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Today, a Record article was released on the administrative response to food insecurity on campus, where students purposefully choose plans with fewer meals in order to save money. The coverage is excellent! Part 1 of a 3 day discussion.
For purposes of comparing the upcoming plans with this year’s plan: Williams offers four options for meal plans that students living on campus must enroll in: 21 meals a week ($6,760 per year or assuming 24 weeks in a year, $13.41/meal), 14 a week ($6,341 or $18.79/meal), 10 a week ($5,164 or $21.51/meal) or, for seniors, 5 a week ($2,728 or $22.73/meal). Note that a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a drink from, say, Spring Street Market, is approx. $12 – lower than any one meal offered by Williams. Wow!
Key quote from Steve Klass, VP of Campus Life on “the critical goal of ensuring that no student goes hungry”:
It’s important to appreciate the centrality of this principle to our decision-making, because we recognized immediately that this meant constraining some set of choices available to students on dining plans.
Emphasis mine. Note that, according to the Record, Sophia Schmidt ’17 first brought up this issue in the fall of 2015. I don’t know what Steve Klass means by “recognized immediately”, but I suppose his definition of “immediately” is at least a year after the fact. Assume that Steve Klass is being honest and really recognized this problem “immediately.” Then why did it take the administration so long to do anything about it? (Why the competent students, who did the research for the admin to “recognize immediately” this problem, were not included in the decision-making process is the subject of another day’s discussion.)
This is concerning, because I don’t believe that Sophia Schmidt ’17 needed that survey to prove that food insecurity is a problem. Much like how swipes in and out of buildings are monitored by campus security, the meal swipes of students are monitored and recorded as well. How would Dining Services know if you used up all your meals at the end of the week, right? Implication: the College has always had the data it would have needed to “recognize immediately” that food insecurity is a problem on campus.
So why didn’t the administration simply look at the data they already have? They could have saved Schmidt and other students the two years they spent working on this issue if they simply looked at the data they already have. Why didn’t they, if “ensuring that no student goes hungry” is a “critical goal” of the administration? Something does not smell right (and I’m not talking about Taco Tuesdays in Paresky).
But maybe I am wrong and the College does not keep data on food swipes/whether or not its students eat. Unsolicited suggestion: it should! How else will they know if their students are eating? Isn’t “ensuring that no student goes hungry” a “critical goal” of the administration? That nothing has been done until now implies either (1) that Klass/the administration on “recognizing immediately” food insecurity is as honest as Kellyanne Conway on the Bowling Green Massacre, or (2) that whoever is in charge of “the critical goal of ensuring that no student goes hungry” is incompetent to not have recognized this sooner.
A resident of Greylock writes:
Didn’t the building Greylock use to be a dining hall? I heard it closed because of the financial issues during the financial crisis. I know that Williams is much richer now, at least richer than it was back when Greylock had to be closed. Why hasn’t it been opened as a dining hall? Whenever I pass by or see something going on in Greylock, all I see are townies doing yoga or dancing in the afternoons/late evenings. Is Williams just maintaining it as a glorified yoga space instead of turning it into a venue we can regularly use? It just feels like Greylock can be used so much better and it’s just … there.
1) True! Greylock used to be a dining hall, but as extensive Record coverage will show, closing Greylock was one of the many policies implemented to reduce spending during and following the financial crisis. Same with Dodd. However, other coverage also details improvements made to other dining halls in light of these changes over time. Should we spend several posts discussing these, and dining services at Williams in general? General dining related issues among students include the declining quality of the food served (despite increasing costs to students), the daily window in which food is not served on campus (after lunch ’til right before dinner), and the cramped space in Paresky and Driscoll during mealtimes. The Record reported just a month ago that Greylock will be used as a dance studio next year due to renovations in Goodrich, although plans “have not been formalized yet.” Maybe now would be an excellent time to make some suggestions?
2) I have also noticed that Greylock is used more frequently as “yoga space” than as a gathering place for students. Besides the odd class that’s held in some of the classrooms during the day, Greylock classrooms are also used for a capella practice. I personally have seen the upstairs of Greylock – where the dining hall used to be – less than five times: thrice because this is where students sign up for housing every spring, and once for a campus party. The basement is used by students for storage sometimes. That’s about it! Am I missing anything?
