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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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Dead Week Discussion

Winter Study ended last Thursday.

1) Note that Winter Study this year went through Thursday whereas last year (and in previous year’s?), it ended on Wednesday. Why the change? I think that this was a result of the faculty meeting last spring which extended Claiming Williams for another year. The part of the faculty that was suspicious of Claiming Williams decided that it did not like giving up a day of instruction for the exercise. There was no easy way to add that day “back in” to the second semester, so they extended Winter Study by one day.

2) Did any students notice/care that Dead Week was one day shorter? Did many (any?) Winter Study classes actually meet on that last Thursday?

3) Claiming Williams is this Thursday. My predictions last year were wrong. Hundreds (over 1,000?) students participated in the events, including ludicrous Tim Wise. Shows what I know about student preferences! But what will happen this year? Here is the schedule. Which events do you recommend? Which do you think will be most popular?

4) Although I have not seen it, I recommend In Our Own Words.

This 2009 documentary film explores Williams student experiences with socioeconomic class, race and ethnicity, the treatment of women on weekends, and the first-year/Junior Advisor (JA) system.

This 80-minute film offers an insider’s glimpse into the perspectives and experiences of Williams students. Produced by the Williams Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity in 2009, the film uses clips from focus groups and interviews to reveal four areas of concern: socioeconomic class, race/ethnicity, the treatment of women on weekends, and the first-year entry/Junior Advisor system. A 20-minute discussion led by producer Dr. Christina Cruz follows the film.

Here is the e-mail that I sent to the Claiming Williams organizers.

Hi,

I, and other alums, would like to view In Our Own Words. Unfortunately, we are not going to be on campus during Claiming Williams. Would it be possible to view it some other time? Or remotely?

Thanks,

Dave Kane ’88

They haven’t responded yet. Do you think they will?

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In Their Own Words

Via the Daily Messages (thanks to “aparent” for the link):

In Their Own Words: Williams student experiences with class, race/ethnicity, treatment of women, and entry/JA system Place: Griffin Hall, Room 3 Time: 1:10 – 3:10 (film plus discussion) Dates: Monday, Dec. 14 Thursday, Jan. 7 Wednesday, Jan. 13 Gain a rare glimpse into the perspectives and experiences of our students through this film produced by Dr. Christina Cruz and the Williams Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity (2009). Clips from focus groups and interviews reveal four areas of concern: socioeconomic class, race/ethnicity, treatment of women, and the first-year entry/Junior Advisor system. Our aim is to inform a wide range of Williams faculty, staff, and students about the realities of current and recent student experiences. All members of the Williams community interested in this educational opportunity are welcome, so please invite a friend or colleague.

A Claiming Williams event

Great stuff. Has anyone seen this? Tell us about it. I can understand why the College might not make this available on the web for anyone to see, but it could still make the video available to alumni and parents with a login required. Williams did the same with the Diversity Initiatives materials a few years ago.

UPDATE: I e-mailed Professor Raymond with this suggestion.

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We need a campus forum about bad creative writing

Heh

For bonus points, guess the course, or at least the department.

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Let Williams’ Claim Williams …

claiming williams
Certainly the discussion of who may speak for whom re: Williams is an interesting question.

Should it not be someone with a close connection to the name itself?

After all, this Welsh surname is the 2nd most common surname in Wales, the 3rd in the U.K., the 3rd in the U.S. and Australia and the 5th in New Zealand. So it is not as though there wouldn’t be a great number of English-speakers ready to address the issue. Unlike, for instance, “Brzezinski”.

http://www.listafterlist.com/tabid/57/listid/8044/Personalities/Who+is+the+Most+Famous+Williams.aspx

I propose that readers submit the names of those truly claiming “Williams” who might be appropriate to the event.

Some thought-starters appear above. Alas, Chuck Williams is better recognized by his eponymous logo and the category of retailing he popularized.

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Speakers for Claiming Williams

From WSO:

This year during Claiming Williams Day, on Thursday, February 4, 2010, speakers, performers, and facilitators from many fields will appeal to a wide range of interests. We hope that you will join them!

Just how “wide” is the “range of interests” that the organizers are looking for? To the extent that they want to hear some non-PC musings about diversity at Williams from an alum, I am available that day . . .

Who would you suggest? How about Wendy Shalit ’97 or Harry Jackson ’75?

