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English Department Boycott and Effects

From the Williams Record this week:

“In the wake of a student-led protest which called for students to boycott all English classes that “do not engage substantially with race,” Chair and Professor of English Katie Kent ’88 reported that pre-registration in the department was not substantially changed from previous years. “Our enrollments show no significant difference when compared to our usual averages over the last few semesters,” she said.”

As expressed in my post last week (particularly through the comments), I’m in general support of the message of the boycott. Nevertheless, I’m not surprised. English majors continue to need to take English classes; non-majors continue to need writing intensives, and though there are many possibilities for these, English classes continue to be among the most interesting and accessible. Life at the college continues. The point, in my opinion, was never to succeed in boycotting, but to use something as extreme-sounding as a boycott to bring attention to what’s seen as the desperate need of improvement in the department.

On Thursday, the English department announced plans to hold a series of meetings regarding the department’s culture. The meetings are sponsored by the newly created “student experience committee,” which aims to collect student perspectives on the department. In an email to English majors and other students, Associate Professor of English Bernie Rhie said, “As the name of the committee suggests, our aim is to get a more textured sense of the ways that students at Williams experience the English Department. What are your thoughts and feelings about the department, and what are your hopes for its future?” Rhie added that, though the committee was formed prior to the boycott, “the announcement of the boycott obviously makes our work all the more urgent.”

Do I believe that this committee will make any more of an impact than the average Williams committee? Not necessarily. But it does reinforce for me that professors like Bernie–whom I see as the future of the department, and among those who will have the most say in what the English department becomes–take at least the message of the boycott seriously. Perhaps I’m reading that more from my own experience with Bernie than from the quote, but all the same, I believe this is a matter that certain members of the English department take seriously. Whether or not it’s a problem that can be solved by committee, knowing that there are members of the department who support it is, personally, enough–because that’s really the way I see things potentially starting to change.

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Students call for boycott of English department – Williams Record

The Record has a nice, thorough article on the call for a boycott of the English department, by Danny Jin, Samuel Wolf, and Kevin Yang. Some passages, and thoughts, from the article.

The original petition said the boycott will not end until the College searches for a senior-level woman of color from outside of the College to chair the English department, immediately runs searches for tenure-track faculty members specializing in African American, Latinx, Native American and Asian American literature, and conducts an external investigation of English. The petition revised the demand for a chair, calling instead for the hiring of a senior faculty member specializing in ethnic literature.

Any thoughts on why the petition-writers reversed their demand for a chair? How do you think they came to that decision to revise their demands down? To me, the original demand just seems unnecessarily and unproductively specific, so that would be my reasoning,  but after publishing something like this and having it get such a large amount of traction, it seems odd to backstep like that.

The petition calls out what its creators see as a “racist culture” in the department.

My anecdotal evidence doesn’t and shouldn’t mean much, but from my perspective as a student, this view that there’s some degree of a racist culture in the English department, while not necessarily a mainstream or majority view, certainly wasn’t a controversial one. Even before the whole Kent-Wang altercation came up at the end of last year, it was the sort of thing that you’d hear from relatively non “radical” or politically engaged English majors, just your typical students–that English classes were unexpectedly conservative in many ways, that many professors were behind the times and used their subject matter as an excuse not to consider the importance of a world beyond the white literature that might have been their specialty. This all to say, yes, it’s news that there’s some level of organized “boycott” happening now, but for students, I don’t think this is adding so much new to the conversation as it might seem to be from the outside.

Kent also emphasized the range of professors in the department with experience in “scholarship of underrepresented groups.” She cited Owen, Love, Associate Professor of English Anjuli Raza Kolb (who currently teaches at the University of Toronto), Associate Professor of English Bernie Rhie and Franny Choi, a Bolin Fellow in English who will teach next spring.

This made me laugh a bit, that Kent’s great defense of the range of professors dealing with diverse scholarship involves so many notable absences–Love’s from last semester, Choi who isn’t even here yet, Raza Kolb who left for Toronto even after getting tenure.

From an article last year, “A closer look at departures of College faculty of color”:

Although Raza Kolb received tenure this year, she began applying for other jobs when she became worried about a possible negative outcome of her tenure decision. “The process is not designed to adequately assess the work of scholars in what are still considered marginal fields,” said Raza Kolb, who specializes in postcolonial literature. She chose to pursue the position in Toronto after she received tenure.

Raza Kolb also cited issues mentioned in the FSI report, such as a lack of recognition for the increased service burdens of faculty of color and comments from peers that she would not fit in the College community. Indeed, according to Raza Kolb, the College is hostile to faculty of color in many ways that are at first easy to miss. “In addition to issues of culture and community, the college has deep problems of discrimination and bias in many places that are hard to see at first – benefits, disciplinary and grievance procedures, sexual misconduct and harassment policies and protocols, evaluation and promotion, support for research and special projects, retention and merit recognition.”

Raza Kolb also pushed back against narratives for her departure that are centered around the geography of the Berkshires. “It’s easy to tell ourselves a routine story about why faculty of color leave,” she said. “It often comes down to location. I’m not stepping away from my position because I’m uncomfortable in Western Massachusetts. I’m reevaluating my relationship to the institution because I haven’t been treated fairly here, or seen through my pre-tenure years in a reasonable, above board way.”

During my time at Williams, I took classes with Raza Kolb, along with Rhie, who was mentioned in Kent’s list of great diverse professors. Both Anjuli and Bernie taught my absolute favorite courses at Williams, English courses which really changed the way I see literature and its role in the world. Both engage substantially with texts of all kinds–including many, many texts by white, canonical authors. Bernie’s area of scholarship is largely on Wittgenstein; Raza Kolb deals just as much with colonial literature (literature by those who colonized–think Kipling and Conrad) as with post-colonial (literature by the formerly-colonized). They deal with these texts with care and intense scholarly interest; what makes these classes so interesting, and so valuable to students, is that the texts by white canonical authors are not the only texts they treat as such. Rather, they recognize, and embrace, the fact that English literature comes from many non-white, non-canonical authors, and bring those texts as intensely into the literary conversation. That’s what made those courses so fantastic for me, and the fact that great professors like Raza Kolb are disappearing from the college seems like such a shame to me.

Finally, in yesterday’s post on the topic of the boycott, DDF wrote:

I believe that EphBlog, although unmentioned in the article, is fundamentally responsible for this turning into a national story. A comment from a longtime reader about the boycott appears on November 1. This led to blog posts from John Drew and Jerry Coyne on November 3. This led to right wing coverage at places like Breitbart and the College Fix yesterday. (I could be wrong about the causative chain. Perhaps the same person who tipped us also tipped Coyne and others.) How long before this story breaks into the New York Times?

Do we really take ourselves that seriously? Coverage by right-wing blogs desperate for any sort of story that fits their views of college students as snowflake liberals doesn’t necessarily make this a national story, and no matter how frequently EphBlog wants to declare every little controversy at Williams to be fundamental in the national collegiate political landscape, I really doubt Williams’ small-scale petitions and open letters quite warrant New York Times coverage.

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Paying College Council?

A recent article by the Williams Record discusses a recent town hall-style meeting discussing the future of the College Council:

College Council (CC) held a town hall in the Dodd House dining room on the evening of Oct. 22 as part of an internal review in the wake of a contentious spring semester. Last spring, CC faced criticism for its hesitance to fund Black Previews, its decision not to recognize the Williams Initiative for Israel and its low-engagement election in which Papa Smurf was elected as a representative for the Class of 2021. The organization also faced a one-semester drop in approval from 22 percent to 7 percent, according to a May 2019 Record survey.

According to the article, a number of proposals were discussed, including complete disbandment of the Council and allocation of its funding functions to the Office of Student Life.  I thought one of the more interesting ideas was to pay College Council members:

As an alternative to greater administrative power, several students suggested compensating CC or Financial Committee members. “There’s a lot of unpaid student labor on campus,” Morgan Whaley ’20 said. “For the administration to see institutions like CC or JAs [Junior Advisors] or housing as such integral parts of the tradition of this college, but then also not [care] about the students who actually run those, I think is problematic.”

I don’t agree that College Council members should be paid because they are providing “unpaid labor” to College.  In many areas of life, people volunteer their time for the betterment of their communities, both private organizations and public commissions.  Different people volunteer for all kinds of reasons:  wanting to help others, wanting to have influence on policy or programs, wanting to network in hopes of getting benefits down the road, wanting to build a resume, etc.  College is a good time for members of the community to get into the habit of making these judgments about what is a good use of their time.  In the case of College Council, it appears as though there is little interest in its work in the student body as a whole.  This should allow those who are interested in influencing how it works the opportunity to get involved and have a real say in what happens.

