- EphBlog - http://ephblog.com -

Why Aren’t You Listening? – A Student’s Perspective

For those who have not seen yet, The College Fix published an article the other day on the recent College Council meeting, which featured an, er, interesting exchange between fellow students. The article contains a partial transcript and link to the video feed from the meeting.

We ought to frame this meeting in its larger context: Students requested money for a Black Previews event from CC. These students were questioned thoroughly about the nature of the event and the money requested. They were ultimately granted the money necessary. That is, these students went through the same process as all do when requesting money.

I can’t imagine anyone would regard navigating the bureaucracy of College Council to request funds a particularly delightful experience. Many clubs have been the cause of the creation of subcommittees to monitor their funding, and many, too, have seen their budgets slashed. Let us disregard, then, the fact that Black Previews is an event that merits its own debate–these black activists were angry because they faced the same process as every other student does, and they responded with what can only be described as the verbal abuse of their classmates.

There may be some very real problems with College Council, but to discuss these with the rhetoric of racism is irresponsible and exploitative: Irresponsible because it is a disservice to the real instances of institutional and intentional racism both on campus and beyond. Exploitative because it takes advantage of the social norms in place and the average student’s desire to be agreeable and, well, not racist. Any disagreement, any objection to this abusive diatribe would have immediately been deemed racist, and this was no subtlety in the rhetorical strategy of the two speakers. “You want to have free speech? You want to have a debate?” Isaiah says at one point. “You want to be racist? Say some s*** now.” They then correct themselves to say that their offer to respond was sincere, and when someone does respond to them–to express his remorse for their struggle–the activists proceed to liken the heads of their fellow students to a bunch of reproductive organs. Tough to respond when the person you’re talking to believes your speaking up (even if you’re on their side!) is also an indication of your being racist, and they respond with puerile (but perhaps still hurtful) insults.

What is most lamentable about this whole debacle, however, is that the students not only accept this kind of attack, but dignify it. One student cites the “moving” nature of the speech as a reason to discuss it further. Another merely says he is glad the activists received their money after the quality of his eyesight is called into question (“Are you blind?!”). Another claims the CC bylaws are violent to people of color. Dignifying students like these grants power to this type of discourse. Students at Williams have a responsibility to preserve a respectful exchange of ideas among a student body that contains some of the brightest minds of our generation. As the political climate becomes dominated by tactics of intimidation and antagonism, we sacrifice perhaps the most noble quality of our campus: its ideological diversity and the exchange of those ideologies.

It is a fascinating time of political discourse at Williams and similar institutions. Coming from a hometown that was plagued with conservative and religious dogma, I realize now the parallels between the radical left and evangelicals of the south. I do hope this is a short-lived fad rather than the beginning of a longer trend, though history would indicate otherwise.

Facebooktwitter
9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Why Aren’t You Listening? – A Student’s Perspective"

#1 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On April 20, 2019 @ 9:03 am

Thanks for this comment! The more we hear from students, the better.

You mention “real instances of institutional and intentional racism” at Williams. Specific examples of this would be helpful, either from what you yourself have witnessed or from the testimony of other students you know.

#2 Comment By PTC On April 20, 2019 @ 4:44 pm

Caleb-

Interesting.

How do you account for the statistics given in the Record article?

Record review of CC meeting minutes from 2016 through present shows a disparity in how funding requests from groups of predominantly Black students are handled; their requests have tended to garner increased scrutiny and debate from CC. Since 2016, CC has debated 60.7 percent of requests from Black students, majority-Black groups or programming events focused on Black students; it has adopted 39.3 percent of requests without debate. For all other requests, only 26.7 percent were debated; 73.3 percent were adopted without any debate.

https://williamsrecord.com/2019/04/cc-pressed-on-racial-bias-in-funding/

Correlation is not causation, but it did appear that the CC was overthinking a very basic request, and that the organization is too concerned with saving money rather than spending it on student activities. Why run a surplus?

What do you make of the general point that the CC is used by the administration to run interference by pitting students against each other? That the CC is generally a pro Williams College Administration voice, rather than a voice for all students? That the CC is a tool that leadership uses to disrupt claims of bad practices, rather than a voice for student concerns?

#3 Comment By Caleb On April 20, 2019 @ 11:40 pm

PTC-

I am familiar with the Record article. It sounds like you answered your own question–correlation is not causation. It seems to me much more likely that the requests to CC from majority-black groups are on average more contentious than the average request, than CC being intentionally racist. I am disappointed that the Record did not discuss their data further.

Further, Black Previews was far from a “very basic request.” Its nature raises important questions about how Williams ought to present itself to prospective students, the inclusivity of minority group events, and the value of artificially segregated spaces.

