Currently browsing the archives for January 2015

Sunzi Super Bowl

Professor Sam Crane provides this Super Bowl prediction.

So it seems clear that Sunzi can be applied to football predictions, and that is precisely what I did in my class – a short course on Sunzi and its various applications – today. The analysis yielded this outcome: Seahawks 21, Patriots 17.

It seems to me that the Seahawks defense is their greatest strength and the Patriots offense is their greatest strength. Since Sunzi tells us that strength versus strength is unlikely to be the central dynamic of a strategic interaction, we need to contemplate how the Seahawks offense matches up against the Patriots defense.

Read the rest for details.

In the same way that EphBlog always supports an Eph who runs for political office, regardless of her political views, we always support the geographically closest team to Williamstown in any professional sports match up. Go Pats!

Facebooktwitter

Hockey Roster Changes

For those interested in campus events in the fall of 2012, this fall 2013 post from a NESCAC hockey blog is interesting:

Williams has posted its 2013-14 men’s hockey roster on their website. The Ephs carry a short roster, with nine freshman joining 15 returning players for a total of 24 players. The only two omissions from the returnees are sophomores Taylor Carmola and Mike Erickson, neither of whom played a large role with the Ephs last season.

Williams maintains a record of hockey rosters on its webpage. Here is 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. As best I can tell, the “Hockey in the `Cac” blog is correct. Carmola and Erickson were on the roster in 2012/2013 and not in 2013/2014. Carmola is back on the roster this year. Erickson is not. According to the campus directory, Carmola is now a member of the class of 2018, i.e., this year’s freshmen class. There is no “Erickson” listed in the directory.

Want to be terrified about the power of big data? Check out the bottom of this Google search under “Searches related to Taylor Carmola”.

Facebooktwitter

Claiming Williams Schedule

Having praised many aspects of the schedule for Claiming Williams 2014, it is time to criticize the (preliminary) schedule for 2015.

9-10:30am: Opening Event

Opening Remarks: President Adam Falk, MainStage, ’62 CTD
“The Peak”: A Williams Talk Show

Hmm. Maybe “The Peak” will be a big hit, but last year’s trick of scheduling lots of singing/dancing students groups at 9:00 seems much smarter. It guarantees that all those students are there and ready to participate in morning events. It also generates lots of attendance from their friends. Consider:

The Peak is a one-time Williams talk show borrowing Barbara Walters’ conception of ABC talk show, The View, that has run for 18 years. Like The View, The Peak focuses on a panel of four female co-hosts who discuss a variety of social and political issues both at Williams and in the world at large. They will creatively preview the various events happening thru-out Claiming Williams Day. The panel consists of Kimberly Golding ’16, Fatima Anaza ’18, Elizabeth Dietz ’15, and Bushra Ali ’17. They will host live interviews and there are several surprises in store for the “studio” audience!

Boring! Just how many Williams students will want to get out of bed for this event? First, the entire premise — female-only presenters modeling their session on a female-only talk show — seems almost designed to drive male students away. Second, why would a Williams student want to hear other Williams students talk about “a variety of social and political issues … in the world at large?” Isn’t it enough that I get to — have to? — listen to my peers in every seminar I ever take at Williams? Does random Eph X have anything particular insightful to say about, for example, the situation in Gaza? Perhaps, but the above description gives me no reason to think so.

I predict that, because of this switch, attendance at morning events will be much lower this year.

8:00-9:30pm: Mothers Against Police Brutality, Chapin Hall
9:30pm: Solidarity Walk, Chapin Hall
10:00pm: Pareksy Center Gathering

What exactly does police brutality, much less those mothers who are against it, have to do with Claiming Williams? Nothing, of course. It seems clear that this year’s Claiming Williams committee, unlike last year’s, decided to let their left wing freak flag fly.