What do you think?  Is the College taking advantage of students by not paying them?  Or are the non-monetary rewards sufficient in your view?

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“Hot Takes” in the Williams Record Making a Splash on Campus

Two weeks ago, the Record released a pseudo-satirical opinion piece, a bullet point list of what are being called “Hot takes from a white guy with an annoying mix of confidence and insecurity” written by Nate Munson-Palomba ’21. The list, touching on a wide range of Williams social issues, has caused quite a stir to say the least, because it isn’t perfectly clear which points are jokes and which are serious opinions of the author. Conversations about the piece have gone around on Facebook, Instagram, and in dining halls across Williams. The full list can be seen below:

● The athlete-nonner divide is driven by nonners (insecurity).

● “The Williams Swivel” says the most about Williams social life.

● Attractive white female athletes run this school.

● White guys should try to wear clothes when they’re going out that aren’t checkered button-downs, basketball jerseys or Hawaiian shirts.

● Endurance athletes are essentially nonners.

● The lack of bars has made social life better and more inclusive.

● CC will be the comeback story of 2022.

● Comedy is the clout of nonners.

● 66 is underrated.

● About half of Williams’ problems are intractable because of geography.

● You haven’t seen Williams until you’ve been exercising in Lower Lasell when the entire football team is there.

● The phantoms are having more fun a ton of the time.

● A refrigerator door could be a housing coordinator.

● Class defines Williams.

● Adams Falk’s I am Williams poster that says, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you” actually defines Williams.

● If you’re doing all your reading, most Div. II majors are as hard as Div. III; the only thing is almost nobody is doing that.

● OSL is the shadow government of Williams.

● The only enemy that will unite humanity is non-human.

● Rugby is the last frat.

● Male helmet sport athletes are smarter than everyone else thinks they are and less attractive than they think they are.

● One of the worst social places to be at Williams is a short, unattractive guy who likes sports but isn’t good at them.

● Juul culture is the most communitarian Williams gets.

● The only true protest act of Williams is to unenroll.

● There’s no better way to torpedo your social clout at Williams than to write a sendy op-ed.

The following week, the Record included a second list written in response, called “Confessions from a Black Lesbian with a powerful mix of Confidence and Security” written by Rachel Porter ’21. It is a roughly line-by-line response to the points made in the earlier article:

● The athlete-nonner divide is driven by athletes who like to shout at parties something along the lines of, “If you aren’t on one of these three sports teams, or I can’t sexually objectify you because of my toxic masculinity and my inability to see women as people, then get out of this space that was formerly used as a social meeting place for a variety of people because I am insecure, sexist and enjoy bigotry.”

● “The Williams Swivel” isn’t limited to Williams. It’s called having situational awareness.

● Women/Femme-identifying people of color do the most for this miserable school and look absolutely fierce while doing so. Whether or not they fit the confining and limiting criteria of “attractive” is irrelevant to me. Because I don’t value people solely based on their physical appearance.

● Haouxsey is overrated.

● Sometimes you have to wear your worst clothes to parties when there’s a good chance of mysterious filth being spilled on you at any moment.

● My brief foray into syndicated athleticism has led me to believe that running is one of the most intellectually and physically challenging sports to participate in. You know, because it actually requires concentration and tenacity. Weird.

● The lack of bars in this town is the reason why there is a dispensary down the street. Trends follow the money.

● The College’s many bureaucratic groups fight over the definition of inclusion every day. Because apparently not being complicit in structures of oppression isn’t an easy task.

● The Williams Record will be the comeback story of never.

● Shoutout to College Council for giving us the take the money and run option.

● Houcksey is overrated.

● The Williams Record is officially the Pastiche of Williams. (If you know, you know).

● Try to lock me up for being funny. I’ll film you. You better Mirandize me first.

● Black people are underrated. Period.

● We go to school in the middle of some mountains. Ahem.

● You haven’t seen Williams until it’s 3 a.m. at “X dorm close to Mission” and “INSERT BLANK HERE” team is ready to blast Mo Bamba and scream the N-word until they get tired (they don’t really emphasize cardio at this school).

● The world and even sad little Williams can be a fun place when you have friends that you aren’t forced to hang out with. There are many people at this college that value the happiness and the pleasure of building platonic relationships that aren’t solely transactional or based on doing some particular thing. Crazy right?

● Houckxsoeuy is overrated.

● But can a refrigerator door provide emotional and even physical labor to adult children? I don’t think so.

● The definition of inclusion might also lead you to a definition of intersectionality. Take note.

● There are a lot of things that define Williams. That’s why they have those cute little posters in Schow.

● The only thing almost no one is talking about is which major is harder than the other. Because there’s a good chance they’re doing their work.

● Hockeysee is overrated.

● The gay agenda is the shadow government of Williams.

● I respect people who believe in aliens. Takes a lot of courage to admit that.

● How do you quantify being attractive, and how do you quantify being smart? Can you be both, or is it one or the other? Will I get the answers on reddit?

● One of the worst social places to be at Williams is a tall “athletic” male that is decent at sports but can’t pursue them after college because he’s not actually that good. Road ends here pal (insecurity).

● Sometimes people read books to learn how to make the world a better place.

● Sometimes they don’t have the opportunity to read as many books as they want and they still make the world a better place.

● Hiouuxseauy is overrated.

● So is poorly disguised satire that merely acts as a way for certain people to say the strangely nefarious, coded thoughts in their head they are too afraid to say out loud. Yes it’s okay to not know everything, but if you can read and you have access to the internet, you should know that there is a powerful tool called an internet search engine. Yes, you can use it to find the definition of satire AND what constitutes as offensive.

● Yes, people deserve to have their own opinion, but know some people cannot be silenced when attempting to express theirs (security). Trivializing serious matters related to race, gender, class and sexuality can result in some pushback. Know that.

Both lists provide an interesting window into the kinds of discussions taking place at Williams College in 2019.

Alumni of all ages, how many of these “hot takes” were true in your days at Williams? If at all, to what degree have things changed?

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Williams College Cemetery

Today is Halloween, so a post about a graveyard seems to be in order (h/t EphProf!).

Interesting article in this week’s Record on the College Cemetery, which is located just outside Mission Park.  I had no idea about this particular perk offered to some College faculty and staff:

“Guess where I’m going to be buried,” said Professor of Philosophy Joe Cruz ’91 to his cognitive science class as the last few students filed into the classroom. “The cemetery next to Mission.”

Cruz is one of dozens of current faculty members who will be buried in the campus cemetery, an opportunity afforded to select members of the College community including, according to the faculty handbook, “the immediate lineal descendants of those currently interred there, trustees, the president, the treasurer, the college librarian, senior staff, and those with emeritus or retired status in any of the above categories; tenured faculty and faculty emeriti; and the spouses or domestic partners and unmarried children of all the above.”

I especially liked this quote from Prof. Gene Bell-Villada, who noted that, with respect to the cemetary perk, ““There’s a kind of a joke that goes around the faculty, we call it the final perk.”

The rugby team used to hold beer practice in what we termed “the graveyard” during my freshman and sophomore years.  Eventually, the College chased us out, sending us down past the football practice fields.  In hindsight, this was clearly the correct move, so I was a little surprised by this quote from the article:

For students, who are neither eligible for burial in the cemetery nor frequently faced with the question of where they will be buried, the cemetery often serves as a hangout spot after dark. Regina Fink ’22 planned a 20th birthday celebration in the cemetery, calling it “a funeral for my teenage years.”

Lydia Duan ’21, who is a junior advisor, said she might think twice about being buried there herself knowing what students get up to in the cemetery. “If I were a tenured professor, I would not want to be buried there because I wouldn’t want stoned frosh dancing over my dead body.”

The article also includes interesting discussions on the significance of allowing tenured faculty to be buried there.  I recommend reading the entire article.

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Republican/Conservative/Libertarian Professors at Williams

A New York Times op-ed two years ago:

Faculty members in New England are far more liberal than their counterparts anywhere else in the nation, even controlling for discipline and school type. In 1989, the number of liberals compared with conservatives on college campuses was about 2 to 1 nationwide; that figure was almost 5 to 1 for New England schools. By 2014, the national figure was 6 to 1; for those teaching in New England, the figure was 28 to 1.

