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Williams Reads Recommendations?

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.

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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?

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2017 Honorary Degree Recipients

As noted by sigh, Williams has announced its 2017 Honorary Degree recipients:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian writer and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 228th Commencement Exercise on Sunday, June 4. The day before, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins will be the Baccalaureate speaker. Both will receive honorary degrees at Commencement, as will former Williams College provost and current president of Washington and Lee University Will Dudley; public health and environmental advocate Gina McCarthy; and Gavin A. Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

I thought it was a very interesting group of people.  I appreciated that it was not solely academics (with apologies to Prof. Will Dudley!), but included figures from “the real world,” including the former head of the EPA in the Obama administration and a NASA scientist.  Presumably the selection of these two is intended to make a policy point that the College favors (and, of course, is not favored by some of EphBlog’s more prolific authors and commentors).

I think the choice of Ms. Adichie as the commencement speaker could turn out very well, if she gives a speech geared directly to Williams.  While not the highest profile commencement speaker (at least outside of literary circles, I guess), her profile suggests she is very accomplished and may have some very interesting ideas to communicate with the graduates and their families.

More complete bios of the honorary degree recipients may be found here.

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How to Pick a Husband

About half of the female students currently at Williams will not be married at age 32. Don’t want that to be your fate? You will never be prettier than you are right now and you will never be surrounded by as many single, high-quality men. Follow EphBlog’s advice:

1) Pick 5 Williams men you would like to go out with on a date. You are, obviously, not picking a husband at this stage, but you are selecting likely candidates. Because men are shallow creatures, select men that about as handsome as you are pretty. If you are average, then select an average man. Even better, select a man at the 25th percentile of attractiveness. If you end up married, he will spend the rest of his life marveling at the beauty of the woman in his bed each morning and vowing to do his best not to screw up his good fortune.

2) Pick a friend to be the matchmaker. Many of your friends would jump at the chance. You need someone social, someone not afraid to approach a (possible) stranger on your behalf.

3) Have your friend approach a candidate and let him know that, if he asked you out on a dinner date, you would say, “Yes.” Assuming you have picked wisely, he will be excited! There are few things a boy likes more than knowing a girl is interested in him. And the reason he hasn’t asked you out before was, most likely, that he was afraid you would say, “No.” There is nothing a boy fears more than rejection. Since he knows ahead of time what your answer will be, you can be (mostly) certain that he will ask you out. If you want to avoid the embarrassment of rejection yourself, just allow your friend the discretion to approach the men in the order she sees fit. Then she won’t even need to tell you if candidates 1 and 2 turn down this opportunity.

4) Go out on the date. Who knows what will happen? The date may be a failure. If so, have your friend go on to another candidate. But the date is probably more likely to go well, especially if you chose your five candidates wisely, picking men that you already liked and respected, men with whom you could imagine having a longterm relationship. One date may lead to another, and then another. Perhaps you will never have a need for the other four candidates.

Does this seem like a horribly retrograde and patriarchal plan? Perhaps it is! The claim I am making is purely a statistical one. Female Eph undergraduates who follow this advice are more likely to be married at 32 than those who do not.

Happy Valentines Day! And point your date toward EphBlog’s annual advice on falling in love . . .

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Claiming Williams

Today is Claiming Williams. Here is the schedule. (Copied below the break for future historians.) Here are our recommendations for which sessions to attend. Comments:

1) This schedule is incompetent! Here is the committee, and the co-chairs are Annie Valk, Angela Wu, and Rashanda Booker. Are they to blame? I think that this is the first year in which the committee was not co-led by a [tenured — correction from comment below] faculty member. Is that a sign that the faculty is less interested and so we might get rid of Claiming Williams? Or is it just another example of the continued erosion of faculty governance at the College? I hope for the former.

The main trick to ensuring high attendance at Claiming Williams is to schedule a first event that hundreds of students will want to attend (or be cajoled into attending by their JAs). That event should feature people/items that are popular with students. Everyone loves singing groups! Invite several to perform. Everyone loves honeybuns! Serve them for free. In past years, the organizers have done exactly this, thereby getting lots of students out of bed and engaged. Once they attend the first event, it is easier to get them to go from that to another.

2) What a narrow selection of topics! Claiming Williams has always been (and will always be) filled with leftist sessions. Nothing wrong with that! But, in past years, other sessions, appealing to a different cross-section of the community, have generated large audiences. How about something about athletics at Williams and the athlete/non-athlete divide? What about a session on the drinking culture? A more competent committee would have created such sessions. Even the sessions that might be non-political, like this one about sports, are extremely leftist:

This critique of U.S. sports culture shows how 20th-century sports has consistently reflected the hegemonic political discourse of the day, specifically, elite narratives about nationalism, war, gender, race, homosexuality and capitalism.

Again, nothing wrong with extreme leftists! Some of our closest friends are . . . But there is no excuse for not having (many!) events that come at these issues from other perspectives.

3) How can there be nothing about Uncomfortable Learning and the banning of John Derbyshire? This was the biggest national news story involving Williams in several years. To not have a single session about it is just embarrassing.

4) Could the Record please do a minimal amount of reporting and tell us, approximately, how many students attend at least two events? My sense (commentary welcome) is that the College likes to pretend like a large majority of students (1500?) attend more than one event. I bet that the actual number is closer to 500, and maybe as low as 200.

5) Whose idea was it to choose Shaun King as the evening key note speaker? King is [an accused — edited] fraud, on several important dimensions, not least in his claim to be African-American. If I were writing this as parody — that a white man [accused of running — edited] multiple charity frauds while pretending to be African-American would be the key note speaker at Claiming Williams— when all this started 9 years ago, you wouldn’t have believed me! Truth, at least at Williams, is stranger than fiction.

Full schedule below
Read more

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Claiming Williams Recommendations

Claiming Williams is tomorrow. There were more EphBlog-worthy sessions last year than this year, but here are still several events that look good. In order, I recommend:

Campus Spaces and Institutional History: the Courage to Examine the Past:

The Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History welcomes everyone to join in a dinnertime conversation about the history that’s built into the environment all around Williams. Last spring, we explored the history behind, and the college community’s perspectives on, the Log mural. Since the fall our task has widened as we’ve reflected on how the Williams community can engage the college’s built forms across campus — in buildings, decorations, and monuments. What ideas do you bring to this work? We’d like to hear! Sponsored by the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History.

The CCSIH is one of the great successes of the past year. It handled the Log Mural situation perfectly. It looks to be handling other controversies intelligently. Kudos to Adam Falk for creating and staffing the committee with some of Williams’ best.

Healthy Debate

Many of us share a concern about events occurring outside of our immediate communities that have “real world implications” for our work together. What are some of the hotly contested issues occurring outside of the classroom that might affect what’s going on inside of them? How do we create spaces to express a complex range of ideas and to speak frankly about what we know and what we believe? How might our ideas translate into conversations with classmates and colleagues with whom we engage with limited ways? What are the various forms that healthy debate might take among us institutionally?

Come to this session willing to enter into conversation. We have no expectation that anyone will show up as “an expert” on any particular topic, or even that anyone has to formally “debate.” Rather, we hope to engage with each other about what we think and know, and to foster broad, yet passionate, conversation focused on why differing points of view actually matter and can cultivate camaraderie among us as a community.

