Due to the careful efforts of many, the Williams student body is undeniably “multicultural.”
We boast a Multicultural Center whose goals include developing a multicultural campus; a Committee on Diversity and Community; and a Peoples and Cultures requirement that is intended to instill in all students “at least some basic understanding of the cultural pluralism of American society.”
Although promoting an understanding of diversity is a laudable goal, I fear that it is a limited one, both in its inherent possibilities and its execution here at Williams.
Throughout my years here, I have detected a strong preference towards prioritizing discussion of cultural and gender issues, while issues of class go overlooked.
Is this because Williams has such a daunting price tag that students are assumed to be members of the upper/upper-middle classes?
On the contrary, the existence of a need-blind admissions policy suggests a policy of tolerance towards members of all class backgrounds.
Why, then, is the primary responsibility of the Committee on Diversity and Community (according to the Student Handbook) the promotion of “racial” understanding? Why do both students and staff frequently describe being the recipients of classist behavior?
Why do the efforts of other students and myself to begin dialogues on class issues meet with embarrassed silence at best?
Although “understanding diversity” sounds like a sufficient goal, if we stop here, then this understanding is merely yet another luxury for those who can obtain education in elite environments like this one.
Rather, as Patricia Hill Collins writes, “multiculturalism” should be used as a starting point for analysis of the social conditions of power and privilege that affect all people.
An analysis of class, like ones of race and gender, must include recognition of the systems of domination that exploit some and privilege others-both in the world and here at Williams.
It is not surprising that class issues are not discussed here, or that efforts towards “multiculturalism” largely stop at surface “understanding”-the system of privilege and inequality has always been most invisible to those who are most privileged.
However, if progress is to be made, Williams students must resist complacency and examine the institutional bases for race, gender, and class relations, and the ways in which these structures play out in our own lives.