I cannot say for certain why New England is so far to the left. But what I can say, based on the evidence, is that if you are looking for an ideologically balanced education, don’t put New England at the top of your list.

Who are the Republican/Conservative/Libertarian professors at Williams? The Record had an excellent article on that topic last week:

Several professors at the College, however, openly profess conservative views. Their presences in Williamstown have the potential to elucidate political dynamics at the College that may be invisible to the student body’s liberal majority.

Four professors agreed to go on the record for this article: Professor of Mathematics Steven Miller; Professor of Art Michael Lewis; Professor of Political Science Darel Paul; and Visiting Professor of American Foreign Policy Chris Gibson, who will depart the College and begin teaching at Siena College, his alma mater, at the end of the academic year.

While they all fit under the umbrella term of “conservative,” these professors hold a range of beliefs.

Read the rest for an intelligent and nuanced discussion.

According to campus gossip (and EphBlog reporting), the basic zoology of Republican/Conservative/Libertarian professors at Williams is as follows:

Republicans: Steven Miller and Michael Lewis. Lewis is perhaps the most famous “conservative” professor at Williams, known for his writing at the Wall Street Journal, Commentary and other outlets. He was a strong critic of Falk’s decision to ban Derbyshire. Are there any other faculty members that are registered Republicans? Tell us in the comments!

Libertarians: Kris Kirby and Fred Strauch. The Record ought to seek them out for a second article.

Curmudgeons: This is the category of professors who are not registered Republicans and almost certainly did not vote for Trump, but who care about ideological diversity and/or are conservative (or at least anti-leftist) in the context of the Williams faculty. James McAllister, Darel Paul and Luana Maroja come to mind. Others?

Former faculty of a similar persuasion include: Robert Jackall, George Marcus, Chris Gibson and Jane Swift. (I realize that Gibson has not left yet, but visitors shouldn’t even be part of this conversation. They are at Williams for too short a time to matter.

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Integrative Wellbeing Services: Expanding and Diversifying

The Record published a two-part series on Integrative Wellbeing Services, Williams’ counseling/mental health services program. Given that this is one of my favorite Williams-related topics, I’m excited to pick out a few interesting bits. Article 1, and Article 2.

On the name and philosophy:

PCS [Psychological Counseling Services] is now known as Integrative Wellbeing Services, a change that [Wendy] Adam [the director of IWS] says represents a substantive shift in the College’s philosophy toward mental health. The therapists at the time were already well-prepared to treat mental illness, according to Adam, so her approach centered around broadening the range of services to include options aimed at fostering students’ general wellbeing in addition to providing clinical psychological services.

To me, this has some pretty clear upsides, but the downsides should certainly be acknowledged; for me, those downsides were pretty clear as a student.

The benefits, of course, are making therapy/counseling more accessible to all students and de-pathologizing therapy. Therapy can benefit everyone, and belief that you have to have a mental illness to seek therapy is a detriment. Says Adam:

“In my private practice, if someone came to see me, I had to justify their appointment to their insurance company using a diagnosis,” she said. “One of the things I love about this job is that you don’t have to have a serious diagnosis to work with us. I don’t have to worry that, if you’re having a hard time but you don’t meet all the criteria for depression, I’d have to stop seeing you after a certain time even if it would have been more effective for you to stay longer.”

“We’ve got tons of groups and offerings, where we want to meet students where they’re at,” Adam said. “That’s why there are so many ways of inviting students in. We don’t want that old story of ‘You have to be mentally ill to see a therapist’ to get in anybody’s way.”

The downside—which I experienced—is that, if you do have a genuine mental illness and need specific treatment for a mental illness, Adam’s statement that the school was “already well-prepared to treat mental illness” might have felt like a pivot away from that treatment. “Broadening the range of services” doesn’t have to mean decreasing the efficacy of mental health treatment, of course; in practice, however, given that IWS is training the new clinicians (and students in the two-year training program make up a large amount of the staff, after all), the likelihood that you’ll start therapy and see someone who’s been trained in more of a “holistic” way than a “mental-illness-focused” way is pretty high.

The effect of that can be seen from quotes in the second article:

“Charlotte Jones ’22 started seeing a clinician at IWS last year while continuing to regularly check in remotely with the therapist she has worked with for several years at home. She hoped to use the IWS sessions to process recent traumatic life events, but both of the therapists she was paired with took approaches that she found unhelpful.

“At times, it felt as though they were babying me,” she said. “It could be very demeaning… Maybe they would have been fine for a smaller issue, but for me, they were not ready to handle what I had.”

She said that she does not plan to try again at IWS – “Two times was hard enough,” she said – though she has found the crisis call line helpful for instances when she could not get in touch with her therapist from home.”

The article, and clinicians during therapy, make clear that switching therapists is always a possibility and is encouraged to find the right fit for you. But two times is hard enough! It can be really hard to keep divulging your trauma over and over, trying to find the therapist who’s most helpful in processing it.

The articles also discuss some programs that are new this year at IWS. We talked about those earlier here on EphBlog with a post by DDF (http://ephblog.com/2019/09/12/welcome-and-new-year-updates/),  namely, new therapy options through the online platform TalkSpace, and new non-emergency transport options including twice-daily shuttles to get prescriptions from Rite Aid. At the time he wondered if these were the best uses of Williams’ money, or if we should “prioritize matching financial aid packages from places like Harvard first.”

My comments at the time were responding to this thought specifically, but are relevant to my general defenses of spending on IWS more generally:

Sure, in terms of optics of making Williams more appealing to prospective students, spending on matching financial aid packages from places like Harvard might be better. But I believe this is spending on making Williams actually more competitive with placed like Harvard in terms of actual student experience. In Cambridge there are places within walking distance, or using public transit options, where you can get things like x-rays and blood tests on the school’s insurance. In Williamstown, if you don’t have a car, the one bus most likely doesn’t go where you need it to, to get those medical services done…so you’re absolutely reliant on the medical transport system run by the college, which helps bridge the gap of accessing medical services resulting from Williams’s location.

As for the twice-daily pharmacy runs…I am incredibly jealous. I wasted so much time, up to my very last week at Williams, finding solutions to what should be the very simple issue of picking up prescriptions at Rite Aid. There’s prescription delivery to the health center, but the health center is open fewer hours than Rite Aid is; moreover, prescription restrictions exist. I remember one particular situation where I was prescribed a new medication that was restricted in such a way that I had to pick it up in X days, and they would not let me have it delivered; I had to pick it up in person. So I walked in single-digit weather to Rite Aid, taking a couple of freezing hours during a particularly busy week. Not a life-threatening situation, no, but one that, after a few times, definitely found me wishing I went to a school that wasn’t so darn remote.

Is this the sort of thing that prospective students will think about when debating Harvard and Williams? No, of course not, so if that’s your metric then sure, this is a waste of money. But it’s absolutely something that helps bring quality of life up to par with places like Harvard, and for that I see it as immensely valuable.

At what point do improvements to IWS become a selling point for the college? As knowledge and perception about mental health shift, I’m hopeful that a strong offering of counseling services becomes much more of a plus. And, as the Record article highlights, we really are fairly top-of-class:

“According to Klass and Adam, the ratio of students to therapists across higher education nationally — including both colleges and universities — is around 900:1, while the College’s peer institutions tend to be closer to 400:1. In contrast, the current ratio at the College is slightly lower than 145 students per therapist.

Last year, there was no waitlist for accessing therapy through IWS.

Meanwhile, the total number of scheduled psychotherapy session hours has grown by 260 percent over the last decade. That increase is due in part to the fact that students can schedule as many visits to IWS as they need. “Unlike other colleges and universities, we don’t cap our sessions,” Grinnell said. “I love that about Williams. We can really spend time building relationships with our student population. Therapy may not always feel linear — it might take some time to feel like consistent progress is being made.”

This is all really good, important stuff.

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Dynamics of Romance

Victoria Michalska ’22 writes in the Record:

But for those looking for something more, it’s an interesting dynamic. You could find yourself a random almost-stranger, and go to the dorm of whoever lives closer, but that isn’t necessarily for everybody. The repetition of seeing specific people at these parties means that some bond will start to develop between you two, ambiguous as to whether it’s friendship or something else, and the decision to pursue more begins to linger in the air more powerfully with every encounter. That development is as close as one could get to romance on Hoxsey, I think: a moment of eye contact across the room and the question of whether or not they’ll walk over and talk to you.