Suggested discussion starter: Many (most? almost all?) Trump supporters among the student body keep quiet about their political beliefs, partly because they think that open support for Trump would hurt them at Williams by, for example, preventing them from becoming a JA. Are their fears justified?

Quitting at Williams

At some point during our lives, at Williams or beyond, we have to make
a decision that we are taught to fear: quitting. Even the word “quit” summons feelings and associations that are inherently tied to failure or weakness. What is the source of this negative stigma that surrounds opting out of an activity, a group, a team, a class, a relationship, or a school, and what motivates someone to make that decision in spite of the repercussions? A panel of students will talk about their decisions to quit something because they no longer believed that what they were quitting was right for them; for the speakers, their act of “quitting” did not represent a source of shame but rather a source of empowerment.

An important topic handled in the best way: with student speakers and discussion.

Also, the Clickers session is always fun! But 9:00 AM is a tough ask . . .

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Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are blessed to know now. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make magna cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 29 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to Ephs far and wide. On this day, we give thanks to our student readers:

thanks

EphBlog would be a sadder place without you!

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E. Williams Armigeri

sealEphraim Williams was a career soldier who died in battle. For most of its 200-year history, the College has had a comfortable relationship with the armed forces. Williams graduates and faculty served in times of peace and war. Even the College’s motto, E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, makes reference to the benefit we have all derived “From the generosity of E. Williams, soldier.”

Over the last 50 years, the connection between Williams and military service has atrophied. Virtually no active member of the faculty has served in uniform. Only a handful of graduates enter the military each year. If one admits that the military plays an important role in society and that having an informed opinion concerning the use of force in international relations is a critical part of being an educated citizen, then the failure of Williams to have a substantive connection to military life and culture is troubling.

ar_1991And, unfortunately, unavoidable. Williams-caliber high school seniors are unlikely to consider serving prior to college. Williams-caliber Ph.D. recipients almost never have a military background. There is little that anyone can do about this state of affairs. But I think that we all have an obligation to be cognizant of it.

The estrangement of Williams from things military first struck me during a mini-controversy in the pages of the Alumni Review. The Summer 1991 issue featured a cover photo of a graduating senior, Jonathan Dailey, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Former Professor Mark Taylor, one of the best, and most opinionated, teachers on campus was so incensed by this affront that he felt compelled to write to the editor. His letter, published in the subsequent issue, is worth quoting in full.

I was deeply disturbed by the photograph of three Marines in uniform standing besides the Declaration of Independence in Chapin Library that was on the cover of the most recent Review. Many of us at Williams have struggled throughout the year to raise the critical awareness of our students about the disturbing implications of the glorification of military power in the Gulf War. In my judgment, this photograph sends precisely the wrong message to our students and alumni. taylor_emeritusIt is little more than another example of the reactionary flag-waving mentality that has run wild in the wake of our supposed “victory” in the Gulf. Such an attitude runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education. I would have hoped that the editor of the Review would have been more thoughtful and more sensitive to the power of images to communicate cultural values.

Taylor is a great proponent and practitioner of deconstruction, of looking for the meaning behind the simple words of a text. Let us deconstruct his letter.

First, it is unclear what, precisely, has made Taylor “deeply distressed.” Is it the very existence of the Marine Corps? Or does Taylor except the need for some sort of military establishment and simply object to the tradition of clothing members of that establishment “in uniform”? Or is it the juxtaposition of these Marines and the Declaration of Independence, which, after all, contains the first claim by these United States to have “full power to levy war”? Or was Taylor distressed that this scene was chosen as the cover shot for the Review? I suspect that it was the last of these which moved Taylor to write. The military, while perhaps necessary, is a distasteful part of modern life. According to Taylor’s “cultural values,” it is worthy of neither celebration nor respect.

Second, note the reference to “students and alumni” as opposed to the more common trio of “students, faculty and alumni.” Obviously, Taylor is not concerned that faculty members will receive the “wrong message.” Presumably, they are smart enough not to be swayed. He worries, however, that the same may not be said for the rest of us.

Third, consider his concern over the “reactionary flag-waving mentality” which “runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education.” Did 2nd Lt Dailey USMCR and Williams ’91 missed out on some important lectures? Is Taylor suggesting that individuals like he and Dailey, who aspire to the liberal arts ideal, should not wave flags or that they should not do so in a reactionary manner. Perhaps lessons in progressive flag-waving are called for.

The typical comment which an ex-Marine (like me) should make at this point involves the irony of Taylor’s denigrating the very institution which secures his freedom to denigrate. Or perhaps I should note that Marines like Dailey stand ready to sacrifice themselves for causes, like protecting Bosnian Muslims, which Taylor might find more compelling than combating the invasion of Kuwait. But, in this case, the irony is much more delicious.

parishBefore moving to Columbia, Taylor was the Preston S. Parish ’41 Third Century Professor of Religion. In other words, an alumnus of the College, as his contribution to the Third Century Campaign, endowed a chair which Taylor now holds. And who is Preston S. Parish? Besides being a generous alumnus, he is a former officer in the United States Marine Corps and veteran of World War II. He won a bronze star for leading infantry units from the First Marine Division in combat on Guadalcanal and Peleliu.

For Marines fighting the Japanese in World War II, combat looked like this:

Not much “reactionary flag-waving” going on there . . .

In the beginning of his book Tears, Taylor reminds us of Kierkegaard’s aphorism that it is not the job of an author to make a book easy; on the contrary, it is the job of an author to make a book hard. Reading a good book, like attending a college which aspires to the ideals of the liberal arts, should be difficult. It should challenge us. Taylor was one of the best professors at Williams precisely because of his ability and inclination to challenge his students — question their preconceptions and to encourage them to question his. When my sister-in-law entered Williams in 1994, I told her that the one course that she shouldn’t miss is Religion 101 — or, better yet, 301 — with Mark Taylor. He made things hard.

It is supremely fitting, then, that Williams, via the medium of the Review has challenged — or at least “deeply distressed” — Mark Taylor. It has made him think, however fleetingly, about the worth and purpose of military preparedness in an unfriendly world. A great college, like a great book, should challenge, not just its “students and alumni” but its faculty as well. Ephraim Williams’ generosity, like that of Preston Parish ’41 and Jonathan Dailey ’91, is of money and blood and spirit. They make things hard for all of us.

—–
Originally version published in the Spring 1995 Williams Alumni Review, by David Kane ’88. Modified since then by EphBlog.

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Happy Birthday Eph Marines

Today marks the 241st birthday of the United States Marine Corps, celebrated around the world at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. On many dimensions, the Marines are the Williams College of military organizations: elite, steeped in history, less well-known among the hoi polloi, athletic, cultish and intellectual. Or perhaps Williams College is the Marine Corps of American high education? Either way, there is a special bond among we few, we happy brothers of Williams and the USMC. Traditionally, Marines offer each other birthday greetings this day, and so, to my fellow Ephs Marines: Happy Birthday!

The earliest Eph Marine I have been able to find is Joseph Fairchild Baker, class of 1864, who attended Williams in 1860 — 1861 but never graduated. He was the son of a United States Senator and served as a lieutenant and captain. Does anyone know his story? If we don’t remember his service 150 years ago, then who will remember ours in the decades to come?

Joel Iams ’01 sent us this letter 11 years ago.

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The roads of Fallujah were eventually cleared, but not until we lost Nate Krissoff ’03. Will those roads need clearing again? If the President calls, I am sure my Marines will be willing, with Ephs at the forefront.

