No year at Williams would be complete without an attempt to drive the wedge of racial discourse between the majority white campus and the minority community a little deeper. At the closing of the 2000-01 academic year, an issue only spoken of in small circles, snack bar booths and in the hush-hush corners of Sawyer Library confronted the campus head on.
The year culminated in what we at Williams like to call “an intellectual debate on race.” Everyone knows that a racial debate does not simply appear, and that there are smaller incidents along the way that add fuel to the fire. Yet, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when the final edition of The Mad Cow had been printed and circulated with some obvious catch phrases and comments overlooked by the editor.
What I had read and what some of my collegiate colleagues found humorous outraged me. I thought it insane to print such nonsense and racial narrow-mindedness and try to hide it under the pretext of satire and parody. Yet I had to take a step back and realize that the scent of prejudice and idiocy permeates the beautiful air of the Purple Valley.
But, like the intelligent college students we are, we attempted to handle the matter with a cool head. The minority community felt as if its collegiate cohorts had stabbed it in the back, and there were even some who were so jaded by the situation and the pressures of finals and finishing their academic year on a high note that the idea of letting the BS slide
crossed numerous minds. The minority community tried to meet with deans, faculty, staff and even the perpetrators of The Mad Cow magazine. Yet, little progress was made, and the countdown towards finals was near.
One final College Council meeting was held in Baxter Lounge to bring the issue to somewhat of a close (here we have the David and Goliath story all over again). In the white corner weighing in at 75 percent of the total student population of Williams College, 208 wins, no losses, the undisputed heavyweight champion of liberal arts college racial disputes, the Great White Hope: College Council. And in the brown corner, weighing in at a measly 25 percent of the student body soaking wet, with some students counted twice to keep the statistics up to par, 3 wins, 106 losses, the angry people of color: the Minority Coalition.
As both sides entered the ring, it seemed that so many reinforcements were brought in on both sides to make the issue plain, that both sides were planning to hold their ground. The conversation began and the emotional level of involvement on both sides was heated. People were venting their frustrations, not mainly at the writers and editors of the magazine for what they wrote, but at the fact that they found it to be humorous and expected other people to do the same. It is understandable that their hope was to ease the tension between races on the campus through humor and to use laughter as a salve for the wounds within the minority community. But as the saying goes “still waters run deep” and even I, as a black American male, cannot begin to fathom how deeply I have been hurt not only by these incidents, but prior ones as well.
No one can tell you how quickly you will heal from an injury, but during the healing process, it is imperative that we make an effort to stand in the shoes of the next man. Until we do that, another human being cannot feel your pain and see your side of the story.
During the fight it even seemed like the champion was playing defensively, knowing that the only way he would lose is if he is knocked out, so riding the ropes wearing freedom of speech gloves was the best thing to do. MinCo would jab with racial harmony at Williams, the champ sends back a freedom of speech left hook. MinCo tries to sucker punch with personal stories of pain and racially motivated incidents, but the champ raises his guard and withstands the onslaught.
But in the end after the judges had seen that MinCo had put up a great fight and showed their mental toughness and resolve, the champ’s corner threw in the towel and CC voted to revoke the funding of “The Mad Cow magazine for the humor and comically impaired.”
In the end, I, for one, do not know if that was the best decision, but some action had to be taken. I plan to continue reading The Mad Cow, as I urge you to do, and any other publication that brings serious issues to the light.
I suggest you keep your eyes peeled for tiny little slip-ups so that you too can bring it to the attention of those in charge. Yeah, it’s a dirty job, but some minority student has got to do it, because, as I tell anyone who asks, I do have a responsibility to let others know what it feels like to wear brown skin everyday. Some people will never have that privilege. Some people wish that they did, and others cannot even fathom having to, but to each his own. Being a minority on this campus has been a wonderful experience, and I would not trade it for anything in the world.
Last year, the minority population of Williams was given a severe wake-up call to the subtlety of life, and how easily some things can slip by without our recognition. Look at your world not only in through your eyes, but through the eyes of your friends and even those people whose shoes are either too large or too small for us to fit in. With that step towards progress made, we can continue on a path to remove that wedge and become a united campus.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.