EphBlog is here to solve Michalska’s problem:

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

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

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

Read the whole thing for context.

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The Williams Record: “Profiles of Presidents Past”

Profiles of Presidents Past: Adam Falk

The Record, in a recent issue, has written a profile of former Williams president Adam Falk. The article is written interview-style, and it touches on issues ranging from expensive landscaping projects to free speech controversies.

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The Majority of the Record’s Editorial Board

The Record‘s editorial from this Wednesday, September 18 (“Calling for more transparency, accountability in discipline for sexual assault”) concludes with the following note:

The editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Record’s editorial board. 

This immediately made me wonder: was this not a unanimously endorsed editorial by the Record’s board?

I hadn’t remembered seeing this message at the end of previous Record editorials; the most recent from last year don’t seem to have it. So, its inclusion here makes it seem like this was something they particularly had to make clear on this editorial–potentially because of a minority disagreement on the board.

Of course, it’s possible that this is just a new policy for the Record, and that there has been notable disagreement from the board on editorials before, simply without the disclaimer at the end. Perhaps they’ve decided that this is a statement they’ll include on all future editorials, to cover all their bases. We’ll see in coming editorials this year, I suppose.

But, assuming the more interesting case that there was a minority disagreement with the editorial. What did they disagree about?

The essential message of the editorial (as distilled by the title) is that there should be “transparency” and “accountability” with cases of sexual assault, which seem like pretty agreeable and non-offensive stances to take on sexual assault, just because they don’t really say anything. Looking more specifically, the “transparency” they cite seems to deal with release of public information:

First, we take issue with the College’s lack of public information regarding the standards for suspension or expulsion. If a student faces a semester-long suspension for sexual assault, the community currently has no way of knowing why. We as students do not even know if the College’s standards for penalties differ from year to year or from case to case. Nor does information exist as to whether disciplinary sanctions differ for cases of stalking, relationship abuse or sexual harassment as compared to sexual assault. This lack of transparency is worrying in its own right, but the College’s opacity could also intimidate and discourage survivors from reporting and pursuing cases. In the future, a rubric must clearly set out the severity of offense that merits each sanction.

I haven’t thought about this much and don’t know how much is “known” about the college’s handling of these cases. What did people know about the Bae case, how it was handled, and how such a case would be handled today? Perhaps that’s the point that the editorial is making, but my rudimentary understanding is that there are, at least, procedures that have to be followed when it comes to sexual assault cases. The actual punishment is less clear to me.

As for “accountability,” their statement is clear:

Rather, the College should establish expulsion as the presumptive, though not mandatory, punishment for students who are found responsible for sexual assault.

First, they cite statistics and studies detailing how many sexual assaults are repeated offenses, implying that the college has to be sure to expel sexual offenders the first time so that there can’t be a second time. Second, to help with students’ “perceived security,” since students will potentially feel unsafe on a campus with students who might be rapists.

This seems to be the most likely site of conflict that might have caused disagreement in the board. This hard-line stance would have the potential to harshly punish potentially innocent students. The board hedges their stance on this, with the following statement:

We recognize that increased penalties for sexual misconduct necessitate serious contemplation of the evidentiary standards that are required for a finding of responsibility, and the College must work to ensure a fair process for both parties with no presumption of guilt for the accused. Either sufficient evidence exists for a finding of responsibility or it does not, however, and we maintain that punishments short of expulsion can hardly ever be appropriate when such evidence is found.

In 2014, the college “found Bae responsible for misconduct and imposed a two-year suspension.” If this is the case, the board majority is saying, explusion should always be the next step.

What do people who disagree believe the next step should be, instead?

I understand why the board doesn’t publish a “minority opinion” when the editorial board is divided; it lessens the power of the editorial as a strong voice stating an opinion and cutting through to the campus. Nevertheless, it’d be great if editorial board members who disagreed would pen individual opinions articles (not under the “Editorial” mandate”) explaining their dissent.

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Advice for EphBlog Authors

Do you want to write for EphBlog? You would be welcome!

E-mail daviddudleyfield@gmail.com (or, if you know it, my personal e-mail) with two pieces of information: the email you want to use (must work but does not need to be the email you are writing me from) and your preferred login id (which can not have spaces nor punctuation marks).

Note that the login id is visible on the site because that is how WordPress organizes all your posts. Mine is “ddf” and you can see all my posts here. So, if you want to post anonymously, don’t choose a login which identifies you.

WordPress will send a temporary password to that e-mail address along with a link to the login location, which is here and is also available at the bottom of the right-hand column, below Recent Comments. Login, change your password and create your “Display Name.” This is what will show up under your posts. Mine is “David Dudley Field ’24.” If you don’t do this, your login id will be displayed.

You are also welcome to preserve your anonymity even with me. (In fact, you can do this even if we know each other and/or you have written for EphBlog before.) Just follow the above instructions from an anonymous e-mail account. That way, even I won’t know your name, which is fine by me.

Here is some advice about where to find topics which fall under the rubric of All Things Eph.

1) The are dozens of Record articles which we fail to cover. A link to an article, along with a quotation, and perhaps some questions or comments, is a great post. Our coverage of editorials and op-eds over the last year has been especially weak.

2) The Record archives are now hosted by the College. Just type in a word or phrase in the search box. Lots of great stuff from history to post about!

3) Follow Williams College or Williams Athletics or various Williams professors on Twitter and other social media. Lots of good material almost everyday.

4) Posts about current events are welcome, but you must take the trouble to find an Eph connection. “All Things Eph” includes, for example, every tweet or public statement by prominent Ephs like Senator Chris Murphy ’96, Erin Burnett ’98 and Mika Brzezinski ’89. Post about, say, the Presidential election race if you like, but you have to “hang” your post on a comment by an Eph.

5) Post about past EphBlog topics. We now have 16+ years of archives to mine. There is a lot of good stuff there! And note that, each year, a big chunk of our readership turns over as 500 Ephs graduate and 500 first years (and their parents) arrive. Indeed, my own posting is more and more a collection of annual essays, improved over time and modeled on Professor Whit Stoddard’s ’35 legendary September lecture to first years titled “A Sense of Where You Are.”

6) Sign up for Google Alerts or a similar service. I use “Williams College” as my alert phrase. This gives me a once-a-day e-mail with virtually every mention of Williams in the press. Very handy!

Other items:

1) You are free to manage the comments in your own posts as you see fit. Authors “own” the comment threads which follow their posts and can do whatever they like there. Options include:

a) No management! You are a busy person and it is not your job to monitor EphBlog comments. This is what I do 99% of the time.

b) No (more) comments. Either at the start of the post or after the discussion has come off the rails, you can uncheck the “Allow comments” box. This does not affect comments that have already been made. It just prevents more comments.

c) Hit the “Trash” button. This removes a comment from your post and places it in the Trash. We occasionally post all the Trash comments so that folks can see what was removed.

d) Edit in place. I often just put “Deleted. — DDF” so that people can see that there was a comment (and who wrote it) and that I have deleted it. One could also put a reason, but life is short and I am usually too busy to explain myself to trolls.

2) Instead of leaving a long comment on one of my posts, I encourage you to create a new post with that comment and a link to my post. First, people don’t read the comments that much, so you wonderful prose is more likely to be seen in a new post. Second, it often helps the quality of the discussion to re-start it elsewhere.

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Fox News Takes on Williams Record

It looks like Rep. Jason Chaffetz took a shot at the Williams Record while he was guest hosting the Ingram Angle on April 22, 2019. The issue was the editorial board’s endorsement of affinity (segregated) housing.

 

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Requesting evidence is violence

The Record’s final edition for the year came out on Wednesday, featuring several opinions. A couple of them appeared to respond to Professor Luana Maroja’s recent op-ed, “Refuting claims of institutional violence: Analyzing evidence of racism at the College.” Professor Maroja has historically been an advocate for free speech at the college, and her article’s thesis was simple: There is not sufficient evidence for claims of institutional racism at the college.