Below is a list of Eph Marines. Who am I missing?

Myles Crosby Fox ’40
Preston Parish ’41
Joe Rice ’54
TB Jones ’58
David Kane ’58
Jack Platt ’58
Carl Vogt ’58
John McGonagle ’84
Jerry Rizzo ’87
David Kane ’88
Tony Fuller ’89
Jonathan Dailey ’91
Bunge Cooke ’98
Brian Gugliatta ’95
John Bozeman ’98
Lee Kindlon ’98,
Zack Pace ’98
Ben Kamilewicz ’99
Joel Iams ’01
Rob MacDougall ’01
John Silvestro ’06
Jeff Castiglione ’07
Brad Shirley ’07
Jeff Lyon ’08
Hill Hamrick ’13

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Yard By Yard

More than fifty years ago, Ephs took the field against Wesleyan.

Tomorrow, they do the same. And ten years from now. And one hundred. Do our Eph football players recognize their history? Do you?

TB Jones ’58 (my father’s roommate) played varsity squash at Williams. I remember seeing his picture in one of the many team photos that used to line the walls of the old gym. Walking by those old photographs each day for practice provided me with a great sense of the history that I was becoming a part of. Years later, those emotions were perfectly captured by Robin Williams in “The Dead Poet’s Society” when he takes his class to view the pictures of past students at their fictional New England prep school.

From the script:

Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.

KEATING: “Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.”

The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.

KEATING: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlmen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.”

The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.

KEATING (whispering in a gruff voice): “Carpe.”

Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.

KEATING: “Hear it?” (whispering again) “Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.

Decades from now there will be another young man at Williams who will walk down those halls on his way to practice. Perhaps he will play squash like TB Jones and I did (although I hope that he plays more like TB than like me). Whatever his future might hold, I hope that he sees our pictures and wonders about us, about where we went from Williams and how prepared we were for the journey. I hope that he realizes how fortunate he is.

Does new football coach Mark Raymond remind his players of the history of those who have gone before? Does he know their names and their stories?

I hope so.

Williams may win or lose tomorrow. Given the fact that the team has struggled all season, that the seniors have lost at Homecoming every year that they have been at Williams and that Wesleyan comes into the game as one of the top teams in NESCAC, a victory tomorrow would be one of the sweetest in years, all the more so because no (?) neutral observer gives Williams any chance at all.

Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Wesleyan more than 50 year ago? In the longer sweep of history, one game, one loss, is as dust in the corridors of memory. What matters is the day itself, and the place we each occupy within the traditions of the Williams community.

No one remembers the score of the game these men played 100 years ago. But we look in their faces and see ourselves.

I am Frank Uible ’57. Who are you?

[Thanks to EphBlog regular “nuts” and Williams Sports Information for the photos. Note that the original post in this series did not include a YouTube clip because YouTube did not exist. Old Time is still a-flying.]

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Costume Suggestions

It’s Halloween! What costume suggestions do we have for current student/faculty/staff?

1) I think that the best choice is to go as a member of the Taco Six!

t6

Note that, by wearing a sombrero and mustache, you are not dressing up as a Mexican. According to Professor Rhon Manigault-Bryant, Dean Sandstrom and Doug Schiazza, you shouldn’t dress up as a Mexican. (It is unclear if Williams would punish you for doing so, but why risk it?) But that isn’t what you are doing! You are dressed up, in a meta-costume, as a member of the Taco Six, not as a Mexican! You are, perhaps, making a political statement. Or perhaps you are just trying to come up with the costume that Manigault-Bryant/Sandstrom/Schiazza would find very scary!

2) Another scary figure from Williams past is Professor Aida Laleian. Who among our readers remembers of Nigaleian controversy of 12 years ago? Note that, after you dress up as Laleian, it is not absolutely necessary that you yell the word “N*****” at fellow members of the Williams faculty, but that sure would spice up the evening!

3) If you do dress up as former professor Bernard Moore, please avoid using blackface. A prison uniform along with some forged student loan documents — and perhaps a letter of recommendation from Professor Cathy Johnson — are all that you need to complete your ensemble.

Other suggestions?

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Mountain Day Today!

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Mountain Day Tomorrow

Given that the forecast is for 75 degrees and sunny, it is almost certain that Mountain Day will be tomorrow. Comments:

1) This is a great chance for those who want to participate in Mountain Day to do so. Many years, the weather is too iffy to make firm plans. Highly recommended.

2) We still don’t know enough about the details behind the history of Mountain Day, especially those unsung heroes among the faculty who supported the idea of cancelling classes. The Record reports:

This year [2000], Mountain Day was dramatically changed, from being a small event held on a Sunday to an official campus-wide celebration. Spearheading the efforts to reinstate the tradition of Mountain Day celebration were Heather Williams a professor of biology, and Bert Leatherman ’00, former College Council co-president.

As last year’s chair of the Calendar and Schedule Committee, Williams brought the proposed changes to the rest of the faculty at a faculty meeting.

In the April faculty meeting, the Mountain Day proposal sparked a heated debate among the faculty. The faculty members were divided over supporting the proposal until Leatherman stepped forward and helped get the proposal approved.“I think that it would have failed in the Faculty meeting if [Leatherman] hadn’t gotten up and made a speech about how important Mountain Day is,” said Williams.

Do any readers remember that debate? Would be great to see the notes from the faculty meeting.

One of the major changes made this year was that Mountain Day is no longer scheduled on a set weekend day. Instead, it is a spontaneous celebration announced on a Friday in October.

“Spontaneity is definitely what makes it that much better,” said Keiller Kyle ’03. “I didn’t go on a Mountain Day last year and I think the reason was that it wasn’t spontaneous and it wasn’t something that I was anticipating and looking forward to, and all of this anticipating is coming out in this hike in the form of energy.”

Frank Morgan a professor of mathematics, said, “The advantage is that we are guaranteed good weather and it also means people don’t already have other plans so everyone is free to come. So that’s really nice.”

Unsurprising that friend of EphBlog Frank Morgan was on the right side of that debate.

As one of the co-leaders of the Hopper Trail hiking trip, Morgan was an active participant in Mountain Day.

“I don’t think that we have begun to realize the possibilities of education in the most general sense,” said Morgan. “We think about being in the classroom, but I think a mix of different kinds of activities is what being at Williams should be about.”

“To have this chance to be out here today with other faculty and a lot of my students, I think is not only fun but I think is probably one of our more valuable days, too,” added Morgan.

Furthermore, the presence of faculty helped attract students to participate in Mountain Day events.

“I came because of professor Morgan,” said Nishibayashi. “He’s really been contacting us beyond the classroom, which is great, I think.”

Indeed. I bet memories of Mountain Day are some of the most poignant and important for many of the members of the class of 2001.

Mountain Day was probably the most important change made by President Schapiro Vogt. What should Adam Falk do?

With the success of this year’s Mountain Day celebration, many members of the College community are already looking to next year’s event.

“This year, Mountain Day. Next year, Mountain Day, River Day, Tree Day. . . we’ll celebrate every biome there ever was,” said Lewis in a speech atop Stony Ledge. “This has just been just wonderful.”

More Record coverage here.

Sad that this hasn’t happened yet. Since we all agree that Mountain Day is wonderful, why not a similar day in the spring, one Friday in April? We could easily sacrifice Claiming Williams Day so as to not lose another day of classes . . .

