Joined by local leaders in higher education, Evan Dawson, the host of Connections on WXXI News discussed the impacts of President Donald Trump’s directive for student visas and squeezed in an opportunity to speak with Hobart and William Smith Colleges President Joyce P. Jacobsen about comments that she recently made regarding systemic racism in Geneva during a Zoom Q&A session.
Jacobsen issued a formal apology on Connections and addressed the ongoing situation with Dawson about racial relations on-campus and in the greater Geneva community following FingerLakes1.com’s in-depth reporting from earlier that same day.
Dawson opened this portion of the conversation, asking, “Do you stand by those remarks now?”
“Well, there was a context in that, as you’ve indicated about Geneva, but I want to acknowledge systemic racism exists as a whole especially at HWS as a campus,” Jacobsen said.
“When I spoke on a Zoom call with parents, I did not say that and I’m sorry. It may not have been my intention, but words of power beyond our intention. It took the collective effort of our campus community to draw my attention to this, and looking ahead, I want to expand my work with our students and welcome feedback,” she continued.
When Dawson pressed Jacobsen on how systemic racism manifests on-campus, she suggests that microaggressions are a considerable problem.
“But on top of that the systemic nature of racism is such that it impedes everything in terms of our own attempts to develop a more diverse faculty are more diverse staff, and both have a more diverse group of students and also serve our students well, when they come to our campus, so it’s everything,” she elaborated.
After reading Jacobsen’s entire response email, Dawson clarified that the rekindled yearbook controversy caused the administration to review the assertions made that a particular person in connection Colleges had been identified by a current professor, but these allegations were unfounded and not true.
With this in mind, Jacobsen cautioned swift judgement in a letter stating, “It is important in this challenging age when truth facts and the quest for knowledge are under assault from many angles, that we investigate fully before moving to judgment, that we develop mutual and constructive approaches to move forward to a better world, and that we be kind and understanding with each other” – and she still stands by her prior position on the subject.
“Well, there are obviously people in the yearbook photos and the question was brought up that one person might be somebody who is associated with the Colleges even currently. So, that was the controversy, which to my understanding had actually begun last spring before I arrived here and had been talked about quite extensively at that time on the campuses as well. But I stand by those parts of my statement. But I think the challenge really, as we’ve been talking about today, is there just so many things happening right now, the international student issues, Black Live Matters issues and above all, framing all of these things right now, for us, the pandemic and the challenge for everybody in terms of our emotional well-being our mental health, our physical health is just so overwhelming right now that I just continue to hope that we are all kind of gentle with each other because we are all under so much stress right now. It’s just almost overwhelming for everybody,” Jacobsen responded.
While the Rising Panthers coalition is currently mobilizing on-campus to create a list of demands for structural changes at the Colleges, Dawson wondered if Jacobsen could actually work with these same students even though the newly formed collective is set to organize demonstrations throughout the upcoming fall semester.
“I certainly hope so. I mean, again, one of the real frustrations right now is also it’s so hard to actually talk with people because we aren’t able to meet physically Zoom sessions work to some degree, but it’s really not the same, and I still miss being able to actually sit down and talk with people. It’s been so long, since we’ve been able to do that and really try to work together. It is just very frustrating not to be able to have that physicality and the immediacy of being able to converse and dialogue together in those ways,” she explained.
When the topic of Sodexo Food Services came-up, Jacobsen announced progress around the subject by calling for independent research to be conducted ahead of this fall in preparation for much-needed community dialogues about the role of the food company at the Colleges.
“I’m trying to understand those claims more broadly. So, I’ve asked for independent research on that so that I can understand, and I want to enter into dialogue with the community about these issues, as well as other issues that they brought to my attention. Hopefully, when we all get back at this fall, we will be able to come up with ways in which we can do that on campus understood that there’s still restrictions related to physicality, but I do hope you’ll be able to have a full and open discussion of these matters in the fall,” Jacobsen answered.
Dawson posed the final question on the subject, inquiring, “Do you think that the sort of the climate of discourse right now will allow for mistakes to be made for apologies to be made for a constructive path forward? Do you think the discourse is going to allow that to be built or are you concerned that there’s something that’s anything that’s untenable going forward?”
“Well, I have faith that our students and the HWS community will be able to engage in these dialogues. I worry for the broader society that it is very challenging right now. I worry for everyone right now that this is a challenge, but it’s something we have to embrace going forward and continue to continue to try to work together to understand these difficult problems and move to solutions,” she concluded.