New Rule: Claiming Williams events should have something to do with Williams. They aren’t an occasion, and a slush fund, for you to push your pet issue on the Williams community. Other events which violate this rule include:

The Marginalized Man: Education Access in Prisons, Paresky Auditorium
Dealing with Anti-Muslim Sentiment in American – A workshop with MPAC, Dodd Living Room
Reverend Yearwood from the Hip Hop Caucus: Mobilizing for Climate Justice, Paresky Auditorium
Mothers Against Police Brutality Workshop: Writing as Activism, Griffin 2
Unmasking Empathy: A Staged Reading of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Play We Are Proud to Present a Presentation… CenterStage, ’62 CTD

Although I have not done a complete count, this year’s Claiming Williams seems much worse than last year’s, much more focused on events/issues that have no meaningful connection to Williams itself.

Facebooktwitter

Claiming Williams 2014

Let’s put criticism to one side and highlight all the things that Claiming Williams 2014 got right.

8:15am: Breakfast in the lobby of ’62 CTD

Honeybuns, donuts, yogurt, coffee, and tea. Start the day off with a free breakfast!

9-10:30am: Opening Event

Opening Remarks: President Adam Falk, MainStage, ’62 CTD
Art/Work: Performing Activism, featuring campus musical, dance, and theater groups, including Joshua Bennett from The Strivers Row.

This is a perfect way to start the day. First, bribe people with honeybuns to get them out of bed. Second, make sure all the arts groups show up at the start. (How many students is this? 50? 100? Whatever the number, this ensures reasonable attendance at the 10:30 events.) Third, provide students — especially first year entries — a reason to come to the first event. Even if they don’t really care about Claiming Williams per se, first years can be shamed/cajoled by their JAs to support their entrymates in the performances.

10:45-noon: Community Discussions

Allies, Bystanders, and Diversity on Teams, Bronfman Auditorium
Classism on Campus and Everywhere Else, CenterStage, ’62 CTD
Conversation with Zanele Muholi, Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA)
Not the First: Narratives from Legacies of Color, Griffin 3
The Whiteness of Belonging, Paresky Auditorium
Walls: Palestine, Mexico, and Beyond, Dodd Living Room

What an impressive collection of topics, with something for everyone. Even though I am a regular mocker of Claiming Williams, at least half of these talks seem very interesting. Indeed, I am especially impressed with how non-ideological they are, or at least some of them. Looking at legacies of color is an especially nice touch. Who deserves credit for that panel idea? Kudos!

Then, more talks over lunch. People have to eat and having many events with food help to keep the momentum of the day going. I especially liked this topic:

Soul-Searching: To Be or Not to Be “Spiritual” at Williams

Location: Paresky Quiet Room

What’s it like to be “religious” at Williams? Or not to be? Is your way of being “spiritual” a bond with others – or an obstacle? What does this community need to do better, as far as embracing religious or spiritual diversity is concerned? What do you wish other people understood about your own affiliation or identity? Join an open lunchtime forum on these and other questions, facilitated by a group of students who studied and practiced interfaith dialogue in the context of community service during Winter Study.

My sense (corrections welcome!) is that religious groups are much more active at Williams than they were 25 years ago, especially Williams Christian Fellowship. True? Either way, it is nice to see a non-leftist, but still non-mainstream, outlook highlighted at Claiming Williams. The College is for all of us, including those Ephs with traditional Christian beliefs.

The are more talks in the afternoon, with a variety of topics covered. Now, the creators of Claiming Williams might have some complaints about a session entitled “Discussing Divestment: Fossil Fuels and the Williams Endowment.” After all, the original impetus behind WC was to enable (minority) students (and their allies) who felt excluded from mainstream Williams to “claim” the College. Hard to connect that directly to divestment.

But, the more that Claiming Williams because a day of discussion about controversial topics, a day when Ephs from all backgrounds come together and talk about their differences and similarities, the better. With any luck, Claiming Williams will, over time, morph into a Mountain Day of the mind.

And, in that spirit, the best panel of the day:

Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story

Location: Class of ’58 Lounge, Paresky

Ever wonder what all those people you pass on your way to class are thinking? Ever want to tell them what’s on your mind? Storytime is hosting “Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story,” which is your chance to put stories behind the names and faces of the students, faculty, and staff around you. Each participant will alternate listening and telling stories, for three minutes each, in a kind of platonic speed-dating. What you hear might surprise you!