3) Shout out for the Mountain Day miracle of 2009, also known as Siberian Mountain Day, perhaps the event that will be most remembered about Bill Wagner’s interim presidency.

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Only For A Moment

As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a remembrance of the three Ephs who died on 9/11: Howard Kestenbaum ’67, Lindsay Morehouse ’00 and Brian Murphy ’80. Previous entries here and here.

Much of the trauma of that day lives on.

We are looking for Howard Kestenbaum. He was on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center South Tower (the second building that was hit). If you have any information please contact me.

That link worked five years ago, a constant reminder of the turmoil of those blue September days. It has since disappeared, like so many of our memories. First years at Williams now were three years old when the towers fell.

Kestenbaum_Howard1Howard Kestenbaum worked at the top of the south tower, the second to be struck. In the midst of chaos, his was a voice of calm and reason in the 78th floor sky lobby as people waited anxiously for the express elevators that were to take them to the ground floor. They could not know about United Airlines Flight 175, just minutes away from impact.

Wein and Singer joined three of their Aon colleagues: Richard Gabrielle, 50, Vijay Paramsothy, 23, and the group’s boss, Howard Kestenbaum, 56.

Two elevators in the north half of the lobby were out of service, but Wein’s group stood near one of the idle cars anyway; it was less crowded there than at the south end of the lobby.

I’ve left my purse, Wein recalls saying. I don’t want to go back up, but how will I get the bus?

“Here, take some money and go home,” Kestenbaum said.

Singer remembered something she had left at her desk.

No, Kestenbaum said. Don’t go back up. They stayed in the lobby.

Howard’s last moments were spent taking care of those around him. The College has done a fine job of memorializing Lindsay Morehouse, creating an award for the player at the New England Championship “who best displays the ideals of sportsmanship, friendliness, character, fair play, and hard work that Lindsay embodied until her untimely death 9-11-2001.”

Kestenbaum was an athlete and wrestler at Williams. The College should honor him in a similar fashion. Perhaps the class of 1967 might to do the same for Kestenbaum in conjunction with the planning for their 50th reunion. Do wrestlers at Williams today know about Kestenbaum’s bravery? Why not a Kestenbaum Award, given to the member of the wrestling team who best displays the ideals of teamwork?

And then the second plane hit.

A deafening explosion and a searing blast of heat ripped through the lobby. The air turned black with smoke. Flames burst out of elevators. Walls and the ceiling crumbled into a foot of debris on the floor. Shards of glass flew like thrown knives.

The blast threw people like dolls, tearing their bodies apart.

“Howard!” Judy Wein was yelling to Kestenbaum, her boss.

It was Vijay Paramsothy who called back: “We’re over here!”

Paramsothy was sitting up, scratched and bloody. Marble slabs had fallen onto Richard Gabrielle and broken his legs. Wein tried to move the slabs with her good arm, and he cried out.

Howard Kestenbaum lay flat and still. To Wein, he looked peaceful.

Dead and wounded covered the floor of the lobby like a battlefield after cannon fire. A ghostly dusting of plaster lay over everyone.

Wein was soon saved by Welles Crowther, one of the many heroes of that sad day.

Judy Wein of Aon Corporation had also been in the 78th floor. She too was badly injured and she too heard the voice: “Everyone who can stand now, stand now. If you can help others, do so.” He guided her and others to the stairwell.

Apparently Welles [Crowther] kept leading people down from the top floors to the lower ones, where they could make their way out. Then he’d go up to find more. No one knows how many. The fire department credits him with five saved lives.

He never made it home.

Crowther’s heroism is well-known, but there were so many other acts of courage that tragic morning.

“Vijay was trying to get Howard up,” Gran Kestenbaum said, recounting a story a witness had told her. “That was the last I heard of either of them.”

EphBlog remembers Howard and Linday and Brian. Who remembers Vijay Paramsothy, one of the thousands on hard-working immigrants who made and make NYC a city unlike any other? Who do you remember?


Howard Kestenbaum
was a Ph.D., a builder of models, a quant operating in the rarefied world of risk analysis. Yet only a modeller can know that models don’t really matter, that who we are and what we have done is much more to be found in the families we cherish than in the money we make.

From the very beginning — when he accidentally fell on her at a party in the West Village — he made her laugh. He walked her home that night but, amusing or not, she wouldn’t give him her phone number.

A few days later, however, she picked up the phone to hear someone say it was “Howie.” Not recognizing his voice, she asked: “Howie who?”

“Fine, thank you, and how are you?” Howie Kestenbaum replied.

For 31 years of marriage, Howard and Granvilette Kestenbaum of Montclair talked every day, and he always made her laugh.

All good husbands want to make their wives laugh. All of us should do as well as Howard. Gran Kestenbaum desribed her husband this way.

Howard was a really good man. That may seem an ordinary epithet, but Howard thought of himself as an ordinary man — an ordinary husband, an ordinary father and an ordinary friend… He loved and cared for his family, helped friends, visited with the homeless, lonely and infirm. His modesty and leprechaun smile belied how quiet and graceful, without fanfare, the shining spirit of an extraordinary good man can touch and transform others. He would have been surprised that anyone noticed him, for that is not what he sought. And that is why we who love him are so honored to have known him, if only for a moment.

Thirty one years of marriage and family, of trials and triumphs, does indeed seem like only a moment. May we all live our moments as well as Howard Kestenbaum lived his.

How will you be spending today? Please spare a thought for Gran, Howard’s widow.

Every year on the anniversary of Sept. 11, Gran Kestenbaum steers clear of morning memorial services, to avoid the media. Later in the day, she typically leaves roses by her husband’s name on the 9/11 memorial in Eagle Rock Reservation and in Watchung Plaza. Along with the flowers, she usually leaves a note saying something along the lines of, “We are family and we will always be family. This didn’t part us.”

Condolences to all.

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Welcome Class of 2020

Welcome to the class of 2020. The Berkshire Eagle reports (or, rather, reposts a College news release):

The 552 students who make up the Williams College Class of 2020 will arrive on campus on Aug. 29 for First Days, their official orientation to the college.

The tradition of First Days introduces first-year students to the college through meetings with academic advisers and opportunities to learn about academic departments and get to know the campus. Students will also take placement exams and the college’s mandatory swimming test. In between the scheduled events, students will settle into their dorms and get to know their classmates.

Williams really ought to change First Days to First Month. Anyone see any interesting changes in the official schedule this year?

During the second half of the week, first-year students will participate in EphVentures, a program designed to enhance students’ orientation experience, provide them with opportunities to build lasting friendships, and help them develop an appreciation for the campus and community. Students choose from among one of several programs that help develop leadership skills, give them the chance to learn about the Berkshires, experience arts and culture in the region, or explore intersections among environmental sustainability, identity, and social justice.

What is the breakdown in participation among the EphVentures activities? My sense is that WOOLF is far and away the most popular, but I can’t recall seeing any data.

Also, would Williams be better off if the only option was WOOLF and participation was required? Such everyone-goes camping trips are still a common part of the New England prep school experience. Advantages of universal WOOLF would be two-fold. First, it would encourage greater mixture among different personality types in the class. Why have the first event separate people by interest? Second, to the extent it caused some applicants to choose a school like Tufts over Williams — because they just can’t stand the idea of spending 5 nights in the woods — we might be doing them a favor. If you hate the wilderness that much, Williams might be a poor fit.

