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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
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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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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.

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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?

Entire e-mail is below the break.
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Suggested Claiming Williams Events to Attend

In the spirit of cooperation, EphBlog recommends the following Claiming Williams events.

Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story at 1:45pm to 3:15pm

Ever wonder what people you pass on your way to class are thinking? Ever want to tell them what’s on your mind? Storytime is hosting “Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story,” which is your chance to put stories behind the names and faces of the students, faculty, and staff around you. Each participant will alternate listening and telling stories, for three minutes each, in a kind of platonic speed-dating. What you hear might surprise you!

If you attend only one event, this is the one. I have never met an Eph who did not enjoy it. Special shout out to Rachel Ko ’09, the genius behind Storytime, which was, I think, originally branded as Let Me Tell You a Story. Few students have done more to improve Williams in the last decade than she.

Quest Story Time at 12:15pm to 1:45pm

All are invited to Quest Story Time, a strong tradition at Williams in which students share their stories of what it means to be a Quest Scholar at Williams and of their journeys going forward. QuestBridge is a non-profit program that assists high-achieving, low-income and first-generation students in applying to prestigious colleges and universities in the United States. In this sharing of experiences, Quest Scholars and the audience engage in a powerful experience of reflection. The audience is not only allowed but encouraged to ask questions

I believe that there are now 200 Questbridge scholars on campus, around 10% of the student body. That is an amazing change from 10 years ago. Indeed, the rise of Questbridge is probably the biggest change in Williams admissions since the decrease in emphasis placed on athletics at the beginning of President Schapiro’s term.

Other interesting sessions include Local Borders: Engaging Our Perceptions of North Adams and Williamstown, First Generation Faculty: Experiences, Challenges, Lessons and International Narratives. The more that Claiming Williams can focus on Williams College and the people who study/teach/work/live there, the better.

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An Exercise in Mandated Political Correctness

A recent comment:

Claiming Williams has, alas, become a bit of a parody of itself, at least based on these descriptions. If there is going to be an event like this, it could be so much more interesting / intellectually-engaging / provocative / informative. For example, why not have one unifying theme surrounding each year’s Claiming Williams, and bring in provocative speakers, from various disciplines, and holding various perspectives, who will engage in a series of debates (ideally engaging students and faculty as well) on the issue. One year the theme could be, for example, the role of religion in campus and public life — topics like, where is the line between permissible religious expression and violation of others’ rights, or where religion and free speech potentially conflict (issues such as laws prohibiting burkas, publication of defamatory cartoons offensive to a particular religious groups, laws regarding private citizens relying upon religion as justification for discrimination against gays, all hot-button current issues that could spark real campus discourse).

Or another year, the theme could be campus sexual assault — where students are not just told via platitudinous speechifying the importance of respecting women’s choices about sexuality (that apparently hasn’t worked across the country) but instead are challenge to collaboratively engage to come up with model proposals for BETTER campus sexual assault policies, both preventative and adjudicative, at Williams, and for campuses at large. That would be a REALLY interesting use of a day, and would engage the talents of Williams students to potentially make a difference, while building awareness at the same time. Given how busy Williams is, an entire day devoted to anything is a REALLY big deal, and I feel like the administration could by far more creative and proactive in crafting something meaningful.

This event is now basically preaching to the converted, and those disinclined to feel the same way, or in particular, those who might engage in potentially problematic behaviors, are just going to laugh this off as an exercise in mandated political correctness; if anything, it could be counter-productive, only serving to convince conservatives (and I’m far from one of them) that there is a PC thought police dominating the campus. Kind of embarrassing that this has become institutionalized as a full-day even without really embracing the opportunity to spark some deeper, more thought-provoking discourse worthy of Williams. (And I’m someone who agrees with the ultimate goals of tolerance, inclusion, and making Williams a place that embraces students from every walk of life — I just don’t see who an event like this in any meaningful way fulfills that goal, I’d like to see people’s buttons really pushed via more substantive, interactive, engaging, and challenging programming).

Highlights added. I am not certain that Claiming Williams has descended as far down the PC rabbit hole as this alum believes, but I doubt that any faculty member who agrees with this view — and there are some — would be willing to say this in public.

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Claiming Williams Schedule

Having praised many aspects of the schedule for Claiming Williams 2014, it is time to criticize the (preliminary) schedule for 2015.

9-10:30am: Opening Event

Opening Remarks: President Adam Falk, MainStage, ’62 CTD
“The Peak”: A Williams Talk Show

Hmm. Maybe “The Peak” will be a big hit, but last year’s trick of scheduling lots of singing/dancing students groups at 9:00 seems much smarter. It guarantees that all those students are there and ready to participate in morning events. It also generates lots of attendance from their friends. Consider:

The Peak is a one-time Williams talk show borrowing Barbara Walters’ conception of ABC talk show, The View, that has run for 18 years. Like The View, The Peak focuses on a panel of four female co-hosts who discuss a variety of social and political issues both at Williams and in the world at large. They will creatively preview the various events happening thru-out Claiming Williams Day. The panel consists of Kimberly Golding ’16, Fatima Anaza ’18, Elizabeth Dietz ’15, and Bushra Ali ’17. They will host live interviews and there are several surprises in store for the “studio” audience!

Boring! Just how many Williams students will want to get out of bed for this event? First, the entire premise — female-only presenters modeling their session on a female-only talk show — seems almost designed to drive male students away. Second, why would a Williams student want to hear other Williams students talk about “a variety of social and political issues … in the world at large?” Isn’t it enough that I get to — have to? — listen to my peers in every seminar I ever take at Williams? Does random Eph X have anything particular insightful to say about, for example, the situation in Gaza? Perhaps, but the above description gives me no reason to think so.

I predict that, because of this switch, attendance at morning events will be much lower this year.

8:00-9:30pm: Mothers Against Police Brutality, Chapin Hall
9:30pm: Solidarity Walk, Chapin Hall
10:00pm: Pareksy Center Gathering

What exactly does police brutality, much less those mothers who are against it, have to do with Claiming Williams? Nothing, of course. It seems clear that this year’s Claiming Williams committee, unlike last year’s, decided to let their left wing freak flag fly.