Great stuff. I quizzed a current sophomore about Claiming Williams and he could barely remember the other events he attended. But he loved this one. The more people at Williams who know other people at Williams, the better.

So, congratulations to the organizers of Claiming Williams 2014. They did a lot of things right!

Facebooktwitter

Claiming Williams 2015

Here is the WSO announcement for Claiming Williams 2015. Let’s deconstruct it!

Thursday, Feb 5 is Claiming Williams Day! All day. Classes are suspended while the campus engages in events and discussions about building and sustaining a more inclusive community. Come, participate: no desks, no grades, just learning and action! action! http://claiming.williams.edu/

Are classes really “suspended?” Not that I can see. To suspend something, you need to schedule it in the first place and then suspend it. Since no class was ever scheduled to meet on Thursday February 5, 2015, nothing has been “suspended.”

But this language allows the Administration to pretend that it cares more about Claiming Williams (CW) than it actually does. More importantly, it allows the
steering committee to believe that the event is more important than it actually is.

Why should we care—about what happens in New York City, in Ferguson, in North Adams, at our southern border, in Gaza, to our planet?

Gaza? Really? A constant danger with events like CW is that they are too often captured by those with outside ideological concerns. How many people at Williams could find Gaza on an unlabeled map? How many could provide even a vague overview of the issues involved?

A more competent and honest steering committee would make Claiming Williams about, you know, Williams.

Why should we care about the effects these issues have on our own campus community? The Claiming Williams Steering Committee began meeting this fall as vigils and teach-ins focusing on these questions were occurring across campus and elsewhere.

Whenever people start telling me what I “should” care about, I suspect that they are treating me as means, rather than an end. They want me to care about what they care about. Instead, they ought to ask me what I care about.

We saw organizers of these actions, often from groups most impacted by the events that sparked them, taking on extra burdens during already difficult times; we saw members of our community unsure about how to be good allies around issues that foreground our differences of privilege and belonging; and we saw signs of “issue fatigue” setting in as the term got underway.

That is a lot of left-wing gobbledygook for one paragraph. And the semi-colons don’t help.

First, are the “organizers” here the Ephs involved with on-campus vigils and teach-ins? I am unimpressed when absurdly privileged Williams students complain about “extra burdens.”

Second, note that there are only two groups: organizers and their allies. What about students who disagree with the organizers? There are certainly many students on campus who disagree with the Left’s position on, say, Gaza and illegal immigration. Don’t their views count? Aren’t they part of Williams?

Third, if by “issue fatigue” you mean lots of Ephs growing bored and annoyed by your constant demands that we care about what you care about, that we agree with what you say, then, I bet you saw lots of signs.

Facebooktwitter

Used Furniture

From a letter to the editor in the Eagle:

The Board of Trustees of the Becket Athenaeum wants to publicly thank Williams College for its generosity and willingness to commit staff time in making some of the furniture from its former Sawyer Library available to nonprofits and municipalities throughout Berkshire County. It’s a fine example of teamwork and community spirit.

The Becket Athenaeum — a 501(c)(3) rather than a town-owned library — was one of numerous organizations that participated. As a result, we were able to replace some of our aging furniture, much of it fragile and uncomfortable, with gently used ADA-compliant tables and chairs. Buying new or even used furniture was not an affordable option for us, so we couldn’t be more delighted with the new additions to our library. Our only expense was moving it.

Special thanks to Shaun Lennon, Tim Reisler, and JoAnne Moran at Williams for their help and patience in managing the process.

Good stuff! Kudos to all involved.

The College, alas, wastes a lot of money on local non-profits, writing big checks to the schools and hospitals that administrators/faculty use. Doing so is absurd. Alumni give Williams money to spend on Williams, not so that college officials can, inefficiently, spend money on themselves.

But donations of material and employee time (within reason) is fundamentally different. The more that the College can do this, the better. EphBlog’s motto when it comes to local charities: Be generous in time/materials and stingy in writing checks.