Two opinions this week sought to provide an argument for structural racism at the college. Professor of geoscience Phoebe Cohen wrote the more compelling of these, at least trying to provide evidence for racism. She begins her article with the following:

I am white. I am racist. I am not proud of this fact, but I have accepted it. Acknowledging that I am racist helps me to become, I hope, less so. I catch my instinctive thoughts and ask them why they are there. Why am I feeling annoyed, fearful, dismissive in this moment? When someone in my community at Williams tells me they feel unsafe, and my first instinct is skepticism, I know that it is a fallacy to say that I’m skeptical because of my training as a scientist. Instead, it is because I don’t want to believe that my colleagues are racist, sexist, transphobic. Not believing it doesn’t make it true. I am a white person raised in a racist, white supremacist country. Every day I have to make a conscious decision to fight against that and to challenge my own thoughts and biases. 

Truthfully, I would expect more out of a scientist. Skepticism is never a fallacy; it should be the instinctive response to any claim. What is a fallacy, however, is blindly accepting anecdotal evidence as statistically significant.

Professor Cohen spends a large part of her article describing racist events outside of Williams and employing definitions of racism, white supremacy, transphobia, etc. that are strictly unscientific (if they cannot be refuted and their validity is contingent upon diagnosing their opponent, they are scientifically meaningless). She finally hits a note, however, in her discussion of microagressions:

As a scientist, I love to go to the literature. I pull up Google Scholar and what I find confirms what I am telling you. People are racist and full of biases. And while it may be true that people don’t often get punched in the face on our campus, that does not mean that violence does not occur. What happens more often are the much maligned “microaggressions.” The thing is, even if you don’t want microaggressions to matter, they do. The research backs this up, but so do the experiences of our own friends and colleagues.

However, this point is mostly trivial. Of course microagressions and implicit bias exist; nobody is denying this fact. Tribalism is unfortunately a very instinctive trait among humans. However, it is important to remember that this bias exists among all groups. In fact, I would argue that whereas there is only implicit bias toward minority groups on campus, there is very explicit bias toward majority groups; people are not afraid to say they hate or do not trust white men. All individuals should seek to be aware of our biases. However, implicit biases and microagressions are a far cry from the much more alarming claim of “structural violence,” which merits stronger evidence.

While I disagree with Cohen’s article, I thought it was at least a thoughtful contribution to the discussion. Students were not so thoughtful. The op-ed titled “Bearing witness to aggression against faculty of color: Calling for accountability from the College for structural racism” features a number of bizarre claims. I won’t recreate them in full here. However, we need to draw attention to one sentence in particular:

The constant request for more evidence of racism is also violence because it invalidates the ways in which racism harms our mental health and our bodies.

This is the absolute worst response possible to the debate, but, unfortunately, is the crux of most of the arguments of the Social Justice Warriors. No matter how true your claim is, dogma is bad. These students could have discovered a unified theory of science, and this dogma would still be terrible. In what world is it good journalism to equate basic scientific inquiry to violence?

The lack of ideological diversity is already a problem at institutions like Williams, but nothing fatal. An attack on scientific methodology and healthy discourse, however, is a much more dangerous development. Consider that, additionally, students on campus have been calling for Professor Maroja’s op-ed to be taken down because it is disrespectful to minority communities. A plea for free speech is now ironically being attacked by suppression of free speech. Of course, the college will not dignify this suppression of speech (Mandel’s recent WIFI statement proved that she is not a pawn of these activists). But it remains unsettling that a growing number of students are adopting this philosophy and dogma is now the social norm.

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The Latest Postmodern Jargon: “Minoritized”

As DDF noted in a previous post, the subhead of the Record article editorializing in favor of affinity housing read:

Creating space for minoritized students

This is also the same language used in the CARE Now petition:

We demand increased support and safety for minoritized students on campus, which include students with disabilities, students of color, low-income students, queer students.

I suspect similarly to David that the intent of this word is to demonstrate this identity is something imposed upon the individual. It echoes the view that all ideas and language were socially constructed by those in power (probably the white man) to further establish that power hierarchy. This social constructivism thesis has a few important steps. It first presupposes that these ideas and identities are socially constructed (this is trivial; almost everything is socially constructed), then moves to claim that this construction serves external some purpose. Philosopher of science Ian Hacking handily describes this as a construction’s “extra-theoretical function.” In the case of “minority,” the word is perceived to have some purpose outside of its perceived meaning–namely, to assert power over the groups it describes. The notion of purpose, however, necessarily presupposes that there is an architect behind this construction, since purpose requires a rational agent. This is how we move from the fairly modest claim that the “minority” identity is, at least in part, socially constructed, to the claim that these identities were constructed by privileged parties to assert their power. Hence comes the need to reinvent the word “minority” to reflect its “true” significance as an identity forced upon a group.

The problem with the social constructivism thesis that, as I see it, lies behind this change in lexicon, is that it makes an unwarranted jump from acknowledging that ideas are in part socially molded to assuming that they were intentionally forged this way by malevolent beings of power. Is it not possible that the word “minority” serves the objective, mathematical purpose of describing a group that represents a small percentage of a population? It is absurd to subvert objective language used to assert mathematical facts with biased sociological analyses.

Perhaps this has all been a little tangential to most events on campus. Though confusing, it is ultimately not a problem if a group of students sometimes chooses to use a fancy invented word over a commonplace one. What is a problem is that these students embed a narrative into the semantics of every conversation they have, fundamentally redefining the logical playing field in which these discussions occur. This is a narrative of the oppressor and the oppressed, of the good and the bad. Choosing not to adopt this language may be perceived as insensitive and even unacademic, but ultimately it is an issue of supreme ideological importance.

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Affinity Housing, 2

The Record editorialized in favor of “affinity housing,” one of the demands made by CARE Now to both President Mandel (pdf) and the trustees. This means, more or less, reserving/restricting specific houses for/to black/Hispanic/Asian students. I have some small acquaintance with the history/politics/propaganda of Williams housing, so let’s dive in. Day 2.

Note the subhead of the Record editorial:

Creating space for minoritized students

“[M]inoritized” is not a word that I recall from 10 or even 5 years ago. When did it first become common usage at Williams? For (at least) the last 50 years, before the Great Awokening, this would have been phrased: “Creating space for minority students.” Why the change?

My guess: “minoritized” is now preferred to “minority” because a minority is what you are while being “minoritized” is something that is done to you. (Contrary opinions welcome!)

The longevity of this issue demonstrates that the call for affinity housing will not extinguish over time, so long as the College fails to address the residential needs of the marginalized members of its community.

This is the opposite of the truth. That the College has successfully resisted calls for black-only housing for 50 years indicates that it is likely to be able to do so forever. Moreover, the primary purpose of Neighborhood Housing, instituted more than a decade ago and then abandoned, was to prevent student self-segregation, primarily of African-Americans and male helmet-sport athletes. Williams does not care if black students constantly campaign for affinity housing. It has successfully stymied their preferences for five decades!

Furthermore, affinity housing has successfully been implemented by many of the College’s peer institutions, including Amherst, Bates and Wesleyan.

Evidence? If only Williams had a competent student paper which might, you know, report on what is happening at other schools. If the Amherst theme houses are so successful, then why are students only allowed to live in them for 2 years?

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Affinity Housing, 1

The Record editorialized in favor of “affinity housing,” one of the demands made by CARE Now to both President Mandel (pdf) and the trustees. This means, more or less, reserving/restricting specific houses for/to black/Hispanic/Asian students. No one knows more about the history/politics/propaganda of Williams housing than I do, so let’s dive in. Day 1.

Start with the Record:

Affinity housing, the third of CARE Now’s 12 demands, has been advocated for by students as early as 1969, when the Afro-American Society, which occupied Hopkins Hall in demonstration, named affinity housing as one of its demands.

Has anyone at the Record talked to someone who could explain this history? I doubt it! Although I occasionally hold out hope for individual reporters, like Arrington Luck, the Record, as an organization, is positively amateurish in its refusal to seek out knowledgeable sources. It is true that, for 50 years, students have wanted racial segregation in housing and the College has refused to provide it. Does that tell you something? It should!

The College did not respond to the Afro-American Society’s demands and has continually ignored such demands.

How stupid is the Record? The College has “respond[ed]” to these demands over and over and over again. The answer is always the same: No! If you choose to come to Williams, you are going to live in a building with students of a different race. Don’t want that? Go elsewhere.

We at the Record wholeheartedly support establishing affinity housing at the College.

Doesn’t the Record understand how Williams works? If you want actual change — as opposed to the childish pleasure of virtue-signalling on the front page — you support the creation of a high-profile committee.

[W]e must recognize that the College is a predominantly white institution in which students of color often feel tokenized, both in their residences and more broadly on campus.