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There is no mold

Marco Sanchez ’10 was the winning entry in the Claiming Williams public service announcement contest. Kudos on the excellent claymation work! To watch, click here, then click on “There is No Mold” and the other video entry titles in order to view them.

If you care for off-topic, unnecessary ranting, continue reading at your own risk. Read more

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A New Spring Street, (revis)?

Perhaps we might consider some alternative or comparative visions–


Potential Goals of an Academic Program

Critical thinking skills: the ability to grasp ideas quickly…

The ability to read: …to cultivate the art of thoughtful, patient, critical reading.

The ability to speak: …students should be able to discuss complex topics in clear, organized, and accessible language…

The ability to listen: … to understand where different people are coming from, to find a grain of truth in different or even clashing perspectives, and formulate opinion

The ability to write: …students should be able to articulate their thoughts in writing in a clear and simple way… to …lay out an argument in a coherent sequence of steps[,] … not simply as an academic exercise but as a means [to] comprehend and discover,  what is true and what really matters.

Leadership skills: …to foster the qualities essential to leadership: to be organized; to … see things that need to be done and to initiate projects to do them…

Appreciation:  … of different modes of inquiry and different kinds of knowledge (humanities, social and natural sciences);  of different modes of creative endeavor (writing, painting, sculpting, music, cooking);  of different modes of vocational and recreational endeavor (horsemanship, mechanics,  sailing).


How would Williams fare, if the above were the criteria upon which its Accreditation Committee judged it?

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Portrait of a Moderate: Lincoln ’09 on Claiming Williams

One of the rarer dispositions among 18 to 21 year-olds and beyond is moderateness on compelling topics. Not apathy, but a considered moderateness.

I enjoyed finding an example of this kind of thought in the WSO discussion on Claiming Williams. Matthew Lincoln ’09 writes:

Reading through it, I was surprised to find that almost none of the dozens of posters there expressed the conflicted view that I found myself taking – I felt for Shayla’s frustration at the same time that I felt no small indignation at some of the gross generalizations being made about the “rich white crowd”.

[. . .]

Dan, I was hearing shades of that either/or tone during the final forum on CW in Paresky when Kim Dacres sort of shot down your very reasonable observation that some of your friends felt, rightly or wrongly, alienated by the language surrounding the whole day. I’m really glad you brought up that point, just as I sympathized when Kim said she almost didn’t want to be at a place where some students didn’t even bother to come to the table. Does it sound weird to somehow think both of those things at the same time? I regret that the panel didn’t seem willing to dig into it much.

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What is privilege?

Claiming Williams featured discussion on privilege, including a session explicitly on white privilege. I’d curious what others think about the word. Some questions to start it off:

  • Is it privilege when men are free from pregnancy?
  • Is it privilege when the security guard who follows a black teenager around a store leaves the white teenager alone and unaware?
  • Is it privilege when a white child can grow up in the south assuming they will never be a custodian, because they’ve never seen a white custodian?
  • Is it privilege when someone can grow up assuming that a minimum wage job nets 100k a year?
  • Is it privilege when Williams students can have the time and energy to think about privilege?

I think that people have different definitions that will cause answers to the above to vary, but I’m curious to see how it plays out. What do you think (especially those who rarely comment)?

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Claiming Williams – An initial report

I’m not entirely sure what Claiming Williams was, exactly, but it was definitely well attended. Of the nine events that I was present for, or talked with others about, not one had a small crowd. In fact, the Tim Wise lecture more than overflowed in Mainstage, and I had a hard time finding a seat for another talk.

The event most reminiscent of last year’s events was the Community Forum tonight, with the co-presidents of last year’s College Council as panelists, along with Claiming Williams’s co-chairs and a variety of Williams employees. There was a lot of discussion that echoed the same fault lines from past events, and such discussions will likely continue. Congratulations are also in order for a long, complicated day that was (as far as I could see) without any logistical issues.

Short opinion piece below the fold: Read more

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The “Face” of Claiming Williams

Artist and lecturer  Peggy Diggs has conceived of an interesting public project for “Claiming Williams”. 

Called “‘Face,’ the project refers to wiping the face, talking face to face, saving face,” explained artist Peggy Diggs, who conceived of the event. Diggs has conceived of a number of public art projects that originate in public conversations. 

She said that a number of years ago, she discovered that her family had owned slaves in Virginia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Horrified, she began to think about a project about race, investigating whiteness in relations to non-whites with questions raised that proactively address stereotype, culture, and community.  

