In the aftermath of a public apology, several alumni from Hobart and William Smith Colleges are still not satisfied with Colleges’ direction when it comes to address racial injustices and disparities on-campus.
Brendan Corbett Csaposs, a Class of 2009 graduate from the Colleges sent an email around 11 p.m. from Kenya with the subject line “Disappointed HWS Alum Reaching Out.”
The email had been distributed directly to President Joyce P. Jacobsen and cc’d to several on-campus leaders including the Hobart and William Smith respective deans’ offices, Alumni and Alumnae Relations Office, and even HWS President Emeritus Mark D. Gearan, L.H.D. ’17, P’21.
In that email, Csaposs expressed his candid disappointment with President Jacobsen’s apology on WXXI News with Evan Dawson on Connections, claiming that her response to student reactions were “rather dismissive, particularly for someone so new in their tenure at our institution.”
“I’m writing today to register my disappointment about what I’ve read in the recent FingerLakes1 article regarding your comments on systemic racism at HWS and in Geneva. To be honest, I am even more deeply disappointed by your response,” Csaposs wrote.
Csaposs explained that his decision to step forward and speak-out had been predicated on his positionality as a white alumnus and ally, one who could help validate the experiences of peers – those who are not actively seen by the Colleges, both then and even now.
“This is a moment where I think alumni do need to step forward and add their voice to this, but I think part of the reason that that I decided to make a statement is because I think, unfortunately, as is often the case with choose around race, we always put the people that are actually affected by the issue in the position of also having to fight the issue,” Csaposs told FingerLakes1.com.
“Other white alumni need to also step into the space and create space that can then be filled by the stories of our peers, but I don’t think we’re going to see traction unless otherwise people say, ‘Yep, this was an issue and I was there’,” he added.
Csaposs reflected on his time when he once walked the halls across the Colleges some more than eleven years ago, and these conversations were well-established even during the Gearan presidency, but never actually acted upon.
“Like I said in my message like this has been the conversation, like it’s not something new. It’s not just popping up now like the ongoing trend,” Csaposs shared.
“You had a lot of students talking about it. You had a lot of faculty of color talking about it, but there was never like, an ability to gain traction because those people weren’t listened to,” he elaborated.
Beyond the issue of micro-aggressions that Jacobsen outlined on Connections, the ways by which systemic racism manifests at the Colleges run far deeper in scope and intensity, according to Csaposs.
“HWS is just a microcosm of like our larger society. So, the issues that we see there, reflect that. Students of color are being targeted by security to be stopped and questioned or to have the Geneva Police Department stop students of color while they’re walking around town or even when they’re on-campus. Black students in particular being treated like suspects,” he explained.
While working at one of the dean’s office, Csaposs claims that disciplinary actions were handled differently on the basis of race.
“I saw things they came through, related to disciplinary action with students. The way that disciplinary action against wealthy white students was handled was very different than the way that it was handled with regards to incidents that affected students of color and also students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. If you have your name on a building, even if you get busted with drugs or you get busted drinking like nothing happens, but if you’re a scholarship student and all of a sudden, your scholarships on the line and you’re facing and disciplinary action,” Csaposs suggested.
The doctoral candidate from the University of Arkansas suggests that Jacobsen as a self-described social scientist should feel comfortable listening and learning from the lived experiences of current and alum students of color – which had gone largely ignored for the last 15-years, ever since his involvement at the institution.
“So here’s the thing: Now is the time to stop talking/ responding, and listen. I understand that there is a group of student activists that are preparing a list of demands: Listen to them. Alumni of colour are sharing stories right now: Listen to them. This should all be firmly within the vein of the work that you enjoy doing as a Social Scientist. Dig in. It will be ugly. It will be personal. Some of it may even be directed at you. But do the work,” Csaposs insisted.
Last year, Csaposs attended his class reunion during 2019 and actually met Jacobsen. While there, he also spoke with select red-shirt students who worked the event, some of whom were a part of the Higher Education Opportunity Program.
Csaposs, who still had one of those student’s cell phone number that drove him around on a golf cart recently reached-out to see how he’s processing everything, but only found-out that disappointment has been the norm.
“His immediate response was like, I had hoped that, given everything that’s happening in the world right now that there might have been some kind of response and instead, like, this is just disappointing like to know that the president of our institution, like really doesn’t have our back,” Csaposs shared.
Based on Jacobsen’s comments, Csaposs claims that her “tone deafness” on the subject suggests she is not surrounded by those who are disproportionately impacted by the issues of systemic racism.
“I just think that the tone deafness of the response in the current landscape, lets me know that like the people that have her ear are not the ones that are actually affected by this because if people that are being affected by this were in that room and sharing their experiences or felt like they could share their experiences openly and honestly – there’s no way that this would be the impression that you have so that lets me know that you are completely detached from the experience of an entire subset of people on your campus,” he asserted.
Realizing the challenging road ahead, Csaposs admitted that this message comes at a cost to the Colleges in the form of him not donating to the institution any longer until “concrete action” is taken seriously consisting of “real policy changes” that are drafted in an actual document.
“For that reason, I will not be giving any more of my alumni dollars to the Colleges until I see *concrete action.* REAL POLICY CHANGES. No more luncheon series. No more emails. No more “task forces” and other garbage bureaucracy. I want to see your administration meet with student organisers and alumni of colour, and produce a clear policy document on what will change at the campus, and what the Colleges expect to see change in Geneva,” he emphasized.
Although Csaposs solely wrote the email, he is not alone in his aims after telling his own parents and fellow alumni to stop funneling their financial donations back toward the Colleges until issues surrounding systemic racism are taken seriously.
