Assume that you are a bad person and you want Williams student to self-segregate by astrological sign. You want all the, say, Geminis, to hang out together, take the same classes, form Gemini-only rooming groups and so on. This is hard to do because Williams students don’t like to be bossed around.

Solution: Invite all the Gemini members of the class of 2013 to five weeks of special Gemini-only activities at Williams this summer. Do not invite non-Geminis.

The natural result is that these Geminis, who may have had nothing in common besides their astrological sign, will bond. Cliques form, friendships grow and romance blooms. These Geminis will grow to like and trust each other. When school starts in September, they will already have made friends with each other. They will continue to seek each other out, share meals with each other, perhaps take classes together. It won’t be that they have anything against their non-Gemini entrymates who they are meeting for the first time. It is just that they will have already found friends to hang out with.

But the College, you say, would never do anything like that! Think again:

Incoming first-years from underrepresented minority groups spend five weeks in June and July at the Williams College Summer Science and Williams College Summer Humanities and Social Sciences programs. Assisted by current students, the participants take classes that emphasize the development of writing, study, and oral skills.

Say what you will about these programs, but there is no doubt that they increase the amount of student self-segregation at Williams. Are the benefits worth the costs? Perhaps. Yet the first step is always to provide an accurate estimate of the costs and benefits.

Further comments below:

1) I have heard nothing but good things about these programs. If you are invited, I urge you to attend. Few things are more magical than Williamstown in the summer.

2) Professor Sam Crane taught in this program last year. Which professors taught this year? How many students attended? How much does the program cost? As always, we love to know all the details. Did any EphBlog readers attend, this year or in the past?

3) Students who aren’t invited to these programs sometimes express some negativity toward their exclusion, at least on College Confidential. How do our readers who weren’t invited feel?

4) Last year, Professor Crane wrote:

One of the reasons I have gotten behind in blogging is my work with a summer program here at Williams. I am the director of Summer Humanities and Social Sciences, which brings 18 in-coming first year students to campus for an early introduction to the rigors of liberal arts education. This is the fourth year I will have taught in the program but this year I have added responsibilities for overseeing everything: student travel, student accommodation, curricular integrity, etc. It takes some time, but has certain rewards.

Indeed. But the best part is the question that comes in the comment thread to that post.

Hi Sam,

Just wondering about this class. It sounds terrific. Where can I get more information about it? Specifically, how are incoming students made aware of it?

Three guesses as to who asked that question.

Can’t figure it out? Soph Mom!

Professor Crane does not answer her question in the thread, although he had kindly answered mine above. Did he answer her privately? I don’t know.

The truth, of course, is that “incoming students” like Soph Mom’s son are not “made aware” of the program at all. They are white! They don’t get to come.

Does this sort of exclusivity cause any problems? I don’t know. Perhaps everyone just accepts that some Ephs are more equal than others . . .

5) I don’t know the history of this program as well as I should. I think that, in past years, it was restricted to “underrepresented minority groups,” meaning African-American, Hispanic and Native American. No Asian-Americans, much less whites, need apply. But I also think that, in more recent years, attendance may have been open to students of other races from lower income families. Is that right? Who was invited this year? Who attended?

6) In it’s Form 990 (pdf), the College answers No to this question:

Does the organization discriminate by race in any way with respect to:

a Students’ rights or privileges?

Isn’t the College guilty of making a false statement in a federal filing if it answers No to this question? How about these?

d Scholarships or other financial assistance?
e Educational policies?

h Other extracurricular activities?

Again, my point today is not to argue over whether or not this is a good policy. Perhaps it is the one of the very best programs at Williams. But doesn’t the College have a legal/moral obligation to be honest with us?

UPDATE: Thanks to many fine comments below, let me add some more background material. (I am adding this after having read the first 40 or so comments.)

1) From the Williams College Self-Study for Accreditation.

Pre-Enrollment Programs for Admitted Students

We have two pre-enrollment programs — Summer Science (SS) and Summer Humanities and Social Science (SHSS), created in 1987 and 2000, respectively. Each is five weeks long and they serve about 35 students combined. Both are described in the Diversity Initiatives Self Study, pp. 21-24 (in Team Room). Both are open to all matriculating African American, Latino/a, Native American, and first-generation-college students with an interest in the areas covered. They are designed to aid in the transition to Williams by offering classes comparable to those that first-years take and by introducing students to the campus and to key faculty and staff. Co-curricular events and activities round out the experience. Upper-class students serve as teaching assistants and/or mentors. These programs tap into the intellectual enthusiasm of entering students and encourage an early interest in research and graduate school, and we project their continuation.

The Director of Institutional Research and the staffs of the two programs are working to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses by comparing the subsequent academic performances of participants to peer-group non-participants, and we expect completion of that evaluation in the near future. SS and SHSS “alumni” report that the programs aided greatly in their transition to Williams, and they have tended to stay connected with the professors they worked with in the summer. We now plan to study whether they do better academically than comparable students who did not participate. We do know that SS has been particularly successful in involving its “alumni” in laboratory research, and several SHSS students have been selected to participate in our other pipeline programs.

2) A useful article from Public Affairs in 2007.

The 20-year-old Summer Science Program (SSP) at Williams College brings a culturally and economically diverse pre-first year student group to campus for five weeks of introductory study.

The program provides an introduction to the workload of a science major at Williams and an opportunity to meet faculty and summer research students, said Program Director and Professor of Chemistry Charles Lovett.

During the 1980s, college administrators and instructors nation-wide recognized that many promising students were unprepared for the realities of college academics. Numerous factors contributed to the situation, including the resources of their increasingly diverse high schools.

“It was a problem in the ’80s and it’s a problem now,” Lovett said. “It was recognized that there were a number of students who would come to Williams with an interest in the sciences and drop out by the end of the first year.”

The program was expanded about 10 years ago to include research and mentoring opportunities for SSP students throughout their four years at Williams.

3) From the Diversity Initiatives Self Study (pdf):

Summer Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) and Summer Science (SS)
These are pre-enrollment programs directed by tenured members of the faculty and open to all African American, Latino/a, and Native American students and all first-generation college students expressing an interest in pursuing the respective academic divisions. Both programs are designed to aid in the transition to Williams by offering classes comparable to those first-year students take and by introducing the students to the campus and to some key faculty and staff members. The programs also strive to tap into the intellectual vitality of our students and spark an interest in research and graduate school. SS hires its “alumni” to serve as tutors during the summer program, and SHSS hires upperclass teaching assistants, some of whom have been program “alumni.” The teachers of these programs serve as the students’ first-year advisors, which usually leads to a stronger than normal advising relationship.

Ahhhh! Note the subtle wording. The phrase “expressing an interest” modifies “first-generation college students” but not the racial categories. This clearly implies (to me) that all African-American students receive an invitation but only some (most? many? a few?) first-generation college students do.

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