On Sunday, Sept. 4, students will return from EphVentures for a picnic dinner on Chapin Lawn. On Monday, they will participate in Williams Reads, for which each student received over the summer a copy of “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert, Class of 1946 Environmental Fellow-in-Residence. Facilitated conversations about the book provide an introduction to the intellectual life at Williams.

Very snarky! Or Straussian?! The surface reading here is that the “intellectual life” of Williams means reading/discussing quality books in the spirit of open debate. But is that really what Williams is like? Does Williams really encourage debate about climate change? I have my doubts! The Straussian reading (or Foucauldian deconstruction) is that this discussion will provide a perfect introduction to the one-sided, propaganda-like reality of intellectual life at Williams. Recall Williams Reads One Idea.

By all standard measures of academic talent, including test scores and academic performance, the Class of 2020 is impressive, selected from among 6,984 applicants. SATs for the cohort averaged 715 on critical reading, 712 on math, and 714 on writing; the ACT average was 33.

This seems similar to the scores for the class of 2015, although clearly we have some rounding issues.

scores

A special welcome to our fellow EphBlogger, Eph ’20! I hope xe (!) enjoys xer (!) four years as much as I enjoyed mine.

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Commencement Speakers

Sigh asks if “anyone ha[s] thoughts about the commencement speakers?” Excellent question! Here is a listing.

1) I dislike it when the College uses someone like Bryan Stevenson as the speaker. (Whether or not he merits an honorary degree is a separate question.) Williams College commencement speeches should be special, written for the occasion and delivered by someone, ideally an alum, with a personal connections to the College. Bryan Stevenson gave, more or less, the exact same speech at Williams as he gave at Wesleyan two weeks ago, at Holy Cross last year, at Lesley last year, and so on. Isn’t that sort of pathetic? Shouldn’t the speech heard at a Williams commencement be original to the occasion?

2) Note that this is not Bryan Stevenson’s fault! He has no (realistic) choice but to give the same speech over and over again as he collects his two or three honorary degrees each year.

3) Longtime readers will recall similar complaints about David Halberstam 12 years ago. What Mike Needham ’04 said then still applies:

The problem as far as I see is that Williams should have known this and known that when push comes to shove David Halberstam would not [care] about Williams College. If you bring David Halberstam you should expect to hear a speech that he gave two weeks ago, or if not two weeks ago than last year or five years ago.

If Williams thinks of itself as a special institution, then we should find speakers who are so flattered to be receiving a degree that they write a personalized speech. As far as I know, Halberstam doesn’t have any legitimate connection to Williams. How about bringing back an alum who has gone on to do great things to give the speech… he would do a great job (see Jon Stewart’s speech at William and Mary). How about a parent. How about somebody who doesn’t get honored by everybody and their mother and thus would be truly honored by the degree.

As good an idea now as it was in 2004.

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Cultural Appropriation at Commencement?

Lots of discussion about cultural appropriation at Williams over the last few years.

cultural

Is this another example? Why or why not? The Taco Six would very much appreciate an answer . . .

Thanks to former faculty member Wendy Raymond for the photo.

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Neither Rain, Nor . . .

Congratulations to the Class of 2016 !

Williams College Commencement will be held OUTDOORS.

Assemble alphabetically in the frosh quad at 9:00 a.m.
Procession steps off promptly at 9:30 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. ceremony.
Be prepared for rain.

For your families and friends, Bronfman Auditorium, Bronfman 106,
Biology 112, and Wege Auditorium (Chemistry 123) will be
livestreaming the ceremony.

Following the ceremony, the President’s reception
will be held in Towne Field House, with the
Lansing Chapman Rink available for seating.
Be prepared for thunderstorms.

Cheers – Jay Thoman, College Marshal

http://commencement.williams.edu/

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#williams2016

How can Ephs far from Williams follow Commencement activities? Start with the Twitter hashtag #williams2016. Example items:

raymond

Congrats to all the members of the class of 2016! Links in the comments to other methods for following along are welcome.

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Ephs Who Have Gone Before

foxWho is this Eph?

He is Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Myles will not be in Williamstown to celebrate reunion with the Old Guard in two weeks, for he has passed away. He leaves behind no wife, no children nor grandchildren. His last glimpse of Williams was on graduation day 75 years ago. Who among the sons and daughters of Ephraim even remembers his name?

I saw the mountains of Williams
As I was passing by,
The purple mountains of Williams
Against the pearl-gray sky.
My heart was with the Williams men
Who went abroad to die.

Fox was, in many ways, an Eph of both his time and ours. He was a Junior Advisor and captain of the soccer team. He served as treasurer in the Student Activities Council, forerunner to today’s College Council. He was a Gargoyle and secretary of his class.

gargoyle

Fox lived in Wood House. Are you the student who just moved out of the room that Fox vacated all those years ago? Are you an Eph who trod the same walkways around campus as Fox? We all walk in his footsteps.

The years go fast in Williams,
The golden years and gay,
The hoary Colleges look down
On careless boys at play.
But when the bugles sounded war
They put their games away.

Fox wrote letters to his class secretary, letters just like those that you or I might write.

The last issue of the Review has put me up to date on my civilized affairs. I am enclosing the only other information I have received in the form of a letter from Mr. Dodd. Among my last batch of mail was notice of the class insurance premium, and if you think it will prove an incentive to any of my classmates you may add under the next batch of Class Notes my hearty endorsement of the insurance fund, the fact that even with a military salary I am still square with the Mutual Company, and my hope that classmates of ’40 will keep the ball rolling so that in the future, purple and gold jerseys will be rolling a pigskin across whitewash lines.

Seven decades later, the pigskin is still rolling.

Fox was as familiar as your freshman roommate and as distant as the photos of Williams athletes from years gone by that line the walls of Chandler Gym. He was every Eph.

They left the peaceful valley,
The soccer-field, the quad,
The shaven lawns of Williams,
To seek a bloody sod—
They gave their merry youth away
For country and for God.

Fox was killed in August 1942, fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. He was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in a Marine Raider battalion.

Fox’s citation for the Navy Cross reads:

For extraordinary heroism while attached to a Marine Raider Battalion during the seizure of Tulagi, Solomon Islands, on the night of 7-8 August 1942. When a hostile counter-attack threatened to penetrate the battalion line between two companies, 1st Lt. Fox, although mortally wounded, personally directed the deployment of personnel to cover the gap. As a result of great personal valor and skilled tactics, the enemy suffered heavy losses and their attack repulsed. 1st Lt. Fox, by his devotion to duty, upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.

How to describe a night battle against attacking Japanese among the islands of the South Pacific in August 1942?

Darkness, madness and death.

On Memorial Day, America honors soldiers like Fox who have died in the service of their country. For many years, no Eph had made the ultimate sacrifice. That string of good fortune ended with the death in combat of First Lieutenant Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC on December 9, 2006 in Iraq. From Ephraim Williams through Myles Fox to Nate Krissoff, the roll call of Williams dead echoes through the pages of our history.

With luck, other military Ephs like Dick Pregent ’76, Bill Couch ’79, Peter May ’79, Jeff Castiglione ’07, Bunge Cooke ’98, Paul Danielson ’88, Kathy Sharpe Jones ’79, Lee Kindlon ’98, Dan Ornelas ’98, Zack Pace ’98, JR Rahill ’88, Jerry Rizzo ’87, Dan Rooney ’95 and Brad Shirley ’07 will survive this war. It would be more than enough to celebrate their service on Veterans’ Day.

