Stand With Us’ ranks swell

Stand With Us’ call for awareness and confrontation of discrimination at the College has extended beyond the marching and chanting seen at last Wednesday’s rally. Many professors chose to hold smaller conversations within classrooms last week, and discussion continues to crop up across campus, whether while standing in line for Snack Bar or walking to the gym.

Dialogue has been occurring within first-year entries, athletic teams and, notably, at a dinner-discussion event at the Jewish Religious Center on Sunday. The dinner brought together 60 students from various campus religious organizations to address discrimination in a setting that was simultaneously intimate and open. “Discussions give the chance to talk while others listen which really respects the complexity of each person,” said Kimberly Davis ’08, one of the organizers. “People’s ideas and understandings of life are not just formed by their mind but are in part conditions in their heart and soul.”

Stand With Us, as well as College administrators, are now working to make these interactions, and other cultural changes, part of the Williams framework. “Moving from broad to concrete action is going to be hard,” said Morgan Goodwin ’08, who has officially stepped back from Stand With Us leadership. “The rally was the easy part.”

Dorothy Wang, professor of American studies, agreed. “The rally was great, but we need to move beyond the symbolic to concrete institutional changes to make a permanently better situation for minorities at Williams,” she said. “Students graduate after four years, but these things have been happening for Williams for decades.” Wang highlighted the importance of maintaining an archived history of diversity issues at the College as one means of effecting lasting change.

Among the immediate priorities of Stand With Us is establishing new leadership and defining its own role for maximum efficacy and inclusiveness. Goodwin pointed to the Thursday Night Group model, a decentralized network of students from various organizations working on multiple projects simultaneously. “A lot of people on this campus are always looking for ways to improve what they do but don’t have the time or resources to have big discussions to figure it out,” he said. “Stand With Us can be a place where these conversations are hashed out.”

While such decisions are ongoing, the three Stand With Us subcommittees will continue to take specific actions. In the near future, the discussion day subcommittee is looking to hold an extensive debriefing from the rally as well as an all-campus discussion on diversity issues. The subcommittee for reaching out to sub-communities on campus will be working with the Committee for Athletic Diversity to start discussion within the athletic community, involving the Junior Advisors in engaging first-years, initiating a plan for student leader orientation and reevaluating mid-orientation programs.

Concurrently, the social honor code subcommittee intends to work with the administration and the entire student body to establish a transparent process to evaluate the desirability and possible content of a code. “The aim of the social honor code is to foster a culture of respect, and establish some consistent mechanisms for dealing with bias incidents while accommodating specific circumstances,” said Peter Nurnberg ’09, the point person for the subcommittee. “It is not to impose any new restrictions.”

The subcommittee has proposed a year-long time frame to analyze the idea of a code and prepare for an all-campus vote on the matter. “The goal is to do this properly. We understand that if we do this overnight it won’t be done the right way,” Nurnberg said, adding that he hoped a transparent and inclusive process would succeed where previous social honor code proposals by small groups of students had failed.

The College administration has also been initiating conversations to formulate substantive plans for change, particularly through the special faculty meeting last Wednesday and the special staff meeting that will be held on Friday. “We’re at a point where we’re not sure who’s going to carry what forward,” said Wendy Raymond, associate dean for institutional diversity and professor of biology. “I think in the next ten days this will start to get clarified through various meetings. Many of us hope to get something organized very quickly, to build on the momentum generated through the rally.”

Raymond, who also chairs the Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC), said 151 faculty and staff had signed the Pact electronically, in addition to the hard copy signatures in Paresky. “One concrete outcome of Stand With Us and last Wednesday’s rally has been to elicit from many faculty and staff members a heartfelt and committed solidarity with students trying to make our Williams learning community a place where all can thrive,” Raymond said.

While the CDC’s plans are as yet uncertain, Raymond underscored the need for a concerted push for respect and diversity. “We feel strongly that all ensuing efforts should involve students, faculty and staff – a coalition of all three kinds of people at Williams,” Raymond said, noting that the CDC is looking to organize a town hall meeting on community concerns at Williams, and is in favor of having a dedicated day during the semester when classes are cancelled for community education activities, an idea suggested at an early Stand With Us meeting.

Mike Reed, vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity, also noted that discussion is ongoing with Wesleyan University about the possibility of replicating the University’s system of posting bias-motivated incidents on a website as a platform for dialogue and education.

“While the recent racial slur incidents were disturbing, I think it’s good that those things at least have come to the surface and we’re now looking more closely at how best to respond as a community,” Reed said. “Like everyone else, I do get disappointed in my institution, but at the end of the day I think we have both the leadership and courage for moving forward in a very positive way.”