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Student Autonomy

Reason #23 why we should abolish the CLCs.

Question: What’s the best thing you have done at Williams so far?

Morgan Goodwin: I [have] definitely loved being a JA. But if I had to pick one thing, I’d say starting the Thursday Night Group with Justin Bates ’07 this fall was it. I think that we’ve really made environmentalism, or at least global warming activism, a really sexy and cool thing and [gotten] people excited about it in a way they hadn’t been.

Remember the Tablecloth Colors! Imagine that, instead of founding the Women’s Center, CLC Sara Ansell had decided to “help” create a group devoted to sustainability, had decided that what Williams students needed is more attention to global warming. Being smart and dedicated, Ansell would have done a fine job at this, probably even better than the job done by Goodwin and Bates. Would they have been better off if Ansell had started the Thursday Night Group instead of them? No!

But Goodwin’s rewarding leadership experience, the very “best thing” that this accomplished Eph (and fellow Eph Blogger!) has done at Williams, is what is seen. What is unseen is the student who would have founded the Women’s Center, who would have created this institution from scratch if Sara Ansell were not here.

That student’s experience at Williams has been worse than Goodwin’s. Why? The Office of Campus Life did for her what she should have been allowed to do for herself.

The less control that students have over life at Williams, the worse that their college experience will be.

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Ansell-Initiated

Comments like this are too fun not to highlight.

Any claims that the Women’s Center was ‘student-initiated’ are absurd. Was there any discussion about a Women’s Center at Williams prior to Ansell’s arrival? Not that I can find. (Corrections welcome.)

David- While I and my classmates lacked the time and resources to catalyze the birth of a Women’s Center, we definitely discussed the benefits of such a center in one of my history classes while exploring gender issues (pre-Ansell).

Well, if discussion-in-class is the same thing as “student-initiated,” then perhaps the Iraq War was student-initiated! Students did discuss the benefits (and costs) of such a war back in 2002.

Leave aside the question of whether or not a Women’s Center is a good thing, whether or not one would have come along in a couple of years anyway, created by motivated students. I just want to establish that referring to the actual existing Women’s Center at Williams as “student-initiated” is a lie, an Orwellian inversion of the truth.

Need more evidence? This whole topic first came to prominence when Sara Ansell posted this on WSO last May

I am a Campus Life Coordinator and I am hoping to hear students’ thoughts on having a Women’s Center here at Williams. I attended Haverford College, graduating last May, and I spent a large amount of my free time working as a senior staff member at the Women’s Center. I loved the job and loved the Center — it provided support for many groups on campus some relating to women’s issues and some not, collected an impressive library devoted to women’s issues (very useful to women’s and gender studies students), and executed inspiring programs such as “Women in Faith” a look at women in religion today; “New Moon Art” an exhibit of female student’s art?; “Rape and Sexual Assault Awareness Week”, and “Sexuality Week” (a week devoted to discussing and promoting safe positive sex).

Not only did Ansell lead the creation of the Women’s Center, she came up with the theme of their first major event!

And there is nothing wrong with that! I like Ansell. She (unlike many college officials) has kindly and intelligently responded to my questions. She was extremely well-spoken and engaging when interviewed on “The Hour.” If the College is to have CLCs, then it should have CLCs like Ansell.

Yet historical truth is sacrosanct. The Women’s Center was Ansell-initiated not student-initiated.

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Porn Spambots

psw.jpgHas EphBlog been taken over by softcore porn spambots? We hope not. This image comes to you via the poster (pdf) for Positive Sex Week. Thank you Sara Ansell! I do not think that the women pictured are Ephs, but who knows? I suspect that the College neither sought nor obtained permission to use this image in its flyer. (Then again, neither did I. Informed commentary from intellectual property lawyers is welcome, as always.) Is there a way to search the web for the origin of a given image? I would be curious where this one came from.

Pictures like this are certain to cause Williams men to think of Williams women as intellectual peers, to see women, not as play-things or sex objects, but as fellow Ephs, intent on the intellectual journey that is a Williams education at its very best. Perhaps the Office of Campus Life could have t-shirts printed up? Distributed during the upcoming weekends for accepted students? Let’s think sex positively!

UDPATE: Thanks to AWG for pointing out that the the photo is “The Kiss” by Tanya Chalkin. Chalkin’s site makes it very clear that this image is copyrighted and that it is illegal for Williams to use it on a poster as the Women’s Center has done.