Those interested in descriptions of Marine combat in the South Pacific during World War II might start with Battle Cry by Leon Uris or Goodby, Darkness by William Manchester. The Warriors by J. Glenn Gray provides a fascinating introduction to men and warfare. Don’t miss the HBO miniseries The Pacific, from which the battle scene above is taken. Fox died two weeks before the Marines on Guadalcanal faced the Japanese at the Battle of the Tenaru.

A Navy destroyer was named after Fox. He is the only Eph ever to be so honored. The men who manned that destroyer collected a surprising amount of information about him. It all seems both as long ago as Ephraim Williams’s service to the King and as recent as the letters from Felipe Perez ’99 and Joel Iams ’01.

God rest you, happy gentlemen,
Who laid your good lives down,
Who took the khaki and the gun
Instead of cap and gown.
God bring you to a fairer place
Than even Williamstown.

Note: As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a Memorial Day entry, a tribute to those who have gone before. Apologies to Winifred M. Letts for bowdlerizing her poem, “The Spires of Oxford.”

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Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2020:

At the 1989 Williams graduation ceremonies, then-President Francis Oakley had a problem. Light rain showers, which had threatened all morning, started mid-way through the event. Thinking that he should speed things along, and realizing that virtually no one knew the words to “The Mountains,” President Oakley proposed that the traditional singing be skipped.

A cry arose from all Ephs present, myself included. Although few knew the words, all wanted to sing the damn song. Sensing rebellion, President Oakley relented and led the assembled graduates and guests through a somewhat soaked rendition of the song that has marked Williams events for more than 100 years.

Similar scenes play themselves out at Williams gatherings around the country. At some of the Williams weddings that you will attend in the future, an attempt, albeit a weak one, will be made to sing “The Mountains.” At reunions, “The Mountains” will be sung, generally with the help of handy cards supplied by the Alumni Office. It is obvious that most graduates wish that they knew the words. It is equally obvious than almost all do not.

We have a collective action problem. Everyone (undergraduates and alumni alike) wishes that everyone knew the words — it would be wonderful to sing “The Mountains” at events ranging from basketball games to Mountain Day hikes to gatherings around the world. But there is no point in me learning the words since, even if I knew them, there would be no one else who did. Since no single individual has an incentive to learn the words, no one bothers to learn them. As our new Provost Dukes Love would be happy to explain, we are stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium.

Fortunately, you have the power to fix this. You could learn “The Mountains” together, as a group, during your JA orientation. You could then teach all the First Years during First Days. It will no doubt make for a nice entry bonding experience. All sorts of goofy ideas come to mind. How about a singing contest at the opening dinner, judged by President Falk, between the six different first year dorms with first prize being a pizza dinner later in the fall at the President’s House?

Unfortunately, it will not be enough to learn the song that evening. Periodically over the last dozen years, attempts have been made to teach the words at dinner or at the first class meeting in Chapin. Such efforts, worthy as they are, have always failed. My advice:

1) Learn all the words by heart at JA training. This is harder than it sounds. The song is longer and more complex than you think. Maybe sing it between every session? Maybe a contest between JAs from the 6 first year houses? If you don’t sing the song at least 20 times, you won’t know it by heart.

2) Encourage the first years to learn the song before they come to Williams. There are few people more excited about all things Williams in August than incoming first years. Send them the lyrics. Send them videos of campus groups singing “The Mountains.” Tell them that, as an entry, you will be singing the song many times on that first day.

3) Carry through on that promise! Have your entry sing the song multiple times that day. Maybe the two JAs sing the song to the first student who arrives. Then, the three of you sing if for student number 2. And so on. When the last student arrives, the entire entry serenades him (and his family). Or maybe sing it as an entry before each event that first day.

4) There should be some target contest toward which this effort is nominally directed. I like the idea of a sing-off between the 6 first year dorms with President Falk as judge. But the actual details don’t matter much. What matters is singing the song over-and-over again before their first sunset as Ephs.

Will this process be dorky and weird and awkward? Of course it will! But that is OK. Dorkiness in the pursuit of community is no vice. And you and your first years will all be dorky together.

For scores of years, Ephs of goodwill have worked to create a better community for the students of Williams. It is a hard problem. How do you bring together young men and women from so many different places, with such a diversity of backgrounds and interests? Creating common, shared experiences — however arbitrary they may be — is a good place to start. Mountain Day works, not because they is anything particularly interesting about Stone Hill, but because we all climb it together.

Until a class of JAs decide as a group to learn the words (by heart) themselves during their training and then to teach it to all the First Years before the first evening’s events, “The Mountains” will remain a relic of a Williams that time has passed by.

But that is up to you. Once a tradition like this is started, it will go on forever. And you will be responsible for that. A hundred years from now the campus will look as different from today as today looks from 1916, but, if you seize this opportunity, Williams students and alumni will still be singing “The Mountains.”

Congratulations on being selected as a JA. It is a singular honor and responsibility.

Regards,

David Kane ’88

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Why isn’t Leehom Wang ’98 Singing at Commencement?

From the College:

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 227th Commencement Exercise on Sunday, June 5. The day before, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and science journalist Elizabeth Kolbert will be the Baccalaureate speaker. Both will receive honorary degrees at Commencement, as will Sarah Bolton, current dean of the college at Williams and president-elect of The College of Wooster; author and illustrator Eric Carle; writer and commentator Frank Deford; Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet; Tony Award-winning playwright and screenwriter David Henry Hwang; and singer-songwriter, producer, and actor Leehom Wang ’98.

Leehom Wang ’98 is almost certainly the most famous Eph of this century, and probably of the last one as well. (For our older and/or more US-centric readers, Wang is a hugely popular singer/actor in Asia. More people have seen his picture and/or listened to his words than they have to any other Eph. (Contrary examples welcome!) Now, it must be admitted, that tens of millions of these people were teenage Chinese girls, but numbers still count.

Anyway, why not have Wang perform at Commencement, either the main event on Sunday or on the previous Saturday. The guy knows how to put on a show! Perhaps Wang did not want to perform? Perhaps Wang/Williams were concerned that his fans might crash Commencement? I just hope that the College was not so narrow-minded to turn down his offer to perform. I guarantee that he would do a better job that the typical, boring, regurgitated schpiel.

But all the above is just an excuse to resurrect this Spring Streeter video from 10 (!) years ago. Highly recommended!

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Improving Previews

Previews finish up today. Making them (and other campus visits like WOW) better next year is a worthwhile goal.

Summary: Involving wanna-be JAs in the overnight visit process in general, and Previews specifically, would improve admissions yields, improve the JA selection process and (perhaps) marginally increase the quality of the match between matriculating students and Williams.

Jonathan Landsman ’05 writes.

I chose Williams because my pre-frosh weekend host was eager to welcome me, dopey, and enough like me that I trusted I would find a place for myself here. Also, the weather was good.

We can’t control the weather but we could significantly improve the over-night/Preview process by incorporating wanna-be and might-wanna-be JAs.

