Faculty to vote on Claiming Williams today

Claiming Williams, a proposed day of discussion centered on issues of community, will face a faculty vote today. Students heading the initiative have altered the language of the proposal since it came under review at last month’s faculty meeting and have recommended Feb. 15, 2009 as the event’s date. Should the proposal pass, a Steering Committee, which has already been formed, will oversee the planning and execution of the day’s events.

“We’re very optimistic about the proposal passing,” said Shayla Williams ’09, who has directed the project since mid-February along with Claire Schwartz ’10 and Nancy Dong ’11. “We understand that there’s some opposition, but we can only hope that all the work we’ve done to change and adjust the proposal over the past month has given the faculty an idea of how important this day is.”

The April 2 faculty meeting brought several concerns to light, which have been addressed in one form or another by the revised proposal.

An overwhelming majority of faculty present at the meeting preferred a February date to the originally proposed September date. Now scheduled for the first Thursday of spring semester, the proposed date will require changes in the 2009 calendar. To accommodate canceled classes on Feb. 5, the first day of spring semester would be moved to Feb. 4.

Classes that Wednesday would follow a Thursday schedule, with the normal schedule resuming on Friday. One day would be removed from Winter Study to preserve the normal length of the inter-semester break.

Certain faculty members also expressed concern over the original proposal’s language, namely the term “culture of hate and indifference,” used to describe the current social climate on campus. The controversial phrase has been omitted from the new proposal, which instead reads, “In the belief that more can and should be done to foster the spirit of free inquiry and commitment to community, we propose that this day in February 2009 be dedicated to campus-wide consideration of invisible and visible practices that can create or disrupt community.”

According to Williams, the authors of the proposal stand by the idea that led to the original term, “culture of hate.” However, they “agreed that this is really not the tone we’re trying to communicate in the proposal,” Williams said. “This is really not about creating perpetrators and victims or accusing anyone. This is about making each individual feel that he or she can truly claim this school as his or her own. We tried to emphasize that idea even more in the revised proposal.”

A Claiming Williams Steering Committee has also been developed since the last faculty meeting. Comprising students, faculty and staff, the Committee will “oversee the design, organization, and execution” of the day’s events, if the proposal passes.

“One of the chief obstacles we faced was that faculty understandably expressed hesitation about voting affirmatively for a day when that day’s contents were not yet planned,” Schwartz said. Although she acknowledged the impossibility of planning Claiming Williams at this point, Schwartz hopes that the Steering Committee will assuage some of these concerns. “We hope the Steering Committee will provide a base for the broader community to trust in heading the logistics and planning the day,” she said. “We have met with this committee and are very excited to move forward with each other and the larger Williams community.”

Ed Epping, professor of art, and Ruth Harrison, director of Health Services, join Williams as co-chairs of the committee. In addition to Williams, Tony Coleman ’10 and Schwartz will sit on the committee. More students may be asked to join if Claiming Williams passes. Depending on today’s vote, a Planning and Execution Committee may also be formed in order to provide a broader leadership base.