Committee begins collecting data on student interactions

The Committee on Community Interactions (CCI) has started work in determining whether there exists a problem in the way in which members of the College community interact. College Council formed the committee last spring in an effort to ensure that the momentum the Stand With Us movement generated for social awareness on campus would not dampen.

CCI’s mandate outlines two stages, the first of which targets completion by Oct. 15. The mandate states that the first stage is to “establish if there is a problem with the way people in [the Williams] community interact with each other and the way Williams handles social infractions.”

The second stage involves a process to “formulate a proposal to address the problems [if one is found].”

Stage one consists primarily of interviews to understand a range of campus groups’ perspectives – from varsity teams to religious organizations to faculty – on community issues.
Charles Toomajian, associate dean and CCI faculty advisor, outlines it as a research phase. “It is an attempt to gather as much information as possible about interactions between student-faculty, student-student and student-staff and to very honestly look whether there is a problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.

The information CCI gathers is mostly “anecdotal and subjective, but these stories are important in revealing the perspectives that usually don’t come out,” said Tanvir Hussein ’10, member of the CCI.

The Committee meets every Thursday and includes faculty, staff and CC-appointed students. Four faculty members, including Chaplain Rick Spalding, serve as advisors, but only the students vote on the issues that will be brought to CC. The board has only met three times and the interview stage has just begun. “An appeal for an extension will be probably made to ensure that all in the mandate will be accomplished in a reasonable manner,” Toomajian said.

There exist many reservations about the second stage of CCI’s mandate. Last spring, many students expressed concern that a social honor code will arise from this process. Such fears are not unfounded as the CCI’s mandate suggests the drafting of “explicit community standards that reflect the sentiments of the campus community” as part of stage two.
Hussain assures students, though, that no matter what the solution, students will have the greatest voice in the final decision. “All-campus debates and student body voting will be installed,” he said. “It will not be a top-down decision.”

To keep the community aware of their developments and findings, CCI has created a link from Williams Students Online to their Web site, wso.williams.edu/orgs/cc/cci/, where students can read minutes from their meetings and submit anonymous opinions. According to Hussain, these measures will be vital in ensuring “transparency and publicity – to maintain the momentum of these issues.”

Complementing the CDC

The Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC) has also initiated projects that coincide with the goals of CCI. CDC created Williams Reads, a program that recommends books relating to themes of diversity and then holds discussions and movie viewings to generate conversation about diversity.

The CDC also expanded the Gaius Charles Bolin fellowships program, which brings scholars of underrepresented groups in their field to complete teaching residencies at the College.
“It has been an activist committee these past couple of years,” said Wendy Raymond, professor of biology and associate dean for institutional diversity.

While both committees examine issues of diversity, their purposes are distinct. The CCI emerged to fulfill a specific student-initiated mandate concerning student interactions and respect. “The CCI’s main goal is to ensure after seniors graduate and as freshmen come in – clearly intolerable incidents do not become seen as simply disciplinary incidents that are completely isolated,” Toomajian said. “It is the CCI’s task to guarantee these incidents are investigated for the possibility of systemic problems and to have these problems taken care of.”

In contrast, the CDC is a presidential advisory committee with a broader task of institutionalizing diversity at the College. “At CDC, we were really able to help with some of the Stand With Us initiatives as advisors and allies,” Raymond said.