New Rule: Claiming Williams events should have something to do with Williams. They aren’t an occasion, and a slush fund, for you to push your pet issue on the Williams community. Other events which violate this rule include:

The Marginalized Man: Education Access in Prisons, Paresky Auditorium
Dealing with Anti-Muslim Sentiment in American – A workshop with MPAC, Dodd Living Room
Reverend Yearwood from the Hip Hop Caucus: Mobilizing for Climate Justice, Paresky Auditorium
Mothers Against Police Brutality Workshop: Writing as Activism, Griffin 2
Unmasking Empathy: A Staged Reading of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Play We Are Proud to Present a Presentation… CenterStage, ’62 CTD

Although I have not done a complete count, this year’s Claiming Williams seems much worse than last year’s, much more focused on events/issues that have no meaningful connection to Williams itself.

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Claiming Williams 2014

Let’s put criticism to one side and highlight all the things that Claiming Williams 2014 got right.

8:15am: Breakfast in the lobby of ’62 CTD

Honeybuns, donuts, yogurt, coffee, and tea. Start the day off with a free breakfast!

9-10:30am: Opening Event

Opening Remarks: President Adam Falk, MainStage, ’62 CTD
Art/Work: Performing Activism, featuring campus musical, dance, and theater groups, including Joshua Bennett from The Strivers Row.

This is a perfect way to start the day. First, bribe people with honeybuns to get them out of bed. Second, make sure all the arts groups show up at the start. (How many students is this? 50? 100? Whatever the number, this ensures reasonable attendance at the 10:30 events.) Third, provide students — especially first year entries — a reason to come to the first event. Even if they don’t really care about Claiming Williams per se, first years can be shamed/cajoled by their JAs to support their entrymates in the performances.

10:45-noon: Community Discussions

Allies, Bystanders, and Diversity on Teams, Bronfman Auditorium
Classism on Campus and Everywhere Else, CenterStage, ’62 CTD
Conversation with Zanele Muholi, Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA)
Not the First: Narratives from Legacies of Color, Griffin 3
The Whiteness of Belonging, Paresky Auditorium
Walls: Palestine, Mexico, and Beyond, Dodd Living Room

What an impressive collection of topics, with something for everyone. Even though I am a regular mocker of Claiming Williams, at least half of these talks seem very interesting. Indeed, I am especially impressed with how non-ideological they are, or at least some of them. Looking at legacies of color is an especially nice touch. Who deserves credit for that panel idea? Kudos!

Then, more talks over lunch. People have to eat and having many events with food help to keep the momentum of the day going. I especially liked this topic:

Soul-Searching: To Be or Not to Be “Spiritual” at Williams

Location: Paresky Quiet Room

What’s it like to be “religious” at Williams? Or not to be? Is your way of being “spiritual” a bond with others – or an obstacle? What does this community need to do better, as far as embracing religious or spiritual diversity is concerned? What do you wish other people understood about your own affiliation or identity? Join an open lunchtime forum on these and other questions, facilitated by a group of students who studied and practiced interfaith dialogue in the context of community service during Winter Study.

My sense (corrections welcome!) is that religious groups are much more active at Williams than they were 25 years ago, especially Williams Christian Fellowship. True? Either way, it is nice to see a non-leftist, but still non-mainstream, outlook highlighted at Claiming Williams. The College is for all of us, including those Ephs with traditional Christian beliefs.

The are more talks in the afternoon, with a variety of topics covered. Now, the creators of Claiming Williams might have some complaints about a session entitled “Discussing Divestment: Fossil Fuels and the Williams Endowment.” After all, the original impetus behind WC was to enable (minority) students (and their allies) who felt excluded from mainstream Williams to “claim” the College. Hard to connect that directly to divestment.

But, the more that Claiming Williams because a day of discussion about controversial topics, a day when Ephs from all backgrounds come together and talk about their differences and similarities, the better. With any luck, Claiming Williams will, over time, morph into a Mountain Day of the mind.

And, in that spirit, the best panel of the day:

Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story

Location: Class of ’58 Lounge, Paresky

Ever wonder what all those people you pass on your way to class are thinking? Ever want to tell them what’s on your mind? Storytime is hosting “Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story,” which is your chance to put stories behind the names and faces of the students, faculty, and staff around you. Each participant will alternate listening and telling stories, for three minutes each, in a kind of platonic speed-dating. What you hear might surprise you!

Great stuff. I quizzed a current sophomore about Claiming Williams and he could barely remember the other events he attended. But he loved this one. The more people at Williams who know other people at Williams, the better.

So, congratulations to the organizers of Claiming Williams 2014. They did a lot of things right!

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Claiming Williams 2015

Here is the WSO announcement for Claiming Williams 2015. Let’s deconstruct it!

Thursday, Feb 5 is Claiming Williams Day! All day. Classes are suspended while the campus engages in events and discussions about building and sustaining a more inclusive community. Come, participate: no desks, no grades, just learning and action! action! http://claiming.williams.edu/

Are classes really “suspended?” Not that I can see. To suspend something, you need to schedule it in the first place and then suspend it. Since no class was ever scheduled to meet on Thursday February 5, 2015, nothing has been “suspended.”

But this language allows the Administration to pretend that it cares more about Claiming Williams (CW) than it actually does. More importantly, it allows the
steering committee to believe that the event is more important than it actually is.

Why should we care—about what happens in New York City, in Ferguson, in North Adams, at our southern border, in Gaza, to our planet?

Gaza? Really? A constant danger with events like CW is that they are too often captured by those with outside ideological concerns. How many people at Williams could find Gaza on an unlabeled map? How many could provide even a vague overview of the issues involved?

A more competent and honest steering committee would make Claiming Williams about, you know, Williams.

Why should we care about the effects these issues have on our own campus community? The Claiming Williams Steering Committee began meeting this fall as vigils and teach-ins focusing on these questions were occurring across campus and elsewhere.

Whenever people start telling me what I “should” care about, I suspect that they are treating me as means, rather than an end. They want me to care about what they care about. Instead, they ought to ask me what I care about.

We saw organizers of these actions, often from groups most impacted by the events that sparked them, taking on extra burdens during already difficult times; we saw members of our community unsure about how to be good allies around issues that foreground our differences of privilege and belonging; and we saw signs of “issue fatigue” setting in as the term got underway.

That is a lot of left-wing gobbledygook for one paragraph. And the semi-colons don’t help.

First, are the “organizers” here the Ephs involved with on-campus vigils and teach-ins? I am unimpressed when absurdly privileged Williams students complain about “extra burdens.”

