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Questions about the 80’s II

Gargoyle is interested in Williams history and has passed along some questions about life at Williams is the mid-to-late 1980s. I will be posting (and answering) these questions. If you were around during this era, please chime in!

What were the major issues and topics of conversation that students at Williams were concerned with?

Issues and topics of conversation were, more or less, the same then as now. Consider some front page articles from the issues of the Williams Record from September 2016.

Seniors, Faculty Convocate
Minority Students Preview Science Courses
Student Rental Disturbs Neighbors
College Council Discussed Ways to Recruit Minority Faculty
Baker Like Mass MoCA
Falk Appoints Cook to Head Race Relations Board
Department Chairmen Stress Minority Recruitment Efforts
Tauber Chairs IPECS, New Department for Innovative, Interdisciplinary Courses
Council Reorganizes Freshmen Council

Oh, wait. Did I claim that these were the front page Record articles for September 2016? My mistake! Those were the front page Record articles for September 1987. (I made two switches: replace (then president) “Oakley” with “Falk” and (then governor) “Dukakis” with “Baker.”) Careful readers might have been suspicious about some of these headlines. We now use “chairs” instead of “chairmen.” We now talk about “diversity” instead of “race” or “minority.” Professor Kurt Tauber (bless his Marxist heart!) is long retired and Professor Tim Cook, sadly, passed away several years ago.

But, to me, the amazing thing is the constancy of the issues/topics that concerned the Williams community, then and now. Indeed, with minor word changes, each of these titles could be a Record article today. We were obsessed with race in the 1980s. Williams is obsessed with diversity today. Affirmative action — admitting students and hiring faculty with worse qualifications because of the color of their skin — was controversial then, just as it is today. The general liberalism of Williams students has, if anything, grown over time. There was an active Garfield Republican Club in the 1980s, not so today.

Of course, many other issues/topics are different. The biggest single issue at Williams during this era, as we discussed yesterday, involved apartheid in South Africa and the College’s response to it, especially in terms of divesting the endowment from companies doing business there. There was a “shanty town” on Chapin Lawn, at least for a several months and maybe longer. An impressive display of white crosses in the same location, to illustrate the fatalities associated with apartheid, was a major event one year. Concerns about nuclear winter were common, with movies like The Day After highlighting the dangers of conflict with the Soviet Union.

Yet, looking back, the political disputes then and now are more similar than they are different. The major changes have been technological. For example, how much porn does the typical (male?) Williams student consume each week? Thirty years ago, pornography was vanishingly rare. There must have been (male?) students with copies of Playboy and Penthouse, but I never knew of them. My avante-garde theatre major roommates rented a porn video once and, on at least one occasion, Images showed something along the lines of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, but the modal Williams student viewed almost no pornography while at Williams.

Similar changes have come in all sorts of communications technologies. Back then, the typical Greylock suite had a single phone line, shared by 4 or even 6 students. Non-local calls were so expensive that, at the end of each month, roommates would look at the bill and specify (and pay for) the calls they had each made. Finding out a fact as simple as, did the Dodgers win last night, was non-trivial.

Some students had TVs but channels were limited and reception poor. Cable only became available in some dorms, and then only in the common areas, in the later 1980s.

Summary: A transcript of a Williams college class from thirty years ago, especially something in the sciences or humanities, is very similar (98%?) to today’s transcript. A practice session for the soccer team or the Springstreeters is also more-or-less the same. But the entertainments students consume, the communications they employ and the computer devices they use are all radically different.

How would our reader who were at Williams in the 1980s answer this question? What about readers from other eras?


Questions from the 80’s I

Gargoyle is interested in Williams history and has passed along some questions about life at Williams is the mid-to-late 1980s. I will be posting (and answering) these questions. If you were around during this era, please chime in!

What was happening politically/socially outside of Williams? What were students thinking about aside from school (elections, political events, scandals, etc.)?

Nothing was different and everything was different.

Then and now, US Presidents (Reagan/Trump) had received virtually zero votes from Williams faculty members and very few votes from students. Both were widely derided as intellectually vacuous buffoons. Then as now, Russia was considered to be a key international competitor. Then as now, there were vociferous debates over taxes and the size of the federal government. Politics was, more or less, the same then as it is now, perhaps the same as it ever was. Students were concerned, to a certain extent, with these issues, but they were also mainly interested in their classes, their activities and their friends. The outside world touched Williams, but not deeply.

From my imperfect memory, one of the most important political issue — in terms of what Williams students/faculty talked and argued about — was apartheid in South Africa. Divestment by the endowment from companies that did business in South Africa was one of the major sources of conflict between students and the trustees. (The closest parallel today would be divestment from companies which contribute to climate change.)

Many of the social debates of that era have echoes today. Read this history (pdf) of “Black Williams,” especially pages 67ff for details. Affirmative action was a lightning rod for debate, both in admissions and faculty hiring. Abortion was controversial, although student opinion was overwhelmingly pro-choice.

If I were to re-phrase you question, I would add “technologically” to your duo of “politically/socially.” Political and social issues today would have seemed very familiar to a student transported forwarded from 1987. Technologically, the world is a very different place.

How would our reader who were at Williams in the 1980s answer this question? What about readers from other eras?



Interested in improving Williams? Then you should join Gargoyle. Some notes:

1) Below the break is the e-mail that went out earlier in the month. Here (doc) is more information.

2) Gargoyle provides a platform on which students committed to improving Williams can stand. Obviously, you don’t need Gargoyle to try to improve Williams. But, for good or for ill, the Gargoyle name carries weight, both with the Administration and with the Trustees.