“You can imagine,” she said, “how gratified I was to be invited to do an art project for ‘Claiming Williams,’ the college’s opening day of its Spring Semester.” Instead of the usual panoply of classes on Thursday, Feb. 5, the day will be devoted to building community. 

“Face” involves a series of paired questions printed on napkins used during snacks and meals from February 6th through the 13th.

The questions are below the fold:

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Setting the Stage: Claiming Williams

A recent WSO tour de force helps to provide the backdrop of Claiming Williams, but I wanted to go a bit further into the history and origins of what will happen on Thursday.

As chronicled here, the touchstone for this was a word written by someone – probably drunk – in Willy E. Just as two snowballs ignited something of a firestorm in the thread above, this incident set a group of students off, who happened to include much of the CC leadership. This led to Stand With Us, which chose three priorities out of about eight options: last winter’s rally, a student authored code of conduct, and what has become Claiming Williams.

Follow below for a discussion of the underlying tensions that provide a backdrop and impetus for Claiming Williams. Read more

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Saving Claiming Williams

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.

None of this is to meant to disparagement the hard work of the Claiming Williams Steering Committee. No doubt they spent many hours planning events, selecting speakers, and brainstorming ideas. Their posters (featuring testimony from specific Ephs) are excellent. They have a blog of sorts. Their public service announcement contest is clever and original. But, all the good intentions in the world will not rescue an event which does not either a) Focus on community building, like Mountain Day or b) Represent the full spectrum of Eph opinion on “privilege.”

But let me by constructive for a change! Instead of (accurately) predicting failure, why don’t I tell the Claiming Williams Steering Committee how they might make their event more successful? I love a challenge!

1) Invite a Williams singing/dancing group to perform at the start of each speaker. Everyone loves Williams students when they sing and dance, especially all their friends and entry mates. Scheduling the Spring Streeters for two songs at the start of Tim Wise’s presentation at 2:15 would double attendance. If you want Ephs to come to your event, then you need to present (at least some) things they want to see. With luck, some who came for the Spring Streeters would stay and learn something. You really think that many students are going to show up for a 9:30 AM speech without, say, an NBC performance to entice them? Think again.

Dorothy Allison and Peter Roby (both scheduled for 9:30) look like very interesting and accomplished people. But Williams students will be treating the previous night like a Friday. Party, party! How many students are up by 9:30 on a Saturday morning?

2) Change the format to involve a fair cross section of the Williams community, especially current students. Consider the 1:00 lecture by Peggy McIntosh. This could be interesting and McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is worth a read. But, still! Williams students are busy and even though this event might be worth their time, you may have trouble convincing them of that.

So, instead of just having McIntosh give her usual speech, have her give a 15 minute version (the concept of “white privilege” is not overly complex) and then have her interact with a panel of Williams students. (I realize that you have scheduled a discussion forum for afterward, but that is not the way to organize things.) And the good news is that there is a ready-made panel of students discussing similar issues at WSO right now! (Read the whole thread. Be impressed with the intelligence of Williams students, but also be surprised at the diversity of viewpoints they express with regard to “respect” on campus.)

A panel of students would help to generate attendance. Everyone likes to support their friends. Select a few JAs and you can count on many/most of their freshmen coming out. Also, a panel with Williams students who honestly disagree about “respect” will be much more interesting and educational.

3) Cut the number of forums. We love us some Bill Darrow here at EphBlog, but do you really think that more than a handful of students will troop all the way out to Griffin 3 at 2:15 to discuss ““Can You Hear Me Now?” Feeling Invisible at Williams”? No. That’s not going to happen. Better to schedule fewer events and concentrate your energies. (That said, if a student told me that she had only 60 minutes to spend on Claiming Williams, my advice would be to attend Darrow’s forum. Any discussion led by him will be high quality.)

I don’t expect Claiming Williams to follow any of this advice. Do readers have better suggestions?

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Claiming Williams Updates

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Claiming Williams is two weeks from today. Comments:

1) The fundamental problem with Claiming Williams (see our previous discussion) is that it has two goals: “examining privilege” and “building community.” Both are interesting and worthwhile. But, no matter how intelligent and hard-working the Ephs in charge of the process might be, it is impossible to accomplish both these goals in a single event or day of events. One could put on an interesting series of speakers/discussions on “privilege,” as they have done. You could design an event, like Mountain Day, which builds community. Yet you can’t do both at the same time. Any attempt to do so is doomed to failure because the more that you focus on a specific political point of view, the more you turn off members of the community that either disagree with you or just find politics boring.

