This fall the College welcomed Richard Kelley as Williams’ first permanent activities coordinator with the hopes of strengthening the role of the Activities Office and making the office more accessible and useful to student organizations.
Dean of the College Peter Murphy said the establishment of the position is a step in the right direction towards coordinating student activity. “I think that the appointment of a full-time activities person is a really important development for the campus,” Murphy said. “If we do it right, it will benefit everyone enormously.”
For the past two years, the role of activities coordinator was an intern position occupied by Yolanda Rucker. With the appointment of Kelley to a permanent position, the office’s role will be redefined and expanded. In fact, Kelley pointed out he did not even see his job description until the day he accepted the position.
According to Kelley, the primary role of previous coordinators, that of helping students fund and arrange activity programs, will compose half of his duties. One important difference lies in the distribution of funds. This year there is a limit to the amount of money Kelley can give student groups. Groups can receive no more than $1000 during the academic year and no more than $250 over a seven day period. The policy changed in response to financial problems last year, when the Activities Office ran out of funds midyear.
Kelley’s secondary responsibility will be to work with the student leaders of Goodrich Hall, which he estimates will take 40 percent of his time. Assistant Dean Wanda Lee, who loosely worked with the student managers of Goodrich in a supervisory role last year, indicated that Kelley’s role is one of consultation and general support. Among these duties, Kelley handles arrangements with Buildings and Grounds and staff issues.
“The students are wonderful managers, but every once in a while they’re negotiating a contract with a vendor (i.e. coffee)…It’s good to have someone with whom to consult,” Lee said.
Both Kelley and Lee stress the management of the Goodrich coffee bar, the resource room and event scheduling all remain under student control. “I’m just the glue that holds the four managers together,” Kelley said. “I’m here to take a lot of the…little things off their shoulders.”
Additional duties include managing and screening student group financial accounts, a task performed last year by the Controller’s Office. Lee said she hopes that Kelley’s close contact with students should help to provide “coordination and consistency in transferring accounts from one year to the next.”
One of Kelley’s first tasks was to plan the publicity for Unity Weekend. Unity Weekend was aimed at encouraging student interaction, particularly that of first-years and returning students. It took place from September 10-12 and consisted of a series of events such as Laser Tag, the psychic fair and a rave in Goodrich.
By Kelley’s arrival in May, the weekend was completely scheduled. The events were chosen by students on the Housing Committee last spring and the Dean’s Office followed through with scheduling and contracting.
Unity Weekend cost $15,000 and was funded by a number of sources, including the Dean’s Office, Housing Committee, Committee for Undergraduate Life (CUL), Multicultural Center, International Students Advisors and Health Services.
Due to the considerable expense of Unity Weekend’s events, Lee said “We tried to conserve money in terms of advertising.” Both Lee and Kelley said the event’s advertising, such as posters and doorknob notices, were a partial failure.
Kelley blames the medium employed: “Print isn’t really the best way [to advertise] because there’s so much paper [on campus].” The Unity Weekend publicity campaign was identical to that used by the College last fall during First Days, except for design and color changes. However, attendance at events this year was markedly lower.
Low attendance was due in part to the scheduling of Unity Weekend during Rosh Hashanah. In a letter to the dean of the College and the Record, Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Astronomy Karen Kwitter criticized the scheduling as divisive, saying “there can be no unity when for one segment of the student body, spiritual obligations preclude participation.”
In response to the scheduling error, the less than spectacular attendance and
the fact that the Housing Committee had not yet been elected, the Dean’s Office arranged for a second set of activities the following weekend.
“We tried to group up some things that were already happening on campus and offer an alternative [to Unity Weekend],” Lee said.
Unity Weekend, however, did succeed in introducing Kelley to much of the campus. He attended most of the events, making himself available for general management and troubleshooting. Lee called the weekend “[Kelley’s] official indoctrination to the College, his coming out party.
”In the future, the Activities Office will not plan events individually; students and student groups will sponsor all events. “I won’t be doing programs for the student body,” Kelley said. “I know there’s concern that I’m forcing programs on students…but I’m supposed to be helping organizations [with programming].”
In addition, the Activities Office’s policy does not include scheduling events specifically as alternatives to drinking. “It’s not a part of [Kelley’s] agenda, but [such events] would be a good thing,” Lee noted.
Activities coordination past and future
The shift of the activities coordinator position from a revolving-door internship to a full-time permanent post is in many ways the culmination of two years of experimentation with intern Yolanda Rucker. When the idea of establishing the position of activities coordinator was first proposed, Lee said, “there were questions about how viable this position would be” in terms of utility and responsiveness. “[The interns] were guinea pigs, so to speak.”
The experiment was not always a successful one. Last year, controversy and frustration arose when the office overdrew itself, running out of funds and finding itself unable to uphold other financial commitments to such events as Inasense’s live performance and the Winter Study Rave.
Kelley, for his part, said he is eager to “really get some work done” now that Unity Weekend is behind him. “I would like to build a closer relationship with SAC and with College Council in particular because…those are the two groups on most college campuses that have the most say in the day-to-day happenings of the students. SAC is a little different than what I’m used to, seeing as how it’s an arm of College Council.”
Kelley comes to Williams after a seven-year tenure at Olivet College, where he played a large role in forming the school’s activities department. Olivet, a religiously affiliated liberal arts college in Illinois with about 900 student, “makes Williams seem like a real metropolis,” Kelley said.
As Kelley continues to familiarize himself with Williams, Murphy encourages optimistic caution: “I am excited about [the new position]. We will all need to be patient. I do think that it will be relatively confusing at first, and especially for [Kelley]…but I think after a few years it will make a real difference to us.”