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“Student Discussion”

Recent CGCL discussions on the Diversity Initiatives report have centered around political diversity. While certainly a worthwhile topic, I feel we’ve gotten to the point where we’re simply beating a dead horse (< sarcasm> clearly a David Kane et al and Ephblog first). I will most definitely concede that the vast majority of the Williams faculty and student body falls left of center in political viewpoints, but I have never once felt that my professors’ beliefs had factored into their teaching; nor have I ever felt any level of “proselytizing” on their part.

As a rightward-leaning moderate, I have certainly encountered opposition from students in a number of class discussions. Regardless, I cannot remember any instance where a professor disregards a student’s opinon because it doesn’t jive with his or her political convictions. That’s all I’ll say about that.

In beating this dead horse, we have ignored much of the reason and purpose behind the diversity initiatives report itself. Namely, Morty himself points out that a significant portion of such an effort centers on the following issue:

“To put it more generally, we want to move toward the day in which every Williams student, faculty, and staff member can feel that this is their college, not a college for others to which they’ve been invited. We have not reached that day yet, but we will.”

Though I have regrettably little time to delve into such a deep and difficult topic–I write this as my sixth graders take a practice New York State English Language Arts standardized test–I feel that it is a question that has thus far received fairly little attention on our part. Reading through the comments section of the Diversity Initiatives report, one can easily see why many students feel largely alienated from “mainstream” Williams culture. Thus I ask fellow Ephbloggers to leave the dead horse to rest once and for all, and move on to a new–and far more worthwhile–topic. I’ll add my own comments later when and if I get the chance.

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#1 Comment By Rory On January 10, 2006 @ 11:09 am

Fantastic point. I was about to respond yet again to the other thread but your call for a dialogue on the central ideal of the diversity initiatives has stayed my desire to disagree.

I look forward to your thoughts and the next topic. good luck to your students!

#2 Comment By David On January 10, 2006 @ 11:27 am

How will we know when we reach this day?

I have a sneaking feeling that we are already there, or at least, 95% of the way there.

There is a sense in which each of us feels more than a little like a visitor at Williams. Has any Eph, always felt at home, always accepted? I doubt it. I certainly didn’t always feel that way. Partly that was a result of my politics, but even more so it was caused by my non-drinker status.

It was the case then, and is probably the case now, that if you don’t drink, you can not fairly be said be a part of the Williams mainstream. But, if it is the case that even someone like me — an athlete, a legacy, white, male, privileged — can feel, on many occasions, like a visitor at Williams, mustn’t it be true for almost all of us? I would say that the entire concept of a Williams main stream is not very useful, that we are all, on occasion, visitors at Williams.

Indeed, isn’t there something wrong with a situation in which a student is always comfortable, always at home, never feeling like at guest at Williams? I think so.

Back to the question of measurement, how will we know that the day is here? For me, the best measure would be alumni involvement. If similar percentages of group X (where X is women or Jews or URMs or football players or legacies) attend their reunions, send news to their class secretaries, donate money and so on, then Williams is doing a good enough job at making members of that group, on average, feel that Williams is their College.

If other people could think of better metrics for measuring this goal, I would like to read about them.

#3 Comment By reed On January 10, 2006 @ 12:12 pm

I think that those metrics are flawed. As you can see by the latest alumni giving numbers, my class, the class of 2000, is the stingiest bunch of alumni all the way from ’32 to ’05.

Seriously. We just don’t give money. I’m not sure how we measure up on news to our class secretary, but it seems merely average.

In short, using money and news to gauge class participation is flawed, because I think most of our class really does feel like Williams was our college.

#4 Comment By David On January 10, 2006 @ 1:03 pm

For the purposes of the Diversity Initiative, it does not matter much how much the class of 2000 gives versus the any other class. What matters is the rate at which different groups, especially groups that we may worry about in terms of their feelings toward Williams, give.

Please suggest some other metrics, if you don’t like those.

By the way, if one measure of feeling that Williams is “your” college is a feeling that you would “definitely choose” to go here again, then Williams has (almost) already succeeded. See this table. There is not a statistically significant difference between the way that white and URM students answered this question.

#5 Comment By Ronit On January 10, 2006 @ 1:24 pm

For as long as there is a “Diversity Initiative” in existence, I won’t feel like this is my college, not a college for others to which I’ve been invited. Recent comments about international admissions, minority enrollment, etc. from admissions officers, trustees, and other students, all contribute to my overwhelming impression that I do not really belong here, that I am merely a very fortunate guest.