Facebooktwitter

MLK Day Video from CLIA

Facebooktwitter

Black Male Graduation Rate Around 90%

Thanks to the wonderful Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade, we have some better context for yesterday’s discussion of a black male graduation rate of below 70% at Williams.

Your hypothesis that these numbers are based on a small sample size is correct. Keep in mind that IPEDS race and ethnicity categories changed several years back. Under current IPEDS definitions, “Black or African American” excludes people who identify as both Black and Hispanic (they are counted as Hispanic), or Black and any other race (they count as “Two or more races”).

The numbers I’m discussing here are available publicly through the IPEDS data center, which is very data rich, but can be very challenging to navigate.

In the Fall 2006 incoming cohort, we only had 13 Black or African American men, using this definition. Nine of them graduated within 6 years, yielding the 69% graduation rate College Results Online is reporting. Your other hypothesis, that this is likely a local low, is correct. The following year, for the Fall 2007 cohort (these data are available from the IPEDS data center), we reported that 16 of 18, or 89% of the cohort of Black or African American men graduated within 6 years, which is in line with historical averages. We haven’t yet submitted data for the Fall 2008 cohort.

The “ds” values you see on the Education Trust website for many schools stands for “data suppressed.” Their footnotes say that they suppress the data when the cohort includes fewer than 10 students. So it’s not that they’re not reporting the data, rather that College Results Online is suppressing the data.

Thanks to Wade for the clarifications! It is good to know that the 70% figure was a one-time outlier.

Facebooktwitter

Black Male Graduation Rate Below 70%

grad_rates

The gold standard for information about college graduation rates comes from IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Here is the page for Williams. Unfortunately, I have trouble getting race-by-sex data from this source. (Pointers welcome!) Fortunately, the Education Trust places that data (ultimately, from IPEDS, I assume) in an easier to use format here. This is the source for the screen shot above.

The 6-year graduation rate for black males from Williams College is below 70%.

Comments and questions:

1) Holy disparate impact, Uncle Ephraim! I found this number to be shockingly low. Are you surprised? I can’t find another elite school with such a horrible record.

2) I have never been sure about the exact meaning of this statistic. These students don’t graduate from Williams College in 6 years. But don’t at least some of them graduate from somewhere? If so, where and at what rates?

3) Shouldn’t this be a front page story in The Record?

4) I believe that this is data as of school year 2011-2012. So it is referring to students who started in the fall of 2006, i.e., members of the class of 2010.

5) Fortunately, the data is previous years looks better for Williams: class of 2009 (87%), 2008 (96%), 2007 (88%), 2006 (88%). But why would things get so much worse for the class of 2010? And how are things looking for recent graduating classes?

6) I am suspicious of this data for two reasons.

a) Although misleading the Feds is a bad idea, elite colleges have been painting the best possible picture for years. I am especially suspicious of the fact that many other elite liberal arts colleges fail to report any data at all.

b) There are very few (approximately 25?) African-American males in each Williams class, so the difference between 70% and 90% is only 5 or so students. So, with luck, this is just random variation.

7) Prediction: The data next year will look better, closer to the long term average of 90%. It is unlikely that something important changed for the class of 2010 and subsequent classes. Instead, this is more likely random variation caused by a small sample size.

8) If this prediction is wrong — if extremely low graduation rates from black males continue — then it is likely that Williams changed its admissions policies in 2006, admitted weaker applicants, applicants that it used to reject. Such applicants are, obviously, much less likely to graduate from Williams in 6 years.

UPDATE: Thanks to Directory of Institutional Research Courtney Wade for explaining that 6b and 7 above are correct. This was random variation on a small number of students. Latest data shows the graduation rate back around 90%.

Facebooktwitter

Prospect Racial Slur Was Probably a Hoax

There is now significant evidence that the Prospect House racial slur of 2011 was a hoax. But, before we go into the details, we need a nickname for the scandal. Suggestions? For now, let’s go with Prospect Must Die. Why is this a good name?