Second, note that there are only two groups: organizers and their allies. What about students who disagree with the organizers? There are certainly many students on campus who disagree with the Left’s position on, say, Gaza and illegal immigration. Don’t their views count? Aren’t they part of Williams?

Third, if by “issue fatigue” you mean lots of Ephs growing bored and annoyed by your constant demands that we care about what you care about, that we agree with what you say, then, I bet you saw lots of signs.

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Reap What You Sow

Almost five years ago, WSO featured a discussion about Claiming Williams and the issue of White Male Althletes Who Drink (WMAWD). Alas, the link I used then does not seem to work. Fortunately, I saved much of the discussion.

Basic idea was that many people felt that Claiming Williams, as an institution, was actively hostile toward WMAWD and that, therefore, many WMAWD did not bother to attend WMAWD events.

I’m not even sure how to express how much I agree with all of the above. In many, many conversations I’ve noticed this trend of looking down on the idea of the white male (not even just white male athletes who drink) simply because of the history, and not necessarily because of specific examples. I think a lot of WM do feel the pressure to be ashamed of who they are though they themselves have done nothing.

But it sure doesn’t help when very few of the allegedly marginalized Straight White Male Athlete Drinkers show up to any of the events in which I participated (which are the only ones I can speak for). Their absence was noted by some of their coaches, who were present and contributed in valuable ways.

I would bet a lot of money that the reason there wasn’t a huge percentage of the white male athletes at the events is because of people like you, who in trying to fight against “abjection” and “exclusion” make the mistake of excluding those people from the process and creating an air of hostility. I think that the Claiming Williams events were wonderful and the people involved were earnest and open, but it’s people who create unnecessary conflict like this who keep the WMAWD away.

I’ll argue that I think CW this year made an effort to be unassuming and unhostile, but I agree that the general perception on campus remains that any time we talk about “diversity” we’re talking about the evils of the WMAWDs. How to change that perception, I don’t know – but I do feel that oftentimes, in an effort to find safety, security, and solidarity on campus, groups can create a feeling of “us vs. them.”

That being said, I think that the marginalization of the WMAWD is that he feels unwelcome and uncomfortable even attending and participating in these sorts of conversations. Is that “as bad” as the challenges associated with facing racism or classism on a daily basis? Perhaps not. But these types of discussions shouldn’t be about trying to decide who’s been the most oppressed – they should be about moving forward as a community

Do you honestly believe white male athletes who drink aren’t marginalized?

In my time at Williams, I have witnessed/heard just as much anti-WMAWD attitude as anti-gay, anti-(*), etc. attitudes. *Substitute race here. Not that my experience is necessarily representative of the whole school, but i think it definitely occurs. … So if they [white males] are made to feel unwelcome and are uncomfortable in the situation, they are cowards for not attending anyway? That just doesn’t make sense.

I’m a white straight male, and I after hours of conversations, I still don’t fully understand why people of various identities feel excluded from this campus. That doesn’t mean that I’m deliberately ignorant, or that issues don’t exist. It just means that there are some things that you can’t understand, or are reallyhard to understand until you experience the same thing, and that THAT IS OK, so long as we keep talking. … I guess I’m just bothered that you seem to think that you can treat people on campus differently because of worldwide trends and patterns. If there’s a problem on campus, then we should address that, but I don’t think you can cite what goes on outside of the Purple Bubble as a reason to treat a certain group of people differently within it.

On the other hand, I whole-heartedly agree that some WMAWD’s are misjudged, but getting to know them solves that (it’s really not that big of a deal). WMAWD’s who don’t fall into the stereotypes make an effort to not be what people think they are. I have WMAWD as friends, and some fall into their stereotype whereas others don’t. True, I do judge some WMAWD’s, but that may also be because they walk in herds and seem to have no awareness about the world surrounding them.

I really hope that this entire passage was intended to be as ridiculous a joke as it reads.

Let’s replace “WMAWD” with some other social/ethnic labels and see how we react.

1) While some black people are misjudged, getting to know them solves it, so prejudices don’t cause any damage. Anyway, it’s incumbent on the African-Americans who don’t want to be stereotyped to make an extra effort to show us that they’re different. Sure, I apply stereotypes to some black people, but that’s only because they congregate in groups and don’t try to reach out to me: their fault. . . .

If anyone had posted either of those absurd statements, they justifiably would have had the living shit Claimed out of them in a hailstorm of indignant criticism. Your identical post deserves no less.

shit man let them get a taste of what others having been getting/and will get.

Awesome. Thanks for assuming, based only on the amount of pigment in my skin, that I must have spent my nineteen years slinging racial epithets or embodying prejudice and therefore deserve to have this vindictive nonsense unleashed on me.

Making presumptions about the content of my character based on my ethnic and socioeconomic identity. . .man, if only we had a word to describe this kind of behavior: oh hey, neat! We do!

Cry me a river. Really? The fact that you automatically believe that none of the white students here ever had to “prove” themselves is exactly what this thread was about.

Your main point of argument seems to be that because history has shown that there were more white males with better jobs than any other subgroup in our society that it’s automatically going to be real easy for them to live life. You really don’t think that they don’t even have to try here because out there they’re not going to face the economy in the shitters, that they’re somehow more special and will not have to worry about being put under a certain image and treated unfairly when going for a job interview or applying for grad school? Or that none of the unemployed people in this country are white males?

Maybe in the hustle of I-had-to-overcome-so-many-disadvantages-because-of-what-I-look-like you missed the blaring sign– everyone hurts the same way. You think you’re so different from the WMAWD because of the color of your skin or where your ancestors might have come from? Cut everyone with a knife and see if we don’t bleed the same red blood.

I don’t believe it’s quite so that they [white males] don’t feel that they have things to contribute to a day devoted to diversity, as in so much that other people don’t expect them to be able to contribute to the talks because they are automatically assumed to have never experienced adversity because of color of their skin, their gender, sexuality, etc..

..

Why should the onus be on me to prove myself to you? Your assumptions about me are being made just by the groups of people that I walk with has to be one of the more baseless reasons for judging someone that there is out there. Because I am white and I am walking with other white kids I don’t see the world around me? Don’t get that logic. You said its not hard to get to know them, well then give “us” that chance. So maybe in large groups we act differently but that is a moot point. One on one everyone is different than they are in large groups, but that doesn’t just apply to white males, it applies to everyone.

