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 7.

Stephen Birmingham ’55 contributed a chapter entitled “A Knock on the Door.” As with most of the other Eph stories in the book, it is an engaging read. However, it tells the story of conversations from 1949. I, at least, have trouble remembering conversations from last week, much less 60+ years ago. Birmingham notes:

The great irony of the story told in this book is that in the course of the twentieth century Williams itself became more like the Jewish students it had once excluded.

Indeed. The elite evolve, a theme that Wurgaft fails to explore with much nuance. On the surface, this book is a conflict between two categories of Ephs: Jews and those who would exclude them. On a deeper level, it is the story of Williams College as an organism, a institution dedicated to maintaining its position among the elite. When treating Jews unfairly was a necessary part — or at least considered necessary by the men in charge — of what “elite” meant, Williams treated Jews unfairly. When maintaining elite status required treating Jews fairly, Williams started doing that. The driving force was never — is never — some abstract committment to justice. The driving force is the need to maintain status.

Want to predict what Williams will do tomorrow? Don’t ask what Adam Falk thinks. What Adam thinks doesn’t matter much. Ask what actions are necessary — or at least viewed as necessary — to maintain the College’s status. That is what Williams will do.

In the Gilded Age of New York Society, the closed circle of WASP wealth was often referred to as The Four Hundred, which was the supposed capacity of Mrs. William Astor’s ballroom. The wealthy German-Jewish families, who were excluded from this perfumed realm, made a joke of it, and called themselves The One Hundred, and referred to the others as “the butterflies.”

Indeed. We hear a lot about Gentile prejudice against Jews. We hear little — because Wurgaft writes little — about Jewish prejudice against Gentiles. As Steve Sailer points out, there isn’t even a thought category for anti-Gentilism.

We Betas, meanwhile, considered ourselves a rather special breed. Scholastically, we were at the top. In terms of grade averages, we nearly always came out first among all the campus fraternities. We had the most Phi Beta Kappa keys per capita of any house. We looked with disdain at our neighbors down the street, the Dekes, the Animal House, the jocks whose academic scores were in the cellar.

Any Deke house members from the 1950s among our readers? Please chime in!

I explained that we’d rejected the Choate School because the Choate application at the time contained the question, “Is the boy in any part Hebraic?” My parents had found the question socially offensive and semantically ridiculous.

Any more ridiculous than Common App’s insistence today that applicants answer whether or not they are “Asian?” You can’t apply to Williams without answering that question. But, sure, the people who ran Choate back then are moral monsters . . .

[T]he president of Phi Gamma Delta took Bobby aside and said, “Look, we were happy to take you into Phi Gam, and we were happy to take your uncle and your cousins in. But this has just got to stop somewhere. We just can’t keep on taking more and more of your people in. We’d be overrun by you people before we knew it.

1) Does anyone know who the president of Phi Gamma Delta from 1950? It would be nice to hear his side of the story.

2) This is exactly the current Williams policy with regard to international students. Recall this brilliant Record op-ed from 11 years ago. If concerns about too many Jews were offensive/ridiculous 60 years ago, then why are concerns about too many non-US citizens acceptable today?

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