1) It combines the location of the “crime,” the 4th floor of Prospect House, with the actual graffiti: “All Niggers Must Die.”

2) It (obliquely) references the 2006 movie John Tucker Must Die. Note that “John Tucker” might be shorted to the initials JT. I almost used the scandal nickname: JT Must Die, but that seemed too inflammatory . . . for now . . .

Besides numerous prior doubts about the veracity of this “hate crime,” from people both on and off campus, we now have this radio story from David Michael ’13.
Give it a listen.

Comments:

1) Wow! What an amazing story! How did Michael get so many people to talk about the story on the record, including a Williams College security officer? Bravo!

2) Are you too lazy to listen? At some point, we should create a transcript. Summary: There was a very short window during which the graffiti could have been written. A minority member of the class of 2012, very active in campus politics, was seen on the 4th floor of Prospect at the time. She had no reason to be up there. She was seen by an acquaintance. Afterwards, as security (and the police?) were investigating, she sent a text to the acquaintance which seemed designed to get him to say that she was visiting him, and hence had a reason to be on the 4th floor at that time. The security officer, citing swipe card evidence, implied that the event was a hoax. Security Chief Dave Boyer refused to be interviewed.

3) I am not sure that this summary does the tape justice, but listen for yourself.

4) Michael ’13 declines to name the minority student who he (obviously) thinks is responsible for the hoax. EphBlog knows the name from other sources. Should we publish it?

Why won’t The Record investigate this further? There is a great story to be told.

Facebooktwitter

Three Day Celebration

Have you heard? “Williams College will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with three days of events.” Now, the old school criticism of this would point out the PC nonsense of three days of celebration of MLK Day at a college that does not even mark President’s Day (Washington and Lincoln, remember them?) with anything beyond a day off from class.

But that is old school snark. Here, at the new EphBlog 4.1, we engage in new school snark and simply quote the press release:

Friday, January 16:

The Davis Center will lead an assembly at the Williamstown Elementary School commemorating the memory of King. The assembly will take place at 10 a.m. in the elementary school’s auditorium. Fifth- and 6th-grade students will share essays and poems, and 4th-grade students will present posters in response to the question, “Who is Martin Luther King Jr.?”

Sunday, January 18:

From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Williams Recovery of All Perishable Surplus, or WRAPS, will host a meal-packing session in Paresky Dining Hall’s Green Room. Wrapped food will be given to the Mohawk Forest Housing Project. RSVP to Lia@williams.edu by noon on Friday, Jan. 16.

Those are the first two days of the three day celebration. Don’t believe me? Check the link.

Hilarious! The first day has virtually nothing to do with Williams College. (I would assume that the elementary school would be doing someting for MLK even if Williams College were to vanish.) Will there be a single Williams College student or faculty member at the event? I doubt it.

The second day has nothing to do with MLK! Now, something like the Mohawk Forest Housing Project is exactly the sort of local charity that I think Williams — students, faculty and staff — ought to be more involved with. Kudos to all who volunteer! But to pretend that this event has anything to do with MLK, and that this justifies adding another day to the College’s multi-day celebration of MLK, is just embarrassing.

Facebooktwitter

More on WSO Discussions

From eph2015 (on the demise of WSO Discussions):

I think this is a positives step. Keeping these kinds of discussions to Facebook keeps it relevant to just those who are on campus. We don’t want parents or alums reading our every word. A current community can’t thrive when it feels like it’s being watched in this way. On Facebook, we have options to limit the visibility of our posts to only those we want to see them.

This is problematic on several levels:

First, how is a first year supposed to read these discussions? Not everyone keeps their Facebook feed open. She may not know many/any of the people involved in, say, something like The Taco Six. So, by not having this discussion on WSO, you are preventing much of the campus from participating.

Second, even among the people connected on Facebook enough to see some of the discussion, there will be a natural tendency to mostly see/read the comments from your friends, i.e., that part of the campus most likely to agree with you! In fact, the more likely someone is to have an opinion radically different from you, the less likely you are to see what she writes.

