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!

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