Office for Spiritual Engagement

Dear Students of Hobart and William Smith Colleges,

During the past week there have been concerns expressed about President Jacobsen’s response to questions on systemic racism in a ZOOM call. I recently listened to her responses on the “Connections Broadcast with Evan Dawson.” In this interview, President Jacobsen acknowledged that systemic racism exists, and especially acknowledged that it exists on our campus. Additionally, she stated that she was sorry she did not say that in the ZOOM call, however she is looking ahead to expand her work with students and welcomes feedback. I am writing to ask how we will make this journey as a campus community together with President Jacobsen to provide feedback, engage in dialogue, and re-create the environment we have inherited at HWS. We stand in the legacy of an environment that is currently flawed with many forms of bias rooted in a narrative of white supremacy that has sustained systemic oppression for centuries. These may be strong words, but the work of unraveling this narrative can only be accomplished when we name the problem with explicit language. I commend President Jacobsen for having the humility to name systemic racism as a problem at HWS in her interview with Evan Dawson that was not named on the ZOOM call several days ago.

As the Chaplain of the Colleges, I am ordained in the Episcopal Church, which has set forth guidelines for becoming Beloved Community, a long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation and justice. I hope to explore this pathway with you in the coming weeks. However, I find it necessary to outline the core elements of this pathway which include the following core values and questions:

  1. Telling the Truth – Who are we? What have we done and left undone regarding racial justice and healing?
  2. Proclaiming the Dream – How can we publicly acknowledge things done and left undone? What does Beloved Community look like?
  3. Repairing the Breach – How will we grow as reconcilers, healers and justice-bearers? How will we actively grow relationship across dividing walls?
  4. Practicing the Way of Love – What institutions and systems are broken? How will we participate in the repair, restoration and healing of people, institutions and systems?

President Jacobsen took a reflective step along with our entire campus community to Tell the Truth that systemic racism exists within our campus. Additionally, I am thankful to our students who are claiming their voice in this struggle and asking critical questions regarding racial justice, so that we may publicly acknowledge where work needs to be done. However, this is only the beginning because the work is unfinished. I exhort HWS to augment our commitment to academic pursuits with the pursuit to Become a Beloved Community. When a member admits the truth, we must come together to re-envision how our Beloved Community will look in the future. We stand at a place to Proclaim the Dream of a healthy community as we Repair the Breach that has erected dividing walls among us. Those dividing walls tell us that we dare not take the time to sit down and listen to each other and care for one another.

HWS is more than a place that erects dividing walls; we are a community that grows roots that will sustain us and break through the walls built to divide us for centuries. If you have ever worked in building construction and repair, you will noticed that tree roots can break through almost anything, including plumbing and concrete foundations? Tree roots also connect to each other, strengthening other trees to withstand hurricanes and tornadoes. I know this because I am from NC where hurricanes entered the state every year. Like the trees that withstand the hurricanes of NC, we need to branch out to each other with roots of truth, roots of healing, roots of restoration, and roots of justice bearing love if we are to thrive in the hurricane laden days to come. Yes, we have walls that need to come down. We have broken systems that may not be repairable, and therefore need to come down as we erect something new in their places. We are at a critical juncture for the HWS Colleges, and repairing brokenness can only be accomplished when we spread the roots that build relationships. This is why I am encouraged by President Jacobsen stating that she is looking ahead and wants to expand her work with students while welcoming feedback. We all have a stake in this together, so I invite us to accept this invitation and engage in authentic and loving dialogue as we pursue the Way of Love and dismantle the narrative of white supremacy in our localized community, while preparing students to be agents of change in our world. I am personally depending on you.

With prayers for our work together,

Beloved Community

The Rev. Nita C. Johnson Byrd


Office for Spiritual Engagement
St. John's Chapel, Room 22
Geneva, NY 14456

Phone: (315) 781-3671
Fax: (315) 781-3348

Abbe Center for Jewish Life
Phone: (315) 679-6924





Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.