The national dialogue on sexual assault and how HWS is responding

by Andrew Wickenden '09

The summer of 2014 was, by all accounts, a heartbreaking time. In May, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights included Hobart and William Smith among 55 institutions of higher education – now 91 – under review regarding compliance with federal rules intended to diminish sexual harassment on college campuses. The Colleges’ inclusion on the list was prompted by the complaint of a student after an alleged sexual assault.

In July, the New York Times published an article about the Colleges’ handling of a student’s sexual assault complaint. The Hobart and William Smith adjudication of the complaint had exonerated the alleged suspects, and Ontario County’s district attorney determined that no criminal charges were warranted.

The newspaper’s account of the incident sparked an intense reaction within the Hobart and William Smith community, galvanizing action.

“As I wrote to the New York Times in July, we stand behind the results of our process and disagree with the paper’s depiction of the Colleges and the characterization of our students, faculty and staff,” says Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09, chair of the Board of Trustees. “We can, however, always do better. We owe it to every member of our community to ensure that no student ever feels the pain and grief that was depicted in that article.”

With emotions running high, the Hobart and William Smith community responded in the manner it has responded to adversity for nearly 200 years. Students, faculty, administrators, parents, alumni and alumnae came together for dialogue and earnest soul-searching to reaffirm longstanding values while also resolving to make Hobart and William Smith even stronger.

“Although we know that we have worked very hard to provide a safe environment for students, and although we know that the issues we are grappling with exist at virtually all institutions across the country, we take no comfort in these facts,” says President Mark D. Gearan. “Hobart and William Smith have an opportunity to provide leadership. As the father of two daughters, nothing could be more important to me personally or professionally.”

Rooted in compassion, the drive to do better has become a pivotal concept in the campus dialogue, allowing the community to support those in need while also supporting the Colleges themselves.

“If we retreat into our offices, we don’t come out stronger as a community, and that’s fundamentally what we’re trying to address,” says Nan Crystal Arens, associate professor of geoscience and chair of the Hobart and William Smith Committee on Faculty.

“We have so much pride in our institution, in our students, faculty and staff, in the accomplishments of our alums,” says Gearan. “We needed to honor that pride and move forward to make the Colleges an even better place for all students.”

A Community United

“Hobart and William Smith is the kind of place where faculty, alums and students can sit with campus leadership and discuss not just campus safety but what we value, what we expect of each other, how we can give students the resources they need, and what’s at the root of these issues,” says Michael Mills ’96, who serves as a Regional Vice President of the Southeast Region, a volunteer position for the HWS National Regional Network, and who worked with various parties in the weeks following the Times story. Mills attended an August session on campus when members of HWS Community for Change, an alum group, met with the chair of the Board, president and provost to create a plan of action steps.

“The most important thing the administration and faculty can do, and that they’ve been working hard to do, is listen to the students,” says Sarah Feldman ’15, a member of the Coalition of Concerned Students, a group formed in May by representatives of HWS student government and social justice clubs on campus.

The collaboration at gatherings and forums has led to new initiatives and provided support for projects that were already in the works, including a major expansion of the Title IX Office; a collaborative revision of the Colleges’ sexual misconduct policy; bystander training for students; training for faculty and staff; new Orientation programming; technology initiatives; and enhanced partnerships with local rape crisis and health care providers, the Geneva Police Department, and the Ontario County District Attorney’s Office. The desired impact is to prevent sexual assault while also giving students, faculty and staff the knowledge and tools they need should it occur.

“It’s heartening to see the outpouring of support from our community,” says Robert Flowers, vice president for student affairs. “Our goal is and has always been to provide the best, safest and most supportive environment for students. We have to keep these issues at the forefront of the campus dialogue.”

At least one initiative has moved into the realm of mobile technology. Through the leadership of Feldman, Hobart and William Smith is one of the first of three higher education institutions to partner with Circle of 6, an app that won the White House’s “Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge.” Circle of 6 allows students to connect with friends to help prevent violence. Designed for college students, the app provides easy access to on- and off-campus resources and allows users to connect with six friends of their choice and alert them to their location or request an interruption.

And prior to the fall semester, fraternities at Hobart and William Smith wrote to the student body and pledged to be active partners in fostering a healthy campus climate. “We all love this place and want to see it succeed,” says Paul Ciaccia ’15, the president of Chi Phi and a member of the Intra-Fraternity Council. “We wanted to immediately show support and respect. We want to be recognized as part of the campus community and that means we have a responsibility to it.”

A Culture of Respect

The kind of improvement, accountability and inclusive dialogue at the heart of the Colleges’ response became the guiding tenets of a comprehensive, new initiative on campus – the Culture of Respect.

