HWS students rally around David Gage after reported termination of position

“We as international students took it upon ourselves to advocate for him, because he has always advocated for us”

– By Gabriel Pietrorazio

Students galvanized around David Gage ’91, the director of International Student Affairs office at Hobart and William Smith Colleges who has reportedly been terminated from his position upon the conclusion of the 2020 spring semester.

Olivia Hofmann, a junior at the Colleges created an online petition on Change.org called “Support David Gage” in collaboration with other vocal international students.

With hundreds of signatures gathered within a matter of hours, the petition reads: 

“We, the undersigned, hereby petition against the dismissal of Mr. David Gage and the elimination of his position as an International Student Advisor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. We respectfully request that this decision be revisited and that other means of budget cutting be considered.”

Hofmann exclusively told FingerLakes1.com that Gage personally notified some of his students that he was no longer employed by the Colleges after the end of this semester, and that they acted alone in creating the petition rather than being inspired by him to do so.

“David Gage did not tell myself or any other international student to start the petition on his behalf. He simply told us that his job was being eliminated and that he was being dismissed by the end of the semester. We as international students took it upon ourselves to advocate for him, because he has always advocated for us,” Hofmann told FingerLakes1.com.

In the absence of any formal announcement or explanation about this unfolding situation from President Joyce P. Jacobsen or her administration, Gage was forced to recently air the somber news with his international student advisees, as they were preparing for next semester just ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Colleges never publicly announced it. The reason I found out was because I went to his office about things related to my student visa, and he told me then. All of the other students who know also found out in that way, or until we recently started spreading the word,” Hofmann shared. 

While this decision has yet to be formally announced, the Colleges were already consolidating offices ahead of the alleged termination and elimination of Gage’s position back in late-January.

In a statement issued by the Colleges at the beginning of the spring semester on January 23rd, a reshuffling of campus offices was publicly announced, one that resulted in Hobart College Dean Khuram Hussain assuming the title of Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

This decision made by President Jacobsen determined that Hussain in addition to directly reporting to the president, sitting on-board as senior staff and serving as the Chief Diversity Strategist, would oversee several other offices that would report to him, including the International Student Affairs office.

“Khuram Hussain, the current Dean of Hobart College and Associate Professor of Education, has been named the Colleges’ Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Reporting to the President and sitting on Senior Staff, Hussain will serve as the Colleges’ chief diversity strategist. The Offices of Intercultural Affairs, Academic Opportunity Programs and International Students will all report to him,” the announcement read.

Hussain would eventually start his new position on June 1st of this year, which consisted of him overseeing Gage, who has operated as the director of this office for nearly two decades.

However, Gage, a Hobart College 1991 graduate in his own right will no longer be employed by the Colleges as of next fall after vacating the position that will be eliminated altogether.

More than any job, Gage’s tenure at the Colleges has been a closely personal one. As a former graduate himself and the son of Walter Gage, a Hobart College 1962 graduate who served as a former Geneva city judge, the Gage surname is a prominent family in the annals of the Colleges’ history. 

Gage alongside his wife Theresa Gage, even raised one of their daughters, Bryna Gage ’22 who currently attends the Colleges as a third-generation student.

Aside from his family’s endearing dedication to the Colleges, Gage’s equally apparent commitment to his international student advisees simply transcends the tasks that are outlined in his formal job description, according to supporters of the petition, as the statement continues:

We have listed a number of reasons and essential tasks that Mr. Gage accomplishes on our behalf. Many of these tasks go far and beyond his job description, as this is an individual who cares about the success and well-being of his students above all else.”

After exhausting 19 reasons that justify Gage’s qualifications to remain as the Director of International Student Affairs, students and parents alike shared comments filled with heartfelt respect and admiration for the educator, touting him as an exemplary professional at the institution.

Gizem Husain, a junior and international student from Pakistan candidly opened-up about her relationship with Gage from her perspective.

As for other students like Meghan Quint, another junior at the Colleges, concerns have been raised about how this decision essentially prioritizes domestic students ahead of the international student body, especially when it comes to recruiting for enrollment.

Aside from assisting students with obtaining their F-1 visas and other necessary travel and living documents to study inside the United States, Gage has been a culturally and socially active staff member beyond the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. routine workday.

The petition recites some Gage’s most memorable acts of generosity and goodwill toward his international students including his involvements with the Festival of Nations, International Student and South Asian Student associations. 

Gage also played a pivotal role in securing the new Muslim Life Center and obtaining Halal foods for Muslim students on-campus.

Most recently, however, Gage has been guiding international students through the coronavirus pandemic by securing transportation in the form of flights for students who are able to travel freely, and on-campus housing for those who cannot. 

“We will never have to worry if we will be able to get back home during the COVID-19 pandemic, because Mr. Gage will make sure that we are able to get our flights and secure our travel plans.  Not only that, but if we have to stay on campus, he makes sure that we have access to everything we need to live there in the current situation,” the petition stated.

As of the publishing of this story, Hobart and William Smith Colleges has yet to formally announce the termination and elimination of the Director of International Student Affairs position following the 2020 spring semester.

Read the petition in its entirety below:

“We, the undersigned, hereby petition against the dismissal of Mr. David Gage and the elimination of his position as an International Student Advisor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.  We respectfully request that this decision be revisited and that other means of budget cutting be considered.