So maybe I will get to know you once you give me a clean slate to operate with. But I won’t get to know you if you assume certain things about me right off the bat even if I try to get to know you. Don’t stereotype minorities, don’t stereotype white males either. It is not a hard compromise because equality doesn’t involve subjugating white people, that is revenge for historical wrongs that, while I admit would probably be fair, is not helpful. Equality isn’t turning the tables, it’s making sure everyone has a seat.

Do people really feel unsafe or discriminated on campus? Maybe I’m just oblivious to such things, but this seems a little ridiculous to me.

I feel like I’ve had different experiences than some of the other people posting. You may never have encountered the “I’ve had it bad, it’s kind of your fault, you bad bad white man” attitude here on campus, but I ASSURE you, I most definitely have. Whether this is as widespread as I have come to see it as, or if it is not as prevalent as I thought is a matter that I will leave others to decide. The most important thing for me is not so much the self-victimization as what is relatively undisputed: the bias against WMAWD that is pervasive on this campus.

As far as the word “privilege” goes, I think it can be misleading. I think Claiming Williams should encourage EVERYONE to reflect on the privilege they have, rather than assuming that certain groups are privileged while other groups are unprivileged. This may not be the fault of CW or anyone who participates in it, but it seems that we perceive privilege as only occurring within certain demographics. Again, I’m not denying any differences in “stark material realities,” but I’m trying to expand my notion of privilege beyond that.

Several posts have bemoaned the lack of WMAWD at CW, and several have offered hostile or disappointed takes on this. I speak only for myself, but I did not stay away due to laziness or hostility to any group of people. This WMAW (occasionally) D is very concerned about this kind of issue, but finds CW objectionable for various reasons and therefore elected to exercise his right to choose not to attend.

The issue for me is not that “no one knows what I’ve faced,” but that my being privileged should not impact your perception of me. The fact that I don’t know what it’s like from your perspective doesn’t make me irrelevant. My opinions can be valid without my being shaped by overwhelming oppression. I do frequently feel less welcome or less valued by some because I have had certain advantages. This is not crushing oppression; I am by no means marginalized, but it is an issue.

None of the people who wrote these words is still on campus. Has Williams changes much in the last 4 years? I doubt it.

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Claiming Williams: Today, February 3rd …

Today will be a carefully planned and full day of activities.

From the  announcement:

“The theme for the day is ‘Our stories, our community, our responsibilities.’ The program, organized by a steering committee of students, staff, and faculty, will feature dialogue rather than just lecture, with discussions exploring a spectrum of topics from ideological diversity to nontraditional students.”

Claiming Williams has a very interestingly worded Mission Statement:

Mission Statement:
Claiming Williams invites the community to acknowledge and understand the uncomfortable reality that not all students, staff, and faculty can equally “claim” Williams. By challenging the effects of the College’s history of inequality that are based on privileges of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion, we will provoke individual, institutional, and cultural change.”

Writers of Mission Statements, may find the statement self-fulfilling because Read more

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Unraveled: Allan Johnson is an Ideologue

What are we getting in Claiming Williams 2011? Drivel like this:

Unraveling the Knot of Privilege, Power, and Difference with Allan Johnson

One of the greatest barriers to ending sexism, racism, and other forms of privilege is that we are trapped in cultural ways of thinking that turn conversations about privilege and oppression into occasions for dominant groups to feel guilty and defensive. As a result, the conversations we need to have either happen badly or, more often, don’t happen at all, making it all but impossible for us to assume responsibility to act effectively for change in our communities. This presentation can help overcome that barrier by providing an alternative way of thinking about issues of privilege. It is based on the author’s books, The Gender Knot and Privilege, Power, and Difference. For more about Allan Johnson, visit his website.

If you were a typical white male student at Williams would you bother to attend this event? I wouldn’t. With luck, Allan Johnson will not be as buffoonish as Tim Wise, but this is the same shtick that the typical Eph who looks like me has heard his whole life. Why bother?

To atone for my sins, I listened to 10 minutes of Johnson’s blather (minutes 5 to 15 here). Not recommended. He has no idea what he is talking about and refuses to even engage with arguments from the other side. He is a pathetic ideologue.

How much did Williams pay for this nonsense?

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Construed Against White Males

It is tough to know what to make of this post from Will Slack ’11 last year:

Why I quit Ephblog

Posts like this one.

White males have nothing to do with this, and nothing about Claiming Williams was construed against white males as a group. Good grief.

Sort of depends on who is doing the construing, doesn’t it? The key passage in my post:

This is a small example of why white males like me don’t feel welcome at events associated with faculty members like Wendy Raymond.

Will suggests (and may even believe in good faith) that Claiming Williams is a truly inclusive event, that everyone on the Williams campus feels welcome. He implies either a) that few/no white males feel unwelcome at Claiming Williams or b) that such feelings are unjustified.

Don’t think that I have a better sense than Will about what a large percentage (10%?, 50%?) of white males (and others!) think about Claiming Williams? No need to trust me. Just read WSO:

I’ll argue that I think CW this year made an effort to be unassuming and unhostile, but I agree that the general perception on campus remains that any time we talk about “diversity” we’re talking about the evils of the WMAWDs. How to change that perception, I don’t know – but I do feel that oftentimes, in an effort to find safety, security, and solidarity on campus, groups can create a feeling of “us vs. them.”

That being said, I think that the marginalization of the WMAWD is that he feels unwelcome and uncomfortable even attending and participating in these sorts of conversations. Is that “as bad” as the challenges associated with facing racism or classism on a daily basis? Perhaps not. But these types of discussions shouldn’t be about trying to decide who’s been the most oppressed – they should be about moving forward as a community

I feel like I’ve had different experiences than some of the other people posting. You may never have encountered the “I’ve had it bad, it’s kind of your fault, you bad bad white man” attitude here on campus, but I ASSURE you, I most definitely have. Whether this is as widespread as I have come to see it as, or if it is not as prevalent as I thought is a matter that I will leave others to decide. The most important thing for me is not so much the self-victimization as what is relatively undisputed: the bias against WMAWD that is pervasive on this campus.

