Open discussion necessary for community

To the editor:

I want to offer a few reflections on the articles and letters about race relations at Williams that have appeared recently in the Record. I am responding specifically to thoughts expressed by Tim Karpoff, Zoe Unger, Royce Smith, Boisseau Woltz, Matt Atwood, and Ben Finholdt in the Feb 16th and Feb. 23rd issues.

It is evident that the Williams community is seriously fragmented along lines of difference, including but not limited to racial differences. This is evident to me both because I researched issues of community and diversity for a project last semester, and because it has been such a prominent theme in recent Record issues. In order to address our current lack of true community, a few prevalent attitudes need to be recognized and remedied.

One detriment to dialogue is the requirement that all utterances be “politically correct,” a well-intentioned promotion of “respect” that really prevents honest conversation by instilling the fear of offending in speakers who do not identify in specifically prescribed ways with the given topic.

A corresponding ill is the widespread tendency to treat life at Williams as something that is not real, or as something that doesn’t count the way our actions and opinions will count once we enter “the real world.” The unquestioning acceptance of this mischaracterization of college life, intended as an acknowledgment of students’ naivete and lack of life experience, contributes to the frustrating political and social apathy that has been mentioned repeatedly by students I have interviewed and by articles in the Record.

In light of these problems, a combination of individual and group action is required. Certainly nothing will be accomplished without some level of increased personal commitment to creating a unified (and heterogeneous) community from a sufficiently large segment of the Williams population. As long as we fail to recognize and resist the idea that what we do on this campus is not inherently significant, there will be no incentive for true personal commitment or assumption of responsibility. Those individual resolutions that are made will not result in widespread or lasting change without some sort of implementation in activism or organizing. In other words, individuals must decide they want to change and then they must form or join alliances to act in an effort to change the existing structures.

I would like to second Boisseau Woltz’s call for “big forums” to discuss issues of racial segregation, and other obstacles to true community at Williams, and add my name to the list of people to contact about such a project. With enough campus-wide support, and professional facilitation, large group dialogues could result in real changes in the underlying shape of the campus community. I would also like to challenge the administration, the College Council and other groups as well as unaffiliated individuals on campus to pool their resources and efforts to improve community relations so that Williams can call itself a multicultural and diverse community without hypocrisy.

Kristina Gehrman ’00

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