[Just naive kids making an honest mistake! –ed. Perhaps. But note that the bottom of the picture with the title and author was (almost certainly) purposely removed from the poster. Whoever did this knew that the use of this image was suspect, knew that she were stealing the intellectual property of a woman! Now, EphBlog is against intellectual property theft from all genders, not just women. Yet the irony is fun. An organization devoted to woman’s issues in the abstract advertises its first major event by cheating one specific woman out of the fruits of her labors.

Our usage of the image above might very well be defended under fair use. But at least we are honest about it!

Readers are invited to sample Chalkin’s other work. See anything to suggest future Women’s Center events?

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Blame O’Connell

Responding to anonymous complaints is a fool’s mission. Perfect for me! Consider:

[A]s someone who’s spent a fair amount of time with the clc’s and who reads this blog only very rarely, but i was astonished to see all of the personal attention given to sara. i don’t think what she does is all that different from the other clc’s, i just think it might be getting a little more press. it’s hard for me to imagine that she’s robbing students of the ability to lead themselves… that seems like a huge overreaction.

you must have better things to do than spend this much time criticizing a very sweet, intelligent, hardworking, sincere woman who’s trying to make the campus a better place.

Think I am overreacting (and too lazy to read previous commentary)? Your mistake! Blame students like former Record editor-in-chief Ainsley O’Connell ’06. She (not me!) claims that:

“So out with the old and in with the new: If Williams were to stop changing, it would never be the same.” Those words, which I wrote in May 2004 as part of the Record’s farewell to Baxter Hall, paid fond tribute to the past and looked ahead to the promise of the future. “It’s a shame to see the old girl go,” the editorial read, “but at the same time, it seems a fitting testament to the way the College reinvents itself every year for 500 bright-eyed new Ephs.”

Two years later, with graduation just weeks away, I look back on that moment and wish I could recreate the hopefulness of that vision of Williams as a beacon and vehicle of positive growth. Instead, I am frustrated by many of the ways in which the campus has changed, most particularly the sudden prominence of the well-intentioned but detrimental Office of Campus Life, which is locked in a stagnating cycle of its own design. By in effect naming itself “the decider” when it comes to student life, the campus life office has alienated the College’s best leaders. As a result of this rift, the office has become inwardly-focused, self-promotional and deeply resistant to constructive criticism. Student life is student-driven no longer.

Read the whole thing, you silly anonymous reader. The more educated you are about the history of Williams, the more informed your opinion will be. There is no doubt that Sara Ansell is a “sweet, intelligent, hardworking, sincere woman.” But that fact, true as it may be, does not guarantee that the institution of CLCs improves Williams. O’Connell doesn’t think so.

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A Topic for the Women’s Center

I have started up a pleasant e-mail exchange with Sara Ansell. Although bluntness in commentary will remain, there is no reason why Sara and I might not work together for the betterment of Williams. Although we disagree on tactics, there is no doubt that we both want Williams to be the best college in the world.

Toward that end, I have a suggestion for another discussion topic for the Women’s Center: Tracy McIntosh ’75. (Previous commentary here.) The justice system has decided that its initial sentence for his no-contest plea on sexual assault charges is too lenient.

Questioning a Philadelphia judge’s leniency and fairness, Pennsylvania’s Superior Court has ordered the resentencing of Tracy McIntosh, the former University of Pennsylvania professor placed on house arrest last year after he pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting a graduate student who was the niece of his college roommate.

In vacating Common Pleas Court Judge Rayford A. Means’ sentence, the three-judge Superior Court panel also ordered McIntosh to be resentenced by a different judge.

The Superior Court majority opinion said it did not believe Means could “preside objectively and fairly upon remand.”

Superior Court Judge Debra Todd wrote that Means treated McIntosh “less as a criminal than as a school boy requiring direction and supervision.”

Other commentators argue that almost any sentence would be too light.