3) From conversations I have with my fellow classmates, that Greylock is not a dining hall is taken as a given since the entire (current) student body arrived at Williams after the crisis. However, more of my classmates are now realizing this and asking – given the congestion in Paresky and Driscoll during mealtimes – why Greylock is barely used/not back to a dining hall. Should we spend posts discussing why Greylock is still not a dining hall even though Williams is much more financially capable than it was when it had to be closed? On that note, would it be worth going through the significant changes made during the financial crisis – the rollback of no loans policy, non-need blind for international students, among others – and why these changes haven’t been reversed?
What do readers think?
As always, tips to firstname.lastname@example.org will help make Williams a better college for you and future Ephs!
As we all returned back to campus from a (hopefully warm!) spring break, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent out a survey to all students asking for recommendations for this coming academic year’s Williams Reads.
Do EphBlog readers (looking at you, alumni!) have any suggestions? I know at least 10 more of my classmates read EphBlog now, and I know we’d all be interested in what you think! What should we read next?
I was having a conversation earlier today with a fellow classmate about socioeconomic diversity. The central question was, “Is Williams’ student body really diverse?” Doesn’t seem like it, my friend suggested. He pointed out the three (!) Tesla cars on campus that he saw in a couple of the student parking lots earlier this morning. “Mom’s Volvos,” as professors like to say.
Was my friend right? One way I thought of answering this question is by looking at the amount of loans Williams issues to students. Claim: Since Williams ended its no loan policy a decade ago and likes to say it has a more socioeconomically diverse student body, then the amount of loans owed to it by students increased over time (reasonable?).
According to the college’s financial statements (which I irritatingly spent quite a bit of time munging, since it’s only available as PDFs and (gasp) scans of printed paper) and assuming I am looking at the correct figure, it did not. Consider this plot of student loan receivables (the total amount owed to the college by students who take out loans) of every year since 2004:
It is decreasing! Does this mean that Williams students have been taking on fewer loans despite the repeal of the no loan policy a decade ago? If so, why would students in an increasingly socioeconomically diverse campus take on fewer loans when tuition increases far faster than the rate of inflation? If the student body is really becoming more socioeconomically diverse, then maybe the terms of the Williams loan are worse than outside loans so my classmates just borrow externally (I have a number of friends who do!). OR, maybe the number is declining because most of the student body don’t need to take on debt. Why would they, if they had the money? But that would imply the college, contrary to some official claims, is not more socioeconomically diverse. What do readers think?
Also, the student loan number comes with this footnote:
Under Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 107, Disclosure about Fair Value of Financial Instruments, the College is required to disclose fair value of student loans. Management believes that it is not practicable to determine the fair value of loans receivable because they are primarily federally sponsored student loans with U.S. government mandated interest rates and repayment terms subject to significant restrictions as to their transfer or disposition. College sponsored and donor provided loans are similarly restricted as to interest rate and disposition
I don’t know what this means (informed commentary please!). Perhaps the summers I spent in banking haven’t really prepared me to plow through the college’s financial statements just yet. As with the rest of the filings and my latest problem sets, I find this quite befuddling. On top of this there are also so many accounting changes and new categories year to year that are almost never properly explained/defined and are frequently shuffled around, so much so that a skeptic would think someone somewhere is obfuscating. Maybe only PWC (who audits these for the college) understands them. Any useful pointers/corrections/whatnot welcome, especially from those who are familiar with higher education financing!
Should we spend more time on the college’s financial statements?
Don’t forget to send tips/comments/whatever to email@example.com!
UPDATE: I also looked at Bowdoin’s financial statements. Unfortunately it’s only available from 2011, but the trend is the same. Student loan receivables are also decreasing. Perhaps I am missing something? Informed commentary always welcome! Education doesn’t just end in the classroom!
Dean Sandstrom and her assistant deans instructed a professor to move the deadline of a midterm following the election of Donald Trump last year. See the first post for our initial discussion. This is the second.
Let’s tackle a central question to this issue: why were the deans’ actions so troubling? So far I can come up with two answers.
Imagine the students who asked for these extensions are now Williams graduates working in the real world, and then in 2020, Donald Trump shocks the world again by winning a second term. The Williams graduate will think that, since Dean Sandstrom must have known what she was doing in 2016, it is totally okay for him/her to take the next day off or get an extension for a work deadline. What would the graduate’s direct manager think? What will they think of how Williams students handle these sort of situations? Unfortunately for the graduate, if the direct manager objects to a day off/deadline extension, Dean Sandstrom can no longer (I hope not!) email the direct manager to instruct them to be more lenient with the Williams graduate, because after all, that’s what she did here. What then, is our grad to do?
