Forum anticipates diversity coalition

While droves of students relaxed outside on Paresky lawn, an estimated 100 members of the College community, including about 20 students, convened in Chapin Hall at noon on Thursday in the hope of changing the campus climate and making it more inclusive.

The event, called “Still Standing, Still Talking, Still Listening: Building a Coalition for Inclusive Community at Williams,” was organized by the Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC). “The purpose of the event was to showcase ongoing efforts,” said Lili Rodriguez, assistant director of admission and CDC member, who moderated a 40-minute town hall meeting segment of the event.

“This meeting brings together different constituents at Williams,” said Mike Reed, vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity, to open the gathering. “Up to this point, students, faculty and staff have been working in isolation. Think of this day as building a coalition to help us move forward as an institution.”
Wendy Raymond, CDC chair and professor of biology, underscored the need for this initiative. “The biggest challenge in any college is having a movement sustain itself over the summer,” she noted, referring to the Stand With Us movement that mobilized in the wake of the racist graffiti incident in Williams Hall in February. “We will soon be losing awesome leaders from our seniors, and we need to make sure that this doesn’t end.”

Among the issues discussed were the continuing need to increase faculty diversity; Claiming Williams, a proposed day of community discussions that would be held next spring semester; expanding diversity discussions that have taken place within some athletic teams; broad-based, semester-long dialogues within small groups; and the evolving role of Stand With Us.

Dave Weimer ’06, Jared Oubre ’08 and Kendell Newman ’08 pointed to the need to increase student ownership of the College by means of experiential education and the taking of responsibility for day-to-day campus operations. “The biggest issue on this campus is that we have a lot of dialogue but lack of action,” Oubre said. “Labor-intensive activities have a way of building community. It all comes down to being out there and doing things, whether putting an entry in charge of a dining hall for a week or cleaning up after a party.”

Other attendees addressed forms of discrimination that are often ignored. “As we talk about diversity, we need to think about invisible diversity as well,” said Kareem Khubchandani, assistant director of the Multicultural Center and queer life coordinator. “I personally feel that religion and sexuality have been left off the table, and that we need to work on our competency in dealing with these things.”

Chaplain to the College Rick Spalding added to the conversation about unnoticed bias. “There is another invisible wedge that needs to be named: alcohol,” Spalding said. “We haven’t yet found a way to talk about how alcohol splinters our community, and there’s a steady stream of students and parents who come to my office and have been offended by the way that normative culture of alcohol affects their lives.”

Following the meeting, Raymond called upon participants to join the 2008-9 Coalition for Building Inclusive Community, which will complement the action-oriented diversity organizations at the College, such as the CDC, by facilitating communication between them. “Another goal of the coalition will be using its big picture perspective to pull together resources for things that aren’t being paid attention to,” Raymond said.

Twenty-six signed up for the coalition, committing to hour-long, biweekly meetings beginning in September. Membership is still open.

Raymond expressed enthusiasm about the sign-ups, as well as the meeting. “It was wonderful when people started pouring in,” she said. “The quality of the contributions was terrific, and – after the meeting, people walked up to the speakers to ask how to get involved in their various projects.” She noted the CDC’s effort to muster as much of the community as possible. Student members had tabled in Paresky to publicize the event, which was held during lunch hour to ensure that staff could participate.

Rodriguez noted that she “definitely wished there were more people present,” and echoed the need to bring such discussions into the mainstream. “Diversity shouldn’t be an extracurricular activity, which is where I think we might be headed as an institution,” Rodriguez said. “It should be within the curriculum, so we can engage with it academically, then personally.”