I have a friend, Laree, who has thought up the perfect punishment for dogturd men like Anderson and McIntosh. She thinks that every time one of their victims thinks about the abuse, the perpetrator should get an electric shock. Wouldn’t that be delicious? Isn’t there some talented biomedical and/or electrical engineer out there who could get to work on this? I’m sure any number of rape and sex abuse victims wouldn’t mind carrying around a little device, or having some little apparatus implanted in the brain, to send off a signal to a satellite that transmits to the receiver unit on the perpetrator. I know I’d sign up for it. Just imagine him jumping and jerking about. It seems only fair. If the victims have to carry the pain around with them for the rest of their lives, the perpetrators ought to get to share in it, too.

How society should deal with he-said/she-said rape accusations, both the judicial process and associated punishments, is a hard question. Why not a discussion of the topic?

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Ansell to Depart?

I heard a rumor that the Record will report tomorrow that Campus Life Coordinator Sara Ansell will be leaving Williams at the end of this year.

1) Is this true?

2) Sara has received her fair share of attention from EphBlog.

3) There seems to be a lot of turnover among CLCs. How many have worked at Williams? How long is their average tenure?

Good luck to Sara in her future endeavors. Whatever our disagreements with her, there can be no doubt that she had the best interests of Williams at heart in all her efforts.

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Good Personal Choice

Kristen Emhoff speaks truth to power.

Perhaps now I should state my own opinions. I believe prostitution, bestiality, and unconsensual sex is wrong. I believe that saving sex for marriage is a good personal choice medically, emotionally, and spiritually. I believe that other people are not making the best choice when they have casual sex. I believe that both women AND men are currently objectifying themselves through their liberal sexualities. Do I agree with Annie Sprinkle? No. Do I support Positive Sex Week? Not really, though I performed with an a cappella group at Vulvapalooza. Do I believe in equality of the genders? Yes. Do I believe that people should be able to state their minds while I either listen respectfully or excuse myself from their presence? Heck yes, I do.

The central problem with having a “Women’s Center,” i.e., an official organization within the college with its own space, staff and budget is that it will (almost) inevitably be captured by people who disagree with Emhoff. Positive Sex Week is just one manifestation of that disagreement.

Again, it is key to understand the details of the underlying administrative structures, and not just for you Marxists out there! No one has a problem with a student group called, say, the Women’s Collective. Student groups are great! The more the merrier. Such a student group could elect its own leaders, plan its own programs, lobby for funding, advertise for attendance. All good stuff, no different from what other student groups do.

But there is no more reason to have a Women’s Center as an official department of the College than to have an Overweight Student Center or a Republican Student Center or a Marine Student Center or Low Income Student Center. Williams is an inclusive enough place that the normal structure of student groups care handle the concerns and interests of these students. This isn’t to say that Marine students or Low Income students don’t face special issues, that a place like Williams may be foreign to, and uncomfortable for, them. It may be. But that problem needs to be handled by inclusion not separation.

The most telling part of the Sara Ansell’s comment was her praise:

The students on the Women’s Center leadership board took great effort to request funding from as many sources possible. You can see the complete list of sponsors on the posters. Also, while I advise the Women’s Center and love it, there are 8 wonderful and dedicated students who a ridiculous amount of work to put together events, put together discussion, and carry the load of running the Center.

Eight students?! This is all about 8 students! Even after all of Sara Ansell’s endless campaigning and consciousness raising there are only 8 students at Williams committed enough to the cause of a Women’s Center to serve on its Leadership Board?

Note how different this is to the establishment of, say, Rice House. Virtually every black student on campus took part in the protests which created Rice House. The reason that the Women’s Center is a bad idea is that there was no similar grassroots demand for it.

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Herstory

Katie Grace on WSO.

That being said, the Women’s Center is a new organization. The Leadership Board has had to battle for the funding to even begin to think about programming, scrounge for a place to hold meetings, and explain themselves and their vision time and time again only to have their views (and even facts about their organization, such as the involvement of Sara Ansell) distorted by others.

The only reason that anything is being “distorted” is because it is difficult for anyone, on campus or off, to figure out the facts. What is the Women’s Center? Who is on the Leadership Board? Who started the project? What is the budget? What does the money come from? What has Sara Ansell’s involvement been and what will it be going forward? These are all reasonable questions deserving of answers.

Now, it would be one thing if the only questions/complaints came from patriarchal old alums. But the thread makes clear that there are plenty of Williams students, including (especially?) women, with these concerns. Priority #1 for the Women’s Center should be addressing them. It would take no more than 30 minutes to put up a FAQ on WSO with the answers to these questions. Why doesn’t Grace, or someone else, do it?

