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 5.

Wurgaft continues in the Introduction:

[F]or some of the informants interviewed for this study, the eventual inclusion of Jews within the Williams family constituted a kind of moral victory over a wicked old order. However, a careful examination of the events and debates that shaped Williams College in the twentieth century reveals not a series of heroic episodes but, instead, a slow progress toward institutional change in which the “actors” were more often impersonal forces such as the gradual diversification of America and of the American academy in general, rather than heroic college students, administrators, or faculty.

Exactly right, and a stark difference from the cheerleading described in the Record over Frank Oakley’s role. Given the (superb) academic qualifications of Jewish applicants, the rising wealth of Jewish families, and American society’s ever increasing distaste of anything resembling anti-Semitism, there is no scenario in which Williams does not become completely welcoming to Jewish students over the last 50 years. An easy way to see that this change was inevitable is to note that it occurred at every other school too!

Notably, it was not the case that in the first decades of the twentieth century Williams denied admission to all but the sons of wealthy WASPs. Like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton before 1920, Williams admitted students almost solely on the basis of academic accomplishment. However, the specific accomplishments required for admission were ones Jewish students, and students from poorer backgrounds, could rarely boast, and not for lack of ability but for lack of opportunity. Until the entrance of the Class of 1938, Williams required four years of Latin and two of Greek . . .

It would be one thing if Williams designed its entrance requirements to exclude Jewish (and poor) applicants, but no accounts suggests that we did. Instead, the men who ran Williams honestly thought such requirements were a good idea, in the same way that the people who run Williams today think that requiring standardized tests is a good idea, even if blacks/Hispanic do much worse on such tests than whites/Asians.

Print  •  Email