Herein lies the first part of the problem: by granting leniency to students because of a political election by instructing a professor to do what he otherwise said he would not, the Dean’s Office sends a message to students that their obligations, when they do not agree or feel upset with the results of a democratic election, are optional. Irresponsible! As opposed to individual professors doing this on their own (that is entirely up to them, as it is entirely up to the graduate’s boss to grant a day off/extension), Dean Sandstrom, as an administrator (ranking Dean of the College!), puts the weight of Williams behind this remarkable thinking.
Alternatively, EphBlog has consistently reported the trend of declining faculty governance in the College, even against Adam Falk’s claims that this is not the case, in several posts. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. It is hard to diagnose a problem without observing symptoms, then at the very least this is almost certainly what a runny nose is to the common cold! In a campus where decision making power is NOT consolidated by administrators, there wouldn’t be deans who find it acceptable to explicitly instruct professors how to do their jobs in this way following an election.
A commentator in the previous post brought up that a majority of professors want the deans to be able to adjudicate on issues with students, and that is not unreasonable! A (supposedly) objective third party with institutional memory should, in principle, be good at mediating disputes when they arise. My sense is that such disputes between students and professors that are adjudicated by the Dean’s Office arrive at a resolution that the professor and the Dean’s office, if not all parties, agree to. The outcomes are either a compromise between the student and the professor (mediated by the Dean’s Office) or adherence to the professor’s standing policy, because at the end of the day, it is the professor’s class, not the deans’. At least, to the best of my judgment from my own experience and the experience of classmates with the Dean’s Office, that is how issues are resolved. So why did the deans do differently here? Do Dean Sandstrom and her assistant deans think they can do a better job of teaching than Williams professors can? I certainly hope not, but that is what their actions say!
What do readers think?
As usual, any tips can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Future generations of Ephs (starting with the class of 2021) will thank you!
For what reasons would the College administrators cancel classes or grant extensions for academic requirements? I personally have never had an exam moved, and I’ve only had class cancelled once, and that was only because my professor was so sick that she could not rise out of bed (first time she’s cancelled class in 10 years. Reasonable!). Otherwise, I have no memory of the college administrators cancelling a class or moving requirements at Williams. You would think this is rare and never happens, but fortunately for future historians, a member of the class of 2019 provides us with an example:
Dear Concerned Eph ’17,
Thank you so much for doing what you’re doing. It’s finally time that the administration answers for its malfeasance. I have one: when Donald Trump was elected, many students were really upset by the result that many professors and deans allowed students to skip class because of how they felt, or (shockingly) because they stayed up watching the election. What is egregious, in my opinion, is the specific actions of the Dean’s Office. I was in MATH 341: Probability that semester, being taught by Professor Steven Miller. That week, we happened to be in the middle of a takehome period (Prof. Miller assigned a 30 hour take home to be completed anytime that week), and following the election, many of these upset students asked for an extension (even though we had a week for a test that took just ONE day!!!). Professor Miller did not initially grant these, because what basis did they have, right? Trump won, and while you may not agree (I personally wish the election had gone another way), but it’s no excuse not to do work or move on. These students, however, appealed to the Dean’s Office, and as a result, they actually told Professor Miller to move the deadline/grant extensions for his midterm. How do I know this? Professor Miller said “any extension will come from the deans” and the students who complained got their extensions. One classmate told me that it was all sorted out once her complaints reached Dean Sandstrom.
Is this something we can do now when someone we don’t like gets elected? This is ANOTHER example of the Dean’s Office showing explicit, preferential treatment in the form of BREAKING ACADEMIC POLICY (when does Williams ever cancel or move exams?!) to coddle students it agrees with. The Dean’s Office does way more than just banning speakers. I strongly believe this undermines the point of a Williams education.
Please continue revealing these irresponsible actions by that office.
Pissed Off Eph ’19
Emphasis mine. Thank you, Pissed Off Eph, for your tip and for allowing me to publish this in full. This email speaks for itself and hits all the right points. I will need more than one post to unpack this fully. This is the first.
I have independently confirmed with classmates I know who took MATH 341 last semester, and, this actually happened. As a member of the Williams community I am embarrassed that the Dean’s Office acted like this. And I thought that the email Dean of Faculty Denise Buell encouraging professors to do this was already bad. I did not expect that the Dean’s Office would go so far to actually tell a professor how to do his job.