2) Note how the initial schedule differs from the current one (pdf). What happened here?

11:00 am – 12:00pm: Community Forums, Including:

Forum on Dorothy Allison
Forum on Peter Roby
Affirmative Action (McPartland)
Classroom Culture (Swann)
Village Beautiful? (Sporbert)
Documentary Film on Claiming Williams (Morron)

The community forum on affirmative action has vanished. What’s up with that? Now, of course, my right wing friends would be quick to shout “Censorship!” But I suspect that this is more likely a scheduling conflict. Perhaps Professor McPartland had another obligation? If so, I am sure that the Claiming Williams committee would be happy to reinstate the event if they could find another Eph to run the forum. And, good news! I am free that day . . .

What? You think that the Claiming Williams committee has no interest in having a forum on affirmative action, that they have no interest in “examining” that particular “privilege?” Shame on you, cynical reader!

3) Who is Tim Wise?

One sided hucksterism and incoherent economics. A charming combination! Guaranteed to build community on any college campus. Not enough Tim Wise for you? Here is another hour.

As always, I am happy for the College to bring speakers like Wise to campus. (All I ask is that they bring speakers on the other side as well.) But, if all we are doing is having a bunch of speakers, then it is hardly necessary to cancel classes.

4) The Claiming Williams steering committee writes:

The Claiming Williams steering committee [Bill Darrow, Ed Epping, Natalie Friedman, Ruth Harrison, Narae Park, Wendy Raymond, Claire Schwartz, Dae Selcer, Harry Sheehy, Stefanie Solum, Rick Spalding, Martha Tetrault, and Shayla Williams] invites you to be a part of this ongoing dialogue. If you would like to post an event, share an article, start a discussion, or otherwise participate in the process of claiming Williams, please write to us. We look forward to spreading the word.

I have e-mailed them and asked for permission to “start a discussion” about my idea to extend First Days. What do you think they will say?

5) To be constructive, how would I generate as much attendance for these events as possible? How do you convince people (who do not already agree with him) to waste spend an hour with Tim Wise? First, pray for bad weather. Second, focus in the freshmen. It is much harder to get upper classmen to go to events they have no initial interest in. Third, get to the freshmen through their JAs and get to the JAs through Dean Dave Johnson. If universally-beloved Dean Dave reaches out to his JAs and pleads with them to come (and those JAs then plead with their freshmen), then you might be able to produce a couple hundred students at some of these events. Whether having 10% of the student body participate in Claiming Williams is a stunning triumph or abject failure depends on your point of view.

6) What say our readers, especially among current students? Which events, if any, do you plan on attending?

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Volunteer Dinner

Is this genius or delusion?

Volunteer! Claiming Williams Dinner!

On Claiming Williams Day (Feb 5th) there’s going to be a community dinner where Williams staff (including Dining Services and Custodial staff) are going to be invited to eat, relax, and mingle, and students will do the preparation and serving for a change! We’re looking for people to come help out and work at the dining halls that evening: You can sign up with friends in a group if you want, for either a 4:00-6:30 shift or 6:30-9:00 shift (or both, if you are so inclined). It should be fun and a great way to show some appreciation for Williams staff who work so hard for students every day!

This will either be amazing or a complete failure. Kudos to the students behind it. What do EphBlog readers predict will happen? I have no idea.

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Civil Rights Movement

Kudos to the folks behind Claiming Williams for tomorrow’s controversial speaker.

Williams College Athletics is honored to have distinguished activist and scholar Dr. Richard Lapchick speak at our first Claiming Williams Event. Dr. Lapchick is often described as “the racial conscience of sport” due to his commitment to equality and his belief that sport can be an effective instrument of positive social change.

Why do I describe Lapchick as controversial? Consider his views on the racial distribution of achievement in college football.

You don’t really need a study to conclude that four starting white cornerbacks out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision schools — in a sport in which 50 percent of the players are white — verges on scandalous. That’s the smallest number in 15 years.

Key details below.
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All of Us

Launch for Claiming Williams tonight.

What’s Claiming Williams All About? Come find out from:

Ephlats, Lily Rodriquez, Coco Smith, Morty Schapiro, Stand with Us, Robyn Marasco, Rachel Ko, Dorothy Wang, SpeakFree: Oriana McGee, Stephane Robolin, Gretchen Long, The Oikos Ensemble, Tony Coleman, Henry Montalbano, Ethan Timmins-Schiffman, Rick Spalding, Shayla Williams. Staff, Students, Faculty. It’s about all of us.

