I was upset last Wednesday when I read about College Council’s recent recognition of Timeline Productions, a theater group dealing with minority issues. Timeline, and similar minority-centric initiatives, make our campus seem more divided, with fewer opportunities for everyone.
With an infamous old-boys network and decidedly white polish, Williams’ historic traditions jive poorly with its current cultural mix of students and faculty. While minorities have made great strides since diversification began nearly three decades ago, vast segments of the community, including women, non-Caucasians and queers, remain alienated by persistent, albeit subtler, intolerance. The recent increase in harassment of queer students and discovery of gender-based payroll inequities, are both serious manifestations of these still-flourishing biases.
Under this backdrop, special-interest groups thrive at Williams. From the Newman Association to KOW, SoCA to the BGLTU, these organizations provide much needed support, while promoting awareness and tolerance among nonmembers. Through community activism, meetings and events, Williams’ minority groups foster greater understanding and contribute to the College’s rich diversity. By funding these endeavors, College Council has been helpful in encouraging better inter-group relations.
But do these groups ever stop bridging gaps and start pigeonholing students? Do they function to maintain separation? To some degree, the answer is “yes.”
New well-meaning initiatives, like Timeline, and the current debate over the lack of minority economics professors, highlight important, scary new trends at Williams. In their anxious rush to abandon a less-than-stellar heritage, College Council and the new Diversity Committee partially encourage student-enforced separation. Groups like Timeline may provide expressive outlets, but don’t confront possible racism in the parent organizations they split from. By distinguishing themselves, Timeline actors remove their cause from the communal arena, drawing sharp lines through campus art and politics in the process.
All people instinctively divide. By choosing suitemates, clubs and even sports teams, people create their own comfort zones. But when those associations become racial, individuality is compromised and opportunity wasted.
If they stuck with Cap and Bells or Williamstheatre, Timeline’s members could instill tolerance, knowledge and respect in the College’s institutional framework. By creating a forum for important issues, they’d be actively combating the system’s prejudice, while increasing drama’s accessibility and appeal for all students. By excluding themselves, they accomplish none of this.
When used appropriately, minority-run organizations provide solace and a leg up. But as more people depend on these groups, Williams’ collective diversity suffers. A balance between the two extremes must be sought. Integrating minorities into existing institutions will better serve the entire community, while keeping avenues open for everyone.