- With Dean of Faculty Denise Buell’s emails and the Dean’s Office’s actions, it seems reasonable to say this likely happened in more than just one class with more than just one professor. In which other classes did the deans explicitly instruct professors to cancel class/move requirement deadlines following last year’s election? Please let me know at email@example.com so we can catalog this.
- Who in the Dean’s Office issued this order (or orders, if this happened more than once)? Was it Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom, as Pissed Off Eph implies, or was it Dean of Faculty Denise Buell, who sent the email that encouraged this behavior in the first place? Is this the kind of behavior we can expect from the leaders of the Williams administration?
- Did this happen in any other peer university?To the best of my research/knowledge, nothing of this sort (administrators telling professors how to do their jobs) happened in any other NESCAC or Ivy League college. In fact, in Columbia, the deans there explicitly told students they would not be instructing professors to move deadlines/grant extensions/whatever after students appealed to them. If the administrators at Columbia and elsewhere decided not to do this, then why did the Dean’s Office here decide on the complete opposite?
What do our readers think of the deans’ actions?
This reporting is made possible by tips from the Williams community, and future generations of Ephs are that much better for these. If you have any stories like these that deserve to see the light of day, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
UPDATE: Assistant Dean of International Student Services Ninah Pretto informed recent intl graduates in Economics on Thursday morning (several emails/phone calls later and after she promised a decision on Monday, four days ago) that they can apply for STEM extensions. Hooray! Psychology, however, is still not classified as STEM.
Fellow current students have pointed out a concern recent international Williams graduates are having with Dean’s Office, specifically on the reclassification of the Economics major as STEM and its implications. We’re spending three posts talking about it. Find the first discussion here and the second here. This is the third post. Consider the comments of the Facebook discussion on this issue:
If you count, that’s a total of 76 (!) likes, among which at least 53 are from distinct individuals. That’s quite a number of Facebook likes!
Although names are blacked out (for fear of retribution, a very real concern among students!), eight different students and recent alumni took part in the discussion. Let’s consider some of our fellow Ephs’ comments in light of this issue:
I called them last year to see if econ could be considered STEM, and basically got stonewalled.
Around this time (spring) last year, Williams did not yet have Dean Pretto (she joined May 2016) and Sarah Bolton was still Dean of the College, so we must assume this ’15 alum spoke to someone who reported to the latter. Can we excuse the stonewalling during this period (spring ’16) in light of the departure of former Dean Jenifer Hasenfus? Possibly, but also possibly not! We will investigate. What is clear, however, is that the recurrence (twice so far, and thrice by next week!) of ignoring the concerns of international students suggests that these instances are not isolated, but are part of a pattern of behavior that the Williams administration displays towards international students.
“basically got stonewalled” – said everyone who’s dealt w the dean’s office
“Stonewalled” seems to be making its rounds. Tell us more at email@example.com, or join EphBlog as an author and talk about it!
In perhaps an even more disturbing comment…
Bro any lobbying I can do, if you need something written, want to get a cis white male signature, anything, let me know. Let’s chill soon.
The request to chill aside, this commentator suggests that if someone wants something done at the Dean’s Office, it will require the involvement of a”cis white male” at Williams. Is this true? Another commentator (a similar “cis white male” at Williams) who replies “Same here–how can we lobby Williams College?” suggests so. If this is true, for a college administration that likes to brag so much about how “diverse” its students and faculty are, this is very hypocritical behavior. Students certainly think this is true, so EphBlog will continue to investigate!
Deans office is utterly useless. Literally never get anywhere with them; best bet is to get some profs on board and have them help lobby you too. Then maybe petition the CAS.
“Utterly useless” is quite strong language! Is this characterization accurate? More pertinently, does this comment, in light of the previous one, suggest that if anyone wants anything done by the Dean’s Office, the involvement of professors and “cis white males” is required? I personally do not think so (and have seen otherwise) but again in light of these disturbing suggestions, EphBlog will continue to investigate. The commentator also mentions the CAS or Committee on Academic Standing, which by itself is a hotbed of student and faculty concerns… More on that soon!
Finally, in the most damning comment in this thread (at least in my opinion),
The deans are very frequently “out of the office,” particularly if they know it is going to be an unpleasant phone call/ conversation… It’s an ongoing problem with an administration completely unwilling to have challenging conversations.
