Hobart and William Smith never fails to tackle a problem with careful consideration and then exceeding all expectations. This past summer, the Colleges underwent extreme scrutiny and were brought to the foreground of one of the most challenging problems on college campuses across the nation. Creating a safe environment that fosters respect and care surrounding sexuality, race and class is exactly what President Gearan brought to the attention of the Colleges. To tackle these issues, President Gearan has appointed a steering committee made up of students, faculty, staff and alums who each are asked to focus on specific areas.
The first area is safety and wellness. This section engages in the topic of interventions around high risk behavior, and most importantly, how to make the students on campus feel safe. This section does not just focus on specific cases but looks to bring the whole campus community into the conversation and provide training to avoid future situations. In order to have a well-rounded and safe atmosphere on campus, it is important that the entire campus is well informed on what is happening and how to create a compassionate and understanding environment.
The second area of focus are campus facilities. There are three main spaces for campus facilities; social, academic and residential. The Colleges are committed to making these spaces as comfortable and inclusive as possible to meet the needs of the 21st century culture of respect that Hobart and William Smith strives to create. One student noted, “I think if the Colleges want to make students comfortable, it’s necessary to have the main area’s on campus feel safe. This is especially important for First Years who don’t know the campus yet.”
The third area of focus is history and heritage. This is especially important to the Colleges as we work on a coordinate system of two separate schools, a men’s college and a women’s college, that share the same campus, faculty, administration and curriculum, giving us a unique view on gender and gender-based support between students. Hobart and William Smith has a long history of 200 years of proactive thinking and activism. It is extremely important that the Colleges continue this thinking and progress even further.
The fourth area is dialogue across differences. This section is vital to the steering committee. In order for each of the above sections to prove effective, understanding one another’s differences and how to respectfully communicate between one another is the key behind making change. High-risk conversations need to happen; but how does one have a high-risk conversation when each person comes from a completely different background with a multitude of varying views? This is why creating a safe environment for these conversations is so imperative when creating this system.
The fifth and final area is the curriculum. The central piece of an academic environment are the academic programs and classes. The Colleges hope to add a deeper understanding to issues beyond the campus grounds and create a more aware society. When asking students what they felt about creating more variety in the curriculum, one response was: “Having a wider range of classes to introduce us to ideas, especially culturally, will definitely help us to be more aware of the global prospective. I’m taking a cross-culture class currently and it has opened my eyes to a whole new look on things. I feel like I’ve grown a lot from taking the course.”
There’s no doubt that the introduction of this committee will be beneficial to the Colleges and over time enhance the students understanding of forming a culture of respect where the students feel safe and well-prepared for the difficulties we face in the 21st century.