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.