This comment was made by a current student who is not an international student. Two questions: (1) Does this pattern of behavior – ignoring students – when conversations become challenging extend to non-international students as well? This commentator, who describes this as an “ongoing problem” (pattern!) suggest so! (2) Beyond simply suggesting that the Dean’s Office has a pattern/ongoing problem of stonewalling, this commentator actually tells us how the Dean’s Office stonewalls students – by being frequently “out of office”. Why would components of the Dean’s Office require to be out of campus so often as the commentator suggests? Don’t their jobs concern students – who are very much on campus during the school year? What reasons do they have for being out of campus? Is it really about having “challenging conversations”? Perhaps, but perhaps not! Fellow classmates (four so far!) suggest that Associate Dean of First Years David Johnson is known for having a number of dental appointments a year. Current students and recent alums, a request: please let EphBlog know whenever a Dean is “out of office” so we can ascertain exactly how often our Deans are not in their offices.
Thanks to tips from current students, professors, and recent graduates sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, we already have several of these stories – the subject of future posts! – but we naturally welcome more in our attempts to investigate the persistence of this pattern of behavior. Future generations of Ephs will thank you for a more transparent, more accountable Williams!
Fellow current students have pointed out a concern recent international Williams graduates are having with Dean’s Office, specifically on the reclassification of the Economics major as STEM and its implications. We’re spending three posts talking about it. The first post discusses troubling decision making by the assistant dean for international student services, Ninah Pretto. This is the second post. Consider the original Facebook post that started this (full FB discussion with comments can be found in the first post):
The original poster, confirmed by the Dean’s Office, stated that the Economics major has been reclassified as STEM by the Williams administration. Consider the list of majors/academic fields considered STEM that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement) maintains. A cursory search will show that general Economics is not considered a STEM subject, only “Quantitative Economics/Econometrics” and “Pharmaeconomics/Pharmaceutical Economics.” Since Williams has newly designated its Economics major as STEM, we can reasonably conclude that the Economics major must have significantly changed to be more quantitative in nature from previous years to warrant this.
Consider the course catalogs from SY 2015-16 and the current school year’s. For the sake of completeness, here is SY 2014-2015, SY 2013-s014, and SY 2012-2013. Checking is left as an exercise to the reader, but a brief summary of what you’ll find: no substantial changes in the Williams Economics major!
Let’s repeat that: there have been no material changes in the Economics major year on year since at least 2012. In other words, it is no more quantitative now than it was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, and five years ago. Last I checked (March 29 2017), Williams has a major in Economics, not in Econometrics/Quantitative Economics/Pharmaeconomics/Pharmaceutical Economics. Princeton, which reclassified its Economics major to STEM, has a math-track Economics major. Williams does not.
- Is Williams violating the law by designating its Economics major as a STEM major when it clearly is not? It would seem that this decision is at best, deceptive, and at worst, illegal, especially since this decision has far reaching consequences in terms of visas and immigration for international students.
- Recall that Dean Ninah Pretto explicit stated that ultimate determination of this policy rests with Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom. Taking Dean Pretto on her word, we must ask: why did Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom reclassify Economics as a STEM major when it clearly is not? What went into this decision?
- In the official list of STEM majors, there are 10 (compared to Econ’s two!) fields of psychology – ranging from social psychology to neuroscience – that count as STEM. Does Williams classify psychology, whose concentrations and subject matter adhere to the official list, as a STEM major? Current psychology majors tell us that no, Williams does not consider psychology as a STEM subject! This begs the question: why not? Clearly, according to the federal bureau that regulates F-1 visas, psychology is a STEM field.
- Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom is a psychology professor! In fact, she is the Hales Professor of Psychology of Williams. So why did Dean Sandstrom classify Economics as STEM and Psychology as not STEM? It seems far fetched to suggest that her expertise in psychology is lacking, so this begs the more troubling question: have either Dean Sandstrom or Dean Pretto read the official list of STEM majors, or do they just haphazardly make these types of decisions? Their actions thus far suggest the latter.
- On a related matter, members of the Psychology Student Advisory Board report that there have been efforts to change the division classification of psychology to Div 3, but, notably, they report that psychology professors have said that “there is no way this would happen for psychology if it did not happen for economics first.” The college course catalog still classifies Economics as Div 2, but curiously, changed its designation as STEM, although it is no more quantitative than it was a year (and more!) ago when it wasn’t STEM. However, psychology, which clearly falls under fields considered STEM by the ICE, does not enjoy STEM status. Why?
