October 23, 2014

Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,

Earlier this week, I outlined the next steps for the Culture of Respect and announced the formation of the corresponding steering committee. It is my belief that this forward-leaning, inclusive approach — one in which all members of our community have a voice — will result in positive change and in an environment in which empathy and advocacy are prized and practiced.

As plans have progressed on the Culture of Respect, other carefully developed initiatives have been underway including the important curriculum review which has the capacity to generate innovation in substantial ways; the creation of a campus master plan which will inform our roadmap of development in the coming years; and the establishment of the Colleges’ next strategic plan — HWS 2020.

In tandem with these efforts, I am grateful to the faculty, staff and students who are working on a number of other projects that are already making a difference and that are bringing us together with a common goal of making Hobart and William Smith an even better place. I write today to provide updates on some of these.

  • Policies and Procedures: Over the summer and in collaboration with faculty, students and staff, the Colleges revised its sexual misconduct policies to create an Interim Sexual Misconduct Policy. Under the leadership of CoFac, that policy will undergo a complete review and revision during the 2014-15 academic year. CoFac has organized into six working groups that will address: the structure and staff of the Title IX office, the definition of consent, reporting, hearing and resolving reported cases, sanctions, and language choices. Each working group will have Title IX office staff and an external consultant to help with research and consult on legal issues. During the spring semester 2015, each working group will hold a community forum to discuss recommendations. The results of these community discussions will be used to complete the revision of the policy.
  • Office of Title IX Programs & Compliance: The Colleges have significantly expanded the Office of Title IX Programs & Compliance to include the interim Title IX coordinator, two psychologists and an experienced Title IX legal adviser, housed at 603 South Main Street in the Seneca Room Annex. The office has already served as a great resource to our students this semester. Members of the team are working now to support and enhance greater awareness through facilitated training sessions, community conversations, and other events.
  • Bystander Training: Thanks to 35 faculty and staff members who volunteered their time to be trained as facilitators, all first-year students are required to attend bystander intervention training based on the University of New Hampshire model and most have already participated. They join a number of upper-class students who have participated through their affiliations with athletics teams and HWS clubs. In total, more than 800 students to date have been trained. The Title IX Office will continue to expand training to include any remaining first-year students and all members of athletic teams, fraternities and campus organizations. The office will then offer sessions open to all students. Work is also happening to ensure that bystander training is the first step in a progressive and constant training program that gives students the tools they need to navigate a myriad of social situations that require facility in topics related to race, class, gender and sexuality.
  • Awareness and Educational Programming: I am grateful to the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men and to the Office of Student Affairs for their collaboration on a series of forums on sexual violence held in September. The events wisely used the talents of our faculty, staff and students to create a dynamic series of programmatic events. In addition, I am pleased to announce that on December 9, the President’s Forum will welcome Susan Brison, the chair of the philosophy department at Dartmouth College and the author of Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self. Professor Brison’s talk will add significantly to the ongoing campus dialogue.
  • Training for Faculty and Staff: With a goal of broadening training for faculty and staff regarding Title IX, the Office of Title IX Programs & Compliance will hold training sessions this semester. Members of the Office have already met with the faculty and will do so again this semester to further discuss compliance regarding responsible employee status as well as how faculty can help students make connections to appropriate resources. Provost Titi Ufomata and Dr. Susan Pliner worked with a group of faculty volunteers to test two online training modules and the Title IX office is reviewing the feedback of that group now to make a recommendation for next steps. The Office of Human Resources and the Office of Title IX Programs & Compliance are collaborating to heighten awareness among all staff members through training that will take place before the end of the semester.
  • Greater Use of Technology: The Colleges have been working with students and alums to identify technology solutions that can help our community stay safe. HWS is one of the first three higher education institutions to partner with Circle of 6, an app that won the White House “Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge.” Circle of 6 allows students to connect with friends to prevent violence before it happens. Designed for college students, the app provides easy access to on- and off-campus resources and allows the user to connect with six friends of their choice to alert them of their location or request an interruption. The app will be ready for students to download (iPhone and Android) and use within the next few weeks.
  • 24-Hour Hotline: As part of a student initiative, the Colleges have partnered with Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes to give the entire campus community access to a 24-hour hotline, an important option for students who wish to report sexual assault. The hotline will be staffed by on-call students who will be specially trained to provide appropriate support and explain reporting options. A group of dedicated students are in the midst of training with Safe Harbors, which reports that the program will be up and running after the New Year.
  • Center for Gender and Sexuality: The creation of a center on campus has been a topic of research and study for some months and two students have created a white paper that outlines a version of what such a center could be and do on our campus. Other cohort groups have reflected on this same issue and offered ideas as well. The Culture of Respect will immediately review proposed concepts proposed concepts, investigating best practices and exploring how such a center could intersect with other campus entities that are committed to the exploration of gender, sexuality, power and privilege.
  • Title IX Coordinator Search: I am appreciative of the efforts of the Sexual Violence Task Force for its review of the Title IX coordinator job description. The Title IX coordinator and the Office of Title IX Programs & Compliance will report directly to me and will oversee educational programming, compliance, investigation and adjudication of complaints. This is an important national search, one that we plan to post later this week, and I’ve asked Vice President for Human Resources Sandy Bissell to coordinate a search committee that will include faculty, staff and students.
  • Climate Survey: The Office of Title IX Programs & Compliance has taken a leadership role in analyzing different approaches to administering a comprehensive climate survey. Currently, the office is preparing a recommendation that balances a swift timeline with the potential benefits of customization. A recommendation is expected within the next two weeks.

I have valued the conversations with individuals and campus groups that began this summer and that have continued through the fall semester. These meetings have been marked by a shared commitment to strengthening our community and to seeking solutions that take into account everyone’s voice. As we move forward, there will be many opportunities for continued dialogue. I look forward to the work of the Culture of Respect Steering Committee and to the changes that we can realize together.


Mark D. Gearan


Share suggestions and ideas for change with Hobart and William Smith Colleges: HWSfeedback@hws.edu

A student group, the Coalition of Concerned Students, is working to ensure that the Colleges are a safe environment for all students and are joining with the Colleges and the HWS Community for Change to enact policy and climate changes. The Coalition of Concerned Students can be reached at: hwscocs@gmail.com.

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