FTN logo WilliamsHolding a big event at Williams is like herding cats. In an institution run by independent and motivated professors and administrators, getting collaboration and consensus is very difficult. That is why I’m very proud to announce plans for Focus the Nation, an event which really will capture the attention of the entire school, at least for a day.

A little background on Focus the Nation: conceived of and promoted by Eban Goodstein ’80, this day-long symposium for global warming solutions will take place at over 1500 schools, churches and businesses across the country. Held on Jan. 31st nationally, the eve of super Tuesday, the goal is to engage 5 million citizens in active and intelligent conversations about global warming solutions.

The classic problem in any sort of activism is that when you throw an event, only the people who are interested come. In order to address this age old problem, we’re going to the students. Starting in September, we embarked on a campaign to speak to every single faculty member individually and ask for some or all of class time on February 5th to discuss climate change from the stance of their department. To speak to over 300 faculty is a big project, and I applaud Meredith Annex ’11 and Martin Sawyer ’08 who have coordinated those efforts.

ftn logo nationalIts paying off. Currently over 60 faculty will use between 5 minutes and all of their class time to talk about where their passion for a better world intersects with their discipline and subject matter. And more new commitments are coming in every day. We’ve actually been surprised at how many faculty are genuinely eager to participate in an event that addresses a big issue and uses their particular strengths. Maybe it’s not that surprising after all.

With so much faculty involvement, the next step is to hold big, flashy events to bring the campus together. The first will be a town-hall style forum to discuss the college’s commitments and challenges in becoming truly sustainable. President Schapiro and members of senior staff will have a conversation with students about light bulbs, solar panels, the new library and Paresky hours. Later in the evening, for our key note address, Christopher Flavin ’77 will discuss the climate of hope and the path to a low carbon economy.

In addition, throughout the day, several panel discussions will hit on issues such as environmental justice, the growing grassroots youth movement, marketing, insurance, Williamstown and college architecture.

In short, we’re throwing a huge event. We’re taking a big risk, and trying out methods of organizing ourselves and teambuilding that are more ambitious than most groups ever attempt. After all, we’re students; we can take big risks because we don’t have that much to lose, but everything to gain. An event of this size requires coordination of a lot of administrators’ time, faculty time, and the resources of two departments (environmental studies and the Zilkha center) as well as lots of support from the president’s office.

Is it worth all this effort? Putting so much time into bringing people to talk together? Yes. Global warming is not a single problem and it will not be solved with a single solution. It will take collaboration and the sharing of resources among people with different strengths and interests, and it will provide opportunities for those who have visions of a better world to find each other, grow that vision and start building it.

For more information, see our current schedule here: (note: the williams.edu schedule is out of date, it should be fixed soon.)

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