I offer an intelligent guess that is not without precedent1: Economics is the most popular major in the college and among international students. If I were a prospective international student who wants to major in economics in the United States, as most who come here do, I would certainly want to go to a school (thus pay tuition) that would allow me to maximize my post-college employment opportunities in the United States. At least two reports on the distribution of GPAs and academic major difficulty suggest Math and Physics are much harder than Economics. So, instead of breaking my back in Real Analysis, I can just take Intermediate Macroeconomics and reap the benefits of a STEM major for my career – wonderful! Too bad for Psychology – even if it is a real STEM field, it just isn’t popular enough at Williams!
Whatever the motivations of this policy change is, one thing is clear: whoever is making these decisions certainly leaves much to be desired by way of consistency and transparency!
1Recall from the first discussion that the Dean’s Office and Dean Ninah Pretto initially stonewalled and/or rejected requests from international student graduates, who no longer pay Williams tuition.
Fellow current students have pointed out a concern recent international student graduates are having with Dean’s Office. Consider a Facebook discussion on the matter:
There are many statements here to unpack (especially the comments!). Let’s focus on the concern that the original poster focuses on in this first of three discussions.
Some context: international students at Williams are on the F-1 student visa, and among its stipulations is that such students are given a 12 month “optional practical training” or OPT period post-graduation to legally work in the country. However, if one declares a STEM major, that one year is extensible to three. This also gives international student graduates in STEM majors three chances at applying for work visa (a lottery with a ~25% chance of success each year) to stay longer, if that’s what they want, as opposed to just one if the student had declared a non-STEM major.
Following in the footsteps of institutions like Princeton, the original poster reports that Williams is now categorizing the college’s Economics major as a STEM major, incidentally the most popular major among international students in the college. However, unlike Princeton, which allowed international student graduates in Economics to be retroactively categorized as STEM (thus allowing them a couple extra years to work), Williams has rejected such requests from graduates of the class of 2015 and 2016. In initial emails with Dean Ninah Pretto, the new Assistant Dean for International Student Services, where students/graduates cite Princeton’s example (and material evidence of this!), she immediately rejects these requests without providing any explanation. Students and graduates, however, pressed on emailing, restating evidence from Princeton to which Dean Ninah relented. She states that she is “afraid” of retroactively applying this policy to graduates, but that she would call Princeton today. She also states that the final authority rests with Dean Marlene Sandstrom.
As this post went to press, no update has arrived from the Dean’s Office.
- Is it Dean Ninah Pretto’s personal policy to not explain decisions she makes that materially affect the lives of Williams students/graduates? The comments suggest this is endemic to the whole Dean’s Office, but that is another long (but related) discussion to have.
- Is it not Dean Ninah Pretto’s job to check these policies ahead of time so she wouldn’t be “afraid” of doing anything? Clearly she had nothing to be “afraid” of, since Princeton was able to do this.
- If she were truly “afraid” of retroactively applying this policy to recent international graduates of the college, she would have checked before making such a unilateral decision on policy, which is what she did! So, why did she unilaterally reject the initial requests?
- To that point, does Dean Ninah Pretto have this unilateral authority? If so, what decisions can she unilaterally make for international students? Current and future international students would appreciate a list for future reference.
- If the students/graduates did not press Dean Pretto, would it be entirely possible that this issue would’ve just gone away and recent international graduates wouldn’t receive any fair treatment? My guess is that yes, it would’ve just been dropped, based on the experience of my peers. Thankfully, they kept pressing, or she might never have considered doing her job!
- In one of her latest emails to international students, Dean Ninah states: “As your International Student Advisor, I want to reiterate my commitment to serving and supporting each and every one of you. Again, this country is made up of immigrants from all over the world and they make the U.S. a unique and amazing place.” If this is truly her position, does Dean Pretto believe that recent international graduates are less deserving of her commitment to serve and support? What criteria does she use to make this determination? Again, current and future international students would certainly like to know.
What do fellow classmates/EphBlog readers think?
The first time I came to Williams was the fall before my freshman year – my eighth stop in my college tour, and by then, I’d discovered that the best way to truly learn about a school, skeletons included, wasn’t through admissions tours or glossy brochures, but by dropping in on a class, looking at the person beside me, shaking my head, and declaring “Oh my god, I heard that problem set was so hard.” Fortunately (for me at least) this proved quite effective when I visited because it happened to be midterm season then. I sat in a physics lecture, looked to my right, and said: “Oh my god, I heard that midterm was so hard.” The girl seated beside me, Jaime, enlarged her eyes and nodded in agreement, and to my delight, began speaking in earnest, generous detail about her packed (to put it lightly) week: a dance show just three days for which she had daily rehearsals, some RA work that was due with the statistics department, planning a surprise birthday for her entrymate (Willy D!), holding office hours for a CS class she was TA-ing, and, of course, the lab element of her physics midterm. Jaime looked exhausted and sleep deprived, and had the bloodshot eyes to prove it. As she was about to say more, to my surprise Jaime stopped herself and shrugged: “Sorry, I shouldn’t be complaining. Forget what I just said.” Perplexed with this realization following her rant, I asked her what she meant. “Everyone at Williams is so lucky to be here. Sometimes it gets overwhelming but what makes this all so worth it, what makes this place unique I guess, is that everyone really cares.” She packed up her things, and in the face of a mountain of commitments the following day, proceeded to old Sawyer, where her tutee would be waiting. I was sold – no one in any other school said anything remotely as powerful.