This is at least the second version to appear on WSO. The first made it seem like Claiming Williams was a concert, with no political context whatsoever. Comments:

1) Any event involving the Ephlats, Morty and Rachel Ko ’09 can’t be all bad. EphBlog’s advice? Go! And tell us what it was like.

2) What is “SpeakFree?” UPDATE: SpeakFree is the College’s spoken word group.

3) Isn’t Stand with Us with us more or less defunct? Do they still have meetings? Who is in charge? Their website was last updated six months ago. (Previous coverage of the events last year collected here. )

4) I stand by my prediction that Claiming Williams will be a complete failure.

But nothing (reasonable) that the College can do could force students to attend the events associated with Claiming Williams. Since none of those events will be anywhere near as fun as Mountain Day, few students will go to them. And those students who do go will be precisely the 10% (2%?) that see Williams as a infected with a “culture of hate and indifference.” There will be much preaching to a small choir.

The central problem is that the people in charge of planning Claiming Williams Day are “hyperbolic and accusatory” in their view of Williams, to quote Professor Robert Bell. “Hate and indifference?” That’s absurd. And, more importantly, 90%+ of Williams students think it is absurd. Why would they bother to attend programming put on by a committee that they think is run by extremists? They won’t. You can cancel classes but you can’t make students pay attention to your cause.

I predict a big day on the ski slopes!

Perhaps the organizers are smart to turn the event into a party. Everyone likes to listen to the Ephlats. A lecture on right thinking and good behavior by Professor Dorothy Wang or Chaplain Rick Spalding? Not so much.

The organizers of Claiming Williams are completely opaque in their plans and, as best I can tell, have sought no input from those suspicious of the whole exercise. (Contrary evidence welcome.) Compare that insularity with the transparency of the Committee on Community Interaction. If you want to make Williams a better place, that’s how you conduct business.

5) My advice for those who want to make Claiming Williams an annual event? Make it as much like Mountain Day as possible. Minimize the politics. Maximize the fun. I realize that this plan conflicts with the vision of some proponents, especially those who see Williams infected with a “culture of hate and indifference.” But if you make it too political, no one will come. And if no one comes, Claiming Williams will be canceled next year.

6) Again, to the extent that you believe that the Williams culture has serious problems, the only way to change it is to start with the freshmen. You can’t meaningfully change seniors. Expand First Days by a week next year and, assuming success, several weeks in following years. Focus on fun projects, games, contests and other activities that introduce as many Ephs as possible to each other. It is a lot harder to be a jerk to someone you know. If every freshmen knew the name of every other freshmen in her dorm (not just her entry) because she had done something (ate a meal, gone on a hike) with all her dorm-mates, the culture of Williams would be improved for the better.

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Claiming Williams Day

Claiming Williams Day, “dedicated to campus-wide consideration of invisible and visible practices that can create or disrupt community,” will be a complete failure, although its proponents are unlikely to admit as much this year. See the Record for background. This program is one of the most concrete results of the Willy E. N-word controversy last spring.

Start with the calendar.

2009
Jan. 5 Monday First day of Winter Study Period
Jan. 28 Wednesday Last day of Winter Study Period
Feb. 3 Tuesday Organizational Meetings for classes that don’t meet the first two days of classes 7-9 p.m.
Feb. 4 Wednesday First day of classes Spring Semester (classes to follow a Thursday schedule)
Feb. 5 Thursday Claiming Williams Day, no classes
Feb. 6 Friday Classes resume a normal schedule

Pretty confusing, eh? The faculty were smart enough to realize that, if Claiming Williams were on a Friday, everyone would just enjoy the three day week-end. And if Claiming Williams were on the first day of the semester, no one would show up. So, by forcing students to show up for Wednesday classes (although be sure to use that Thursday schedule!) and then having them stay for Friday classes, the College can ensure that almost everyone will be in town on Thursday.

But nothing (reasonable) that the College can do could force students to attend the events associated with Claiming Williams. Since none of those events will be anywhere near as fun as Mountain Day, few students will go to them. And those students who do go will be precisely the 10% (2%?) that see Williams as a infected with a “culture of hate and indifference.” There will be much preaching to a small choir.

