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First Days

If it is a rainy day at the end of August, it must be First Days at Williams. Throughout the 80’s the day of then freshmen now first year arrival seemed to always be a day like today, overcast with a bit of rain but not enough to make moving in too hard. At least, that was the weather 21 years ago.

But, from EphBlog’s point of view, there are two key questions: First, is anyone blogging the First Days experience? We are most interested in the presentations that the College makes. I heard some negative comments about last year’s speakers and wonder if things will be better this time around. Second, is anyone taking pictures?

Previous posts on First Days here and here. And, of course, I wonder if the class of 2009 will be learning The Mountains?

The central goal of First Days should be to ensure that every first year makes at least a friendly acquaintanceship with 50 or so other members of the class. A week is not enough time for friendship, of course, but it would be nice if everyone knew enough people well enough that there was always a table for them to join in Baxter (or wherever it is that first years are eating now). Also, it is best if these meetings are as randomized as possible. Ephs of specific interests and backgrounds will have no doubt congregate in the years to come. First Days is the time to meet those who you might not ordinarily meet.

The College already starts this process in the right direction by ensuring that entries are a microcosm of Williams as a whole. There is nothing wrong with well done social engineering. It is also wise to provide a week for the first years to do things as a class, without the pressure/distractions of other obligations. (Am I right in thinking that first year athletes don’t start practicing with their teams until after First Days are over?) I hope that the JA’s also mix up people (perhaps via entry-pairings?) in the discussions after the various speakers. And, certainly, every discussion should begin with the sort of learn-everyone’s-name game that is a staple of summer camps and retreats.

It would be also good to see more of this forced mixing. I hope that WOOLF groups are, for example, not organized by entry but instead mix up the entries as much as possible. It would be even better if the College put WOW later in the semester so that URMs are not (self-)segregated from the very start of their Williams experience.

We are all purple first.

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#1 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On August 30, 2005 @ 8:16 pm

I don’t think things were quite as organized in my day. Since we were the first class to admit women, we were given a written test on attitudes towards the opposite sex, co-education, etc. (They were a bit nervous about how things were going to go in the beginning. After about two years, when no catastrophes happened, they dropped the test.) Also, we were shown a film about college life — the Marx Brothers comedy Horse Feathers.

#2 Comment By Jeff Zeeman On August 30, 2005 @ 8:39 pm

That post was uncharacteristically low-key. DK, I think your analysis of First Days would be enhanced if you were to obtain a copy of the Frosh face book and post the names of any students who claim to be underrepresented minorities, then demonstrate how, in fact, they are actually caucasian.

#3 Comment By David On August 30, 2005 @ 9:44 pm

Jeff,

It must be pleasant to live in a world of sweetness and light, a world in which everyone tells the truth and the truth is clear for all to see, a purple planet on which we can sit around the WOOLF campfire, sing Kumbaya and praise the great Eph spirit for giving us a class with, precisely, “56 Latino/s, 53 Asian Americans, 48 African Americans, three Native Americans.”

Oh, the joy you must feel when you dance the Dance of the Nose Counters!

Alas, the rest of us have our doubts. Or did you think that Jonathan Landsman was lying in describing his own application experience? Do you think that there is only one college councilor in the country who might encourage his students to check the helpful box? Do you think that there is only one applicant to Williams who has ever made his mark in a specific box in order to improve his chances of admissions?

Ahh, how wonderful it must be to never take off your magical cloak of naivete!

Call my cynical but I have heard that the college application process to a place like Williams is competitive, that students feel pressured to do everything they can to improve their chances, and that the Common Application instructs each applicatant to check any box “if you wish to be identified with a particular ethnic group.”

Wish to be identified?

Hmmmm.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the The Record to see if they can identify 56 Hispanics in the class of 2009. There is no way that they can, of course, but the attempt would certainly generate a lot of interesting discussion.

It is endlessly boring to repeat the obvious, but repetition is one of my specialties.

The central (and, legally, only) rational for affirmative action is to improve the educational environment for everyone. When Williams lets in a URM (and rejects a more highly qualified non-URM), it is making the claim that this decision improves everyone else’s education. This is a reasonable claim. I am comfortable with some types/levels of non-color-blind admissions because I accept this reasoning.

But the reasoning does not apply if no one else knows that the URM is a URM! To be Hispanic enough to honestly “count” in the land of real diversity, it is not enough to just check the box, to make Dick Nesbitt happy and bring cheer to the news release writers toiling away in Hopkins Hall.

You must actually be signficantly attached to Hispanic culture. You must have meaningful experiences and opinions and outlooks that you can then share with your classmates and which they will learn from because those viewpoints are different from the ones that they have seen before.

If you are just another Ipod-using, cell-phone-calling, prep-school graduate, then the College should have given your spot to someone with better academic achievements and potential.

If you think that the class of 2009 has 56 members whose connection to Hispanic culture is deep and meaningful enough that it will actually impact the education that their peers receive at Williams, then you better not look too closely at the world the way it is. You might not like what you see.

#4 Comment By frank uible On August 30, 2005 @ 10:23 pm

What I notice on campus at this time are the first years with the “deer in the headlights” look, contemplating the universe of their ignorance, and their parents with the zombie from Jamaica look, contemplating the financial fix in which they have put themselves.