It didn’t take long after I first arrived to realize how true Jaime’s words (and so, so much more!) are. Coming from the other side of the world, coming to Williams was a huge leap of faith; now, some years later, my roots are firmly planted in this fertile, Purple Valley. Some of my most cherished memories and most powerful moments include the all nighters I spent with fellow classmates studying for that last bio final in Science Quad; the conversations I’d have with professors-turned-mentors, where their passions exude in their excitement; the many times I’ve seen both friends and strangers drop everything to help a fellow classmate in need. As time went by, the four years here I once considered a mere stepping stone slowly became an end unto itself. As with the many who read and write for this blog, I’ve come attribute much of who I am today to the people I’ve met, befriended, learned from, and mentored (you go full circle at Williams!), and the ideas that I’ve explored with them here in the Purple Valley.
It’s for these very reasons that I, along with two friends from the class of ’18 and ’19, have taken to EphBlog as students who are very concerned with the state of matters in the college. As our affinity and affection for Williams grew, so did our awareness of the institution and internal workings behind the name. As many of my fellow upperclassmen will agree, the more time one spends at Williams, the more one begins to notice the disturbing cracks in the well: fellow classmates unceremoniously ignored or stonewalled by administrators, the rude and unfair treatment of students who want to start clubs (some elements of Williams make this shockingly difficult if they do not agree with you!), backwards and arbitrary use of policy, rampant and potentially systemic Honor Code violations, and so much more! It was a deeply sad and distressing moment for all of us when we realized that the Williams to which we aspired wasn’t the Williams we thought it was.
Unfortunately, Williams students are not ideally placed to solve, let alone notice, these problems. We students come and go every year, the Record is unable to report anything substantive (for good reason, which we’ll get to in a future post!), and no student will have any reasonable measure of institutional memory to draw on. What’s more is that in our efforts to get answers to issues, it’s been made quite clear to us that there is no place for questions, debate, and opinions (esp. if you do not agree with Williams) in the Purple Valley. Sometimes, these concerns may initially seem isolated to individual cases. However, as we began investigating and hearing more and more Hopkins Horror Stories (as they’re known among students) and other disturbing events from fellow students and professors, patterns just as perturbing started emerging that we could no longer ignore – especially since many of them are quite structural (and thus here to stay) in nature! Many of our professors, especially those who’ve been here longer, pointed (some willingly, most unwillingly) to EphBlog as a means of cataloging, reporting, discussing, and connecting these issues – where else can Williams students earnestly, meaningfully do this? It’s our hope that these efforts help usher a more transparent, fairer Williams that all of us can proudly call their alma mater. At the end of the day, we all play a role in shaping what Williams is, and what we ultimately want it to become.
All this said, though, we also love talking about issues at Williams separate from these concerns – to alums, please let us know what you’d like to hear! We’re very into Ephs doing cool things (so we’ll post a bit about that every now and then!), career advice for younger underclassmen (such as getting that internship), and which classes to take/professors to meet. Otherwise, if you have any tips or issues you’d like to discuss (other current students especially!), shoot us an email at email@example.com – we would love to hear from all Ephs!
(Hi everyone! I’m concerned eph, a member of the class of ’17 and your newest EphBlog author! Introduction post to follow – meanwhile, here’s the beginning of a new EphBlog series entitled “Overheard at Paresky”, where we’ll be discussing concerns of current students! Any news, tips, or leads you want to share, drop a comment or shoot me an email at concernedeph17 at gmail dot com!)
