National focus, local views: More than a school by the lake

Posted: Saturday, July 19, 2014 5:00 am | Updated: 3:07 pm, Mon Jul 21, 2014.

Emily Saeli

While there are many striking aspects of last Sunday’s New York Times article featuring our school, one seemingly innocent statement stood out to me the most. Anna said, of her first visit to Hobart and William Smith Colleges, “You could see out on the lake - literally, felt like this is what heaven looks like.”

I remember my own first trip to HWS. We sat in on an introductory session about the school, in a gorgeous room facing the lake. I listened intently and before we even left the building for the tour I had made up my mind. It was going to be my new home. I can understand Times reporter Walt Bogdanich’s choice to use Anna’s words about the lake. It’s a big selling point for us. It is also, perhaps, the shallowest description of our school he could make.

Anna’s article has broken my heart in both new and familiar ways. It breaks for Anna, in exactly the same way it breaks every time I read about women on college campuses seeking justice for sexual assault and finding little. HWS is sadly not alone in the circumstances we provided a new student, and I am no less angry about those situations as I am about ours. But there were entirely new kinds of heartbreak attached to this article. Reading through Anna’s story, I saw, painted before me, a dark place where students seemingly fail to empathize for one another, where women like Anna have no place to turn. One with a lake. This was not my home.

While widely publicized as Hobart and William Smith Colleges, each college maintains its separate identity, while incorporating many features of student life in an arrangement known as the Coordinate System. But you’d think, for a school that separates its students based on gender that we wouldn’t be as close as we are. Unless you’re a tour guide, they say you never notice the differences between Hobart and William Smith. More than anything, this article has divided our beloved Colleges. The rifts are many; there are those who think we should “fix” athletics and fraternities; there are students verbally pitting themselves against the administration; alums who refuse to donate; students arguing among themselves over whether the article has any validity. Even bickering over “500-dollar sunglasses.” The worst, to me, are those who know nothing about our school, who claim they will never send their kids here. That breaks my heart most of all.

It is the opinion of myself, and the Coalition of Concerned Students that two things should be happening simultaneously. The first is that we work with the administration. There is nothing to be gained from blame anymore. The second is that our list of demands be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly. I support these demands because they are not simply in reaction to Anna’s case but to circumstances that have been seen on campus long before this article was published. The Coalition is one of many organizations that students have organized to fight the culture so often seen on other campuses. We’re made up of members of the Women’s Collective, the Sexual Assault Task Force, EMS Services, William Smith Congress, H.E.A.R, Pride Alliance, The Herald, the debate team, and Hobart and William Smith honors societies alike. Students have come together from every corner of the school over this issue. We do not point fingers, and in return, we ask only for cooperation. We are seeking to promote positive change through collaboration with our administration, which, even over these last few crazy days, we are seeing. They want to correct the wrongdoings, and they want to do it in conjunction with students so nothing like this ever happens again.

To Anna, I am incredibly sorry that your needs at HWS were not met and more sorry that there was even an atmosphere that created those needs in the first place. To our community as a whole, please do not be so quick to pass judgment. Acting in the face of little evidence is what got us in trouble in the first place. Finally, to anyone outside of HWS: We’re sorry, but more importantly, we’re working on it. Please pay us a visit. We have a lake, sure, but we also have much, much more.

Emily Saeli is a member of the William Smith Class of 2016. She is from Buffalo and is a double major in Writing and Rhetoric and International Relations. She is a member of the Coalition of Concerned Students, a student group dedicated to combating sexual violence on campus.


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