Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 4.

Wurgaft writes in the Introduction:

And yet, during a period when Harvard, Yale, and Princeton maintained either de jure or de facto quotas against Jewish students, Williams had three Jews, members of its class of 1914, on its Board of Trustees. While some Jewish students experienced scarring episodes of anti-Semitism during their time at Williams, for others their identity attracted little or no attention whatsoever.

There is a credible case to be made that Williams was the least anti-Semitic elite college in the US during the 20th century. If not us, then who? Which other college had as many Jews on the Board during this period?

Not only did Jewish students seek to matriculate at those schools more frequently than at liberal arts colleges, the universities that combined great size and prestige—and perhaps Harvard especially—simply loomed larger on the national scene. While Williams, like other liberal arts colleges, has, through its distinguished alumni and faculty, influenced American cultural and political life out of proportion with its size, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were ever-present in the popular imagination and more likely to attract students whose families were not already affiliated with them in some fashion.

Exactly right. This is connected to the current debate over the Asian-American quota in the Ivy League. Most informed observers believe that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton discriminate against Asian-American applicants. The question, for EphBlog, has been: Does Williams do the same? We hope not! With luck, the same forces that allowed Williams to not discriminate against Jews 100 years ago — mainly a (relative) lack of interest from Jewish applicants — free Williams from discriminating against Asian-Americans today. Informed commentary welcome!

While the myth of “Old Abe” Rudnick may have surfaced only once or twice, the myth that Williams maintained a quota limiting Jewish enrollment has surfaced again and again. Many of the interviewees whose testimonies inform this project are confident that such a quota was in place as late as the early 1960s. No firm evidence of such a quota has been uncovered as of this writing, though that falls short of final refutation—however, there is ample evidence suggesting that precious few Jewish students applied to Williams until the 1950s and 1960s.

This is the most important conclusion of the book: There is no evidence that Williams discriminated against Jewish applicants. Hooray for us!

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