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Diversity Initiatives Update

Here is the latest missive from Morty on the Diversity Initiative:

To the Williams Community,

After much hard work by many people, to whom we are thankful, the Diversity Initiatives Self Study and Data Tables are now available on the Initiatives Web site.

The PDF versions are complete; the Web versions are being constructed but a growing number of chapters is available. The documents report actions the College has taken over this academic year and propose many more. We next will work with our outside visitors on condensing and prioritizing this expansive list. The first two visitors will be on campus May 1-3.

Regards,
M. Schapiro
President

Thanks, as always, to our sources. The College ought to archive and make public these sorts of e-mails. For all practical purposes, they aren’t private and, for the most part, they put the College in a good light.

If it weren’t for the endless time sink that is cluster housing — EphBlog feels your pain, Will Dudley! — we would be spending more time on this Initiative.

For now, the key question in my mind concerns the ideological diversity, or lack thereof, of these “visitors”. If every one of them is a typical diversitoid, then we have the usual echo chamber of political correctness that Williams is as likely to descend into as any other elite school. If, on the other hand, the visitors represent a broad range of outlooks on the topic of “diversity” in higher education, then this effort might do some good.

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#1 Comment By Jared ’96 On April 22, 2005 @ 11:35 am

I’ve been browsing through the Self Study report and data tables, and I’ve not yet come across any data on one aspect of “diversity” I wish Williams would focus on: geographic diversity.

There’s a fair amount of focus on the number of international students, but none on Williams’ makeup by geographical regions within the U.S. Am I correct to assume that Williams does not see reaching beyond the Northeast (with outposts in Chicago and California) as part of its grand diversification project?

#2 Comment By (d)avid On April 22, 2005 @ 1:05 pm

Jared, as the only Nebraskan during my time at Williams (I think — I never could find another listed anywhere), I can assure you that the college would like to have more midwesterns attend. I visited a large number of colleges and universities during the summer of 1992. At the information session, every single one of them answered the question “What can I do to improve my chances of getting in?” with “Move to a state like South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska.” Once I applied, Williams accepted me very quickly (maybe two weeks) and had two Nebraskan alums call me the week the acceptance letter arrived. The Nebraskan I was replacing on campus also called to encourage me to attend. No other school paid me nearly as much attention to me/geography.

I think Williams was in danger of losing their “students from all 50 states” status and wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t slip to 49. There are many good reasons for colleges to push for geographic diversity, but I think the college guide question about states represented is an effective motivator. Any South Dakotan or Nebraskan Williams picks up is one less for Amherst and Wesleyan.

The problem is supply and I’m sure that the admissions office would like to stockpile qualified students from the boondocks.

Go Huskers!

#3 Comment By Amarnath Santhanam On April 22, 2005 @ 2:13 pm

I wonder if the ill-advised changes being made to First Days are a result of the Diversity Initiative? These changes take a step backwards from the encouraged integration of the current program, once again separating minorities from the general Williams population. I blew off my invitation to various special programs for minorities and signed up for a WOOLF trip, but I don’t think most people would do the same.

#4 Comment By Rory On April 22, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

This is exactly why I’m disappointed in the diversity report, as is.

And no, not because I don’t like wow. In fact, I think it’s a fine program, especially considering that when I was on campus, on of the few criticisms of WOOLF (a wonderful program) with resonance was that because its an outdoor wilderness program, many of the minority students being recruited (urban, international from the Caribbean especially, etc.) felt disconnected from the WOOLF options. Which also helped spur the creation of Where Am I?

However, the change in WOW from pre-orientation three day affair to its current status was not done blissfully by the MCC nor was it fully supported or thought out with interactions with students due to practical time concerns with planning its new look. WOW needed changing and the practical questions of the logistics forced it to be unceremoniously dumped while the MCC was going through some major personnel changes. There had always been a plan to revisit WOW and whether or not it needed to be enhanced, deleted, or just changed in some form. It seems they believe there is a group of students who need/want the introduction WOW offers. I don’t know whether or not this group does exist at the moment (I don’t know what type of prep went into this decision), and I’m perfectly happy you don’t feel the need to be included in these opportunities, but I am confident in saying that such a program has a place even in a school so desperate for “integration” that it often overlooks some minority students’ need for a more active creation of a safe space for their own culture.

Which, by the way, is not opposed to integration. At all.