As two students enjoy their honey-nut buns on the bench outside Lee’s on a warm, sunny day:
Dude, I read the newest court documents on that sexual assault lawsuit. Did you see that part where there’s an actual ******* whistleblower that said they actually train committee members by telling them that the college’s rep is #1, like how disgusting is that, and that they just do whatever they want…
Indeed – an accurate account! Find the quote in the court documents here. While the skeptical among us may not be inclined to believe the words of one whistleblower, consider this quote from Dean Dave Johnson in John Doe’s original filing:
63. On March 8, 2016, Dean Johnson admitted to John and John’s sister, Lady Doe, that the disciplinary process is “unfair to students” and that the procedures are deliberately written in a way that allows Williams to maneuver itself in its favor. Johnson also stated that Pelaez should not have been aware of the outcome of the hearing or the likelihood of an appeal.
Corroboration! … or is Dean Johnson the whistleblower? Now we know that there’s an unfair adjudication process for students that at least one well respected, senior Dean knows about it.
And yet, still, here we are? *Sigh* More posts on this to come.
To the next point and to be fair, the administration does have a crucial responsibility to uphold the college’s reputation. Williams’ reputation is an asset – it’s how we all get jobs and into grad school! In fact, I am sure many of us came here because of the school’s reputation as an excellent institution of higher education. Even against the backdrop of a dodgy administration, Williams is a wonderful college filled with great and caring professors and staff and awesome students and kind alums, all of whom are very intelligent. Interestingly, though, because this issue is now, well, a lawsuit (hence public), Hopkins Hall did not even meet its supposedly greatest one priority! Instead, prospective students (and their parents!) will now be able to see and smell all our ghastly, dirty laundry. Gross!
Would readers be interested in more student perspectives on the current sexual assault lawsuit? The Record, unfortunately, doesn’t have much, but I am more than happy to pick up the slack!
To the Williams community,
In recent weeks I’ve been asked whether possible changes in the government’s approach to Title IX will affect our work at Williams. Initially these questions focused on sexual assault prevention. In response to recent national news, people are now also asking about our commitment to inclusion of transgender students, faculty and staff.
Uncertainty can be worrying. So I want to reassure you on both points. We’re going to do everything we can to guarantee the wellbeing of everyone in our community. That’s because our efforts have always been and will continue to be motivated by respect for each other as people, not by the fear of government sanction.
With that in mind I want to start by reaffirming unambiguously that our trans students, faculty and staff are deeply valued members of the Williams community. It’s our job to make sure that everyone feels welcome here and enjoys the full benefits of that membership. That includes, but is hardly limited to, the absolute right of trans members of our community to use bathrooms and other facilities that accord with their identity.
And to all those concerned about the future of Title IX and sexual assault prevention, I assure you that we’re going to continue and intensify those efforts, not retreat from them.
Williams students, staff, faculty and alumni have made important progress in that regard. Much of their work was described in the spring 2015 issue of Williams Magazine, “Standing Strong Together.” Numerous resources and information are also available on our Title IX website, as well as through the Dean of the College and the Davis Center. If you’ve experienced assault or bias, or want help for any reason, please reach out in the way that feels right to you.
Our work cannot and will not stop. So I also want to make sure we consistently communicate about where we’re succeeding and where we’re running into challenges. With that in mind you’ll be receiving a steady stream of reports and updates starting this semester. They’ll include news about a grant to support prevention strategies around campus social events as well as Dean Sandstrom’s annual report on outcomes from the previous year’s sexual misconduct processes.
My goal in this message isn’t to pretend we’ve become perfectly inclusive or solved the problem of sexual violence—we haven’t. There’s always more to be done. And it needs to be done in an equitable, accessible and transparent manner. I’m profoundly grateful to Toya Camacho, Meg Bossong ’05, the Davis Center, RASAN, Men for Consent, our alumni advocates and everyone else who’s been involved in the work so far. If you’re not engaged in those efforts and would like to do more, please talk to Toya, Meg or our student leaders about how you can help. It’s going to take all of us to support our trans friends and colleagues and prevent sexual assault and violence at Williams.
As you know, policies often shift from one Washington administration to the next. Fortunately, we don’t have to passively wait for direction. Instead, we turn to our mission and values to guide us in times of uncertainty and change. This is an important moment to heed our conscience and to show the deep care and concern for each other that defines Williams.
I, like any of the Williams community who had known her, was sorry to hear of Clara Park’s passing this past week. It brought back memories of freshman English classes and other things as well. I talked about it with my husband, who while not a fellow alum, knew me when I was in school and knows the area well. Last night we read the story in the Berkshire Eagle. He commented that she would be buried in the Williams Cemetery, and asked me if I had even known there was one.
I hadn’t. Did you?
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