More quotes/commentary below:
Read more

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Flirts with Preciousness and Self-Absorption

Professor Michael Brown’s Record op-ed last May urged a No vote on Claiming Williams.

This week, the Williams College faculty will consider a motion to make Claiming Williams (CW) an annual event. Prior to the faculty vote, there will doubtless be much talk about CW’s successes and its alleged value to the community. Nevertheless, the faculty should vote the proposal down.

Would that it had. Alas, it appears that we will be stuck with Claiming Williams for years to come.

Stop a minute to consider CW’s goals. Its online mission statement declares that this special day is designed to “[challenge] the effects of the College’s history of inequality that are based on privileges of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion” in order to “provoke individual, institutional and cultural change.” This implies that the College cannot successfully pursue shared educational goals and a common commitment to learning until it has atoned for its regrettable “privileges,” an atonement never likely to be achieved. Who will decide that all grievances have been heard, all past injustices righted? There is no end to it.

Exactly the point that I made here:

How would we know if Claiming Williams were no longer necessary? This is, obviously, a large question, but I would like to hear the organizers address it. How are we measuring what CW is trying to accomplish and, according to those measurements, when would they be willing to declare victory? My quess: Never!

There is a tendency for my faculty critics to claim Read more

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Claiming Williams

Claiming Williams is today.

1) Here (pdf) is the schedule. Which events would you recommend? The opening event (pdf) looks interesting, but I love hearing about alumni lives. Williams ought to record this presentation and make it available for wider viewing. The session “Do We Value Ideological Diversity?” has a simple answer: No. Let Me Tell You a (Really Fast) Story will probably be excellent. Intergroup Dialogue on Socioeconomic Class and Rank at Williams (pdf) will either be extremely cool or worthless agitprop. Community Camp Fire seems like a great idea.

2) If any readers attend the events, please tell us about them.

3) My guess is that at least 1,000 Williams students will not participate at all. What is your forecast? Do you think these students are making a reasonable choice?

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Claiming Williams for the World

Assume that you are advising students interested in removing the quota for international applicants. How would you advise them to take advantage of Claiming Williams tomorrow? Summary: Stage a protest at the opening event. Chant “No More Quotas! No More Quotas” or something better. Bang a drum. Then ask Adam Falk to read a question about quotas that you want each member of the faculty panel to answer. Sit down and listen politely. Further details below. But surely the experienced rabble-rousers in our audience have better ideas . . .

1) Numbers don’t matter much. Even three students is enough, assuming that they have the courage of their convictions. But more are better. There are over 100 international students at Williams. Surely dozens would be willing to support the effort. Chanting and protests are fun, a little slice of American college life. It would also be easy (?) to recruit sympathetic students. One or two entries might be willing to come as a group. Talk to some JAs. Ideal would be student groups like BSU and the Jewish Association. Tell them how the Williams of 75 years ago discriminated against their ancestors. They might be willing to join your fight.

2) Whatever your numbers, you need to prepare a bit. Make at least one big sign. Come up with a couple of chants. “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Global quotas need to go!” Or whatever. (Reader suggestions?) Read more

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Read about Claiming Williams on EphBlog

Benjamin Fischberg ’14 in the Record:

Before coming to Williams I had read about Claiming Williams on EphBlog, but I did not really understand what the concept was so I was unsure why people supported or criticized it. I now understand the opposition to Claiming Williams as it is nothing but an exercise in political correctness, appealing to students who feel disenfranchised by general society. Making everyone hear about the troubles of those students and how they are different from other students does nothing to improve campus unity.

Williams students are smart, but like many smart students we can easily fall into the trap of self-doubt. Claiming Williams made me question myself and made me nervous to talk about certain issues in case I came across as racist. After the Claiming Williams talk, I was discussing politics over dinner, and I had to convince non-Jewish students that engaging me in a debate over Israeli policy would not make me consider them racist. Claiming Williams has made many overly sensitive to racism, looking for it everywhere and choosing to keep their ideas to themselves lest they be thought of as racist. If Williams wished to advance the student body’s dialogue on racial and global issues, the talk the freshman class was mandated to attend failed, and we took a step backwards.

1) Accepted students read EphBlog. Woo-hoo! Is it the case that some students at Williams have read more material on EphBlog than material written by any single Williams professor?

2) Thanks to Admissions for continuing to accept non-liberal students. The more diversity of political beliefs at Williams, the better the education that we will provide.

3) I bolded the key sentences. The same thing happened to me 25 years ago. Williams actively discourages students from voicing unusual (read: non-liberal) political views, both directly and indirectly. Of course, if you are the sort of Eph who thinks that Claiming Williams is a good idea, then you may be in favor of this discouragement, you probably want fewer students voicing opinions that you consider to be offensive. Mission accomplished.

4) Since we are stuck with Claiming Williams for the foreseeable future, what should students like Fischberg do? Easy! Invite me (or someone like me) to participate in Claiming Williams. I bet that the organizers, although unsympathetic to my point of view, would hesitate to prevent me from speaking if there were a student or group of students who sought to invite me.

5) Which posts about Claiming Williams did Fischberg read? I don’t know. But here, here and here are some of my favorites.

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Claiming Williams Passes

Two years ago I predicted:

A week from now, Claiming Williams will be a failure because most students will not go to any events. And those that bother to waste time on a buffoon like Tim Wise will be precisely those who already agree with him. The faculty will judge the event a failure, and decline to schedule it for more than another year or two. Five years from now, only the Eph-trivia experts among us will remember Claiming Williams.

I was wrong. Not only have the two Claiming Williams days been successful but the faculty just passed the motion to make Claiming Williams a permanent part of the calendar. Bad news: This event is a waste of time that probably does more to weaken community at Williams than to strengthen it. Good news: More traffic for EphBlog! The best thing that ever happened to leftwing writers/comedians/activists was the election of George Bush. And so it will be for us.

Were any readers at the vote? Tell us all the details, especially the parliamentary maneuverings and vote totals.

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Questions for Claiming Williams Motion

If I were on the Williams faculty, here are some of the questions/complaints I would have about the motion to make Claiming Williams a permanent part of the calendar. I would want to discuss these issues with the organizers before the faculty meeting (ideally) or ask them at the meeting itself.

