Setting the Record Straight: A Statement by VP of Student Affairs Dr. Meg Nowak

March 24, 2017

Recent information appearing on social media about Hartwick College’s response to a student conduct case involving a diverse set of students is both inaccurate and misleading. We initially did not respond to these posts. However, because the author of the negative misinformation about Hartwick has continued to make these posts, the College will now set the record straight so that all members of our academic community – our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other stakeholders and supporters – have accurate information about our response to the recent disciplinary incident that is being misrepresented. 

Our position on acts of hatred or bias: Hartwick College does not tolerate acts of hatred or bias. Any characterizations to the contrary are inaccurate and abhorrent to us. 

Summary of the November 2016 incident and the result of the subsequent investigation: On November 20, 2016, an incident involving Hartwick students occurred off campus in downtown Oneonta. A report alleging racial bias was filed with Hartwick after this incident.  In the report four female African Americans students claimed that, based on their race, at least one white male Hartwick student targeted them and hit them with snowballs during an exchange of snowballs between two white males.

In accordance with our policies on student conduct, a full investigation followed. The preponderance of the evidence did not support race as a motivator of the incident. However, the conduct of six students involved with this incident, including the conduct of the four female students who alleged a racially motivated act, was found to be in violation of other policies in the Hartwick Code of Student Conduct.

As is our practice, Hartwick College has endeavored to maintain the privacy of all students involved with this incident.  However, based on the mischaracterizations and misinformation about this event, its outcomes, and the College that continue to be posted on social media, the College believes it is now necessary to provide additional details, as permitted by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), about our response to the four women’s report of racial bias.
 
The Hartwick College investigation of the November 20 incident: Hartwick conducted a thorough investigation of the November 20 incident.  This investigation included interviews with participants and witnesses. It also included consideration of findings of an investigation conducted independently by the City of Oneonta police. The police investigation included a case review by the district attorney’s office and their subsequent decision not to prosecute.

The results of the College’s inquiry revealed that some of the four women students were intentionally or accidentally hit with snowballs thrown by male students. It was further determined that, in response to being hit by snowballs, the four female students pursued the male students down the street and participated, to varying degrees, in a physical altercation with these males and others associated with them. The investigation also revealed that the four female students were not chased by the male students in a manner necessitating self-defense, but rather, the women chased the male students.

In addition, the use of a racial slur was alleged by the female students. This assertion was denied by the male students and persons associated with them, and by witnesses associated with the female students. The investigation was unable to determine whether a racial slur that might excuse or mitigate the female students’ response actually occurred during the incident and, if so, who uttered the racial slur and when. The investigation did reveal that a person not known to be associated with the College walked past the four women during their interview with police after the altercation and chanted “USA, USA.”

Ultimately, the four women involved with the incident accepted responsibility for their behaviors with the understanding that their actions were provoked, but that their actions in response violated Hartwick policy. The two male students also accepted responsibility for violating Hartwick policy. Each of these six students received College sanctions that were appropriate and customary given their individual conduct.

The social media campaign related to the November 20 incident: Jallicia Jolly, the sister of two of the female students involved in the November 20 snowball-throwing incident, posted a lengthy blog post on February 26, 2017, characterizing Hartwick’s disciplinary sanctions for the female students as “criminalizing black female self-defense against racist white male assaults.” In the weeks since, Ms. Jolly has continued to make unsupported, inaccurate and inflammatory reports about the incident, the College’s response to it, and the College’s position on race and gender. 

Hartwick College does not tolerate acts of hatred or bias, and we deem her characterizations to be both inaccurate and abhorrent. The College recognizes the seriousness of the bias allegations made in response to the incident. We also believe that our investigation and disciplinary response was diligent, fair to all involved, consistent with our policies and practice and completely based on the information obtained during the process. Assertions and insinuations to the contrary are false.

Hartwick College’s track record on diversity and inclusion:  Hartwick College has a strong record of promoting non-discrimination, equity and inclusion in all aspects of its operation. Our 1,392 full-time students are from 29 states and 20 countries. Some 40% of them are male and 60% are female, with about 18% self-identifying as members of minority groups including African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Native American, and another 3% classified as international students.

The College actively seeks to encourage a welcoming and affirming environment. In response to the increasing diversity of our students and an increase in racial tensions at college campuses across the country, the Hartwick College president initiated meetings with minority students in 2015 and 2016 to gather their views of campus life. The College has a Campus-Wide Diversity Committee that provides feedback on efforts to promote inclusion, diversity and non-discrimination at Hartwick. Faculty who apply for positions at the College file statements that address their views on diversity and these statements are considered during the hiring process. In an effort to increase the diversity of College employees, in February 2017 the College hired a Coordinator of Inclusion in its Human Resources Office, a step recommended by the Campus-Wide Diversity Committee. Throughout the year a variety of meetings and programs supporting the needs and interests of our increasingly diverse campus community are offered for faculty, staff, and students. 

Reports of racial bias in the period 2013-2016, and outcomes of subsequent investigations. Hartwick is known for its diverse and supportive campus climate. Reports of racial bias and discrimination have been rare and the College has a well-developed process to respond to such reports. In the past three academic years (2013-2014, 2014-2015, 2015-2016), a cumulative total of five reports of racial bias were made by Hartwick College students, all of which were thoroughly investigated.

  • Two reports involved vandalism/graffiti of a racial nature, for which no perpetrator was identified.  Meetings and programs were conducted in an effort to educate the community.
  • In a third report, campus safety received a silent witness report claiming that a student resident advisor was targeting minority students in residence hall incident reports. An investigation of all incident reports filed by that resident advisor was conducted. The investigation concluded that the allegation of targeting was not supported.
  • In a fourth report, a student was reported to have made a comment of a racial nature that made another student uncomfortable. The student reporting the incident requested that no action be taken, but agreed with the College’s decision to offer programming around the topic of racial bias and discrimination.
  • In the fifth report, which has been the focus of the inaccurate social media posts which prompt this communication, four students claimed that at least one Hartwick student targeted them based on their race. As previously described, in the investigation that followed, the preponderance of the evidence did not support race as a motivator of the incident.  All six students whose behavior was investigated after this report were found to have violated other parts of the Hartwick Code of Student Conduct and received appropriate sanctions.

As this list demonstrates, the College takes seriously any act of any kind that suggests any kind of bias. 

In conclusion, the College recognizes the seriousness of the allegations that were made related to the November 20th incident. The College believes that its thorough investigation and disciplinary response were diligent, fair to all involved, and based on the information obtained during the process. We believe that our reasoned response confirms that every member of the Hartwick community is important, valued, treated equally and welcome here.

At Hartwick we foster social justice, racial harmony, and full inclusion for all. We urge members of the Hartwick community who wish to share their experiences or advice on how we can improve our support of all members of our community to contact Vice President Meg Nowak at nowakm@hartwick.edu.