Diana Davis ’07 writes:

When there were all those posters all over Hopkins Hall a few months ago with students’ signatures — both male and female — saying “I want a Women’s Center at Williams,” I was so angry. I wanted to put up counter-posters — perhaps signed only by women! — saying “I don’t want a Women’s Center at Williams.” I walked straight into the Office of Campus life, somehow certain that the posters would have come from there, and sure enough, the woman at the desk said it was Sara Ansell. Not a student, or group of students, but a staff member who was never even a student at Williams, telling Williams females what they needed and lobbying with visual clutter all over the main administrative building. Clever! It worked; she got the women’s center almost immediately, within the semester.

Before Sara Ansell, there was no perception of this need. Now a few female students have joined Sara in organizing events such as this Sex Week, but it is a tiny minority of the women at Williams. Sure, women have historically been repressed, and are still at a disadvantage in salaries, etc. etc., but this does not necessitate the need for a women’s center if the women don’t even want a women’s center.

For now, I am mainly interested in using this dispute as an example of how hard it is to do history correctly. Diana is making a causal claim: Because Sara Ansell came to Williams, we now have a Women’s Center. In the counter-factual world in which the Office of Campus Life hires someone else, Williams would not have a Women’s Center.

Julian Mesri disagrees:

And secondly Diana, before you go off blaming Sara Ansell I must ask you to please get your facts straight and not make such blatant accusations. Of course the administration would tell you such a thing, but you were not witness to the absolutely ridiculous energy and effort it took to even get a room in Hardy House. It was a process full of roadblocks and turn downs, from the Women’s center getting less money than rocket club and the chinese yo yo club from CC (not that there’s anything wrong with the club) to people going to the Deans behind our backs to block the approval of a Women’s center. The reason those people signed those papers and placed them all over Hopkins was because we were fighting, and we were fighting against something. If you disagree with these ideas, good. Let’s talk about them and actually bring these issues to the open, that’s what it’s all about.

At least, I think that Mesri disagrees. He implies (?) that even if the College had not hired Ansell, we would now have a Women’s Center, primarily because there were enough motivated students that it would have happened anyway. Note also that the Office of Campus Life, if it had not hired Ansell, would have wanted to hire someone like Ansell, someone experience in and motivated about women’s issues, someone who would have viewed the lack of a Women’s Center at Williams as a problem needing to be fixed.

Between Davis and Mesri, who is correct? To figure this out, we need to do some history, figure out who said what to whom when. Those with knowledge should tell the rest of us.

From a distance, it sure looks like Ansell played a leadership role, but only those on campus can tell us for sure. There is no doubt that she came to Williams with an agenda, or was hired because of her agenda.

Other priorities are more campus-focused. “My long-term goal would be to create a women’s center here,” Ansell said. She was involved in a similar effort while a student at Haverford.

She said that such a center would provide a strong support system for women at the College while opening up networking possibilities.

Ansell then acted on that agenda last spring.

Over 35 years after the College’s first female students stepped on campus, members of the Williams community are pushing for the formation of a Women’s Center to address relevant women’s issues and promote strong female solidarity and identity. Though the fledgling group is still in its early organizational stages, Sara Ansell, campus life coordinator, and several students are pressing the administration for a space in the Paresky Center, hoping to combat potential hurdles to such a center, such as apathy and divisiveness, through visibility and a central location.

The Center is largely the brainchild of Ansell, who worked at the Haverford Women’s Center during her undergraduate years. Although no definite plans have been made yet, Ansell outlined the general goals of the group as raising awareness of women’s issues on campus and providing a space for discussing the gender-specific aspects of broader topics.

Davis seems correct to me. With any luck, Ansell’s departure will cause the Women’s Center to whither away. As long as no permanent staff are hired, that would be my prediction.

UPDATE: Gender correction made.

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