Minor quibbles:

1) “[S]crounge for a place to hold meetings.” Huh? Isn’t Williams filled with meeting rooms in places like Griffin, Greylock/Dodd private dining rooms and so on? Are these all taken, all the time?

2) Complaints about distortion are annoying and reminiscent of the whining from CUL during the housing debate of two years ago. The only reason that many female Williams students are confused is that there are no easy-to-find answers. It is nice of Grace to post the mission statement (if that is what it is) of the Women’s Center in this thread, but that is hardly a permanent solution. Create a simple page. Whenever anyone has a question, point her to that page. Presto! No distortion.

3) What is the difference, if any, between the Women’s Center and the Women’s Collective? I think that they are just different names for the same thing. Or is the Women’s Collective a different name for the Leadership Board.

4) “[B]attle for the funding”. Huh? Why is the Women’s Center different from every other student organization at Williams? Funding is limited. Is Grace claiming that the powers-that-be, whether in the Administration or on College Council, have treated the Women’s Center any worse than any other student group? Why would they?

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Sex Positively

Positive Sex Week is on.

VULVApalooza TONIGHT in Chapin! 7:30pm.
and
And on SATURDAY, the Porn Star herself…Annie Sprinkle!
(www. anniesprinkle.org)
Sat, 12-1:30–“The Amazing World of Orgasm” porn viewing. Lunch and discussion with Annie. Hardy House living room.
Sat, 2:30-5pm–Free Sidewalk Sex Clinic! With Annie and other sex experts. Open to any and all questions. Paresky Center.
Sat, 8-10pm–“My Life as a Feminist Activist Porn Star” Brooks Rogers

My thoughts are the same as before. Note that the above announcement comes to us from Sara Ansell, an employee of the college. If students want to lead and organize such events, then great. More power to them. But, from a distance, a lot of these efforts seem driven by Ansell. True? And how much is all this costing?

Money is limited. Future Marine Jeff Castiglione ’07 was trying to organize a talk with Anthony Zinni, retired Marine General and Iraq War critic. Castiglione was told that there wasn’t enough money available. Yet Sara Ansell seems to have no trouble rounding up the funds for a week-end’s worth of insights from a porn star. If the College only has funding for one speaker, should it choose Zinni or Sprinkle?

More importantly, I have my doubts about how open Ansell and her ilk are to opinions on sexuality which differ from their own. Where on this week’s program is someone with a perspective like that of Wendy Shailt ’97?

It’s like some big cosmic joke: The people who are supposed to be “sex positive” and enjoying their cultural freedoms are actually lonely and having terrible sex, whereas studies have shown that religious marrieds are the ones enjoying themselves the most. What’s happened? Perhaps without emotions involved, sex becomes boring.

More from Wendy here.

But much more important than the numbers are the underlying attitudes. Here social science is pretty clear. Teens, especially girls, tend to regret their sexual experiences, and the more experiences they have, the more likely they are to be depressed and commit suicide. For both sexes, an increase in sexual partners throughout one’s life is negatively correlated with human happiness.

Consider Levy’s 19-year-old Debbie Cope, who experiences regret after doing a “scene” for a Girls Gone Wild video–not because she masturbated on camera in the back of a bar, but for “not doing it right” when for some reason beyond her grasp, she couldn’t climax.

The fact is, “do whatever you want” is meaningless to a girl like Debbie. Debbie has had more “sex-positive” opportunities than she knows what to do with. Still, she doesn’t realize something basic: Women are typically paid to appear in pornography precisely because being a sexual object is not supposed to be fun. Like many young women today, Debbie is publicly sexual, while remaining utterly alienated from her own sexuality.

I think girls today want to hear that they can be sexual beings without having to be boy-toys. And indeed, we’re seeing that there’s a greater chance of real intimacy that way.