Third, the issue has little to do with “parents or alums reading our every word.” The critical thing is that WSO Discussions does not exist. If it existed and only students/faculty/staff could see it and participate, that would be fine.

Fourth, this claim is false:

A current community can’t thrive when it feels like it’s being watched in this way.

WSO, just a few years ago, was an amazing on-line community, thriving in every imaginable way. Alas, the links don’t work for me anymore. (Obviously, I should have saved local copies.) Do they still work on campus? How about:

Katherine Dieber ’07 on campus racism.
Nick Greer ’08 on the Odd Quad.
iana Davis ’07 on athletics at Williams.
Cassandra Montenegro ’06 on Queer Bash pornography.

Fifth, stand by for progress! It looks like WSO Discussions may revive. Here’s hoping.

For branding, instead of calling it “WSO Discussions,” we might try for something better. How about “Uncomfortable Learning” or “Gaudino Forum?”

Facebooktwitter

Ethan Zuckerman ’93 Book Talk at Google

If someone has seen the whole thing, please tell us about the highlights in our comments.

 

Facebooktwitter

Shevinsky ’01 Tweets

Elissa Shevinsky ’01 is one of my favorite Eph Tweeters. Which Eph Tweeters do you read?

At some point, we hope to create a compendium of all the Ephs on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and so on. The more that we can connect Ephs, the better off the broader Williams community will be.

Facebooktwitter

Last Second Win Over Amherst

Hat tip to @EphTweets for the link.

Facebooktwitter

Armed Resistence

From Yik Yak:

Q: So did that armed resistance girl get suspended?

A: Of course not.

Q: What happened

A: Someone said something about how they “can’t wait for armed resistance” in reaction to the taco 6.

Comments:

0) Some background. Yik Yak is an app for anonymous discussion in a local setting. I don’t really recommend it. As you might expect, anonymous == swamp. But, with the demise of WSO Discussions, it is the best tool for keeping up with campus gossip, like this. Conveniently, you can monitor the discussion at Williams even if you don’t live in Williamstown.

1) Does anyone have a screenshot of this? Future historians will thank you! I don’t care about identifying the people involved, I just want the full context of the quote.

2) It is good that this student was not suspended. Free speech does not end at the top of Spring Street. Unless you are saying something that is illegal in Massachusetts — constantly harassing a specific person or making a credible physical threat — you are free to say all the stupid stuff you like. Kudos to Dean Bolton and/or Williams for not making a big deal about this. (I assume that there was no all-campus e-mail.)

3) It is bad that the College engages in viewpoint discrimination. If a student talking about “armed resistance” is not worthy of an all-campus e-mail than neither are The Taco Six.

4) It is bad that a student — the one replying “Of course not” above — thinks (correctly) that the College treats similar actions differently depending on the political views of the Ephs behind those actions.

Facebooktwitter

More on WSO Discussions

As always, much of the best content on EphBlog comes from our commentators. Here is DM ’10 on WSO discussions.

WSO discussions started falling off several years ago; I’d check occasionally and see that only a few new posts were being made per semester. The current redesign only put the nail in the coffin, by putting discussions (along with the other interactive elements of the site) below the fold, with abbreviated titles so it’s not obvious at first glance what’s being discussed.

I think it’s reasonable, in the abstract, for students to prefer that WSO discussions be limited to the on-campus community. Williams exists for the development of its students, not the entertainment of its alumni, and students who are just finding their voice and exploring their worldview can legitimately prefer a forum where every misstep is not broadcast widely and preserved forever in the global digital memory. This is (at least partly) why WSO always excluded discussions from search engine indices, even when they were publicly visible. Of course there’s also value in a broader discussion, including alumni and other off-campus voices, and EphBlog has at times provided a venue for that sort of conversation. But that’s a complementary mission, in my view.

