We’ve all read a number of interesting comments by our classmates on race relations here at Williams College. Many general points have been made and people have tried to trace the problem to a source. But inevitably, that source is some massive and difficult to locate entity like “the BSU” or “white people.” We all know that even if these groups were the source, we cannot expect a large body of people just to change. So why aren’t we publicly examining our campus leadership?
This school is filled with organizations and those organizations have student and faculty leaders. While this is, by no means, the source of the problem, this could be the location of its remedy.
How do we convince complacent students that community building is an important task? We choose campus leaders whose visible actions verify the importance of an integrated community.
How do we make certain organizations within Williams seem less like race-based cliques? We bring these institutions back to the greater community by choosing leaders directly from the campus.
If a chosen leader is someone who would otherwise be separate from the campus, then it should come as no surprise that students complain that these organizations are divisive.
As it turns out, the administration has recognized the need to bridge the many communities at Williams through internal leadership. President Payne recently wrote, “I think faculty can be more broadly woven into the institution and activities of the MCC, and the appointment for the first time of a faculty member as head of the MCC is an important step in that direction.” Indeed, having a Williams professor as head of the MCC should help bring the minority organizations into the greater community. Unfortunately, there are still leaders missing.
Abigail Naomi Jackson wrote an article two weeks ago pointing out the need for “mentors with whom [students] can relate both academically and personally.” I wish to extend this point. It is equally important that students seek leadership and support from mentors who do not look like them, with whom they do not relate and who share little common background with them. That is the essence of community. Only then can all students feel they are invited members of a Williams community.
I stress the difference between acceptance and invitation. Simply accepting the presence of minority groups and cultures is not enough. We need a base of leadership, both students and faculty, whose broad community participation will show the rest of us what kind of community we strive for. Genuine leadership must cross genres.
Take, for example, the Martin Luther King Day celebration in Chapin Hall. There were enough white people in the audience to fill a hockey rink (if you’re playing four-on-four). The absence of white students at such a function is a disgrace to our school. But what kind of message are our leaders sending those students (many of whom feel that race relations are just fine) if they don’t show up either?
I’ve been given the explanation that professors and administrators have their own lives after five o’clock. I respect that; we all should.
But that didn’t stop a host of minority faculty members from showing up. That also hasn’t stopped plenty of faculty members from going to sports events, concerts and other off-hours events. The audience at the MLK Day celebration indicates a need for more visible and active leadership from all ends. We should begin responding by getting ourselves a dynamic president who will dig his or her hands deep into the Williams community and make his or her presence felt by all Williams students.
I don’t want to suggest that choosing the right president (or any individual leader for that matter) will solve the problem of race relations on campus. There should be no mistake about it: bridging the racial gaps on campus will require the humility, maturity and effort of every single student here. But it won’t happen without strong, visible leadership.
Very soon, we will be choosing a leader whose presence alone will influence this campus. We pride ourselves on community. We need to make sure we get a president who can offer us just that.