“I have similarly asked my parents to stop donating until this is rectified, and am encouraging my fellow alumni to do the same,” Csaposs continued.
Even though Csaposs has not been around the college campus after recently moving to Kenya, seeing the People’s Peaceful Protests online in Geneva signifies to him that the issues of systemic racism are real and undeniable, even for Jacobsen who had just finished her first academic year as the current president.
“The fact that that people are coming together to protest in this town should let you know that this is an issue, like the fact that you have a group of students that are talking on this and I mean, let alone happen speaking on this for decades should let you know that it’s an issue. So, like, you only been here a year, which granted is not that long, but you supposedly embarked on that whole listening tour, but were you actually listening? So, it seems like it was more of a photo-op than anything else if you’re still in this position a year later,” he mentioned.
After graduating from the Colleges, Csaposs pursued a career in education, specializing in school leadership, and while currently residing in Kenya – he does not feel confident at this time in recommending any prospective students of color or even possibly his own future children to attend the Colleges until racial disparities are remedied.
“I’ve always worked pretty much exclusively with Black and Latinx students, mostly Black students, of course, living in Louisiana. I’ve encouraged countless students to apply to HWS because it’s a great experience. It’s such a great school and I mean, someday, God willing I’ll have kids of my own which, based on my current life trajectory will not be white children, and I would like to be able to send my children to HWS and feel comfortable and confident that things are different, and right now, what I’m seeing lets me know that that’s not the case,” he shared.
He further considered, “How could I in good conscience to encourage Black students to apply at our school knowing that this bullshit is still happening?”
As a class correspondent and class agent for the Hobart College Class of 2009, Csaposs feels complicit in propagating the institution.
“It makes me feel like a fraud, right, because I’m out here fundraising and encouraging people to share their stories for the Pulteney Street Survey and it’s popping up something that is showing that it doesn’t want to change,” Csaposs sadly admitted.
While racial relations situation at the Colleges are getting rockier and increasingly tenser, Csaposs still sees hope in Jacobsen seizing the moment to steer the institution in a positive direction into the future.
Regardless of however the president reacts next, he firmly believes that not only current students, but the far-reaching alumni community is also waiting in the wings and watching to see what she does next.
“But President Jacobsen, know that this is your moment. You can take this in a very positive direction for the school, or a very negative one. We are watching to see what you do,” Csaposs concluded in his email.
Editor’s Note: Read the email Csaposs sent out to faculty and leaders in it’s entirety below.
Disappointed HWS Alum Reaching Out
Brendan Corbett Csaposs – Wednesday, July 15, 2020
I’m not sure if you remember me, but I was honoured to get a chance to meet you at last year’s Reunion 2019, shortly before you started your tenure at HWS, when I was also honoured to be recognised with the Young Alumnus Award for my work as a Class Correspondent and Class Agent for the Hobart Class of 2009.
I’m writing today to register my disappointment about what I’ve read in the recent Finger Lakes 1 article regarding your comments on systemic racism at HWS and in Geneva. To be honest, I am even more deeply disappointed by your response.
To make, and then (for all intents and purposes) double down on the claim that systemic racism is not, or is in any way less than fully, an issue at HWS in Geneva is ahistorical, inaccurate, and dismissive of the real lived experiences of literally hundreds of students of colour who have graced our campus’s hallowed halls, dozens of which I have had the privilege to know personally. I also found your response to students’ reactions rather dismissive, particularly for someone so new in their tenure at our institution.
As I said, many of my friends have experienced racism in Geneva, from members of HWS staff, from Campus Security, and from GPD. This applies both to students and alumni that I know, and friends of colour that I made that live in the Geneva community. When I was on campus last year, I made a point of talking to the majority of the Reunion workers (incidentally, many of which were HEOP students of colour who were driving rich white alumni around campus in golf carts all weekend… dig into the optics of that) because I was interested to see if things have improved since my days on campus. I was disappointed but NOT shocked to hear that they have not. All of the current students I talked to shared issues they have encountered on campus and in the Geneva community. Every. Single. One.
While writing this, I’m perusing comment strings on the article left by friends of colour on Facebook sharing the many incidents that they encountered during their time at the school. I will not purport to tell those stories here, because they aren’t my stories to tell and I am not trying to center myself in this moment, but what I *can* tell you is that the nonaction that was experienced by my friends was observed by me as a white ally as well. So here’s the thing: Now is the time to stop talking/ responding, and listen.
I understand that there is a group of student activists that are preparing a list of demands: Listen to them.
Alumni of colour are sharing stories right now: Listen to them.
This should all be firmly within the vein of the work that you enjoy doing as a Social Scientist. Dig in. It will be ugly. It will be personal. Some of it may even be directed at you. But do the work.
At this point, enough is enough. We have literally been talking about this for all 15 years that I have been involved with HWS.
For that reason, I will not be giving any more of my alumni dollars to the Colleges until I see *concrete action.* REAL POLICY CHANGES. No more luncheon series. No more emails. No more “task forces” and other garbage bureaucracy. I want to see your administration meet with student organisers and alumni of colour, and produce a clear policy document on what will change at the campus, and what the Colleges expect to see change in Geneva.
I have similarly asked my parents to stop donating until this is rectified, and am encouraging my fellow alumni to do the same.
I am here to offer whatever suggestions I can (although we will have to work across timezones as I am now in Kenya).
But President Jacobsen, know that this is your moment. You can take this in a very positive direction for the school, or a very negative one. We are watching to see what you do.
University of Arkansas