Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 provided the following discussion.
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To begin, I’m not going to summarize the Orientation and Ongoing Education section of the diversity initiative. The section of the report deals separately with a number of topics: student orientation and ongoing education, faculty orientation and ongoing education, and staff education and ongoing education. These topics are dealt with too separately in the report, as if each contained its own distinct set of unrelated issues. This is a section of the report that particularly has much to gain from further discussion of it. I’d strongly encourage you to read this section (which is more a summary of current Williams than a compilation of suggestions for future Williams), using it as a knowledge base with which to build your own strategies regarding diversity for Williams.

I’m
going to pick out a couple of points from the section I thought deserved
further consideration, rather than attempting to tackle the section as a
whole. For those of you who have read
the entire section, please interject with comments on non-discussed portions of
it, if you have any.

 

 

The Mid-Orientation Program

After spending their first week or so days on campus, all frosh (with
the exception of a few fall athletes) depart on various free but required 4-day
mid-orientation programs. Students have
the choice of three different programs.
While the majority of students go on WOOLF, the outdoors trips, significant
numbers of students choose the other trips as well.

This section of the diversity report notes the Mid-Orientation period as
an opportunity to demonstrate to students that
Williams is a community committed to diversity.” What exactly does this mean?
I’m not sure, but if I had to guess, it’s a veiled suggestion to add a
“diversity-themed” trip to the options currently available (such as by
re-instating WOW as a mid-orientation program).

I couldn’t agree
more that the mid-orientation period provides a fantastic educational
opportunity for students. I couldn’t
disagree more with the un-stated implication that this might be accomplished by
re-instating WOW as a mid-orientation program.
Instead, I would suggest that we take our approach to mid-orientation
trips in the opposite direction.
WOOLF–the largest of the mid-orientation programs–is currently
disproportionately white. Offering a
number of different options for mid-orientation trips inevitably leads to trips
being divided along like-interests. In
the current case, this has led to a sort of racial self-segregation among
mid-orientation trips; for whatever reason, white kids are disproportionately
drawn to WOOLF (or non-white kids are disproportionately drawn to the other programs). By reinstating a “diversity-themed”
mid-orientation program this self-segregation will only increase.

If instead we decrease the number of options available
during the mid-orientation period, we would increase the diversity of students
within each option. I would suggest
that Williams offer only one variety of mid-orientation trips. WOOLF currently offers a range of options
(backpacking, canoeing, and climbing) as well as a range of difficulties within
each option (beginner, intermediate, and expert), and is set up well to work as
the one mid-orientation program at Williams.
I can think of no better diversity orientation than spending 4 days in
the woods with a group of students very different from one’s self.

Additionally, I believe that frosh fall athletes (many of who currently
cannot attend mid-orientation trips) also be required in these trips. While this may affect the quality of fall
sports teams (although probably not noticeably), I think it’s ludicrous for a
d3 school to exclude its fall athletes from such an important point in their
early college career.

 

Staff Orientation

Orientation for new employees happens in two parts. The first takes
place within the first three days of employment as required by law. Employees
complete "new hire" paperwork for tax and IRS purposes and receive
information about payroll, benefits, and College policies. They are directed to
other departments for their ID and parking sticker.

The second part occurs between six and nine months of employment. Employees are
invited to attend a full-morning of presentations by members of President’s
Staff and Human Resources to educate them about the College’s organizational
structure, its mission and goals, its history, its role as an employer and
educational institution, and its core constituencies (faculty, staff, students,
and alumni).”

 

I couldn’t believe this when I first read
it. Staff don’t receive orientation
regarding the College’s mission until “between
six and nine months of employment
??!”
Are you kidding? Apparently many
staff work at Williams for as long as an academic year before receiving any
orientation other than what is absolutely necessary (which undoubtedly is mostly
paperwork). While I haven’t heard of
any issues involving staff (other than occasional complaints from students
regarding staff smoking directly outside their window, which is technically
against college policy), I think that a policy of “orientation” that leaves
such a long periods before, well, orientation, does very little to prevent
future issues from arising. Sure, it’s
probably a bit of a headache to put staff through a thorough orientation more
frequently…but it’ll be a far greater headache to deal with the ramifications of
a staff member making a racist or otherwise inappropriate statement to a
student.

 

Ongoing Education

While the ongoing educations of Faculty and Staff are discussed in this
section of the report, student ongoing education receives no such
attention. Personally, I think that
this is the area at Williams that has the most potential for improvement. Williams currently spends a fair amount of
effort on “diversity” in frosh orientation (sure we could hypothetically do
more, but after a certain point it just becomes overkill), and the entry system
is a perfect catalyst for bringing people of different backgrounds
together. I believe that the new house
system will provide a number of opportunities for students to continue to learn
from their fellow students. With the
re-organization of campus next year comes the opportunity for the MCC implement
some sort of ongoing education strategy, at the very least. I can’t believe that Gail Bouknight-Davis
does not believe ongoing education important for students, so I don’t
understand why this was left out of the report.

I’m of the opinion that the best sort of “diversity sensitivity
training” comes from other students.
Racism and other forms of bigotry usually arise from ignorance. The MCC can play an increasing role on
campus to encourage natural forms of student-student “ongoing education,”
something currently difficult for them to do (that will be easier under the
House system). Most importantly, the
MCC can work to ensure that minorities within the houses are not marginalized,
whether these minorities be social, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, or
whatever.

Before concluding this section, I do
want to make sure alumns understand that despite its lack of mention in this
section of the report, a significant amount of student ongoing education does
take place at Williams. Minco groups
are active, innovative, and their events are often very well attended. The MCC and Campus Life office both take
active roles in supporting student initiatives, as well as frequently lead
their own. Check out the Jewish
Association’s website (www.wcja.org) for an
example of one of the many active Minco groups.

 

 

To sum up my feelings
on ongoing education and orientation, I think Williams is largely doing well on
both fronts. I do feel that there’s a
lot of room for improvement, but I find the potential Williams has heartening
rather than otherwise. Williams is one
of the most welcoming and accepting environments I’ve ever been in, a
characteristic that attests to (despite the aforementioned weaknesses) some
amount of success of the current Orientation and Ongoing Education at Williams. That Williams can be as wonderful as it is
even with its problems is both encouraging and exciting, and I look forward to
days of an even better Williams.

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