If the Women’s Center is so interested in ensuring that students at Williams are exposed to a variety of viewpoints, then we can safely assume that she will be inviting Wendy, or someone like her, to speak at the College sometime this spring. Right? (Related WSO discussion here.) Lauren Guilmette writes:

Sex Week is full of several activities and a variety of angles. Annie is one. We’re bringing Annie Sprinkle because, as a performance artist, activist and sexologist, she adds an interesting spin to the very issues you’re raising – can pornography exist outside of the objectification it seems to inevitably create? (as the filmed experiences/bodies of others, literally objects… can there be anything positive for sexual expression/understanding/dialogue there?) While certainly not an apologist for pornography, Annie has worked from the inside (pun intended) to change a genre that will exist regardless of what feminists think, to make it positive for women in a groundbreaking way. The reason we’re bringing Annie is not because we want all women on campus to believe in the merits of pornography; rather, we want to get people talking about this and other topics, latent in our everyday experiences.

Back in the day, the trouble I used to make was most excellent at getting “people talking” so I shouldn’t complain. But I’ll believe this spin when Wendy is invited to Williams by the Women’s Center.

UPDATE: Great comment in that same thread from Madelyn Labella.

Besides which, I’m not convinced that the best response to the continual commodification of sexuality is by embracing self-commodification. I understand that the Women’s Center wants to celebrate female sexuality, but I feel like part of the larger mission of protecting dignity and demanding respect for the gender as a whole is getting lost. It really upsets me that this is coming from the organization whose stated purpose to support and nurture the female population here — I actually feel rather betrayed.

Am I an outlier?

No. What does it say about the sort of job that Ansell is doing that some students feel “betrayed?”

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More Poster Help

Note Diana’s interesting comment from yesterday.

The other day when I walked into Hopkins Hall, I was surprised to see a multitude of nearly-identical 8.5×11 posters, each saying “I want a Women’s Center at Williams” and signed, big, in marker, by a different student or other person. I found this quite obnoxious and thought about starting my own “I don’t want a Women’s Center at Williams” postering campaign, but before doing this, I wanted to know who was behind it — a student group, or the administration?

I walked into the Campus Life office and asked the woman there, and indeed, someone in that office was responsible for this eyesore. So that’s why Campus Life is so busy, because apparently part of their job description includes conducting this kind of useless postering campaigns.

Which CLC is most likely behind the push for a Women’s Center but, at the same time, wants the College to pay some student to put up her posters for her? Sara Ansell. Recall her contribution to the WSO blogs last spring.

I need to jump in here and clear up a few things. The Women’s Center is planning on using a space in Hardy House. Nancy Roseman has given approval and I am setting up a meeting with the MCC to confirm the space. There will be a meeting on Monday at 1:30 (not 1pm – time change) in Goodrich with pizza to organize the Women’s Center (or whatever name is decided upon) and to organize students who would like to volunteer as Women’s Center staff members.

As always, it is hard to tell from a distance just how central Ansell’s role in this has been. Please tell us details. My sense is that Ansell played a critical role in the formation of a Women’s Center at Williams (I think that there is a prototype of one now) and that she continues to lead the push to expand it — establish a separate building, hire dedicated staff and so on. Comments:

1) This does not mean that Sara Ansell is a bad person! I have no doubt that I would like her, that she works hard at her job and hopes to improve the lives of Williams students. She leads the fight for a Women’s Center at Williams because she thinks a Women’s Center would be a good thing. Indeed, judging from her involvement in community service, Ansell strikes me as just the sort of young woman I hope my daughters will grow into someday.

2) Before there was an Office of Campus Life, with its Director, Assistant Directors, Campus Life Coordinators, House Life Coordinators and so forth, the fight for improvements at Williams was led by students. It was students who created the Black Student Union and led the efforts that secured Rice House. It was students who created the QSU and won the right to use Hardy House. I witnessed the protests which led to the creation of the MCC. The students who led that effort learned more about life and leadership than any course at Williams could ever teach them. (If anyone knows the details of this history, please share them.) Now, perhaps these improvements would have occurred sooner if, counterfactually, the OCL had existed 30 years ago; perhaps the presence of paid College employees leads to desirable change more quickly.

But the leadership opportunities for Williams students are less; their chance to change the College for the better more limited. Every time that Sara Ansell does something for students which students used to do for themselves, the Williams experience for those students is less than what it should be.

3) Is there a written statement about what the duties of CLCs are? What are they supposed to do and what are they not supposed to do? It seems obvious that CLCs should not take the lead in anything. They should, perhaps, support student efforts, but if anyone is to lead the fight for a Women’s Center at Williams, it should be a Williams student.

4) The continuing assault on student autonomy is a favorite EphBlog theme. Remember those tablecloths!

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