#5 Comment By Rory On August 30, 2005 @ 11:56 pm

“we are all purple first”

HAHAHA. Tell that to some minority Williams students and see how they react. no. we. aren’t. And that’s alright–what’s nice is that at Williams we all get the chance to add purple to our identities.

Part of the value of diversity is to make the students on campus notice that not all people who are proud (or not) of their particular ethnic background are not a homogenous group. For example, I know a number of “Ipod-using, cell phone calling, prep school graduates” who were also important figures in making Williams more diverse. Kane, thanks for again blowing up a small joke at a post that backfired into another unnecessary screed against people who aren’t ‘Latino enough’ for you to count them. As though they should care what you (or I) think about their decision to mark an ethnicity in a box.

You may think a very assimilated URM does not diversity make. I beg to differ. And if you don’t see the value of a “diverse” group of URMs, I don’t know what to say.

And that’s a great idea for the Record–let’s play count the minority students! There’d be great discussion! Never mind how ostracized, offended and threatened they would feel! We’d be having a discussion! And those students are just here for us white folk to discuss and analyze, right?

#6 Comment By frank uible On August 31, 2005 @ 12:10 am

Guy: If you can remember the speakeasy password from Horse Feathers, then you win the kewpie doll. I’ll give you a hint – it starts with “s”. Apologies in advance to those offended by the sexist reference to a kewpie doll.

#7 Comment By Eislerman On August 31, 2005 @ 6:01 am

Is Guy the only viable participant in this competition?

#8 Comment By frank uible On August 31, 2005 @ 6:32 am

Eislerman: I didn’t expect wide interest, but no – the contest is open to the public except where prohibited or limited by law.

#9 Comment By frank uible On August 31, 2005 @ 6:41 am

Apologies in advance to those offended by what might be considered, however wrongly, to be a game of chance.

#10 Comment By David On August 31, 2005 @ 7:51 am

Rory,

I have asked this question before. I’ll ask it again. I’ll keep asking it until you or someone else provide an answer.

Is the background of Williams students or professors — those who are brought to campus (at least in part) because of the College’s committment to “diversity” — irrelevant in evaluating the actual diversity at Williams?

If it is, then you are right. Perhaps every single one of the 56 Latinos in the class of 2009 does not speak Spanish, does not have parents who speak Spanish, have never thought of themselves as Hispanic and don’t know/care any more about Hispanic culture than you or I. As long as they checked the box, everything is okey-dokey. Williams is 10% Hispanic. Hooray!

In that world, it does not matter what sorts of discussions happen in Williams classrooms, what topics are brought up over dinner, what stories are shared in hikes up Pine Cobble. All that matters is the Dance of the Nose Counters.

But as soon as you admit that the answer to the question is “No,” that it is quite relevant how much and in what way the backgrounds and experiences of Williams students (Hispanic and non-Hispanics) impact their peers then, obviously, the backgrounds of the Hispanic students at Williams matter.

Until you are willing to confront this difficulty directly, the rest of your comments are not worth responding to.

#11 Comment By Rory On August 31, 2005 @ 11:05 am

What you’ve done now David is awful (but not surprising) in that you’ve defined URMs as having to fudamentally be “different” from the rest of the campus. They must be “real minorities” to count to you.

Think about what that means. Don’t respond. Just think about that, think about why many people might be disgusted with that idea. Please.

#12 Comment By Eislerman On August 31, 2005 @ 11:10 am

Dude, it’s Swordfish, right? They actually made a (really horrible) John Travolta film of the same name with the titular inspired by the Marx film.

Jacob

#13 Comment By David On August 31, 2005 @ 11:20 am

Rory claims that I have “defined URMs as having to fudamentally be “different” from the rest of the campus.” I have not!

URM is a mostly well-understood term with a specific meaning that I suspect we all agree on. Some specific URM applicants would be excepted to Williams even if Williams practiced no affirmative action. Everyone agrees that such URMs belong at Williams. Other URMs would not have been admitted if they had been, for example, Asian American. You can think that this is a bad policy or a good policy, but it is the reality of the way that Williams operates today.

The central argument made by Williams (and virtually every other elite college), in legal briefs and elsewhere, is that it is good to admit that subset of URMs who would not be admitted otherwise because it improves the education of everyone. Again, this is a plausible claim if, you know, everyone’s education is, in fact, improved.

For that to happen, I argue, the special experiences/outlooks/stories/perspectives/whatever that the URM brings to Williams must, somehow, impact the education of her peers. If they do not, then there has been no benefit. Now the precise mechanism by which the process takes place may be complex (and many readers of EphBlog would like to hear stories about how that process works today), but somehow something must be happening. Otherwise, what precisely is the point?

But, perhaps you are not far off in your claim. Are you saying that it is OK for Williams to admit URMs that are identical in every respect to their non-URM peers except that a) their academic credentials are less worthy and b) they checked the box?

That would seem to be a problematic position.

By the way, I am sure that I am not the only reader of EphBlog who is waiting for you to answer the question above. How long will the wait be?

Just asking.