Inform freshmen and sophomores (during the fall/winter) that any experience they have hosting overnight visits from applicants will be considered when they apply to be a JA. No JA wanna-be is forced to participate, but many/most would. There is a huge demand for JA spots. Would-be applicants know this and will act accordingly. The Admissions Office would keep track of how many applicants each student hosted (I assume that it already does this), survey hosted students on the quality of their visit, and then report the results to the JA Selection Committee. The JASC would be under no obligation to use the survey results. Such a scheme would:

a) Dramatically improve the overnight process. If you motivate a Williams students to show off the campus in the best possible light, then she is likely to do a marvelous job. I bet that applicants under this scheme would have much more fun during their visits and would, therefore, be more likely to select Williams.

b) Make the typical overnight visit for non-athletes as fun as those for athletes. I believe that most (all?) overnight visits involving athletes that a coach is interested in are handled outside of the standard system. In those cases, the coach (who wants the applicant to have a good time) ensures that the visitor is placed with player on the team (who both wants to make the coach happy and improve the quality of the athletes she plays with), thereby generating fun-filled visits. No one can sell Williams as well as an undergraduate who wants to.

c) Provide would-be JAs with some insight into what they might be getting themselves into. Although the vast majority of JAs perform superbly, some discover (once it is too late) that the sacrificing their own time and GPAs for the benefit of selfish, annoying and socially-awkward 18 year-olds is not for them. Alas, once they are a JA, it is too late, much to the chagrin of the students in their entry. By ensuring that these Ephs have some experience with hosting overnights, the College will decrease the likelihood of such mismatches.

d) Provide the JASC with more information. The JASC would be under no obligation to use that information, but, if I were a member, I would certainly be impressed with an applicant who hosted 5 or 10 high school seniors, devoted a lot of time and energy to their visits, and received lavish praise from those visitors. I would suspect that, all else equal, such students make for better JAs than those who don’t host visits and/or don’t do a good job of it.

e) Any applicant who, after such a visit, doesn’t like Williams probably shouldn’t come. The fit just isn’t right.

Imagine that you are a high school senior choosing between Yale and Williams. At Yale, your visit consists of sleeping on the floor with four other students while your “host” ignores you. At William, your host is someone with the same interests as you (whether that be an academic subject or an extra-curricular activity), someone who spends time with you, someone who wants to ensure that your visit is as enjoyable and informative as possible. Would that, alone, be enough of a reason to choose Williams over Yale? No. But it couldn’t hurt!

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Student Attendance at Cobb Speech?

We’re all about the facts at EphBlog, so consider a simple empirical question: How many students attended today’s keynote Claiming Williams speech by Jelani Cobb?

1) Via Ben Lamb’s Instagram feed, we have this photo.

cobb_chapin

I would agree with Ben’s description of this as a “packed house.”

cobb_chapin_close2) What is the capacity of Chapin? The Record reports that “the first floor can seat 485 people when the stage is up and 636 people when the stage is lowered. The balcony still seats 203 people.” I believe that the stage was up (see left) meaning that max attendance was 688. But both pictures make clear that, even in this packed house, there were lots of empty seats. Perhaps a reader with some fancy photo-analysis software could give us a decent estimate of how many? Hard to tell! I would be surprised if it were fewer than 50 or more than 200. Let’s go with a guess of 550. (Reader opinions welcome!) So, at most, only 1/4 of the students at the College attended the central event of Claiming Williams Day.

3) How many of those 550 attendees were students? That is a key question. Of course, the College (and EphBlog!) are always happy when faculty/staff attend events. The more Ephs that participate in the life of the mind, especially at communal college events, the better. However, consider this:

career

Leave aside the (important!) question about whether or not this is a good use of College resources. (Hint: It probably isn’t. And I spend a lot of time defending OCC to critical students.) It sure seems like many faculty/staff were invited/encouraged (expected?) to attend Cobb’s speech. Although the picture is tough to parse, I certainly see more than a few bald heads. Could the number of students in attendance be as low as 400? 300? You betcha! And many (most?) of those may have been First Years led to the event by their JAs. If only 200 upperclassmen attended the key note speech at Claiming Williams, is it still fair to judge the event a success?

4) Perhaps the most interesting question is: What, if anything, would make the supporters of Claiming Williams decide to end the tradition? It would be nice if the faculty set a time limit, perhaps 5 years, after which Claiming Williams would need to be re-authorized. If, in 2021, the Williams faculty (and students!) felt that the day served a useful purpose, that it was worth the cost of one less day for Dead Week, then, by all means, continue. But I bet that a fair campus wide vote, even today, put an end to Claiming Williams, which is one reason we won’t be seeing a vote anytime soon.

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Jelani Cobb and the New Censors

jelanicobb_252_jrw New Yorker writer and UConn Professor Jelani Cobb is the main event at Claiming Williams right now, speaking on “The Half Life of Freedom: Race and Justice in America Today.” EphBlog is less interested in Cobb’s thoughts on Race/Justice/America (he seems a standard issue leftist) and more interested in his thoughts on what sorts of discussions should be allowed at places like Williams. Is Cobb an example of the “new censors” who would limit the discussion/debate that is at the heart of a Williams education? Consider Cobb’s New Yorker article on the racially-tinged controversies roiling college campuses. Key paragraph:

Last year, at the University of Connecticut, where I teach, white fraternity members harassed and purportedly shouted epithets at members of a black sorority; the incident generated an afterlife of hostility on Internet forums, where black female students were derided and ridiculed. Eight months ago, fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma were filmed singing an ode to lynching.

These are not abstractions. And this is where the arguments about the freedom of speech become most tone deaf. The freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered. The enlightenment principles that undergird free speech also prescribed that the natural limits of one’s liberty lie at the precise point at which it begins to impose upon the liberty of another.

What, precisely, is Cobb’s policy prescription? Should the University of Connecticut punish students for engaging in ridicule? Should the University of Oklahoma expel students who sing the wrong sorts of songs? It sure seems — and maybe someone could ask him during the Q&A today — that Cobb wants exactly these sorts of punishments meted out to politically incorrect students. And he wants this done even though both UConn and Oklahoma are state institutions!

I would like to believe that Cobb’s views are extremist, that no faculty member at Williams could possibly be in favor of state-punishment of non-violent speech, that all Ephs of goodwill would agree with the analysis offered by Professor Eugene Volokh in the Washington Post with regard to the Oklahoma case:

[R]acist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions — see here for some citations. The same, of course, is true for fraternity speech, racist or otherwise

But maybe I am being naive. Jelani Cobb wants to censor students at UConn and Oklahoma. Presumably, he would like to punish faculty who engage in similar speech. He does not think that the Constitution can or should protect those with whom he disagrees. He wants to censor me today. Maybe tomorrow he will want to censor you?

Any EphBlog readers at the talk should ask him about this and/or tell us about the speech.

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Claiming Williams

Today is Claiming Williams. Here is the schedule. (Copied below the break for future historians.) Here are our recommendations for which sessions to attend. Comments:

1) Who made this schedule? It is incompetent! Here is the committee, and the chairs are Karen Swann and Annie Valk. Are they to blame?

The main trick to ensuring high attendance at Claiming Williams is to schedule a first event that hundreds of students will want to attend (or be cajoled into attending by their JAs). That event should feature people/items that are popular with students. Everyone loves singing groups! Invite several to perform. Everyone loves honeybuns! Serve them for free. In past years, the organizers have done exactly this, thereby getting lots of students out of bed and engaged. Once they attend the first event, it is easy to get them to go from that to another.