1) What is student opinion on the proposal? As best I can tell, no one knows. And that is silly! With the wonder of electronic voting, it is easy to hold a campus referendum. Why not hold one? The survey completed by the Claiming Williams organizers is mostly useless for this task. First, it asks a generic question: “In the future, do you think Claiming Williams Day, in some form, should occur again?” Someone might agree with that (for example, arguing that CW should occur every 4 years) and disagree with the faculty motion. Second, it does not provide the cross-tabs to determine student support. We know that 69% voted Yes to that question and that 63% of the respondents were students, but we don’t know how many students voted Yes. Third, and most importantly, the sample is completely self-selected and, therefore, unrepresentative. Around 1,000 students did not participate in Claiming Williams in any way. They were, I bet, much less likely to fill out a CW survey than the students who did participate. But their opinions matter just as much!

2) How would we know if Claiming Williams were no longer necessary? This is, obviously, a large question, but I would like to hear the organizers address it. How are we measuring what CW is trying to accomplish and, according to those measurements, when would they be willing to declare victory? My quess: Never! My sense is that people like Professor Katie Kent think that “inequality” is so endemic to Williams and/or America and/or the World, that, like death and taxes, it will always be with us.

3) Are all sorts of attempts to “provoke individual, institutional or culture change” welcome at Claiming Williams or only those attempts consistent with the left/liberal politics of the organizers? For example, would Bishop Harry Jackson ‘75 be welcome to speak at next year’s Claiming Williams? (Jackson is a foe of gay marriage and probably believes that Williams should not offer benefits to same-sex partners.) Are attempts to “provoke” those sorts of institutional changes allowed? (I suspect that the answer is No. Claiming Williams people don’t want Williams to become more conservative or, perhaps, even more welcoming to conservatives. CW people want Williams (including students) to become more liberal.)

4) How many students attended events other than The Philosopher Kings? (We all agree that The Philosopher Kings is a great movie that ought to be shone at Williams and that students ought to (and will want to) see. But there is no reason that this film could not be shown during the semester.) Canceling classes for a day only makes sense if most/many students participate in multiple events. Back of the envelope, it appears that over 1,000 students did not attend any events and that several hundreds more may have only seen the movie.

5) Why not wait another year or two before making a permanent change in the calendar? The key concern of the No votes is that Claiming Williams was a transitory response to a unique event. Perhaps interest is already waning. But that is an empirical question. If we run Claiming Williams in 2011 and as many students participate as in the past, then the case for a permanent change is strengthened. If the downward trend (?) continues, then the case weakens.

What questions would you have?

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Motion on Claiming Williams

The faculty are voting today on the future of Claiming Williams. Here is the first page of the motion.

Click for a larger version. Comments:

1) How about some transparency, as Professor Frank Morgan demands? All motions should be posted on the web before the faculty meeting for all to read. Minutes of the faculty meeting (perhaps with minor redactions of sensitive content) should be posted as soon as they are available.

2) I believe that this motion was only circulated in printed form. I thought that Williams was supposed to be environmentally conscious. Think of Mother Gaiai! I believe (corrections welcome) that faculty meeting material is specifically not distributed in electronic form to prevent leaks. Didn’t work in this case! And, the more sources I cultivate on the faculty, the less likely it is to work in the future.

3) Interested in the remaining 4 pages? E-mail President Falk and ask him why Williams is keeping secrets.

4) I am pleased to see that Professor Katie Kent ’88 is one of the leaders of this effort. I can just imagine the fun debate that Katie and I would have had 25 years ago about this topic. It is nice to see that some things don’t change!

5) Who deserves credit for the phrase “Claiming Williams?” It works well. Future historians will want to know this sort of trivia.

I will deconstruct the key passages of this memo later today. Contain your excitement.

UPDATE: Just discovered that the motion is available on the Claiming Williams webpage. Kudos to them for excellent transparency! (And, before silly readers attack me, please note that I emailed two members of the steering committee yesterday to try to get a copy. One did not respond. One kindly responded but said that she did not think a copy was available.)

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Dilettantish Crash Course in Political Correctness

Big item at tomorrow’s faculty meeting is the vote to make Claiming Williams a permanent feature of the Williams calendar. Kudos to Professor Wendy Raymond and the other folks associated with Claiming Williams for 1) Conducting surveys each of the last two years and 2) Sharing the results (hat tip to “aparent”) with the Williams community. Comments:

1) Any predictions on the vote tomorrow? Needless to say, I hope the vote fails. But my friends on the faculty who are against the proposal are loath to appear unsympathetic. So, there best bet is to probably table the motion until next year and, at least, force the organizers to demonstrate that there still is significant interest. Failing that, they also want the vote to be anonymous.

2) Where is College Council on this topic? Back in the day, we loved a long Dead Week (the time between Winter Study and the start of second semester). This proposal decreases Dead Week by one day. Aren’t the vast majority of students against that? CC should have taken a campus wide poll. It should try to determine student opinion and represent those views to the faculty. The calendar matters.

3) Most interesting part of the survey was the written responses. Consider:

Why do you recommend that Claiming Williams not reoccur?

It just doesn’t seem useful. I come from an area that’s pretty white-collar, pretty upper-class, where there’s very little racism and very little reason for there to be. But I can still say with perfect certainty that the Williams campus is the most liberal and tolerant environment I’ve ever witnessed. I have friends here of all different nationalities, races, and persuasions, and the most satisfying fact about this is that, from day-to-day, I never have to think about it.

Claiming Williams Day, however, brings these differences right out in the open, and I suppose you could argue for why that’s necessary. Hell, it may have been necessary back where I grew up. It’d certainly be necessary on another college campus – Clemson or UCLA or in almost any other location – but it’s just not necessary here. The greatest compliment I can give the school’s strategic planning committee is that in my everyday life, I don’t give the diversity at this school an iota of my consideration. It all appears natural. I haven’t seen a single spat, come across one racial epithet, experienced anything other than perfect kindness and respect for other creeds in my two years here. What are we bringing out in the open? Are there festering, bubbling feelings below the surface, any particular demons we’re excising on Claiming Williams Day? I don’t think so. Is there rippling racist, sexist, homophobic sentiment running rampant on the campus that I’m just not aware of? Gosh, I hope not.