That said, I doubt people were moving to Facebook/Yikyak/wherever specifically to avoid the prying eyes of parents: WSO had vibrant discussions for many years despite being publicly visible, and limiting accessibility doesn’t seem to have brought them back. Probably part of it is just that Facebook (and other social sites) has grown tremendously: although it was ubiquitous during my time at Williams, it was still something of a novelty; I remember my college-bound friends being excited to get their .edu email addresses so they could finally sign up for a Facebook account. These days, incoming freshmen have had Facebook accounts from middle school onward, and are already accustomed to it as the default mode of online social interaction. Modern-day Facebook has also just put a ton of technical and design resources into creating a slick, attractive, frictionless experience, in a way that a small, part-time, mostly neglected student organization like WSO can’t really be expected to match. I’m not suggesting this is a complete explanation; I’m sure there are lots of other factors at play as well.

I do think something is lost when discussions that were formerly campus-wide move to anonymous (yikyak) or social (facebook) platforms. There were a number of people at Williams whom I got to know largely by reading their WSO posts; they were not part of my direct circle of friends and I probably would not have met them or been exposed to their perspectives if these conversations had taken place instead inside the filter-bubble of Facebook social connections. The medium of WSO discussions also encouraged longer-form posts (paragraph or more) and deeper threads than are common on Facebook or similar sites — this may have been part of their downfall, since there’s a higher barrier to entry and it’s easier for a thread to go off the rails, but at its best they did provide a forum for people to seriously engage, in a way that’s not (in my experience) very common in Facebook discussions.

Facebooktwitter

Four Letter Word, Nine Year Later

This post was originally written nine years ago. But yesterday’s discussion about the demise of WSO Discussions provides an occasion to revisit, with minor edits.
—————————

What is the stupidest, most out of touch statement by a senior faculty member to be published in the Record in the last year? Good question! Given all the misrepresentations concerning anchor housing, the competition is a tough one. But I am going with this.

To bring discussion [on racial incidents] to a more public arena, Schapiro and Roseman are hosting an open forum in Griffin at 8:30 p.m. tonight. Roseman said she felt that WSO blogs are ultimately limited in lasting value, despite the good content they sometimes contain. “They’re not really a dialogue,” she said. “They always degenerate over time.”

Pathetic. Roseman was also reported to refer to “blog” as a “four letter word” — i.e., something that she thought was not just useless but positively harmful.

First, does Roseman even read the WSO blogs? In other interviews, she has claimed not to. How can she know that they are “not really a dialogue” if she doesn’t read them regularly? How does she know that they “always” degenerate? Now, she is under no obligation to read the blogs, but if she is ignorant on the topic she has no business being insulting.

Second, the WSO blogs have many, many examples of incredibly lucid and subtle dialogue. Consider Katherine Dieber ’07 on campus racism:

In my opinion, the crime is not fearing, but letting that fear dictate actions. I’m always questioning whether or not I’m subconsciously racist or afraid, and if that’s the deeper reason for the way I interact with people of different backgrounds. Here’s my confession: I question most my interactions with black people. I wonder if I should be taking bigger steps to blend white American culture with black American culture, and this sort of worry colors my interactions with black people (until/unless I get to know them fairly well). Frankly, I’m intimidated. Am I the privileged white kid that black kids see as their enemy, or at least opposite?

Or Nick Greer ’08 on the Odd Quad:

We’ve built our own culture, we built the kind of tightly-knit “cluster” that you want for yourself, but one that excludes you. We built a culture that accepts even the most socially awkward. First years that have already given up on their entry? They’re in Currier common room hanging with us. People like you Kati- I mean Jessica, you make up 80% of this campus so from your perspective clusters aren’t that bad. I mean you may share a bathroom with that frumpy girl who plays D&D but it’s not like she hangs out with you or anything. No, Friday nights when your cluster is having another OC party she’s in her room. Oh, you’re so nice, you’ll invite her to come? Well she’s not interested, she hates you remember. Not everyone on campus likes that sort of thing and when you assume everyone on campus is like you, you exclude the people who are not.

Or Diana Davis ’07 on athletics at Williams:

My childhood friend, who is a year younger than I, looked at Williams when she was considering her college choices. She plays the oboe and the piano, sings, dances, acts, and does all sorts of wonderful things, but she is not an athlete. On her tour, she and her dad report that her tour guide repeated three times the impressive statistic that Williams wins 77% of its games. She was turned off by this athletic focus, and nothing I said could get her to reconsider and apply to Williams. This is sad. Are we alienating many such prospective students? Look on the bright side — that leaves more spots for athletes!