Is the College really a “predominantly white institution” and, if so, how long will this continue? Whites, in the latest class at Harvard, are a minority. There are more Asian-Americans than whites, in raw numbers, at the highest levels of high school academic achievement. An actual news organization might, you know, do some reporting on this topic, might point out that, in the Williams class of 2022 (pdf), only 263 of the 533 students are white, non-Hispanic Americans. That is only 49%. White Americans are already a numerical minority among Williams first years.

The reason that black/Hispanic students “often feel tokenized” is, first, because the people that run Williams are, on this dimension at least, not very good at their jobs and, second, because these students often are, precisely, “tokens.” At least 50% (probably closer to 90%) of the black/Hispanic students at Williams would not have been accepted if they did not check that box.

Complete Record editorial and CARE Now demands below:
Read more

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Student Survey on Politics

From the Record:

Based on the 134 responses from a survey sent by the Record to 500 random unixes, students at the College have also involved themselves in the midterm elections, including discussing races with friends and professors, following day-by-day developments and voting. The survey shows that a majority of students were self-motivated to vote, voted based on their overwhelming disapproval of President Donald Trump and largely supported Democratic candidates.

1) Kudos to the Record for organizing the survey and running this article. More, please. For example, how about a survey of faculty opinions?

2) Make the data public. There is no reason why the Record could not provide a link to the raw data. For example, the article notes that:

From a scale of “1” (highly unfavorable) to “5” (highly favorable), only three percent of students gave him rating of “5,” while 81 percent of students gave him a rating of “1.”

Interesting! But how many gave Trump a rating of 4? I want to know what percentage of students have a favorable rating of Trump, a count that includes both the 4s and the 5s. I realize that the Record can’t discuss every number from the survey in the article, but that is why it ought to provide the data to its readers.

3) Even more interesting than student opinions about US politics are student opinions about Williams policies. How about a Record survey asking about admissions, touching on a topics like the quota for international students, preferences for athletes and affirmative action?

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Making the Williams Record a First Class College Newspaper

The new Editor-in-chief of the Williams Record is Danny Jin, supported by new Managing Editors Nicholas Goldrosen and Jane Petersen. How might they turn the Record into a first class college newspaper?

First, have a clear goal. Williams, as a smaller college, will never be able to support a daily paper like The Harvard Crimson or the Yale Daily News. But there is no reason why individual articles in the Record shouldn’t be just as good as those in other college papers. Right now, they are far, far worse.

Second, institute beats for individual reporters/teams. The Crimson and YDN — like every (?) professional paper — use “beats,” defined areas of focus for a given reporter. The Record should do the same. Admissions would be one beat, Administration another. Others might include the Endowment, Local News, Student Organizations and Faculty. With more reporters, we might add beats for each individual class. The Arts and Sports reporters at the Record already do a reasonable job, not least because, over time, they develop expertise in their topics. The same model should apply elsewhere.

Third, recruit more students. To be fair, the Record does try to recruit. But, if Jin/Goldrosen/Petersen want to turn it into a first class paper, they need to try harder, not least by appealing to students self-interest. The pitch is:

So, you want to go into finance? Cool! How are you going to learn about the finance world? How are you going to demonstrate your expertise to future employers? Simple! Become a reporter for the Record and write (almost) every week about the endowment. This will force you to become an expert on the Williams endowment specifically and on college endowments, and institutional investing, in general. Even better: After a few years, you will have a collection of articles to catch the interest of Wall Street firms.

The same sort of pitch applies in other areas:

So, you want to go into consulting/business? Cool! How are you going to learn about the business world? How are you going to demonstrate your expertise to future employers? Simple! Become a reporter for the Record and write (almost) every week about the Williams budget. This will force you to become an expert on Williams spending specifically and on the management of elite colleges, and other large organizations, in general. Even better: After a few years, you will have a collection of articles to catch the interest of consulting firms.

Nothing impresses a potential employer more than demonstrated expertise on a real world topic, gained outside of class. A similar pitch could be given to students with other interests.

Fourth, annualize the coverage. The yearly rhythms of the College provide a simple structure around which to organize coverage. Each year, there should be an article about endowment returns, each of the 4 trustee meetings, early admissions, regular admissions, First Days, Claiming Williams and so on. This might appear repetitive, but Williams, like all multi-century institutions, has a heartbeat, one which can be used to structure your reporting. An annualized coverage also allows for the development, over time, of real expertise. If you write about endowment returns each year then, eventually, you will start to ask some hard questions.

Fifth, talk to critics. The single most embarrassing thing about today’s Record is that it almost never talks to critics of the College. (Compare that behavior to how the Crimson and the YDN operate.) Many articles are simple rehashings of Williams press releases.

The Record could be a great paper. Will Danny Jin make it so?

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Predatory Desires, 3

Great Record article by Rebecca Tauber and Samuel Wolf about the on-going debate over the Chicago Principles. Read the whole thing, along with our previous commentary. I will pull out some highlights over the next three days. Day 3.

Gail Newman, professor of German, who spoke with faculty against the petition and reached out to supporting students organizing against the petition, took issue with the language and divisive nature of the Chicago Statement. “The Statement … ignores the fact that both of these concepts [‘freedom’ and ‘civility’] have been used over and over again to shut down legitimate calls for conditions of safety that would allow the voices of those who haven’t been heard to come forward,” she said.

Examples, please. Newman is an historian (sort of). If something has really “been used over and over again,” it should be easy to come up with scores of examples. But I can’t think of a single one!

First, it is not even clear what Newman means by “shut down.” Williams, and places like Williams, have occasionally banned speakers or restricted their speech. (This is my understanding of the phrase “shut down.” Contrary opinions welcome.) But, prior to banning Derbyshire two years ago, the last similar incident at Williams was . . . Mark Hopkins banning Ralph Waldo Emerson! Does Newman have other examples in mind?

Second, FIRE provides this handy database of speaker controversies. Not all of these are directly analogous to Derbyshire and some involve other issues, like the awarding of honorary degrees. I don’t see a single one in which “freedom” of speech was cited by those doing the banning/disinviting.

Third, the heart of the debate involves “safety.” Newman believes, I suspect, that a Derbyshire speech, even it does not incite physical violence directly, is an act of verbal aggression against (certain) Williams students. That speech hurts them. Since Williams has an obligation to protect them — both because safety is itself important and because a safe environment is a requirement for a good education — we have no choice but to ban speakers like Derbyshire. The problem with this reasoning, obviously, is that there is no good way to draw the line. Many students feel — and who is Gail Newman to dispute their feelings? — that a speech from Charles Murray or James Watson or Larry Summers or Ann Venker or Kris Kobach or insert-any-Trump-supporter is a similar act of verbal aggression, meriting a ban from Williams.

Maud Mandel is way too smart to head down that path . . .

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Predatory Desires, 2

Great Record article by Rebecca Tauber and Samuel Wolf about the on-going debate over the Chicago Principles. Read the whole thing, along with our previous commentary. I will pull out some highlights over the next three days. Day 2.

Mark Reinhardt, professor of political science and American studies, sent an email to the entire faculty urging his colleagues to withdraw their signature or not sign the petition. He expressed problems with the petition’s format, larger messages and implications of the Chicago Statement. “I know there is among us a wide range of views, rooted in part in very different experiences of the College and American society,” he wrote. “Given that diversity, I propose that any forums be approached as opportunities to consider campus discourse in the broadest possible terms, and not merely as occasions for endorsing or opposing one particular, predetermined framing of our circumstances, challenges and prospects.”

1) A faculty source forwarded me several of the intra-faculty e-mails on this topic, although not Reinhardt’s. Should I publish them? (Faculty readers should feel free to add them in the comment thread.)

2) Who will lead the fight against Maud? One candidate is Reinhardt, who knows his way around the College administration. (Recall his successful fight to remain at Williams after he was initially denied tenure 20 years ago.) Other candidates include Gene Bell-Villada and Gail Newman. Eli Nelson wrote and distributed a detailed document (pdf), but my advice to all non-tenured faculty is to avoid fights with the president.

3) What advice do you have for Reinhardt? How should he try to stop Williams from going in the direction that President Mandel clearly favors?

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Predatory Desires, 1

Great Record article by Rebecca Tauber and Samuel Wolf about the on-going debate over the Chicago Principles. Read the whole thing, along with our previous commentary. I will pull out some highlights over the next three days. Day 1.