3) Any Gargoyle member interested in trying to change policy X at Williams should network with alumni interested in policy X, especially alumni who worked on changing policy X when they were undergraduates. Such alumni are also likely to know which members of the administration/faculty/trustees are most interested in X and most sympathetic to your proposal.

And the best place to start is at EphBlog. No one (who does not work for Williams) knows more about the College then we do. And no one, including those who work for Williams, is better placed to explain to you how things really work.

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Solo Captains at Yale, Why Not Williams?

Each sport at Yale has a single captain. (Thanks to Roger for pointing that out in our previous discussion.) More background:

All [Yale] captains know that he or she must shoulder much responsibility both on and off the playing field. The captain must be the mouthpiece for the team and the coach, walking the fine line between leader and friend. The captain must harness the spirit of a team and channel it towards intense play, and must act as the essence of the team–its true heart and soul.

Yale’s varsity sports feature a tradition unique among all other Division I NCAA schools: teams are led by only one captain. At the conclusion of the season, team members vote for whom they wish to be captain during the following year’s campaign. The captain must win a simple majority–a feat not so easily achieved. Some teams have been known to hold as many as seven rounds of voting before a majority is determined.

Yale Athletic Director Tom Beckett said of the unusual policy, “The practice of having one captain per team…is a very strong and honored tradition, and a great source of pride for the University. When a person is selected as the sole captain it creates a very strong role for them, and in the process it validates and re-emphasizes the importance of their position.”

The age-old captain-selection practice has defenders as well. “Although having two captains might be easier and wouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings, when you have one guy, he is the boss of a united group,” Keefe said. Rubinstein added, “You don’t need to be a captain to be a leader on the field. Everyone respects that. Having one captain is unique–it’s Yale.” Ferraro said, “This tradition is never going to change, and it’s the tradition that makes being captain so special to me.”

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Reopening The Log

From The Eagle:

Williams College officials are considering a student-generated proposal which would result in regular hours for the Log, a small white college-owned building on Spring Street that once functioned as a social center with a pub-like setting.

Since it closed in 2007 to coincide with the opening of the Paresky Center on the campus proper, students have regularly expressed a yearning for the Log’s reopening, saying it would fill a void in the social life of many college students.

This proposal, submitted by members of an association of students dedicated to improving the college and student life known as the Gargoyle Society, laid out limited hours and days of operation, with a short menu of beer and wine, and a limited menu of sandwiches.

Was this proposal really driven by the Gargoyles? If so, kudos.
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Gargoyle Conversations

An excellent idea.

The Gargoyle Society would like to invite you to the first “Gargoyle Conversations” event. Its aim is to inspire informal discussion of controversial, yet important issues here at Williams as well as the world beyond the purple valley. The event will be conducted in small groups and will take place this Thursday, January 15 in the log. The topic of discussion is the situation in Gaza, more specifically whether or not Israel’s military campaign is legitimate. Each individual conversation group will be capped at about 10, though several might take place simultaneously depending upon student interest. Light food and beverage will be served. The conversation should last about an hour and will begin at 8:00.
Please email Mike Tcheyan (10mst) if attending.

Kudos to whoever is behind this effort. I would recommend that the organizers suggest so (short) background readings so that participants start with some common ground. How about Ephs Professor Sam Crane, Dan Drezner ’90 and Tom Friedman?

It would be fun to involve alumni is such an event. If only we had a blog or something on which dispersed members of the Williams community could discuss important topics . . .


Gargoyle History

Although the Gargoyle Society webpage is surely one of the most pathetic at Williams (it has not been updated for at least 3 years), it does have this interesting bit of history.

In 1895 the founders of Gargoyle Society wrote, “The object of this organization shall be to discuss college matters, and take active steps for the advancement of Williams in every branch of college life and work, and to exert itself against anything which it considers detrimental to such advancement.”

EphBlog tries to do the same.


What is Gargoyle?

In answer to this question, an anonymous cynic claimed that Gargoyle

is a society for people who want to put “Gargoyle Society” on their resume to get together with other resume padders to talk about how cool they all are.

Untrue, on several levels.

  1. There is very little benefit to putting Gargoyle on your resume. No one outside of Williams has ever heard of Gargoyle. Many Williams alums do not have an excessively high opinion of Gargoyle.
  2. Gargoyle meetings are some of the most interesting and contentious on campus.[For people who love to obsess about things like anchor housing. — ed. Exactly!] Group coolness conclaves they are not.
  3. Each year Gargoyle — like College Council, the Rugby Team, Carter House, and most other groups of Ephs — is different. It is reasonable to make the claim that a specific Gargoyle “delegation” (perhaps ill-chosen terminology, eh?) is into self-cool-talk. It is generally unreasonable to make sweeping claims about all Gargoyles.
  4. The members of Gargoyle sometimes do useful things. How often and how useful is a matter of some debate, but as long as, net/net, the results are positive (and the cost is zero), Williams is better off.
  5. The main function of Gargoyle is to provide two things. First, it gives its members standing. The administration and important alumni treat you differently if you are working on something and you’re a Gargoyle. This is not a big effect, but it is there. Second, it provides you with incentive. Having applied to Gargoyle with a plan to do something good for Williams, you are a bad person if you don’t work on it, if you let the other pressures and responsibilities of college life take over. You may not succeed, but you should try. You took someone else’s spot. By joining Gargoyle, you made a promise. You need to keep it.

The more interesting question is: Should you apply for Gargoyle? [I believe that applications are due soon.] Answer: Probably not. Given that the only real benefit is a) to talk about college policies with wonks who want to make Williams better and b) to work on such projects yourself, you should only join if this is what you want to do. If not, don’t join.


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