The change to first days was focused on strengthening the entry as the entry point while still allowing personal interests (do I like backpacking? community service? learning about the minority experience at williams? Which do I want to do most?) to also act as a welcoming mechanism to the school. Unfortunately, WOW lost a lot of momentum due to outside reasons at the same time as the change and so is only now being revived.

So what does this have to do with the diversity report? There’s no sense of a history in the self report outside of Paula’s alumni part (she’s almost always the outlier on things like this it seems) and so there’s very often logical mistakes (like Amarnath’s) being made on campus from a lack of institutional memory. Which is why when alumni involved in minority issues heard about the Ali incident, many of us said “here we go again” rather than the reaction of students not traditionally connected to these issues who were shocked by what seemed to be a truly aberrant event (yes, a professors using that term was aberrant, but the culturally insensitivity and the painfully slow college reaction were the basis for the “here we go again” theory).

In other words, had Paula not expanded the scope of her entry greatly, this diversity report would not have mentioned the hunger strikes that fostered a ten year struggle for latino studies (which is now one of the main ways the faculty is diversifying), nor does it ever mention the fact that Williams had a one day conference on faculty diversity 4 years ago and has not implemented until this year most of its proposals. Nor would a single individual story of the experiences at williams (see the story about a black studnet with a laptop) of frustrated minorities have been written. This report may have explicitly chosen not to do so, but that was a terrible decision, either explicit or implicit. This is not only about ideals and words like “integration” “diversity” and the such, but about how specific students and faculty interact with the institution. I should also thank the dean of faculty for a commendable report on faculty and their actual feelings and interactions with the school. I wish there had been more such pieces to the report.

For once I completely agree with Kane: this college needs to do a much better job of archiving and publicizing such archives in an accessible way on issues such as these. How they should do so, I am not sure, but it seems to be a never ending cycle.

#5 Comment By Loweeel On April 23, 2005 @ 12:28 am

If hunger strikes were the measure of student interest in a major and/or how much a major is deserved, Williams would have offered a Wrestling Studies major decades ago.

#6 Comment By Jim On April 23, 2005 @ 8:16 am

While you are at it, Loweeel, maybe you should also make an ill-advised,flippant comment about anorexia nervosa and college majors?

Though the criticisms of the initiative are many, I still hold on to the feeble hope that such an effort will spark genuine engagement in issues of diversity at Williams. Witticisms are nice but they often belie a lack of understanding of /interest in institutional alienation. I’m thinking to myself “why do we need to do this, people are smarter than we give them credit for”, I suppose that’s not always the case.

#7 Comment By Loweeel On April 24, 2005 @ 12:22 am

I have no problem with the concept of institutional alienation.

What I do have a problem with is the concept that there’s something particularly holy attached to a hunger strike, or the idea that just because something is fervently felt, it must therefore be valuable.

#8 Comment By rory On April 24, 2005 @ 9:27 am

Why I engage you is a good question, but here goes:

as has happened numerous times with your quotes taken out of context, nowhere did I argue that Latino Studies was a good thing (I do believe it is, but that was a tangent) nor that the hunger strikes prove its value. I mentioned Latino Studies hunger strikes as an example of diversity-related issues (VISTA did the hunger striking, if you need proof of that last statement) that have roiled the campus. Hunger strikes do indeed roil a campus. As did the week that the BSU organzied their students into acting like they all had crack addictions (there are some amazing stories about that week I’ve heard).

Here’s the quote in full: In other words, had Paula not expanded the scope of her entry greatly, this diversity report would not have mentioned the hunger strikes that fostered a ten year struggle for latino studies (which is now one of the main ways the faculty is diversifying), nor does it ever mention the fact that Williams had a one day conference on faculty diversity 4 years ago and has not implemented until this year most of its proposals. Nor would a single individual story of the experiences at williams (see the story about a black studnet with a laptop) of frustrated minorities have been written. This report may have explicitly chosen not to do so, but that was a terrible decision, either explicit or implicit. This is not only about ideals and words like “integration” “diversity” and the such, but about how specific students and faculty interact with the institution.

Note the last part of that statement to make it clear and for emphasis: This is not about ideals and words like “integration” “diversity” and the such…but how specific students and faculty interact with the institution.

Address that issue, Lowell, not some made up tangent of yours to allow you to avoid my actual points.