Gargoyle is interested in Williams history and has passed along some questions about life at Williams is the mid-to-late 1980s. I will be posting (and answering) these questions. If you were around during this era, please chime in!

What was happening politically/socially outside of Williams? What were students thinking about aside from school (elections, political events, scandals, etc.)?

Nothing was different and everything was different.

Then and now, US Presidents (Reagan/Trump) had received virtually zero votes from Williams faculty members and very few votes from students. Both were widely derided as intellectually vacuous buffoons. Then as now, Russia was considered to be a key international competitor. Then as now, there were vociferous debates over taxes and the size of the federal government. Politics was, more or less, the same then as it is now, perhaps the same as it ever was. Students were concerned, to a certain extent, with these issues, but they were also mainly interested in their classes, their activities and their friends. The outside world touched Williams, but not deeply.

From my imperfect memory, one of the most important political issue — in terms of what Williams students/faculty talked and argued about — was apartheid in South Africa. Divestment by the endowment from companies that did business in South Africa was one of the major sources of conflict between students and the trustees. (The closest parallel today would be divestment from companies which contribute to climate change.)

Many of the social debates of that era have echoes today. Read this history (pdf) of “Black Williams,” especially pages 67ff for details. Affirmative action was a lightning rod for debate, both in admissions and faculty hiring. Abortion was controversial, although student opinion was overwhelmingly pro-choice.

If I were to re-phrase you question, I would add “technologically” to your duo of “politically/socially.” Political and social issues today would have seemed very familiar to a student transported forwarded from 1987. Technologically, the world is a very different place.

How would our reader who were at Williams in the 1980s answer this question? What about readers from other eras?

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