To the Williams community,
I’m pleased to announce that the final report from the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History (CSIH) is available on the president’s office website.
As you may recall, in convening the Committee we wanted to engage the entire community in a consideration of the historical images, monuments and decorations from earlier eras and their implications in a contemporary context. I asked that the Committee offer recommendations on principles that should guide us in such consideration generally, as well as identifying specific images or pieces in particular (starting with the Log mural). With this report the group has ably fulfilled their charge, and their work is now concluded.
The Committee notes that many campuses are confronting similar questions. I think Williams stands out for the thoughtful and inclusive way we approached our effort, especially the intense discussions that the committee’s students led in Goodrich in April 2016. I’m deeply grateful to Committee chair Karen Merrill, Frederick Rudolph ’42 Class of 1965 Professor of American Culture, and all the faculty, staff, students and alumni who served on the group or advised its work. You’ve moved Williams an important step forward.
The report sets out broad principles for considering our institutional history. It also explores three examples in detail. Neither the Committee nor I would suggest focusing solely on the three. But I highlight them here and encourage you to read the report because its thoughtful discussion of the examples illustrates just how complex the issues are, and how requiring of care any decisions about them need to be.
Faculty House: Originally a club reserved almost exclusively for faculty, today the Faculty House has evolved into a space for faculty, students, alumni and staff. But its decor hasn’t evolved meaningfully. This fall we’ll convene an ad hoc working group, drawn from the constituencies that use the Faculty House most, to consider whether and how the decor could be updated to reflect the diverse community that uses it today.
The Herman Rosse painting in the ‘62 Center: The ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance is home to two important academic departments, whose faculty, staff and students spend time in the building every day. We’ll confer with these people, as the building’s primary occupants, about their preferences regarding decoration broadly, including this painting, about some in our community have expressed concern for its portrayals of women and African Americans, and also for its overall quality. We may also consult others who use the building significantly.
Haystack: The Haystack Monument presents a different sort of opportunity. As the Committee observes in their report, the monument commemorates an event in the summer of 1806 that helped launch the American foreign missions movement. The site is visited and appreciated by people from around the world, most of whom have no connection to Williams. We want to respect their interest while recognizing that other groups experience or view the marker very differently. We will not remove the Monument. But as an academic and inclusive community we need to make its variety of meanings visible for consideration and discussion. We’ll develop a process for that work in the fall.
There’s much more to the report, and I urge you to read it for yourself and consider especially the general principles it elucidates. While the report will be housed on the president’s web page for now, we’ll soon create a permanent location on williams.edu for the Committee’s work and other, related information, to foster continued discussion about the college’s history.
This is an important and complicated endeavor. It has at its heart the very question of the community we aspire to be. We’ll never seek to erase Williams’ history, nor to rewrite it. But we must continue to evolve as a community, and that evolution has to include the voices and perspectives of all those whom we’ve invited here as full members. I’m lifted by the extraordinary efforts of the Committee and the thoughtful participation of our entire campus.
As the Committee notes in the conclusion of their report,
We do believe that Williams can negotiate change without effacing the past; that it has done so at other times in its history and grown as an institution; and that it most successfully negotiates change through processes that encourage the diffusion of information, community-wide reflection and discussion, and a clear understanding of how decisions are made at the college.
I encourage you all to help us advance this project, and I look forward to our next steps together in the fall.