The central problem is that the people in charge of planning Claiming Williams Day are “hyperbolic and accusatory” in their view of Williams, to quote Professor Robert Bell. “Hate and indifference?” That’s absurd. And, more importantly, 90%+ of Williams students think it is absurd. Why would they bother to attend programming put on by a committee that they think is run by extremists? They won’t. You can cancel classes but you can’t make students pay attention to your cause.

I predict a big day on the ski slopes!

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CC Minutes 2008-04-16

Another comprehensive set of College Council minutes from Emily Deans ’09. Note the discussion about Claiming Williams.

Shayla Williams (2009) proposed an idea at last month’s faculty meeting to have a half day of activity to promote claiming Williams, which would encourage students to engage in discussions about difference. This proposal came out of a subcommittee of Stand With Us. The idea was formulated with the goal being so that every student at Williams can start to call Williams home. Every one at Williams has to be open-minded and you may not necessarily agree with people but you have to be open minded to accept people for who they are.

The proposed date for this day is Thursday, February 5, 2009, which is currently the first day of Spring semester. If this date were chosen, Spring semester would start on Wednesday, February 4, 2009 and Thursday classes would meet then, ensuring that professors would not lose a class meeting. On Thursday, classes would be canceled and students would have the opportunity to participate in a half day of activities such as workshops, discussions, performances, talks, etc. That day was chosen because it would be a time when students, faculty, and staff could all participate.

Comments:

1) See here for Record coverage of the proposal as well as Emily’s notes of the CC discussion.

2) I think that this is a bad idea. I predict that the innate conservatism of the faculty will generate a veto.

3) Always happy to give advice even for a cause I oppose, my recommendation is that Shayla Williams (and any other Ephs in favor) take the long view. Create a smallish organization whose mission is to push for this. Recruit some first years so that the fight will go on. Have at least one of your leaders apply to Gargoyle. Even if the faculty vote down the idea this year, still plan on holding the event on a Saturday. Make the activities as interesting as you can. Recruit sympathetic faculty members. Mountain Day took years to become the Williams institution it is today.

4) Although the CC Minutes don’t highlight this point, it is clear the initial effort was not well-conceived.

In addition to scheduling, the language of the proposal and the logistical difficulties entailed also came under scrutiny. “Personally I don’t see scheduling as the major difficulty,” said Kevin Jones, chair of the calendar and schedule committee and professor of physics. “I think the much bigger challenge will be to come up with events that are inclusive rather than divisive. I was not encouraged by the language in the preliminary proposal.” Robert Bell, professor of English, opened the discussion at the faculty meeting with a criticism of the proposal’s language and urged “less hyperbolic and accusatory” phrasing. Referring to the racist graffiti found in Williams E in February and other incidents of discrimination and indifference, the proposal claimed a “culture of hate and indifference” existed at the College.

[Side note: Why are Record pages always filled with these annoying characters? Or is just me on Firefox?] Where can I find a copy of the text that was presented to the faculty? First, shouldn’t there be a permanent on-line repository of material associated with faculty meetings? A more transparent Williams is a better Williams. Second, shouldn’t Stand With Us post the proposal on its site or at least distribute the proposal to its mailing list?

Anyway, the notion that Williams “culture of hate” is absurd. It may be true that a majority of students are indifferent to this sort of PC-preening, but surely that is not the same thing as “hate.” In any event, even if you do believe that Williams is filled with hateful racists, you will need to hide those feelings if you want the faculty to go along with your plans.

5) What do faculty critics think of this idea? They believe that the vast majority of the student body have no interest in PC workshops. They think that such an event will be ignored by almost all students, and certainly by any student who might be skeptical of the exercise. They think that class time is much more precious than any such event. They want to see the proponents demonstrate that this is not just a momentary enthusiasm. They will be unimpressed once they realize that someone (Professor Wendy Raymond?) has bamboozled them in to think that this proposal might have meaningful student support when, in fact, 95% of the students know nothing about it.

6) How will faculty critics stop this idea? Delay and scheduling. As the Record makes clear, the faculty do not want to give up a day of classes but they are ready to move things around. If the students want to sacrifice a day of their vacation (the dead week between Winter Study and second semester), then fine. Go ahead.

But the problem is that students do not want this. The College Council voted unanimously against shortening dead week from 5 days to 4. Instead, they proposed using a day from Winter Study. Yet that is hardly likely to work very well either.

Surely some of our faculty readers can give us more insight into what people are saying when Wendy Raymond is out of range . . .

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