Announced by Gearan in his 2014 Convocation address, the Culture of Respect enlists the entire HWS community to reaffirm and strengthen a culture in which empathy, diversity and truth are valued and practiced. “From class, to race, to sexuality - underneath all of these dynamics that are important to building a sense of community is the imperative for greater respect,” Gearan said.

In the fall, Gearan appointed a steering committee comprised of faculty, staff, students, parents, and members of the Board of Trustees and Alumni and Alumnae Councils. Their charge is to take a critical look at how the Colleges’ systems and policies foster the community’s culture of respect. The committee will study the issue for one year and offer best-practice recommendations to the administration in five focus areas: safety and wellness, campus facilities, history and heritage, dialogue across differences and the curriculum.

The Steering Committee is co-chaired by Professor Emeritus of Economics Pat McGuire L.H.D. ’12 and Mara O’Laughlin ’66, L.H.D. ’13. As a well-respected member of the faculty, McGuire has had a number of leadership roles on campus, most recently serving as interim provost and dean of faculty. A highly regarded former director of admissions and assistant vice president for advancement, O’Laughlin has worked to advance the Colleges, helping to establish the Centennial Center for Leadership and fundraising for the new performing arts center.

“There are longstanding social issues to confront and improve,” explains O’Laughlin. “Our charge—as a committee that spans the spectrum of community—is to honestly confront who we are, what we hope to be, and what we do well.”

“HWS has the kinds of people who will step up to these tasks,” McGuire says. “Those are the inspirations that I look to as we focus on what HWS does well, what works, and how to make them work better. Are there areas within those categories that we can improve? Of course. And the first meetings have demonstrated that there’s no lack of ideas.”

Those close to the process say it’s important to remember that Hobart and William Smith have long had a culture of respect built on open inquiry. The current undertaking seeks to reaffirm those values and apply them in the context of shifting social norms.

“In light of everything that’s gone on in the past few months, it’s easy to focus on the negatives,” says Aly McKnight ’15, president of William Smith Congress and a member of the Culture of Respect Steering Committee and the Coalition of Concerned Students. “Focusing on what’s positive changes the entire structure of how we’re talking about social life on campus.”

Gearan is committed to ensuring that the Colleges will lead the country in combating campus sexual assaults. “We are uniquely poised to move forward with confidence on this issue. We have a strong tradition as a coordinate institution, a deep history rooted in advocacy and critical thinking, and significant success working collaboratively on a number of recent initiatives. Most importantly, I know the integrity and conviction of our community.

“Hobart and William Smith is a great place. We now have a chance to make it an even better place.”

A Culture of Respect is one in which empathy, diversity and truth are valued and practiced. A culture of respect is one that encourages us to see the world from multiple perspectives; to participate in dialogue that lifts understanding and that cultivates a practice of listening; to understand marginalization and isolation as the byproduct of prejudice and hate; to show leadership and intervene even when it is inconvenient and especially when it is difficult; and to fight oppression while we also guard against intolerance in our own thoughts and actions.

The Culture of Respect Steering Committee will make recommendations designed to cultivate a deeper culture of respect within five focus areas: safety and wellness, campus facilities, history and heritage, dialogue across differences, and the curriculum.

Patrick McGuire L.H.D. ’12, Co-Chair of Culture of Respect
Mara O’Laughlin ’66, L.H.D. ’13, Co- Chair of Culture of Respect
• Brandon Barile, Director of Residential Education
• Anne Buckley P’15, Co-Chair of the Parents Executive Committee
• Jerry Buckley P’15, Co-Chair of the Parents Executive Committee
• Sandra Chu, Head William Smith Rowing Coach
• Jeremy T. Cushman ’96, M.D., President of The Alumni Association
• Caroline Demeter ’15, William Smith Student Trustee
• Amy Forbes, Director of Culture of Respect Steering Committee, Associate Director of the Centennial Center for Leadership
• Laura Free, Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Women’s Studies Department
• Louis Guard ’07, Esq., Chief of Staff and Counsel
• Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk ’98, President of The Alumnae Association
• DeWayne Lucas, Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of Faculty
• Gail Herman McGinn ’73, Trustee
• Aly McKnight ’15, President of The William Smith Congress
• Alejandra Molina, Director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs
• Gregory Raymond, Head Hobart Lacrosse Coach
• Richard Salter ’86, P’15, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
• Nicolas Stewart ’15, Hobart Student Trustee
• Henry Smith ’15, President of Hobart Student Government
• Titilayo Ufomata, Provost and Dean of Faculty
• Cynthia Williams, Professor of Dance


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.