Categorizations lead to problems

Williams College is consistently ranked as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation, and is known for being a veritable Camelot in the foothills of the purple Berkshires. It is often considered a fountain of diversity and tolerance — subjects on which the average Williams student has likely written multiple essays, if not THE college entrance essay.

The pristine blue skies many of us encountered as prospectives made easy work of envisioning a tightly knit community whose members are consistently well-adjusted to each other’s differences. We are, in fact, very fortunate to have a beautiful blue sky over our heads, and to have such a degree of open, responsible discourse.

Events of the past few weeks have revealed that these aspects of Williams life are, in fact, true luxuries to many other people in today’s world. But appreciation for our local environment, one much more tolerant than the one in which Matt Shepard lived and died, is not enough.

By all accounts, the Williams community finds the rank of “second-best” unacceptable, and rightly so. We should not settle for anything less than the Camelot our brochures initially promised.

The prevailing emotion on this almost-perfect campus should not be complacency, but indignance at imperfection.

The party line for the administration should not be,”hey, we’re almost perfect!” but instead, “Why the hell aren’t we perfect?” Let’s not be coy.

This is an opinions piece coming straight from two, shall we say, vocal individuals, about recognizing the imperfections of the supposedly tolerant Williams bubble in which we reside. Perhaps you’ll recognize parallels to your own Williams “values” essay.

But we are not writing this to get into college. We’re already here. Our point is to test those values we embrace at Williams more rigorously.

At Williams, we do not lynch, stone, or crucify individuals physically, but attitudes and subtle preconceptions still erode individuals with the toughest of identities.

For the sake of frankness, let’s proceed with only the most “blunt” of tools to convince our busy Williams Record readers: Late Night’s Top Ten List of *(The Authors’ Humble Corrections about the Williams community)*

10. Women (or men) who wear make-up are not trying only to attract the opposite sex, are not confused about the date of Halloween, and were not always raised in the South.

9. The walk of shame does not mark a “stud” or “slut.” According to the immortal genius of Salt’n’Pepa, “It’s none of yo business.”

8. J. Crew is not the sole distributor of apparel on the Williams campus. Contrary to the esteemed opinions of college guidebooks, not every Williams student aspires to be a J. Crew model, or wishes to be judged as such.

7. The Berkshire Quad is no more “odd” than the Frosh Quad. And don’t pretend that you didn’t shell out seven bucks for three nights in a row to see such flamboyant costumes and swordfighting in the new “Star Wars.”

6. Some rank Williams men as an 8 and Williams women as a 3 on an attractiveness scale. Let’s just request the percentage of error in that poll…

5. A social interaction — called a “date” — does exist. “Dating,” or a desire to “date,” does not signify obsession, love, or emotional dependence. It does mean going farther than the snack bar. That is okay, even favorable, in some worlds.

4. Drinking alcohol does not mean that you aspire to be a lush or that you missed your opportunity to join a fraternity. Likewise, staying home to study on a Saturday night does not mean that you can’t get an invite to any row house parties.

3. The Econ department does not recruit from sports teams; the women’s studies syllabus is not all “feminazi” propaganda; psych majors do not form a Freud cult; Druids do not proceed religiously in robes through the wilderness.

2. The Garfield Republicans are not all radical right-wingers with a mission to transform the Purple Valley into a bastion of conservative thought; the Williams Democrats are not bomb-throwing, liberal extremists.

Giving our own perceptions of Williams some credit, let’s assume that at least one of these nine made you laugh, smirk, or nod at something you recognize in Williams life. That is the point. This is such standard fare for Williams humor and conversation that we may not even give jokes or references about other groups of people a second thought. But passing remarks accumulate, and the sum total equals an undercurrent that is less than positive.

Of course, this does not even approach the level of intolerance of true hate crimes. Certainly, we do not claim that we, the authors, are free from categorizing people.

Such a mindset, however, does represent a form of bigotry, insidious and therefore difficult to overcome. Breaking down any of these preconceptions would be an incredible task, but one worthy of a good fight.

And, therefore…

1. Those with the principle and compassion to stand up for what they believe, against discrimination, are not “whining.” In fact, they may be the only ones to save Williams from sinking into complacency.

Even aside from disrespect for the gravity of hate crimes, last week’s defacement of the gravestones on Baxter lawn seems symbolic of a more ubiquitous, not so recent, vandalism of traditional Williams values.

We expect outsiders to recognize the well-rounded nature of a Williams education, but how can we rightly claim that any of us deserves praise if we espouse or passively accept ANY sheltered, narrow-minded attitudes?

By allowing negative stereotypes to exist at all in such a small community, we are truly accepting the status of “second-best.” Something to think about in the weeks before Homecoming, a different kind of contrast with Wesleyan and Amherst…

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