We’re all about the facts at EphBlog, so consider a simple empirical question: How many students attended today’s keynote Claiming Williams speech by Jelani Cobb?

1) Via Ben Lamb’s Instagram feed, we have this photo.


I would agree with Ben’s description of this as a “packed house.”

cobb_chapin_close2) What is the capacity of Chapin? The Record reports that “the first floor can seat 485 people when the stage is up and 636 people when the stage is lowered. The balcony still seats 203 people.” I believe that the stage was up (see left) meaning that max attendance was 688. But both pictures make clear that, even in this packed house, there were lots of empty seats. Perhaps a reader with some fancy photo-analysis software could give us a decent estimate of how many? Hard to tell! I would be surprised if it were fewer than 50 or more than 200. Let’s go with a guess of 550. (Reader opinions welcome!) So, at most, only 1/4 of the students at the College attended the central event of Claiming Williams Day.

3) How many of those 550 attendees were students? That is a key question. Of course, the College (and EphBlog!) are always happy when faculty/staff attend events. The more Ephs that participate in the life of the mind, especially at communal college events, the better. However, consider this:


Leave aside the (important!) question about whether or not this is a good use of College resources. (Hint: It probably isn’t. And I spend a lot of time defending OCC to critical students.) It sure seems like many faculty/staff were invited/encouraged (expected?) to attend Cobb’s speech. Although the picture is tough to parse, I certainly see more than a few bald heads. Could the number of students in attendance be as low as 400? 300? You betcha! And many (most?) of those may have been First Years led to the event by their JAs. If only 200 upperclassmen attended the key note speech at Claiming Williams, is it still fair to judge the event a success?

4) Perhaps the most interesting question is: What, if anything, would make the supporters of Claiming Williams decide to end the tradition? It would be nice if the faculty set a time limit, perhaps 5 years, after which Claiming Williams would need to be re-authorized. If, in 2021, the Williams faculty (and students!) felt that the day served a useful purpose, that it was worth the cost of one less day for Dead Week, then, by all means, continue. But I bet that a fair campus wide vote, even today, put an end to Claiming Williams, which is one reason we won’t be seeing a vote anytime soon.

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