Or Cassandra Montenegro ’06 on Queer Bash pornography.

i didn’t know what to expect going into my first queer bash, but it wasn’t that. i was in no way warned. i dressed up for (what i was told was) the semester’s best party and left feeling the victim. i was so confused as why someone would do that to me–with no concern for my feelings. i couldn’t ‘just look away’ if i didn’t like it, like my friends told me to do. it was more than that, it was the principle. why porn? why on a screen? why at a campus party?

If Roseman doesn’t think that this sort of writing — and the larger dialogues in which they are embedded on the blogs — is the heart and soul of what a Williams education should be, then she is an idiot. More importanly, dozens of similar examples are available for all to see.

Third, it’s not that similar dialogues don’t occur over Mission lunches and late night pizza, just as they did 20 years ago. There are few better parts of a Williams education than the talks/arguments you have with your fellow Ephs. But the blogs provide an extra dimension that we lacked back in the day. They give students a chance to think for a moment about what they want to say, to pause and reflect on the opinions of others. The blogs are not a substitute for other dialogue, they are a complement.

Fourth, any regular blog reader will tell you that the blogs have two big advantages over in-person dialogues. First, they often bring together Ephs who don’t know each other well, who don’t share a dorm or classroom together. Second, they provide a way for the rest of us to listen in, to learn from the conversations among our fellow Ephs.

Why is Roseman so blind to the benefits that the blogs bring to Williams? Tough to know, but I’ll freely speculate. I think that there is a certain kind of administrator who does not really trust the students, who thinks that any discussion on a controversial topic needs to be supervised and moderated. This sort of administrator likes campus forums and classroom discussions because some adult is in control, someone is running the show. For this sort of person, the blogs are anarchic, out of control, always degenerating, making more trouble. A real dialogue includes a teacher, a Socratic figure who guides the benighted students.

Blogs are messy. They aid the students in doing for themselves what the College is unable and, often, unwilling to do for them. They represent a loss of control for Hopkins Hall.

I don’t know if Roseman is this sort of administrator. Perhaps there is some other explanation for her ridiculous comments. But, regardless of the explanation, the messiness is here to stay. The Dean of the College today has much less control over conversation on campus than the Dean did 20 years ago. Nothing can stop that trend from continuing. Embrace the Blog, Dean Roseman. We are the future.
—————————

Nine years later, that is all the more true. Ever heard of Yik Yak? Williams students are still discussing things, but those discussions are less open and inviting. And, because forums like Yik Yak are anonymous, they are much more hurtful than they ever were on WSO.

A well-run school would urge WSO to bring back Discussions and make them readable by all.

Facebooktwitter

WSO Discussions

WSO Discussions used to be a vibrant part of the Williams Conversation. They are now dead, and have been dead since WSO’s redesign. Comments:

1) Does WSO care? It appears that non-campus (non-student?) Ephs can’t even view WSO Discussions anymore. Was that a conscious choice? This is a shame since lots of parents and alums (and not just at EphBlog!) used to enjoy reading those discussions.

2) Where have those discussions gone? One student mentioned to me that he read some debate about The Taco Six on Facebook. Is that where students have these conversations? If so, that is too bad.

3) If Williams took seriously the mission of bringing together students with different viewpoints, it would want WSO Discussions, or something like it to exist. But I doubt that the College really cares that much. Recall former Dean Roseman from 9 years ago:

To bring discussion [on racial incidents] to a more public arena, Schapiro and Roseman are hosting an open forum in Griffin at 8:30 p.m. tonight. Roseman said she felt that WSO blogs are ultimately limited in lasting value, despite the good content they sometimes contain. “They’re not really a dialogue,” she said. “They always degenerate over time.”

More tomorrow.

Facebooktwitter

Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are now blessed to know. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 26 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

Facebooktwitter