Minority org. debate looks at community

The four pairs of candidates running for College Council (CC) co-presidents debated minority issues and concerns of campus community Thursday evening in Goodrich Hall. The debate was sponsored by campus minority organizations. About 60 students attended the debate.

Ami Parekh ’01 and Todd Rogers ’01, Rob MacDougall ’01 and Brendan Quinn ’02, Seth Behrends ’02 and Jon Wiener ’02 and Felton Booker ’01 and Phil Swisher ’01 fielded questions from moderator Royce Smith ’01, chairperson of the Black Student Union (BSU), panelists Sergio Espinosa ’02, Andrea Pyatt ’00 and Mireya Hurtardo ’00 and student members of the audience.

Smith posed the first question to the candidates: How will you address diversity and community at Williams? Why are you here, and why is this debate happening?

Parekh, the current CC secretary, stated that, during her tenure on CC, she has noticed an underrepresentation of minorities on CC. Rogers, a current CC representative, agreed, stating that minority issues do not come up much during CC meetings. “Student leaders [of minority organizations] must come together and CC should help to facilitate that,” he said.

“You asked why we are here,” Rogers continued. “We’re here because it’s not enough for us to just sit back.” Rogers said that he and Parekh propose bringing open time and office hours into public areas like the snack bar or dining halls showcase their desire to take in more student opinions to CC.

MacDougall stated that he and Quinn hope to remedy “the general sentiment that CC has degenerated into an organization that doesn’t represent the day-to-day needs of students.” The situation, he said, is exasperated by the fact that the campus is separated into two separate entities of minorities and non-minorities.

Wiener said, jokingly, in reference to Smith’s question, “We’re here because Royce asked us to come.” Continuing more seriously, he stated that he and Behrends felt that right now there “is not necessarily a vehicle for advertising minority issues to the whole campus” and that this needs to be addressed.

Behrends added, “Williams students in general, minority and majority students together, are not having enough fun these days.” Taking a quick poll of the audience, Behrends asked how many people felt stressed out. “That’s a majority,” he said, pointing to the numerous hands raised in the audience.

Booker stated that he and Swisher would like to “encourage and motivate usually marginalized aspects of the campus to run for college government positions and get involved.”

Swisher, who is currently a member of CC, added that CC should “become more available to students” and play the role of “unifiers.”

The panel asked each pair of candidates what efforts they have done in the past to build community and promote diversity on campus.

Booker indicated his involvement as co-coordinator of Williams Community Builders, where they created a video highlighting tensions in the community. The video and a discussion of community are now parts of First Days. Booker, who is Junior Advisor (JA) co-president, also pointed out that his role as a JA puts him in a position where he can both encourage discussion of diversity and “hold up the values of Williams.”

Wiener and Behrends said they could not detail to the panel any experience they had had in promoting diversity, but Behrends pointed out that this was a positive thing because “we are fresh blood with fresh ideas.”

MacDougall said, “We have been students here for three years and we can’t point to certain activities…but,” he said, pointing to the audience, “we know many of you on some personal basis.” He and Quinn plan to “bring different groups together” through a fair or forum, where representatives from groups can set up booths and talk with interested students.

Rogers pointed out that it is possible to promote diversity through CC, citing CC’s funding of the Powwow and the Bowling Club as examples. “They use unity to enhance diversity on campus,” he said.

“They are ways to improve CC so it represents the community at large,” Parekh added, citing her involvement in the Shuttle Service.

The panel asked the candidates about whether the Peoples and Cultures requirement fulfills its purpose.

“The Peoples and Cultures Requirement is superficial,” Behrends said. Wiener stated that the point of education is to “study people who are different” and the Peoples and Cultures requirement facilitates this. Behrends added, “People who object to it are probably the ones who need it the most.”

Booker said, although it is a “wonderful requirement,” its purpose is not being met in its current state. Swisher added, “The Peoples and Cultures Requirement opened up a world of classes that you wouldn’t ordinarily take…That’s what a Williams education is all about.”

Quinn said on how to address people who have a problem with the requirement, “Open your mind. Williams is a diverse school…and you should get to experience different people.”

According to Parekh, in order to improve the Peoples and Cultures requirement, “You need to take it into the committees like the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP). Go to the departments and make sure they are doing what they need to do.” Rogers praised the nature of the requirement because it “expose[s] students to the type of class they wouldn’t normally be exposed to.”

The candidates then answered questions from the audience. A student asked the candidates how they would make queer issues more visible on campus and how to address homophobic harassment on sports teams.

“Encouraging diversity is part of being a JA,” Booker said. He pointed out that the entry talks are a place where these issues can be addressed. Having the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered Union (BGLTU) involved in training JA’s would also be helpful, he said.

Behrends said, “BGLT [concerns] are some of the hot issues on campus…We need a more comfortable environment.”

Quinn said, “The simple answer is to start hanging out with gay people.” MacDougall added, “You learn to break down stereotypes through personal interaction.”

Parekh said that she felt the solution should start in the first year and with JA training. Her entry had its most productive discussion on these issues during First Days, she said. “Where does CC fit into this?” she asked. “It is the place where all groups come together and facilitate interaction.”

Another student asked the candidates how they would increase communication between MinCo and CC.

Parekh said that it is hard to expect two MinCo representatives to represent the entire minority voice. “We need to get more minorities to run,” she said. “You look around at College Council and it doesn’t represent the entire community.” Rogers said that adding minority groups to the list of Student-Faculty groups who give monthly updates to CC, would increase interaction with CC.

Quinn mentioned that two MinCo representatives out of 35 CC members is too small a number. MacDougall said, “Adding more minorities to CC is what is going to make a marked difference in the long run.”

Behrends noted that the ideal situation is to have more minorities on CC, but it is difficult to “just do that.” Monthly meetings between CC and MinCo would be a good start, he said.

Booker said that the role of co-presidents entails encouraging interaction with other group leaders on a regular basis. “CC co-presidents should start that train,” he said.

The candidates also discussed supporting a Latin-American Studies program, the schism between drinkers and non-drinkers and the hiring of more minority faculty.

The final question asked the candidates to consider how they would “mobilize the majority on campus to become involved in minority organizations.”

Parekh said this debate was achieving that purpose. “The point of student government is to get those issues out there,” she added.

“We’re on the cusp of a fundamental change in the campus,” Rogers said. “I thought the campus was apathetic,” but after seeing the campus response to the Diallo decision, “something is about to change. CC can be the steward of momentum.”

MacDougall stressed that bringing together the majority and the minority was something important to address both socially and in the classroom.

Behrends said that apathy is the result of the majority being comfortable with the status quo. “Minority groups are fighting for a cause and that is part of why we see the problem,” he said. “Part of the solution is being engaged in a cross-sectional experience.”

Booker said, “To majority students, the words ‘diversity’ and ‘multi-culturalism’ are signal words, ‘this is not for me.’” He feels that majority students should go to some minority events. “Once they are there, they may realize they may like it.”

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