The lingering question of who would run the Williams College Multicultural Center (MCC) for the 1998-1999 academic year was answered in early August as Professor of Political Science Alex Willingham was appointed the new director.
Willingham replaced former full-time director Timothy Sams, who left Williams in May of 1997 for a similar position at Swarthmore College.
Willingham said one of his major goals this year will be to assess the vision and ideals of the MCC.
“My basic goal this year is to see that we have a center that can think clearly about itself in relation to the mission of the College,” he said. “We will use the occasion of our entry into the second decade to revisit the founding of the center and the ideals articulated. We will examine those things we have done over the years and see how they stack up.”
Willingham has been with the College since 1989. In addition to teaching in the political science department he is also chair of the Afro-American Studies program. Willingham has been active within the MCC since its inception in 1989, as well as with numerous campus and community organizations. He noted that his experience with civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education fund, has helped him to maintain his awareness of the key issues involving race and public policy.
An ambiguity surrounding Willingham’s appointment was the College’s delay in choosing a qualified candidate to replace Sams.
A committee of Williams faculty, staff, and students began searching for candidates in the fall of 1997 and Dedrick Mohammed ‘96 served as interim director of the Center while the search process to fill the full-time position was being carried out.
Dean of the College Peter Murphy said it took the committee longer than expected to find the right candidate for the position.
“[The search] provided some excellent people, but not of the weight and authority we felt the MCC needed,” Murphy said.
However, committee members said last winter they decided to search for a new director within the ranks of the College’s own faculty. The results of this shift in vision have excited both students and faculty alike
“As it turns out, this was really the best thing that could have happened for the MCC,” said committee member Kendra Field ’99.
Murphy added: “In the end, I couldn’t think of a better outcome.”
Willingham said he did not feel slighted by the length of the search process.
“The rethinking of the position was complex and I will admit, as I always do, that I was not convinced that we needed to go to the faculty model,” he said.
For Medha Kirthane ’00, another member of the search committee, the major benefits of having Willingham at the helm of the MCC are his faculty connections and academic influence. Kirthane stressed that Willingham will be able to handle the academic aspect of promoting multicultural awareness with more ease than past directors.
Murphy added that “[Willingham] will help create more connections with the curriculum and the faculty, and with the broader intellectual life of the college.”
Sandina Green ’99, the co-chair of the Minority Coalition, noted that it will be an asset to have an MCC director who is already familiar with Williams.
“Willingham is in a perfect position. He knows the ins and outs of the college and knows how to bring the MCC more into college life.” She explained that past director Tim Sams, who came to Williams in 1992, was burdened with the task of integrating himself with the college while trying to expand the MCC: “Tim [Sams] was an extraordinary person, but he had a very tough job.”
Willingham said one of his primary goals as director will be a rethinking of the academic curriculum with an increased focus on diversity and multiculturalism. He expressed excitement about the academic impact he will be able to make to help advance the goals of the MCC: “The classroom [is] where I think the rubber hits the road,” he said.
He noted that it will be a challenge to juggle his teaching with his obligations at the MCC.
“I am in something of a strain now because this job was offered after I had put in place a rather full agenda of teaching and writing,” he said. But he added that he doesn’t feel his teaching and research commitments will preclude him from being an effective director.
Partly to address the constraints of Willingham’s time schedule, the College created a new position at the Center, hiring Anita Doddi ’98 as assistant director.
“Basically, I’m here to help with the load,” Doddi said.