Joy James, professor of political science and Africana studies, published an article in The Feminist Wire in which she argued against the Chicago Statement and outlined its implications for the College community. “The Chicago Statement ‘free speech’ campaign accumulates power for elites and enables their predatory desires and aggressions against marginalized groups,” James wrote. “People of color are window dressing for a Statement that seeks to legitimize hate speech.”

Is it worth going through James’ article? Not that I can see. But this does provide a handy excuse for revisiting James’ troubled tenure at Williams. (But, full disclosure, my prediction that she would depart was wrong. Perhaps no other school is interested in taking James off our hands? As a member of the political science department told me a decade ago: “Yes, she wrote a book. But it is not a good book.”)

James linked this view to a previously published article in The Feminist Wire by Kai Green, assistant professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and Kimberly Love, assistant professor of English, which discusses the relationship between academia and injustice. Green and Love detailed the challenges of being Black queer feminists in both higher education and Williamstown, portraying many of the issues raised by those against the petition. “We are not safe because we are Black radical thinkers and professors who refuse to wait for the right time to point out the anti-Black, transphobic, xenophobic and the list goes on … wrongs of this time,” Green and Love wrote.

Is it worth it to go through Green and Love’s article? Again, not that I can see. Perhaps the real purpose of having faculty like Green and Love at Williams is that, in comparison, Joy James looks like an intellectual.

All that said, it would be wonderful if the Williams College Debate Union were to organize some debates/panels featuring James/Green/Love and their faculty/student opponents. The more discussion and debate at Williams, the better.

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Record Assignment Desk

The next issue of the Record (the last of the semester) has a chance to be epic, to be read widely within the Williams community and across the country. Free speech is hot, Hot, HOT and the Record is well-positioned to cover the debate. My advice (somewhat cribbed from two years ago):

1) Pick up the phone! The Record‘s continuing refusal to talk to people like, well, me, who know a great deal about the institution is annoying. They don’t have to quote me — indeed, I might prefer for the talk to be on background — or do what I say, but a failure to even talk with knowledgeable sources is pathetic.

2) Report the facts. We know that the three key faculty behind the petition are Luana Maroja, Steven Gerrard, and David Gürçay-Morris ’96 but I believe that there were three others in the original “group of six.” Who were they? And tell us more details about the backstory. Gerrard, at least, has been wrestling with this topic for a while, teaching an entire course about free speech. Was he the prime mover? (If so, he was smart to recruit/cajole Maroja. White men are unwise to lead these sorts of efforts at Williams!)

3) Seek comment from Adam Falk. He may not provide one but, even then, you should tell us that he refused to comment. Quiz him about the op-ed in which he urged students “to seek out someone whose opinions and beliefs are different than their own, and to engage in a conversation to really listen and learn from one another.” Fun stuff!

4) Cover the history of speech debates/suppression at Williams. I believe that, prior to John Derbyshire, no speaker has been banned at Williams for 150 years. The last documented case was Mark Hopkins banning Ralph Waldo Emerson. Tell us more about this history, and seek some comments from history professors at Williams.

5) Provide a comparison to other NESCAC/elite schools. Ask Amherst and Swarthmore if they have ever banned a speaker. Ask them if they ever would. They might use this occasion to make fun of Williams. Ask them if they have any official policies which would prevent their students from inviting any speaker to campus. Place Williams policy — which, right now, is that the president can ban whomever she likes — in the context of our peers’.

6) Interview prominent alumni who have experience with, or expertise in, campus speech debates. Start with Cappy Hill ’75 (who faced similar issues when president of Vassar and is now on the board at Yale), Will Dudley ’89 (who has his own set of challenges at Washington and Lee), Fred Lawrence ’77, and Zach Wood ’18. Lawrence and Wood testified before the Senate about this very issue.

7) Interview leading faculty opponents of free speech. Start with Kai Green, Kimberly Love and Joy James. Ask them tough questions: “Professors at places like Michigan, Amherst and Harvard can invite any speaker they want to campus. Do you prefer that you and your Williams faculty colleagues have fewer rights, that the President of Williams can, for any reason, deny your invitation to a speaker? What would you do if, for example, Maud Mandel rescinded your invitation to Angela Davis on the grounds that she had engaged in “hateful” speech toward police officers?”

8) Interview leading student opponents of free speech. (Not sure who those would be. Perhaps start with the first few signatures on the student petition: Isabel Peña ’19, Audrey Koh ’21 and Annalee Tai ’21) Ask them a similar question: “Students at places like Michigan, Amherst and Harvard can invite any speaker they want to campus. Do you prefer that you and your Williams peers have fewer rights, that the President of Williams can, for any reason, deny your invitation to a speaker? What would you do if, for example, Maud Mandel rescinded your invitation to a leader of Black Lives Matter on the grounds that he had engaged in “hateful” speech toward police officers?”

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Anyone Home at the Record?

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Our Liberal Campus

From the Record in November 2015:

Over the past couple weeks, we have seen numerous articles about politics on campus, especially concerning Uncomfortable Learning. Ironically, though, other than from sources external to the College, there seem to have been few opinion pieces from conservative students. I would like to respond to previous opinions while also looking at some data.

It seems that a point mentioned in an opinion piece for the Williams Alternative, but glossed over as just matter-of-fact, is much more important than it appears. I am referring to how politically-concentrated the faculties and administrations are at most colleges. There exists a substantial amount of literature regarding this bias, but it is not something to just write off – these people determine most of the curriculum and rules for their respective colleges. Therefore, I decided to investigate how political donations break down among recent faculty and administration hires here at the College to get an idea of the diversity.

One can find public information on donations through the website of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). I used the FEC’s “Advanced Transaction Query by Individual Contributor” for political committees, including joint fundraising committees, to search for employees of the College.

After checking whether the employee was a professor, lecturer, instructor or administrator (rather than a student or member of the staff), it appears that of 111 considered political donations since 2007, 108, or 97.3 percent, went to Democratic and liberal organizations. Of 41 contributors, 40, or 97.6 percent, gave to liberal groups. By dollar amount, this is $39,210 out of $39,960 in total, or about 98.1 percent. These numbers don’t exactly scream any sort of political diversity.

Indeed. But even more worrying (to me) is how conservative students are treated. From the same op-ed by Matt Quinn ’17:

’d like to finish by sharing something that I observed at Williams for Life’s recent display on Planned Parenthood. Staff and faculty who saw the display were glad to see students discussing politics. Yet, as I mentioned, quite a few students reacted by questioning our sanity, throwing temper tantrums as they walked by and so on. There were still students who engaged with us, but the only sizable group that did so were not current students, but prospective students. Students from Windows on Williams were more than eager to respectfully talk about the contentious issues at hand. It’s unfortunate that the reaction among many current students is the exact opposite.

Indeed. Are pro-life views treated fairly at Williams?

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Reply to Reische

Perfect response to Jim Reische’s New York Times article:

To the Editor:

Since we just served as editor in chief and senior editors of The Williams Record, Williams College’s independent student newspaper, Jim Reische’s article struck a chord with us. His reference to “a campus newspaper editorial that grapples with balancing free speech and appropriate behavior” was likely informed by a controversial Record editorial published in October 2015. We were on the board that composed that editorial, which advocated limitations to hateful but legally protected speech at Williams. We were widely and justifiably criticized for it, including in national media.

That mistake transformed how we tackle polarizing issues. The following semester, we published an editorial criticizing Williams’s president, Adam Falk, for canceling a controversial student-invited speaker. We saw tangible improvements in the board’s navigation of those difficult conversations: We respectfully challenged our peers’ opinions; we critically considered our own. Our editorial decisions, as the paper’s leaders for 2017, were not governed by fear of criticism, but rather an appreciation of it.

What we learned stuck with us as editors, and as young adults. We echo Mr. Reische’s hope that other students have the same opportunity to make mistakes — and be better for it.

MARIT BJÖRNLUND
EMMY MALUF
FRANCESCA PARIS
WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS.

Great stuff! Comments:

1) I have had my problems with Emmy Maluf in the past, but the tone of this letter (and her leadership of the Record) both deserve high marks.

2) Although they are too polite to mention it directly, these students are directly contradicting Reische’s thesis. Reische argues that it is a bad thing that outsiders pay attention to what students write, especially when that writing includes “dumb mistakes.” The students argue that the exact opposite is true, using the same example that Reische cites. They learned from their dumb mistake because outsiders criticized it.

