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HWS comes under fire after using incorrect student photo for scholarship announcement

Waking up last Sunday to a Snapchat from a friend at the Colleges, Brandon Harding saw his name appear in font in a newly published student profile on the school’s website.

But when he logged on it was another Black student at the Colleges, and not himself.

His name appeared, but not his face – let alone his own facial features.

Harding, a recent graduate from the Classes of 2020 at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, who’s set to travel to Vietnam as the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright scholarship was misnamed in a photograph.

“I went online searched up real quickly right there on the webpage so it really caught me off guard,” Harding told FingerLakes1.com.

Harding had been alerted of the situation on Sunday, July 19th, causing him to reach-out on social media to share his side of the story.

“When I found out on Sunday, I made the need like to make this much more public and aware of what’s really going on,” he explained.

In a recent Instagram post depicting the original student profile, Harding wrote the following:

“I really don’t post or use this app as often, but I had to address this issue. Not all black people look alike. In the midst of a global pandemic and major racial issues all over America, HWS still finds the time to make light of its dwindling POC community. I’ve been at this school for 4 years and for the most part, I’ve seen what it means to go to a PWI and marginalized by an institution day after day. President Jacobsen recently said we don’t have an institutional racism problem. I beg to differ. If an institution can barely get the faces of its 6 black kids right and instead point out every Becky and Chad in its photo ops, then we have a serious institutional racism problem. The first time that they wanna put me in a photo up on their front page, they messed it up. ‘Look we have a Fulbright kid here who HAPPENS to be a black man.’ I personally know people at Admissions and it goes to show that even being known and recognized by these people, at the end of the day doesn’t mean shit. I’m a token to them and that’s what you need to know too. Look at that Admissions student profile. There are more POC students in there than I’ve ever seen in a classroom at HWS at a time. If you’re a POC or any marginalized group at the school, know that all they see you as is a token for the school.”

A few days removed from writing the original post, Harding still feels the same way about the situation – sheer disappointment.

“I feel like my mindset right now is the same as how it was on Sunday, so very disappointed, just like aggravated that this even happened,” he admitted.

Although Harding’s misfortune seems to be an isolated incident, it still bothers him that he has only dealt with this error unlike the rest of his peers.

“From what I’ve seen, I’m just looking on the website. It’s kind of odd how I’m the only one in that page for this mistake to happen,” he said.

Later on, that same day, Cathy Williams, the vice president for marketing and communications for the Office of Communications, created a comment on Harding’s original Instagram post, expressing her own apology on the social media platform, which reads in its entirety below:

“Dear Brandon, I just saw your post and wanted to reach out to personally apologize for this mistake. My group swaps profiles in and out on the website with some regularity and in our latest batch of updates, members of the team missed the change on the mobile view. Literally every change on our site has to be done by hand which means mistakes happen. Although the error is human, it doesn’t diminish the impact. It’s frankly outrageous. I feel terrible that my team’s mistake made you think you are not seen or appreciated, or that we don’t care about you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although I cannot change what happened, the mistake has been corrected. I would be happy to discuss this further and can make myself available any time,” Williams said.

All things considered, Harding considers the social media apology on Instagram as “unprofessional” and shocking to him that a campus wide email still hasn’t been sent on his behalf.

“It also caught me off guard how I will not get a response or like being a school wide email either,” he added.

Even when he received private emails from Williams on behalf of the Office of Communications, the whole situation seemed “subtle” and discreet to him.

“It was just Cathy trying to address the whole department, rather than several separate emails, I guess from each member or whoever it was involved in this case. It was kind of really subtle because it was just kept to me at the time when I went ahead and emailed her,” Harding elaborated.

In addition to reaching-out to Williams, he also contacted Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Khuram Hussain and even Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions, John Young – his former supervisor at the Office of Admissions.

All of whom answered his emails, each with their own private correspondences and separate apologies.

However, President Joyce P. Jacobsen, who had come under fire for recent comments made regarding systemic racism never contacted Harding or sent an apology on behalf of the reprehensible shortcomings of the Colleges.


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“Not at all. I was hoping to, but everyone else except for her basically reached out to me,” he revealed.

Harding also holds the Office of Communications and rest of the institution accountable and “responsible for having this mistake,” one with a burden that must be equally carried throughout Williams’ entire office.   

“Everyone who works under her is part of it,” Harding explained. But now he strongly urges for a public apology to made on his behalf.

“I feel like they should send out like a public apology to me, and to make everyone aware of the situation rather than trying to sweep this under the rug,” Harding added.

He insists on having the Colleges not forget about this mistake, one that may be dismissed as “a little incident,” but it seems to be a microaggression mistake, in Harding’s eyes.

“It’s kind of funny because somebody had told me that student also worked in admissions. So, to have him be misrepresented and be put in this type of likeness is kind of just more disrespectful because it’s someone that’s even working in that same department, just not giving the same fair treatment as any other white student on campus,” he continued.

In the select apology emails that he received, the word change appeared often and repeated itself – something that Harding cannot fully comprehend, now more than ever.


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“They kept on mentioning like change, but they never mentioned how they were going to change or what steps they were going to make a change or anywhere like that. It’s kind of hard to even see on change down the road, because I really care for students after me that has to continue the next four, three, two years or one year here, and not to do some something like this,” he concluded.