#6 Comment By hwc On January 10, 2006 @ 3:31 pm

There is not a statistically significant difference between the way that white and URM students answered this question.

Are you talking about Page 2 of the Self-Study data tables?

If so, there is a significant difference in the percentage of various groups rating their Williams experience as “excellent”:

White: 72%
Latino: 71%
Asian: 56%
Af-Am: 42%

These surveys are bit difficult to evaluate in a vacuum. It would be nice to see the overall percentages from the same surveys administered at all of the COFHE schools.

For example, here’s a similar survey from the U. of Virginia asking how satisfied the students were with the overall quality of education received. The following percentages combine the “Satisified” and “Very Satisfied” categories, the only two options above “neutral”.

White: 96.1%
Latino: 93.8%
Asian: 88.5%
Af-Am: 87.3%

#7 Comment By Richard Dunn On January 10, 2006 @ 5:11 pm

Self-reported data like: “How would you rate your experience” is problemic
1) selection bias
2) it’s reflective
3) no comparison group for an individual (what counterfactual are they using?)

Unfortunately, I think the total giving statistic is also flawed. I will give an example to illustrate (remember, just to illustrate). Suppose all individuals decide to give 5% of their annual income to “worthy causes.” Do we judge the success of Williams based upon the preferences of individuals over charities? I am not sure how valuable or pertinent that information is.

I would be more interested in the number of donations under $20 in non-reunion years.

#8 Comment By Alexander Woo On January 10, 2006 @ 11:24 pm

I definitely feel that I was part of the counter-culture when I was at Williams, if it is permissible to use such a grandiose term for relatively minor differences.

Then again, this was mostly a drinker-non-drinker phenomenon, not one primarily about ethnicity, though the drinker-non-drinker divide probably correlates with ethnicity to some extent. (Drinker-non-drinker is not exactly accurate; better might be people who generally went to keg parties and people who generally didn’t.)

However, to raise an issue that doesn’t seem to have been raised before, my recollection is that virtually every queer person had at least one foot in the counter-culture. Do queer people generally feel like they are part of Williams? Are there cultural issues so strong that nothing anyone could do would ever make queer people generally feel like a part of any college of 2000 students?

This divide is big enough that I wouldn’t call Williams “my college”, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Williams “was a college for others to which I had been invited”. (I was, after all, mostly at home in a counter-culture that lived in the dorms and ate in the dining halls.)

Size might be an issue here. Is Williams big enough not to have a dominant culture? (Would the fragmentation of the campus community this might imply even be desirable?)

Indeed, one concern about re-implementing the House System is that, if it works, it might quash the counter-culture by dispersing it, and all the people who would have belonged to it would feel even more left out. (My opinion is that the desire for self-segregation is so strong that it won’t work.)

I don’t know if there is a good way of measuring this divide and how it affects whether someone feels Williams is their college. For my class (’97) and other classes around mine, a fairly good measurement would probably be where you lived during junior and senior years. Maybe it would be interesting to track alumni participation by where you lived?

#9 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On January 12, 2006 @ 6:29 am

I completely agree with the comment, “Has any Eph, always felt at home, always accepted?” We’re talking gradations here.

I think a huge part of the discussion — which we’re ignoring — is an individual’s own way of dealing with the world. I certainly felt like a fish out of water at Williams initially. I had gone to public high school, was from the cornfields of Illinois, didn’t own any button-down shirts, and lacked a certain preppie savior faire.

However, Williams was “my” college (my family had all gone to Brown), I fixed the button-down problem by making a trip to Brooks Brothers, I got in with a terrific crowd of classmates, and I avidly studied Williams history while I was there. Ultimately, I decided Williams was my college. I remember a fellow a class behind me who had gone to prep school and in certain ways should have felt as more of a member, but didn’t. He was a “half empty” kinda guy; I’ve always tended towards “half full.”

My point here is that while Williams can try to be an inclusive as possible, there’s a certain part of this equation that the college can’t control, which is individual personality and perception.

In fact, to buttress that fact, the Alumni Office several years ago did a study of how minority alumni view their years at Williams. On the whole, blacks were much less happy with their time at the college than whites. However, the blacks mellowed over time. It seemed as if immediately after graduation, the blacks felt that they hadn’t been in the mainstream. However, after going to grad school or working in business, they began to realize that Williams had been a special place — that in contrast to other communities it was relatively inclusive.

As Williams works to become more diverse, it also runs the risk of becoming splintered. It’s a very fine line, and I don’t think there’s an easy solution to it.