An exploration of the social aspects of race on the Williams campus is the focus of a project called “Introduce Race.” Organized by members of this year’s Gargoyle Society, the project centers around the community’s experiences with and responses to issues of race. The students hope to “increase a culture of understanding and communication,” as Jen Geiger ’01 said in an opinion piece appearing in last week’s Record.
Geiger is working on the endeavor with three other students – Royce Smith ’01, Lesley Reith ’01 and Dayna Baskette ’03. The project is scheduled to continue through the year if response from the College community is good. “So far, the response has been very positive,” Smith said, referring to students’ thoughts on the project itself and to the amount and quality of responses that it has elicited.
“If we can get past the politicization [of race] then we’ll be able to understand each other more,” said Smith. “Race really is a social construct.”
As the first part of the project, Smith and the other students have been requesting student and faculty responses for about a week. “We’ll collect stories until winter study,” Geiger said, so that Gargoyle can publish an anthology of responses by February. If the response continues to be positive, Gargoyle plans on staging another round of forums to discuss the results.
The first round of forums is running this fall. The first, which took place last Thursday, focused on Latino identity. Next Wednesday the project hosts its next forum – held in conjunction with the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Union (BGLTU) – on “Coming out in Color.”
Upcoming forums will include many groups on campus, including the Black Student Union (BSU), the Williams Christian Fellowship (WCF), the Newman Association, the Williams Feminist Alliance (WFA), Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SoCA), the International Club, Students of Mixed Heritage (SoMH), Williams African Students Organization and the Jewish Association. The sessions are being recorded on video and may possibly be used in future Students Promoting Awareness, Respect, and Community (SPARC) workshops.
The project coordinators said that the forum aims to help students of all backgrounds come to terms with issues of ethnicity. “Race is a phenomenon that people think of because they’re forced to…and a lot of the time, the majority of the community doesn’t have to consider it an issue,” said Smith.
Any and all experiences with race are welcome, including “the recognition of the fact that you’re white, rich and privileged,” said Geiger – because this recognition is key to accepting other races and identities, according to the organizers.
However, Smith said, “it’s not as simple as attending a forum…it’s about sitting down on your own time, your own terms and reflecting what [race] means to you.” All members of the community are welcome to participate, with the option of telling a story, responding to a question such as “reflect upon a situation that made you aware that someone close to you was a member of a different race than yours,” or attending one or more forums. The fact that members of the community can participate in a completely anonymous way – sending submissions by e–mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or S.U. box 3180 – will hopefully increase responses, the organizers say, and allow people to write things they feel are relevant but do not want to have their name attached to.
Smith devised the project over the summer after Andre McKenzie ’01, vice president of Gargoyle, brought up the issue of how to address race in terms of their group. Smith developed the idea, expanding it to include the Williams community.
Geiger said that if the project is successful, similar projects might be initiated in future years, addressing controversial issues such as religion, class, sexual orientation and gender. The organizers hope that the project will pave the way for future attempts to address social issues on a campus-wide basis.