2) What a narrow selection of topics! Claiming Williams has always been (and will always be) filled with leftist sessions. Nothing wrong with that! But, in past years, other sessions, appealing to a different cross-section of the community, have generated large audiences. How about something about athletics at Williams and the athlete/non-athlete divide? What about a session on the drinking culture? A more competent committee would have created such sessions. (To be fair, there are plenty of interesting events. See our recommendations.)

3) Could the Record please do a minimal amount of reporting and tell us, approximately, how many students attend at least two events? My sense (commentary welcome) is that the College likes to pretend like a large majority of students (1500?) attend more than one event. I bet that the actual number is closer to 500.

Read more

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Claiming Williams Recommendations

Here is the schedule for Claiming Williams on Thursday. EphBlog recommends:

1) Controversy @ Williams at 3:30 in Goodrich looks, by far, to be the most interesting discussion because, I have been told, it will actually include Ephs from a wide variety of ideological viewpoints. Real diversity! It just might work . . . If you go to only one Claiming Williams event, make it this one.

2) Uncomfortable Conversation at Williams: Is it Possible? at 8:00 PM.

The notion of “uncomfortable learning” has been part of the discussion of Williams pedagogy for close to 50Uncomfortable Learning years. But Williams has changed dramatically in the last few decades, and as events this fall have revealed, the concept of uncomfortable learning can have vastly different meanings to different people

Indeed! Is the biggest change is that students feel less comfortable voicing outlier opinions? Or has there always been such a reticence but the definition of “outlier” has changed?

3) Internationalism at Williams at 9:00 AM. Williams is a much more global college than it was 30 years ago. With any luck, it will be fully global in another few decades. The best way to start down that path is to discuss and remove the quota on international students.

What panels would our readers recommend?

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Claiming Williams Announcement

Latest all-student e-mail

February 4 is Claiming Williams Day, when the community pauses to discuss issues that connect and challenge us. This year the topic of the day is “Examining the Williams Way.” Our panels and discussions—all proposed by Williams students, staff, and faculty—focus on Williams’s institutional history and the challenges that still face us as an educational and social community.

The Committee faces a difficulty in running Claiming Williams: How much sense does it make to have a new theme each year? I am flexible on that question. But, if you are going to have a theme like the “Williams Way” and you are going to claim to focus on topics like “Williams’s institutional history,” then you better come through. And this Committee has not. Look at the schedule. Only a handful of sessions cover anything about this topic and, even for them, it is an add on.

[Y]ou can get a good start to the day in a workshop on white privilege taught by Debby Irving, mother of Emily Irving ’16

Sign me up! To be fair, it is always nice to see Eph parents come to Williams and give presentations. But your typical white Williams student has been confronted by (ludicrous, to her) claims about her privilege for years. You really think many of them are going to get out of bed before 9 for another 90 minutes of the same? Good luck!

At 10:50 in Chapin Hall, Jelani Cobb (historian and New Yorker staff writer) will give a talk called “The Half Life of Freedom: Race and Justice in America Today.” Cobb has been an important voice in national conversations about campus climate, especially those that focus on speech issues.

It is probably a mistake to have the major event of the day feature a speaker that 90% (99%?) of Williams students have never heard of or read. If Cobb has really been “an important voice in national conversations about campus climate,” then I am the tooth fairy. Readers interested in Cobb’s views should start with this New Yorker article. (The Committee ought to have included a link to this or some other writings by Cobb in their invitation.)

Another awkwardness is the 10:50 start time. Was this purposeful? Was it driven by difficulties in arranging Cobb’s arrival from U Conn? To the extent that Cobb is the big draw (it will be interesting to see how much of Chapin he can fill), you either want him first thing (to get the kids out of bed and attending morning events) or after lunch.

At Williams we don’t have many opportunities for the whole campus—students, staff and faculty—to have a shared experience of a challenging thinker and speaker.

Is Cobb really a “challenging” speaker? Not in the context of Williams. Exactly what opinion does Cobb hold that any member of the Claiming Williams Steering Committee would disagree with? None that I can see.

Claiming Williams could be a time of honest discussion and debate. Or it could be a day filled with leftist agitprop. How do you think Thursday will go?

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Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are now blessed to know. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make magna cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 28 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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Williams Reads Breakout Sessions

After the ’62 Center event during First Days, the class of 2019 broke into discussion groups. Kudos to the Eph faculty and staff who volunteered (?) to devote Labor Day to this event! The more intellectual engagement brought to First Days, the better. Recall this Record op-ed from last spring:

For decades, the College has sought, somewhat unsuccessfully, to mold student character and to improve the campus community. The College would prefer that students drink less (and especially less to excess); that students be more intellectual, spending more time outside of class on great books and less time on Netflix; that students be kinder to each other, especially to those most outside the mainstream of College life; and that students be more involved in the community, more likely to volunteer at the local elementary school or retirement home. How can the College make its students more sober, intellectual, kind and charitable (than they already are)? Simple: Expand the First Days program into First Month, and focus that month on character development and community commitment.

Shaping character and nurturing community are difficult problems, so we should look for inspiration to those with a track record of success. The most relevant examples are military and religious organizations like the Marine Corps and the Mormon Church. What lessons do they have for us?

First: Start early. The reason that service in the Marine Corps begins with a 13-week boot camp is that the best time to change the perceptions of 18-year-olds is at the start of their enlistments. In boot camp, Marine recruits are cut off from the world they knew before, presented with a new set of community standards for what is best and challenged to live up to those standards. The College will have much more success in changing the values and choices of first-years in August than it ever will in altering those of juniors and seniors.

Second: Separate. Many new Ephs drank too much in high school. We want them to (want to) drink less at the College. We need to distance them from their old habits, their old friends and routines. A First Month program, starting in early August, provides just such an opportunity. The reason that Mormons, and most other religious groups, favor retreats is that a departure from the secular allows the sacred to flourish. During First Month, athletes won’t practice with their sports teams, they will play pick-up games with their classmates. The first and most important commitment that new Ephs make is to their class. They are purple first.

Third: Introduce. Every student in each of the first-year dorms will have at least one meal with each resident of his dorm. All students will learn the names of at least half of their classmates by playing all the wonderfully awkward name-learning games common to religious retreats. The more that students are introduced to their classmates, slowly and repeatedly, over many hours, days and weeks, the less likely that any individual is to end up isolated from the College and detached from the Ephs around him. For most Ephs, the College community is as tight-knit as it could be. They always have someone to sit with when they go to the dining hall on their own. But for hundreds of students, often students from non-traditional backgrounds or with non-mainstream interests, the College fails. Rescuing those students, enmeshing them completely in a network of friends and friendly acquaintances, would change their experience at the College from bearable to wonderful.

Fourth: Inspire. The best way to convince teenagers that Behavior X is cool is to surround them with slightly older Ephs whom they admire and who, by word and deed, illustrate that X is cool. The fewer sports captains and Junior Advisors (JAs) who are heavy drinkers, the fewer first-years who will follow in their footsteps. During First Month, every activity is designed to model the behavior that we want to see more of among students at the College. On Day Two, everyone reads one of Plato’s dialogues and discusses it at lunch and dinner at a small table with a faculty member. On Day Six, everyone spends a day on community service – anything from cleaning up trash along the banks of the Green River to talking with residents at Sweetwood. On Day 10, everyone hikes up Pine Cobble. All of these events are led by the very best people – students, faculty, staff and local residents – at the College.

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