July 13, 2014

Dear Members of the HWS Community,

Earlier today The New York Times published a story about a sexual misconduct case at Hobart and William Smith that led to a complaint being filed by a student with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The article reports on one student's experience and the issues of sexual misconduct hearings in an academic community. This is a difficult article to read and for any student to be left with this perspective is disheartening. It is clear to me that even though we believe we handled the circumstances fairly and within the constraints of the law, and that we made decisions based on the evidence, there is no sense of satisfaction other than the knowledge that we treated everyone with compassion, kindness and respect. Our primary concern is to provide the student with the opportunities and support she needs to have a successful experience when she returns to our campus this fall.

I write to offer background and context on the article, to share a website we have created that includes information that was provided to the Times reporter which is largely missing from the article, and to convey the significant plans we have moving forward to address this national and very personal issue. The Colleges have no tolerance for sexual misconduct and are not reluctant to enforce our community standards and take action. In the past two years, the Colleges have adjudicated seven sexual misconduct cases resulting in four students being permanently separated from the Colleges.

We are fortunate to work in cooperation with the police force in Geneva and encourage every student who reports sexual misconduct to speak with the Geneva Police Department. In the case in question, within one hour of the report being made to HWS, the matter was presented to the Geneva Police Department. We have an established and effective system of policies and procedures that enforce the community standards we expect of all students. The panelists involved in adjudicating cases receive extensive training which includes multiple-day sessions with national experts.

This summer the Colleges are completing an audit of our approach to sexual misconduct and community standards. Committees of students, faculty, staff, alumni, alumnae and parents have been formed and are at work to assist with this effort. With their help, we are expanding our Title IX efforts and establishing a new Office of Title IX staffed by psychologists, an experienced Title IX legal adviser who will continue to ensure that our hearing process is equitable and fair, and an expert in educational development, all advised by a senior member of the faculty.

In response to inquiries, HWS officials met with the Times reporter for two lengthy interviews and answered numerous questions via e-mail and phone, all in an effort to fully explain our approach and philosophy regarding sexual assault cases. Regrettably, these responses were either ignored or downplayed in the article. We sought to provide him with as much information as possible within the constraints placed upon us by law as well as the limits we felt best to protect the privacy and dignity of those involved. As you can appreciate, we declined to share specific details of the case believing that to do so would be morally reprehensible and would violate federal law. We did not share the transcripts of the hearings with the reporter, which were quoted out of context in the article, again because to do so would violate the law.

I can well appreciate the concerns and outrage of those reading this article regarding our system, processes and approaches. These are complex issues facing every college and university. Sexual assault and all acts of violence undermine the ideals of dignity and respect we hold dear. The result is heartbreaking. Nothing is more important than working collaboratively to find solutions that will ensure the safety and wellbeing of students.

HWS is a special place with a dynamic student body, dedicated faculty and staff and an engaged alumni and alumnae. Collectively we are involved in a noble pursuit, one that we approach with sincere commitment to preparing students to lead lives of consequence. We are earnest in this effort and dedicated to ensuring that our students have a living and learning environment that values excellence in the classroom and a campus climate based on civility, collaboration and respect. To do any less would belittle the trust that our alumni, alumnae, students and parents have placed with us.

In future communications I will report to you on our efforts and trust you will not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns.


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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