Needless to say, EphBlog agrees. When we criticize students, we are helping them, or at least trying to. We pay them the (ultimate) compliment of taking their ideas seriously. Jim Reische, on the other hand, wants us to treat college students like children. Who is right? The leaders of the Record, at least, agree with EphBlog!

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To the Record Editorial Board: Do Your Job

The most annoying aspect of the debate over admissions is the College’s refusal to be honest with the community over the standards/processes that it uses. The second most annoying aspect is the Administrations laziness in not trying hard enough to recruit hard-to-enroll groups like high scoring African-Americans. The third most annoying aspect is today’s topic: the Record‘s failure to report the news.

Consider the Record‘s editorial on the infamous Best-College-in-the-World (BCW) op-ed:

The piece’s categorization of the College’s current admissions process as one in which student are labeled as “academic” or “other,” and where those comprising the “other” category are athletes, racial minorities or low-income students, is both misguided and, more crucially, demeaning.

“Misguided” and “demeaning” are, perhaps, relevant adjectives to include in an editorial. But intelligent readers are looking for adjectives like “inaccurate” or “incomplete.” Does the op-ed provide an accurate description of how the admissions process works at Williams or doesn’t it? Without that information, it is hard to judge anything else. And, if it is accurate, then adjectives like “demeaning” are confusing at best.

And it is the Record‘s primary function to inform its readers about how Williams works, to report, you know, the News. Hint to Record reporters: Start here. A fair complaint about Williams, relative to schools like Harvard, is that much of our conversation occurs at the level of an (excellent!) prep school, a place where, not only is the Administration rarely challenged (recent examples here and here) but where the details of actual policy are kept secret. Compare news stories in the Crimson versus those in the Record. It is too weep.

Of course, the Crimson has more people and resources than the Record. It is a daily, not weekly, effort. But there is no excuse for the Record to devote three pages of commentary to admissions at Williams while, at the same time, not explaining to its readers how admissions works.

The editorial concludes with:

Additionally, it is well understood that SAT scores are a poor metric of the quality of academic work that will be undertaken when a student comes to the College.

Then why does Williams use them! I don’t control Williams admissions. Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’01 and Dick Nesbitt ’74 do. Why do they not only use the SAT/ACT but actually require that all applicants take these, and similar, standardized tests? Again, I am not so much angry with the Record as I am embarrassed for them. And, for the record, SAT scores (and Academic Rating) are an outstanding predictor of the grades that students will get at Williams.

Almost every sentence in the editorial is either factually suspect or childishly naive. Worth a week to go through it line-by-line?

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Rumblings on Campus?

An editorial on the subject of alumni donations published in the Williams Record this week seems to suggest that *the student body* may have found a new reason to yell at the administration.

From the editorial:

That the school chose this area to make their cuts should be warning enough, but what is truly disheartening is that seven years removed from the depths of the financial crisis with a larger than ever endowment of at least $2.3 billion, the College has made no moves to reinstate the no-loan policy. Meanwhile, it has found the funds in recent years to begin several large-scale construction projects. In the realm of financial aid, it has instead hired a dean to oversee the Offices of Financial Aid and Admission. By all appearances, the history of the no-loan policy at the College is rather straightforward: the College introduced the no-loan policy to compete with peer institutions, ditched it when it prohibited it from spending on areas it cares about more than allowing students from lower incomes the freedom to pursue post-graduate options without debt and then, after finding its prestige relatively unaffected by the whole ordeal, never looked back.

There’s also this banner hanging off the front of Pareskey:

Wishful Thinking?

And fliers in the dining hall:

How many people do they think read these?

It is currently unclear if anyone actually plans to protest this, but it seems unlikely that there will be any discussion of the merits of resurrecting such a policy.

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College Council Has No Power Over Invited Speakers

An alum tried to get this letter published in the Record:

To the editor,

Skylar Smith’s ’18 February 22 article “CC Approves Uncomfortable Learning as an RSO” (and the comments therein from Lizzy Hibbard ’19) demonstrated a misunderstanding of the College’s new policy with regard to outside funding for invited speakers. Any Registered Student Organization may invite someone to speak at Williams even if the funding for that speaker comes from an alumnus or some other non-Williams organization. The RSO must, of course, abide by the new rules, specifically by revealing the source of the funding to Williams and by providing at least two weeks notice before the event. But, as Director of Media Relations Mary Dettloff confirmed to me, neither CC nor any other student organization can prevent an RSO from inviting a speaker. Only Williams itself may ban a speaker, as it did last year in the case of John Derbyshire.

Annoyingly, the Record refused to publish this letter, choosing instead to issue this correction:

correction

This matters because it is bad enough that Williams empowers Adam Falk to ban speakers with whom he disagrees. If College Council could ban student-invited (faculty-invited?) speakers, madness would follow. One Eph censor is enough!

UPDATE: The headline of the physical Record last week was “CC passes free speech resolution 16-3-1.” There was also this photo caption: “Kevin Mercadante ’17 introduces a resolution intended to enshrine speech and protect individual rights to disagree and protest.” Alas, there is no associated news story that I can find, either on-line or in the paper itself. Can anyone provide details? The College Council website does not allow outsides to see the current year’s agenda or minutes. Sad!

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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?

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Are Sexual Assault Investigations Biased Against Poor Minority Males?

Will the Record mention some of the sensitive PC issues associated with Safety Dance? For example:

only

True? Probably. Certainly, 90%+ of the cases must be against men. But the Record ought to find out the truth. Williams can’t reveal the students involved in individual cases, but it can discuss the overall statistics. It probably won’t but the Record should push the College to explain why not. If students in category X are much more likely to commit sexual assault, shouldn’t Williams admit fewer of them and/or devote more energy to educating them?

Even if Williams can’t admit fewer men, should it change the mixture of men which it admits?

ecu

I have talked to enough recent students to know that minority men on financial aid are much more likely to be charged with sexual assault at Williams and punished for it. John Doe fits this pattern. (The same is also true of varsity athletes, especially those playing helmet-sports.)

Recall that in the recent Amherst case (investigated by the same attorney (Kurker) who Williams employed on this case), the accused student’s lawyer claimed that:

After the College [Amherst] adopted its new policies and procedures regarding sexual misconduct in May 2013, it aggressively began to prosecute alleged perpetrators. On information and belief, in doing so, the College targeted male students of color. In particular, on information and belief, the only students who have been sanctioned with separation from the College (forced leave, suspension, or expulsion) as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct have been male students of color.

My friends on the Alt-Right would claim that, first, minority men are much more likely to commit sexual assault than white men in the general population, so it stands to reason that the same dynamics would apply to elite colleges. Second, they would be perplexed at how often “minority” in this context means “Asian-American,” as in the headline cases at Amherst and Vassar. Asian-Americans are, of course, much less likely to commit sexual assaults than whites. Is sexual assault by Asian-American men on college campuses more likely than we might naively expect or is it that the college justice system is biased against them? Save this debate for another day.

The last PC issues worth pondering concern class and culture. Consider some of the speech/actions that John Doe is accused of:

Susan brought John as her date to her 100 Days Dance. They had an argument, and she told him that she wanted to leave the party because they weren’t enjoying it. John and Susan walked towards the door, but as she walked out of it, he stayed at the door and said something like, “Oh, you can’t come back in now.”

(Susan stated that once a person left the dance, the College did not allow reentry.) At the time that John tricked Susan into leaving the dance without him, he knew that she did not have her phone or ID with her because he was holding them. Without these things, she was forced to sit outside of her dorm (Dodd House) in 19-degree weather, in only a dress and heels, as she waited about an hour for someone to come by to let her in to the building.

This is one of many (not uncontested!) examples of John Doe acting like a cad. But, as the Exploring Diversity Initiative at Williams is designed to teach, cultures differ. In Ecuador, men are expected to treat women in a certain fashion. That particular example of diversity may not be what Williams is interested in having more of. Should the College, therefore, prefer applicants from some cultures over those from others?

Side note: John Doe, on his Linked-In reports that he is Williams College 2011-2015. The first problem, obviously, is that he is implying that he has a Williams degree when, in fact, he does not. The second problem is that this suggests (since he didn’t complete the required course work until the spring of 2016) that he took time off from Williams. There is at least one anonymous suggestion that the College forced him to take time off because of his behavior towards a female student. Any truth to that? Would that explain why Williams has come down so hard on him when the facts of this case, alone, would not justify such an extreme punishment?

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