There’s a way to construe all these comments as insensitive to significant issues, but to do so would be to drastically misrepresent the current culture at Williams College. There’s no doubt that a forum for these ideas should always be present, and that these issues should be discussed by our faculty and students alike. But to contrive a practical “anti-bigotry” holiday, airmail in speakers and lump together events in a 24-hour span just seems blatantly backwards, not to mention painfully self-serving and a little bit righteous. We want people to digest and take things seriously, not pass through a day’s crucible of vital information-blasting. We’re basically offering a dilletantist crash course in political correctness, and we’re not even doing it right.

I’m sorry this got long-winded, but I’ve got strong feelings on the subject, and I think you’ll find that other students do too. I agree with the premise behind CW and the lessons it’s supposed to teach, but don’t you feel there’s a better, perhaps more subtle way to do it?

And if you want everyone to feel included, why oh why do we feel the need, every five minutes, to point out these differences? They can manifest themselves in their own ways without people donning labels and acting self-important. By drawing attention to these invented problems, we’re really only providing a counter-intuitive feel-good solution to a problem that, let’s be honest, exists in the smallest possible fraction on this campus.

More:

While it is true that the US is still a place where not everyone is treated equally, I think this type of in-your-face diversity initiative does more to spark tension than to actually lead to understanding and acceptance.

The events that are held are interesting, but the people who truly need to attend them do not go. They just party the night before and spend the night hungover. The people who are aware of the need for an inclusive community and attend events are, if they are Caucasian, made to feel guilty for being born white, and if they are a minority, they usually are already involved in events on campus. Therefore Claiming Williams is redundant.

waste of time and resources

The kind of activities that take place this year and last year are perfectly sound educational and social projects, obviously well-intended and perhaps marginally valuable for some students. I disagree with the conception of such a privileged program. As orientation, on asmaller scale, it would be fine.But not as an interruption of second semester.

Waste of a day. Everyone knows it…

The Claiming Williams that took place last year was marked by enthusiasm and energy. It seems as if the steam has died this year. The segment of the population on campus that did attend the events primarily showed an attitude of apathy. I think the relevance of it and the newness of it has waned.

Because most of us are tired of having “diversity” shoved down our throats. Claiming Williams and all-day diversity workshops take us away from our jobs that you’re paying us to do.

I feel that the only people that attend Claiming Williams events are the ones that are already sensitive to these issues. Other people just spend the day asleep. The administrators must know this, which is why they make it after our first official spring semester class – otherwise, no one would attend.

forced or overly structured discourse does not lead to improved understanding, personal interactions do.

It is a waste of a day.

It’s disruptive, it’s forced, and it’s ineffective–only the subset of people who were involved in organizing it, or who feel they need to “claim Williams”, seem to have participated.

Staff look at it as another event that is using money during Williams’ “tight budget” crisis. With not receiving raises, it just seems like something they could do away with to save money (esp. when many staff work two jobs to support themselves). Staff, unlike faculty and students, also have attend all day diversity workshops and feel as if Claiming Williams is unnecessary.

the students who would benefit most do not attend

When one person writes something offensive on someone’s door, you find the person who did it and punish him. You don’t punish the whole community. There’s no need to tell the entire community that they’re racist, when that is not, in fact, true.

It is merely an excuse and a weapon for individuals to use to further divide our small campus and drive wedges against others. I have never been more racially discriminated against than in claiming williams related discussions. F that shit

Most students think it’s a waste of time and a vacation day.

I felt like it focused too much on the idea that there are differences between us we have to accept. As a poor white student, I sometimes feel like my right to discuss issues has been taken away because people see my skin color and immediately assume that I must be privileged and not understand the issues that minority students face. All that Claiming Williams day did was further reinforce this perception, and among many of the students I know, created an unwillingness to talk about race. Also, the social engineering aspects of it grated on me heavily; I attended the Claiming Williams dinner and noticed that no one ended up sitting with people other than their friends. In fact, many of my friends refused to attend the dinner because they were expected to sit with people who weren’t their friends.

Forces people to categorize themselves; emphasizes differences rather than similarities. Most students I talked to did not wish to take part in the events, and the ones that did go did so because they felt pressure to go or else be judged as not caring about issues of racism, sexism, etc.

And so on.

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Athletes’ Bible Study

Record article:

Last Wednesday, Williams College Council (CC) members voted to approve the official constitution of Athletes’ Bible Study (ABS), solidifying the group’s status as an independent student organization. Members had decided to establish the organization as separate from the Williams Christian Fellowship (WCF), under which it had previously been run, so that one of its leaders could maintain her position at the helm of ABS. The female student co-leader had been asked to step down in due to her refusal to refrain from an “actively” homosexual lifestyle (“Athletes’ Bible Study separates from WCF,” Feb. 17).

More background here. Here’s an impassioned editorial on the issue of Intervarsity’s role on campus.

Lots of good questions here.

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My First Time “Claiming Williams”

Ugh. I drag myself out of the bed at 8:40 in the morning, my body tired from the hustle and bustle that was the first day of spring term. Why? I had promised myself not to let this “free” day go to waste and actually attend a lot of the events. At least, as much as my mind could stay awake for. Professor Fein’s address was going to start at 9:30, and I wanted to make sure I had a good seat at Mainstage.

I got there expecting virtually nothing. To credit the organizers for the events, it must have been really hard to pull all of these speakers and events together for a single day. However, I learned the day before that many of the freshmen were still not really sure what Claiming Williams Day will consist of. We saw all of these flyers and advertisements. Heck, the organizers event came through during entry snacks to encourage everyone. But still, we were as confused as ever, many of us opting to go to a lecture or two and call it a day.

When I entered Mainstage, I saw a surprising amount of faculty members already seated in the audience. My friend pointed out that even Adam Falk was here to listen to the start of this day. Slowly, the groggy students filed in to fill the rest of the seats. To some point, I expected less students to show up simply because it was 9:30 in the morning. Many people I recognized, and far more that I didn’t really know, were present to listen to Professor Fein.
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Where do we go from here?

The final Claiming Williams event.

At Williams, how can we effectively create and strengthen coalitions to provoke institutional and cultural changes that address privileges based on class, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and religion? This forum will bring together any individuals interested in this work, including campus leaders from various organizations, to articulate a list of goals and demands.

I was going to write a screed describing how narrow-minded this view of Williams is. But someone way smarter already did so on WSO!

