Below the break is, I think, the last update from Williams about the WIFI situation.
The central lesson for President Mandel is that, if she wants to help out herself and future Williams administrations, the RSO (registered student organization) bureaucracy/forms should be removed. Go back to how things were done prior to 2010. (Thanks Adam Falk!)
Students have rights, organizations do not. If you want to reserve a room, request funding, set up a meeting, then you, as an individual Williams student, have the right to do so. From the College’s point of view, you do not need to be certified as an RSO to do anything. The main reason for this change is that it removes the likely-to-be-abused power from College Council to block the creation of student groups like WIFI.
The College should no more be in the business of certifying that an official student group exists than it certifies that official student romantic relationships exist. Students form groups. Students date. Williams should stay out of both.
If you have something, like the RSO designation, that is likely to be abused and which serves no purpose, then get rid of it. The Williams of (at least!) the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s managed to survive without such nonsense. Go back to the rules of an earlier era.
Nothing prevents the College Council from coming up with its own rules about who it wants to fund and why it wants to fund them. And that is OK! Many groups want money from CC and don’t get it. The College can, at any point, step in and fund any group for any reason.
For those interested in a bit of history:
I was one of the founders of Uncomfortable Learning and can shed some light on that decision. We spent a significant amount of time speaking with the Williams administration before making the decision to operate as an independent group, but one that looked to partner with other groups on campus like the Debate Union.
We made the decision to be independent as if we had registered, the Williams administration would have imposed a set of requirements on Uncomfortable Learning that would have prevented us from accomplishing the goals of UL. UL’s ambition has always been to promote dialogue and encourage people to consider perspectives and arguments that are not common at Williams. Administrators at Williams would have only allowed Uncomfortable Learning to register if UL was run by a 10 to 15-person board made up of many groups on campus. While UL has actively looked to involve other groups on campus, the structure required by the Williams administration would have kneecapped UL from the start. That structure would have just replicated the mindset at Williams while UL was looking to question that very mindset. As we have seen recently, there are people at Williams who react negatively when their world view is questioned, and we could not take the chance of having those people run UL.
During this era, people like Professor Sam Crane were happy to use the College’s rules/bureaucracy to torture unpopular groups like Uncomfortable Learning. That was evil in-and-of-itself. But, perhaps worse, that abuse set the stage for the CC/WIFI disaster. Once you create a process/rules for punishing groups (like UL) whose views you disagree with, don’t be surprised to see that same process/rules turned against groups (like WIFI) with whom you agree.
I’m once again reaching out to you as a Williams volunteer with an important update on the Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) student group. I encourage you to read Rabbi Seth Wax’s summary below and am happy to report that in the short time since my last message about this, President Mandel and other members of the administration worked with representatives from College Council to have WIFI officially designated as a formally Recognized Student Organization (RSO) with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that designation entails. Maud is still committed to the important work ahead to strengthen student government, and to working with College Council to clarify standards and the process for approving organizations in a fair manner, but this is a positive outcome that I felt was worth reporting now.
I should also note that students are deep into exams at the moment, defending theses, writing papers, having late night conversations with faculty and earning distinctions on athletic fields (shout out to men’s lacrosse, women’s golf, and softball as well as the individual athletes still competing in NCAA tournament action) and generally enjoying the purple valley just as you did during your time here. Many of them will be on campus as “Rangers” at the upcoming Reunion Weekend (6/7-6/10) and if it’s a reunion year for you I hope you get a chance to meet them then – I know you’ll enjoy it.
Warm regards from Williamstown,
VP for College Relations
From: Wax, Seth [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, May 16, 2019 4:42 PM
Subject: A Follow-up Message from Rabbi Seth Wax, Jewish Chaplain at Williams College
I write to share that Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) has been recognized as a Registered Student Organization (RSO).
As many of you already know, in April, Williams College Council (CC) voted against a proposal from WIFI to become a CC-approved RSO. In examining the process that led to this outcome, college administrators discussed the fact that the college’s Student Handbook describes a path to RSO status that had not been engaged in this case. The college felt that it had an obligation to offer that process, which involves representatives from CC, the Office of Student Life, the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration, and Athletics, to representatives from WIFI. Members of the group asked that it be followed, and as a result, on Tuesday, May 14, a committee of representatives voted to grant RSO status to WIFI. WIFI is now an RSO with the full rights, privileges and responsibilities that label entails.
This experience has pointed to the value of a discussion with Williams students about student governance. Members of the administration have noted that as part of the Strategic Planning work on college governance, they want to support students in thinking about the kind of governance they want and deserve. In the meantime, they have committed to work alongside the current Council to identify best practices relative to by-law creation and support, managing meetings effectively, and other structural issues they identify in the coming semester.
I believe that this experience offers us important lessons about how we discuss Israel and Israel-Palestine. Based on my conversations with students and alumni in recent weeks, I am reminded that we have work to do in helping each other listen to competing and seemingly contradictory perspectives, assume goodwill during heated exchanges, refrain from denigration and demonization, and to find ways to transform conflict in a way that ultimately builds understanding and connection. Conversations about Israel and Israel-Palestine quickly become heated, both within the Jewish community and beyond. As an academic community of learners and teachers, I am convinced that we are uniquely situated to transform episodes like this into valuable learning opportunities.
Williams continues to be a school that supports the flourishing of Jewish life, as the vibrancy of programming run at the JRC and across campus, run by student leaders in WCJA and in other groups, amply demonstrates. Your support has never been more critical to this work, and I am deeply grateful for your concern for our students and love for your college.
Rabbi Seth Wax
39 Chapin Hall Drive, Room 205
Williamstown, MA 01267