Black History Month: Race and student governance: aeparate but equal

Three words; short, simple and ever so accurate. Actions speak louder than words, and while we often hear cries for more communication, more racial harmony, and more co-coordination, the state of student political affairs is unquestionably separate, and the most urgent and consistent efforts on this campus strive towards equality in a separate state.

Mind you, there are no absolutes in this discussion, because there are individuals on this campus who choose not to fall in line with the current system. However, by and large, in the realm of campus politics and concerning the vehicles for exercising the student voice, this campus practices the ideals of separate but equal.

Let us begin with College Council, the largest student government structure on campus: There are two ways in which we can define College Council.

The following is rhetoric: The College Council is the representative student government here at Williams College. Its role is twofold: the first is to provide logistical and financial support for all new and existing student groups. The second is to represent the needs and wishes of the student body to the administration and faculty.

The following is reality:

The College Council is one (of many) representative student government-organizations here at Williams College. Its role is twofold: the first is to provide logistical and financial support for (a majority of) new and existing student groups. The second is that it represents the needs and wishes of (the majority) student body to the administration and faculty (while to date never being fully engaged in the concerns of minority students).

Enter minority student government organizations. The Williams Black Student Union has historically been the largest advocate for the concerns of black students at Williams, and in recent years the BGLTU and VISTA have been extremely vocal about various issues. These are a few of the many organizations that administer to the needs of minorities on campus. If you look at the policies and the administration of the WBSU, you will most certainly find that every facet of the BSU’s agenda is a direct attempt to address the interests and concerns of black students at Williams.

Black students provide the electoral base and the leadership of the organization, as (in practice) the white community, for the most part, provides the same for College Council. I am not blaming College Council for being a disproportionately white governing organization. And I am certainly tired of individuals turning on minority government organizations, blaming them for separation on campus, as if to assume that minority organizations are the only student organizations that are deserving of a racial preface before their title. Is the BSU any more African American than College Council is Euro-American?

This is quite simply the true state of student politics on our campus. Government organizations are separated along racial lines, despite similar goals of trying to improve campus conditions for their respective constituencies.

This is our reality, and its one that perhaps unfortunately we are all satisfied with. Yes the rhetoric of the campus emphasizes communication and acceptance, but underneath the rhetoric, all I hear are hollow appeals of tolerance. The actions of the campus exhibit the very opposite of that which many students profess to believe. Meanwhile too many minorities get lost in a system of assimilation, rather than integration.

If legitimate progress is in our future, we must to begin to accept an idea that is seemingly a foreign concept to most whites at Williams: that integration does not begin with minority students. Integration is not the process by which minority student organizations disband, nor is it the black infiltration of the great white abyss that is the North Side at Baxter. Such assertions are all too common, and ridiculously perverted from genuine concern and intelligent thought towards the matter at hand.

Integration demands a genuine respect and interest in difference, not cultural submergence by one party to please another. True integration, unlike assimilation, is a two-way street; and in this country and on this campus, black folk have had to do too much of the traveling.