Jeff Thaler ’74 writes:

Being the creator of the Winter Study Project that Ronit, in his January 9 posting, said was one of the “Courses That I Wish Had Been Offered When I Was At Williams, Pt.1”, I want to thank him for that recognition and good judgment, as well as others who made interesting postings back and forth that day. David Kane sent the link to me, and I had hoped to respond to the comments sooner–but have been very busy with work on the project this month, as well as related initiatives involving the refugee and immigrant communities here in Maine. So even though the blogging trail went cold more than 2 weeks ago, I do feel it important to correct some mistaken assumptions and myths voiced in some of the blog entries.

First, the notion that this WSP is expensive or would save the college much money if cut is wrong. I cannot imagine a more cost-efficient way of having Williams students exposed to and experiencing cultures very different from their own than this project. Rather than going overseas on a WSP travel project, or a summer internship, many of which in part rely on College-related funds, my Project is only a 4 hour drive from Williams. The costs are primarily paying the host family a per diem for the student’s room and board, something I did during the 1972 Williams-at-Home program as well.

Second, in a couple postings, people suggested that Somali refugees were wrongly being resettled in Lewiston, Maine by the government, that they were hurting the Lewiston economy and there were no programs in place to deal with their influx. That is a myth as well. The bulk of the Somalis in Lewiston, who became the focus of national publicity a few years ago, are secondary refugees–NOT ones placed by the government in a particular city. Rather, these refugees–who generally had come from rural areas of Somalia– had been placed in places like Atlanta, where they were not happy by what they perceived to be high costs, crime, and urban density…and they chose to move to Lewiston, which is not as isolated as some commenters think. It is home to Bates College, is part of a two-city area of about 60,000 people about 40 miles from Portland. Last week, Newsweek did a story quoting a number of Lewiston officials who are very glad the Somalis came, to help revive the city and schools. Having worked in Lewiston for 11 years, the description of its past and present situations is accurate.

Last, I have deliberately designed my WSP so that it is not just a service learning activity, or a cultural experience, or a visit to a different part of the world. I have tried to make the project a blend of experiential and academic learning, with required readings before the students come; journaling while here, which I review and comment upon the journals at the end; reflective essays before arrival and at the end of the project, which I again review and comment upon; and during the stay, I am frequently interacting with the students to push them to ask more questions of themselves and the people with whom they are living, working, and encountering day by day. Being an “old” alum who is facing his 35th Reunion in June, I can safely say that the part of my liberal arts education that has had the biggest impact upon my post-Williams years professionally, personally, and every other way, was my participation in Prof. Robert Gaudino’s Williams-at-Home program. Before I ever heard the phrase, it helped me become a “lifelong learner” who was interested in other people’s lives and activities, able to listen more fully to their views, and then willing to act upon what I believed needed to be done in my community, wherever it may be.

Kudos to Thaler for creating such a wonderful course for current Williams students.

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