I want to make a point about an issue that’s been particularly bothering me over the last few months (though I’ve noticed this since I’ve first stepped foot on campus two and half years ago), and that is the marginalization of the White Male Athlete Who Drinks (WMAWD – I know there are a few more letters in there, but bear with me). I was especially struck by the pervasive nature of this dismissive attitude last night as I was reading a few posters set up on an easel between the two front entrances of Paresky. These posters essentially had quotes taken from students, faculty, and staff on their different perspectives of the interaction between personal identity and the Williams community. As we scanned the pages, we came across, “I feel marginalized as a white, heterosexual male athlete,” or something along those lines. My friend, who I usually find I agree with on most issues of diversity and the appropriate social and institutional response to these issues, snorted and made a remark that clearly showed his contempt. On another occasion, there was a discussion about the reclamation of Hardy House as the GSRC and someone retorted, “What are you talking about? You don’t need a space, Williams campus is your space.” And while I see some degree of validity in that statement, it highlights the widespread notion that WMAWD have such a long history of sitting on top of every social hierarchy, that they have so much privilege in comparison to the rest of us, that they simply have no say in these matters.

Essentially: Be an ally, a supporter, seek only to listen, understand, accept, or shut the fuck up.

What I’m saying here is that Claiming Williams in particular, and in general the whole compartmentalization of distinct facets of our individual identities based on our socioeconomic status, race, and sexual orientation that is so deeply ingrained into our relationship to the our personal fractured versions of Williams College, has serious undertones of “I’m poor/a minority/queer and therefore underprivileged. You, the WMAWD, have never experienced such adversity, and therefore can’t belong to our various forms of the same I Am a Victim Club. Your privilege was established through the exploitation of our communities, and therefore shut up and bow your head in shame as we give voice to our self-righteous victimization from which you profit.”

The fact of the matter is, the use of this term “privilege” is simply misleading. It implies that they have somehow been given a gift at birth, a Golden Ticket that the rest of us never got in our chocolate bars, when it would be more accurate to see the “privileged” as the standard, the norm of social status. It is more correct to see the rest of the population as “underprivileged”, as missing a trait that is artificially conceived to somehow be better. But even here, the WMAWD is the true minority. We have all have had some title that bestowed upon us all the burden and the benefits of historically rooted social adversity, which brings individuals together into a community like no other cohesive phenomenon.

It’s not enough to say that they have all the rest of the campus outside of our self-segregated spaces. It’s the fact that they are perpetually marginalized with the unspoken assertion that they simply “don’t know what it’s like.”

The whole post is genius. This was exactly what I thought at Williams 25 years ago. Can you guess the writers race or gender? Rest below.

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Burden

From WSO:

I’ve heard from many minority students here at Williams and throughout my academic life about the “burden” of representing their respective minority group in a class setting. More specifically, the situation that may arise if they are in a class talking about a particular issue and are looked at to provide insight on their views as a member of whatever minority group to which they may belong. This is done in order to help others understand that particular minority perspective. Obviously this is not a good way by any means to understand a perspective of any culture, but it does suffice as a short term solution in the classroom. While it may seem as if this idea is “racist” or “intolerant” or whatever term you deem appropriate, I think that this act is so natural that no one can truly be judged for doing so.

Read the whole thing.

1) This always generates a dilemma for the professor leading the discussion. Anytime you think a student has a different perspective on topic X, you want to ensure that the other students benefit from that perspective. (This applies in all sorts of contexts, not just race/gender/class/whatever.) How do you ensure that the student has a chance to speak (if she wants to) while not forcing her to speak (if she doesn’t) and, at the same time, encouraging her to speak if she is initially indifferent or even hesitant? Hard to do, especially in the middle of a free-wheeling discussion that covers many topics.

2) The primary (legal) justification for affirmative action is precisely this sort of diversity-educations-all-the-students argument. Michigan can admit less qualified black students as long as it can plausibly claim that those black students, because of their life experiences, add to the education of the students admitted without regard to race. But, of course, if the affirmative action students do not “provide insight on their views as a member of whatever minority group to which they may belong,” then the rational for affirmative action, at least according to the US Supreme Court, collapses.

3) It is easy to understand why some students would find such perspective-sharing a burden. “Why does the professor always turn to me when some African-American related topic comes up? Just treat me like all the other students in the class. Is that so hard?”

In any event, with luck Claiming Williams has generated many honest conversations about these issues. Any reader reports from the various events?

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Claiming Williams

Claiming Williams is today. Which events do you recommend? If you attend an event, please tell us about it.

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No Holds Barred

Posters like this have begun appearing around campus.

Explanation:

On February 3rd from 9:00 to 10:30 pm in the Paresky Auditorium, a few friends and I are organizing an event to embrace political incorrectness.

We will be showing various episodes and clips from The Simpsons, South Park, George Carlin, Penn and Teller’s Bullshit, and Dave Chappelle’s Show that are both humorous and possibly offensive.

We hope to give people an impulse to think critically about views that are not mainstream or socially acceptable.

I recommend that you come at 9:00 and stay for the full hour and a half, but feel free to stop by at any time to relieve the stress from the first day of classes and share some laughs with friends.

1) Good stuff! Kudos to the students involved.

2) Any suggestions for material to include? Add them in the comments, ideally with a link. I don’t know the Simpsons and South Park oeuvre as well as I should. Maybe “Die Hippie, Die“?

3) I would select all the best items from Stuff White People Like but re-label them as Stuff Williams People Like. Put together a slide show of rugby, study abroad, recycling, arts degrees, Obama and so on. Comic genius.

4) The narrow-minded among you might object to this event occurring the evening before Claiming Williams. Shame on you! As all my fellow Eph members of the Vast Right Wing Conspirancy can confirm, “I am Williams too!” Socially unacceptable Ephs unite! You have nothing to lose but the praise of Professor Wendy Raymond . . .

UPDATE: Here is the Facebook group and the WSO announcement:

Love South Park, The Simpsons, Dave Chappelle, George Carlin, or Penn & Teller but never have the time to watch TV anymore?

Tired of “Political Correctness” all the time?

Want to laugh really hard?

Then come to “No Holds Barred Comedy Night” and watch screenings of your favorite shows tackling important issues hilariously.

We’ll be playing the shows from 9pm to 10:30pm on Wednesday night in Paresky Auditorium (by the ’82 Grill) so come on by and have a great time.

This “intellectually free space” is brought to you by the Williams College Commons Club

What is the Commons Club?

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