During her recent visit to Williams College, Lezli Hope White ’75 expressed surprise at the many ways in which the campus had changed. She was surprised to see so many students of color. The numbers have grown since she was last here. She was happy to see that students of color, as a collective student body composed of alumni and current students, had not ceased to fight for space on this campus. There is a ongoing struggle here that will continue until the necessary goals have been reached. Beginning with its inception in 1989, the Multi- Cultural Center (MCC) played an integral role in the development of the struggle of students of color. This year, recent alumni Nura Dualeh was appointed Director, and the staff, including secretary Shaquilla Mughal, was established.
The responsibility of the MCC fell into the hands of a former student, so Williams must recognize the importance of a student’s input and allow the students knowledge of the business it so often deems above our jurisdiction and efforts. Dualeh established the role of these students in the MCC as crucial and necessary in order to serve its function as a space for learning. In 1990, then-President Francis Oakley increased the influence of the MCC when he lead the first of many MCC lunch forums. Oakley’s kick-off speech focused on his vision of Williams in the 1990s.
Simon Stoltzberg, formerly a leader of the group Students Organized Against Racism, also played an important role in increasing the influence of the MCC. In January 1990, the MCC Newsletter began with Stoltzberg as its first Editor. Stoltzberg also pioneered the idea of creating Rathskellar Coffee House.
In addition to serving as an alternative to Williams’ typical kegger parties, the Coffee House provided entertainment for the community at large. Thanks to the efforts of people like Dualeh, Oakley and Stoltzberg, the role of the MCC was formed by student-led activities and events centered around the issues of diversity and the importance of community.
In the fall of 1990 the MCC began a series of workshops designed to reduce prejudice using the National Community Building Institute training model. These efforts focused on visiting students on a dorm-to-dorm basis to raise awareness about race issues. This effort developed into the first-year SPARC workshops and the Williams Community Builders Project, the latter of which is currently involved in race and gender crisis intervention at local high schools. In 1990, under the direction of Dualeh the MCC began to hire students as monitors.
In 1992, there was a change in management with Thomas Krueger hired as director, and Pat Burnham signing on as secretary. Bowen Chung was chosen as the MCC intern. Further staff development came in 1993, in part because Krueger left abruptly after a year. Tim Sams was hired as an Interim Director in 1993, and Marcela Peacock was added as the Program Assistant. The following year Sams assumed the role of full-fledged director.
In this same year, the Minority Coalition (MinCo), founded by College Council in 1989, began to receive its funding from the MCC. Officially acknowledged by the college in 1990, MinCo serves as an umbrella organization that unifies the voices of minority students on campus against prejudice and discrimination. MinCo has grown to encompass roughly 18 student organizations all of which seek to heighten awareness about issues pertaining to sexuality, gender, race, and religion.
Sams stayed at the Multi-Cultural Center until 1997 when he left to accept a position at Swarthmore College. Under Sams’ direction, the position of student monitors developed considerably into more involved roles within the coordination of MCC activities and events. At the same time, the MCC grew more visible on campus with the growth of the staff and the additional student help.
In 1997 Dedrick Muhammad became the Acting Interim Director, and presently there a search is being conducted to find a permanent Director for the MCC. The search for a Director is led by a committee of students and faculty. The current Interim Director is not involved in the search committee. There have been many forums in which the responsibilities and goals of the MCC Director have been debated by the student body as well as administrators. The committee has narrowed the search down to approximately three candidates. The candidates have visited the campus and met with students, staff and faculty in open lunches and interview sessions.
The invaluable role of the MCC continues to evolve as the students articulate their varying needs and concerns. The struggle continues for minority students at Williams College. The growing autonomy of students through MinCo, the MCC, and individual student organizations remains an integral component of the struggle for the development and recognition of minority voice and consciousness.