Your final questions are intriguing. I think it makes sense that administration uses CC to delegate some of their more difficult conversations to students, but I cannot imagine administration would intentionally pit students against each other.

#4 Comment By an actual student On April 21, 2019 @ 11:56 pm

I see the so-called free-speech warriors who run this website have deleted a truthful comment undermining this almost laughably misinformed thread. As another commenter previously noted, according to WSO, there is no Caleb Smith or Caleb at Williams College. Either OP is lying about being a student, or has changed their name because they are ashamed of the low level of intellectual rigor they demonstrated. sad.

Your calls for civility are clear dogwhistles for obedience. Does the college adequately respect its black, brown, queer, low-income students? The just claims of the damned, as they’ve called themselves, are intentionally subversive. Dissent isn’t supposed to make those in positions of power feel warm n fuzzy. Seems like y’all are triggered. So much for anti-PC culture, huh?

We should give more thought to the conditions that students like Isaiah are fighting back against. I’d encourage everyone to read the specific policy proposals in CARE Now’s letter to Maud. I disagree with some of it, but it’s a cogent document overall. Enough of this sensationalist garbage.

#5 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On April 22, 2019 @ 6:48 am

Uhhh. Do you think that I am “lying” about being an alumnus of the class of 1825? There are these things called pseudonyms. People (like you?) make them necessary. I can confirm that CS — not their real name! — is a Williams student.

I’d encourage everyone to read the specific policy proposals in CARE Now’s letter to Maud.

Agreed!

By the way, want to join EphBlog, as an anonymous author or otherwise? All views are welcome!

#6 Comment By Caleb On April 22, 2019 @ 12:37 pm

an actual student-

Please be disobedient! Intellectual disobedience is a virtue, but I do maintain that civility is necessary to engage in free speech.

Of course the goal of dissent isn’t to make others feel “warm n fuzzy.” I’m certainly not trying to make anyone feel that way either. However, I do think some students’ goal is to make others feel uncomfortable, when that alone is not a great goal. I’ll work on my low level of intellectual rigor for next time.

Sad to learn DDF isn’t actually class of 1825. Not sure what to believe anymore…

#7 Comment By abl On April 22, 2019 @ 12:51 pm

“People like you?” What is that supposed to mean, David? I thought that the tone of “an actual student’s” post, as well as the nature of his or her criticisms, was well in line (probably more ‘civil’ than average) for this blog’s current mainstream.

Caleb — what is civility? And who gets to dictate the terms of the debate?

Finally, I think PTC’s point is really important. Agree or disagree with them, the students’ critiques of CC are clearly not entirely without legitimacy (contrary to how those critiques were described in much of the initial commentary on this thread).

#8 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On April 22, 2019 @ 2:52 pm

Finally, I think PTC’s point is really important. Agree or disagree with them, the students’ critiques of CC are clearly not entirely without legitimacy (contrary to how those critiques were described in much of the initial commentary on this thread).

I agree whole-heartedly with abl and PTC that the student clearly had the “right” (in a moral sense) to critique the CC. I don’t know enough about the specifics of the dispute to know if his critiques are accurate. Like (I suspect) a good number of outside observers, what struck me as problematic was the tone and language used. At the very beginning of his speech, he sounded (to me) as if he were making a pretty argument. He pretty quickly seemed to get upset, and the language and tone devolved pretty rapidly after that.

I would be stunned if the CC were deliberately trying to underfund or hamstring minority-led student groups. So I think that the speaker should be giving the CC the benefit of presumptively acting in good faith and treating them accordingly. But perhaps, his view, acting politely and under an assumption of good faith has been tried and has already failed.

#9 Comment By Current Student On April 22, 2019 @ 4:13 pm

Don’t give @an actual student too much credit @abl…the first paragraph, it seems, is written in bad faith (of course Caleb is a pseudonym, just like “Current Student”) and accuses him of poor writing. Otherwise fine.

Also, like to “thumbs up” Caleb’s comment responding to PTC. Spot-on analysis. What I’ve heard especially is that some MinCo requests don’t conform to basic structural requirements in CC that the rest of us have to follow. A good example is food requests…CC clubs can’t get food for meetings that are not very explicitly open for the entire campus and advertised in Daily Messages, etc. MinCo groups have no such limits. As such, there’s a huge gap in expectations and reality between what CC will fund and what they won’t. So an even simple request is suddenly caught up in red tape, and then generates discussion, and then etc. etc. That’s just a very non-controversial example of some of the issues facing MinCo groups when requesting funds that are mainly due to CC not properly communicating what is OK and what isn’t.