We have listed a number of reasons and essential tasks that Mr. Gage accomplishes on our behalf.  Many of these tasks go far and beyond his job description, as this is an individual who cares about the success and well-being of his students above all else.

  1. Assists International Students, from a variety of cultures, in adjusting to American culture and the American Educational System.
  2. Introduces International Students to the HWS community through special orientation, helping us to settle into our new homes on campus and showing us different ways to get involved on campus.  He connects us to other International Students, as well as other American students, staff, and faculty.
  3. Plays an integral role in arranging and setting up the Festival of Nations, which takes place at North Street School in Geneva each year.  This event is a way for International Students to share and celebrate their cultures.
  4. Follows up and regularly checks in on each International Student’s academic and social development while adjusting to school in a different country.
  5. Helps and guides International Students in filling out our tax documents and our visa papers.  He also personally brings his students who wish to work on campus to the IRS Office to help them get their Social Security Numbers.
  6. Helps International Students in setting up American bank accounts.
  7. Arranges and helps International Students with their medical insurance.
  8. Offers help to International Students in securing their housing situations, to make sure that they feel safe and that any problems they have in their housing situations are resolved.
  9. Arranges summer storage for the belongings that many International Students, especially those who travel far distances home by plane, cannot bring back with them.
  10. Has helped students obtain their OPT (a temporary authorization offered to students with F-1 visas to work in the United States for a total of 12 months), their CPT (a temporary work authorization offered to students with F-1 visas, which is directly related to their majors, for a period of 12 months), and in some cases, he has helped International Students get new passports.
  11. Assists International Students in searching for and securing internships.
  12. Helps International Students in searching for jobs and helps to set up job interviews.
  13. Assists International Students in searching for external ways of funding (most International Students have to travel very far distances to get themselves and their belongings to school, and are in need of that extra funding).
  14. Acts as a liaison between the school and the parents of International Students.  If the parents of International Students have any questions or concerns about anything concerning their child, Mr. Gage is their first contact.
  15. Acts as a representative for International Students in front of each and every department at HWS.
  16. Has been a major part in the development of the International Student Association (ISA), acting as an advisor to the President for both the ISA and the South Asian Student Association (SASA) by holding weekly meetings to discuss goal setting, club events, and planning.  He played a major role in arranging the events for both clubs, including but not limited to Multicultural Dinners, Diwali, bowling events, and the Bollywood Boulevard formal.  Mr. Gage also assisted in the founding of SASA.
  17. Played a major role in getting a new Muslim prayer space and getting Halal foods for Muslim students.
  18. Connects with prospective International Students from all parts of the world.
  19. Directly contributes to the success of International Students at HWS.

Mr. Gage is one of the first people we get the pleasure of meeting on this campus, and one of the last people we see when we leave at the end of our four years, and for good reason.  As International Students ourselves, we can say that Mr. Gage is more than just an advisor; he is our On-Campus Dad.  He is the reason why both current and former International Students describe HWS as not just their school, but rather, as their home away from home.  Mr. Gage dedicates time to counsel and advise us through our academic, financial, and personal obstacles. International students from decades past, alongside ourselves, can attest to the time we spent seated on his office couch, detailing to him our worries to then receive advice and reassurance.  We never have to worry if we will be able to secure that internship at IT Services, because Mr. Gage will always vouch for us.  We never have to worry about being able to verify that we are full-time students in front of, for example, the Bulgarian Ministry of Health, because Mr. Gage will write a note on behalf of the colleges every year to ensure that there are never any issues.  We will never have to worry if we were to be stuck on campus, during the summer or spring break, because Mr. Gage would make certain we have everything we need.  We will never have to worry if we will be able to get back home during the COVID-19 pandemic, because Mr. Gage will make sure that we are able to get our flights and secure our travel plans.  Not only that, but if we have to stay on campus, he makes sure that we have access to everything we need to live there in the current situation.  For those Canadian students who live closer to the school, Mr. Gage will personally phone the Canadian-US Border Services to make sure that parents travelling to pick up their children are able to do so when our shared border is closed to non-essential travel.  Most recently, Mr. Gage has been sending all International Students emails to check up on how we are doing in light of the pandemic, whether we are at home or still at school, and has been offering to set up appointment times to connect with any students who have concerns, or just want to talk.  He is the reason why many of us came to HWS in the first place.  As International Students, it is clear to us what will happen if his position is terminated, and we will be directly affected by his leaving.  As a population of students who generally requires specialized guidance and more resources than domestic students, the elimination of our main support person will put International Students at a great disadvantage. 

Additionally, we would like to underscore that the elimination of the International Student Advisor position would have severe consequences to the International Student body.  Upon arrival to campus, International Students are often overwhelmed by the many changes that they have to navigate, both academically and culturally. Having the International Student Advisor be the point person for the international community has eased many of these challenges since the individual in this role is well-aware of the needs of International Students and able to point them in the right direction by coordinating with the relevant departments and offices on campus as well as with off-campus institutions (e.g., USCIS). Furthermore, as an institution that prides itself in having a diverse campus community with strong international affiliations, it is of paramount importance that HWS ensures the seamless transition to live on campus for International Students. Not having a strong support system for International Students would hurt not only the foreign students who are currently on campus, but would also make HWS a less attractive destination for International Students in the years to come.  

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that this decision be reconsidered, and that Mr. Gage be reinstated.”