateful to serve as your president. It is a position I undertake with resolve and purpose, fully aware of the challenges ahead of us and deeply appreciative for your partnership.


Joyce P. Jacobsen