BSU rededicates library, honors work of alumni

The Black Student Union (BSU) presented a research project on the history of black students at Williams at the re-opening of the Alana Haywood Library in Rice House on Feb. 9. The library has been reopened in honor of Black History Month.

The talk focused on a number of notable black students at the College and examined their experiences adjusting in a period of racial tension.

As the first black student admitted in 1889, Gaius Bolin started a tradition of excellence for the black students who followed him.

Initially denied an on-campus living experience because he was not allowed to live with white students, he still managed to graduate Phi Beta Kappa and was also a member of the College’s football team.

The research project also revealed that several black students were involved in activist events, which shaped the way black students were treated on campus.

During the 1940s, it cost a black student three times as much to get a haircut as it cost a white student. In retaliation, a black student and his best friend, the editor of the Record, who happened to be white, pressed charges against the Spring Street barbershop.

In 1969, black students took over Hopkins Hall, refusing to leave until a list of 15 demands was met. The demands were aimed at ensuring that blacks on campus had equal opportunities during their stay at the College.

The event was peaceful, and at its conclusion, the students replaced all the food they had eaten and requested an extra day to clean up the building before employees returned to their desks.

The Afro-American Society, in 1972, occupied the Snack Bar for nearly two and a half hours in response to sentiments that black students were experiencing racism from the Snack Bar staff.

It was alleged that white students were receiving larger portions of food and there were long delays in serving blacks even when the Snack Bar was not crowded.

Coverage in the Record shows that misconceptions about blacks were common on campus even in the 70s.

The newspaper reported that an argument broke out between a student and a Snack Bar staff member.

Though both parties used explicit language, the newspaper stated that such language was “common” amongt black people.

Between 1977 and 1978 there was also a cross-burning on Perry’s lawn after which several students received death threats. Federal authorities were called in to investigate. The people responsible were never caught.

Although several students called a moratorium for classes to be canceled, the College refused to have a day off.

“I found it pretty interesting that they had a cross-burning and the Williams administration wanted things to run as usual,” said Rene Hamilton ’04, a member of the BSU board and one of the participants in the research project.

The presentation concluded with the history of black students on campus over the past decade.

The main issue in recent years has been the poor retention of black faculty members, the denial of tenure to professors with good reputations and class rapport and the failure to institute African-American studies as a full-fledged major.

“You can tell we don’t get too far around here when it comes to African-American studies,” Hamilton said.

For many, it may appear that the steps taken by black predecessors have faded into the woodwork.

The research project shows that many of the demands of the Hopkins Hall takeover were never met, and groups, such as the Committee on Diversity, which was originally formed to address minority issues, either no longer exist or serve a marginal role in minority activities today.

In addition to presenting the research project, the BSU reopened the Rice House library.

There has been a library there for several years, but it has recently been reorganized to be more user-friendly. Books can now be borrowed on the good-faith premise.

Originally named the Sterling Brown library after a student who attended Williams in the 1920s, the library was renamed for Alana Haywood ’03, an active member of the BSU. Haywood died of meningitis while attending the College.

The new library is located on the second floor of the house, while the old library on the ground floor is now a space for prayer, religious observance or meditation and is open to the public.

The Rice House Wall of Fame was also introduced at the event. Beginning in April, the BSU board will begin to annually induct notable black alumni onto a Wall of Fame.

The process is an effort to ensure that the legacy of African-American alumni will be remembered.

The night’s events had a powerful effect on the large group of students in attendance.

“I feel tonight’s events were inspiring. It makes me want to start something so I can make it onto the new Wall of Fame,” Maurice Robinson ’06 said.

“It shows me that the bar has been raised high, and makes me want to become a great lawyer, doctor or something so I can be on par with the great black students who have graced this campus.”

The Alana Haywood Library is open daily to students, faculty and staff. BSU rededicates library, honors work of alumni

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