Last Thursday evening I was in Goodrich Hall, listening to and participating in the Minority Coalition’s College Council (CC) Debate. One of the major proposals CC presidential candidates Mayo Shattuck ’03 and Susan Combs ’04 repeated throughout the debate was their plan to have each CC representative have two or three “projects” to work on. These “projects” were not defined, nor were examples of what a “project” would look like given by the two candidates. Close to the conclusion of the debate, I quizzed Mayo and Susan about their projects. I was rather surprised by the response.
I asked Mayo, “Do you really think CC representatives are going to go through with these projects? Just look at the Gargoyle Society. As a member, Mayo, you know better than anyone else that such projects don’t get done.” When I mentioned the words “Gargoyle” and “project,” Mayo began to give a slight laugh. I wasn’t expecting that. Nor was I expecting other Gargoyles sitting behind me to laugh either. The only Gargoyle who showed any degree of shame was my suitemate Michael Nazarian ’02. Mayo did answer my question about the projects, but the spontaneous burst of laughter from three Gargoyles in the audience lead to further questions as to what was so funny.
This past weekend, I did some homework on what exactly Gargoyle is all about. In Sawyer Library you can find several editions of the History of Gargoyle. The latest edition is a nice little purple book that gives a history of the College and the Gargoyle Society. It lists the names of all former Gargoyles, including such august figures as James Phinney Baxter III ’14, Tyler Dennett ’34 and Carl W. Vogt ’58, all former presidents of the College.
The history provides a copy of the first public announcement by the Gargoyle Society to the Williams community, a letter to the Williams Weekly in 1895. The organization was described as “a non-secret organization. . .to take active steps for the advancement of Williams in every branch of college life and to exert itself against anything which it considers detrimental to such advancement.” Only after I read this did I begin to see the levity found by the Gargoyle members in attendance at the debate; the Gargoyles themselves saw very clearly that they are not taking active steps for the advancement of the College. In fact, by laughing at their inactivity, announcing to all in attendance just how much the Society and its projects meant to them, they become detriments to the very goals the Society is supposed to stand for.
The only thing remotely involving the Gargoyles to take place this year was a used textbook sale in September on Baxter lawn. It’s disturbing to see the Society fall from such heights. This is an organization that gathered the entire student body in front of the science quad every spring and “tapped” each new member. The faces and biographies of each member were featured on the front page of The Williams Record. This was an organization that was originally founded to be a bulwark against the social stratification that the Greek system created; it was, in so many words, the “anti-fraternity.”
Today Gargoyle is an anachronism â€“ for all purposes a fraternity in a land without fraternities. Members are given special access to the deans, the president of the College and the trustees. They are the unelected representatives of the student body. It does not take a genius to realize what happens when you create a body of people who are given privileges but no person or body to answer to.
Curiously enough, at the end of the letter to the Williams Weekly was a clear statement that I think many in the community should be interested in: “If at any time it becomes apparent to the alumni of Gargoyle that the organization no longer fulfills its object, it shall cease to exist.” I think it is rather clear from the laughter of the Gargoyles at the debate on Thursday and their inactivity for the entire 2001-02 academic year that the present body should seriously reexamine itself. Gargoyle needs to either recreate itself as a representative body that is public and answerable to the community or disband itself. For the present delegation to maintain the status quo is to insult the memory of former College presidents, trustees, professors and other notables of previous delegations.
If the present delegation is unwilling or unable to create such change then an external body such as the Dean’s Office (as Dean Daniel O’Connor did in 1981) or the Gargoyle Alumni Association should intervene and create the necessary changes.
Williams is moving forward in new directions under the helm of Morton Schapiro, president of the College. Almost every aspect of the College, from the curriculum to residential life to teaching load to the composition of the student body is up for debate and reform. It’s now time for Gargoyle to abandon its “good old boys” past and become a part of the 21st century.
I conclude with the final paragraph of the resignation letter of seven Gargoyles in the spring of 1967: “In the end, we can only believe that Gargoyle is an anachronism, an elitist club on a campus striving to become democratic and that its only real purpose at present is to exist and give status to the members, whose very selection is arbitrary and insupportable on any objective grounds.”