One of the rituals I especially enjoy at Williams is the performance of “Voices” during first days. The freshman class files into the ’62 Center’s Mainstage after their first entry dinner, and a few Williams students stand before the new freshman to declare their story, followed by a common end:

“I go to Williams.”

My freshman year, I remember seeing the Voices presentation. The details of who said what are a little fuzzy after two years, but the program absolutely succeeded in presenting a simple idea: that the experience of Williams’s students is broad, and that labels and stereotypes are often ignorant and foolish. Or, in other words, diversity education, though the word “diversity” isn’t mentioned in the presentation.

This year, I returned to First Days as a part of a different group, but like a few other upperclassmen, wanted to see this year’s program. The performers had labels: they were prep schoolers, poor, African-American, “extremely white,” foreign, goat-herders, victims of foreclosure, Southern Californians, townies, witnesses of domestic abuse, exceptions to stereotypical rules, nomads. Yet their stories were much deeper than those labels convey; in fact, there was no comparison between the stereotypes of above and the complexity of the people on that stage. It’s not that barriers are broken, but rather that they are shown to have never really existed, except in the hive-mind of society.

Williams still struggles with stereotypes and judgments – I still vividly remember the first time I learned about the wealth of one of my friend’s family, and was suddenly forced to confront the stereotypes I had about the super-wealthy. Voices doesn’t purify us, and it doesn’t seek to. It simply shows the freshmen that their world has suddenly expanded, but that the people from “out there” have the same human experience of the familiar. Or something like that…

I won’t be surprised if, within the next few days, I witness someone do something strange or funny. Their excuse will be drawn from last night’s performance, and it will justify whatever they did that wasn’t expected:

“I go to Williams.”

Facebooktwitter
Print  •  Email