Students release report on WNY

Students for Williams in New York (SWNY), a student organization working to institutionalize the Williams in New York program (WNY), released a report on Sept. 29 offering details about the program and analyzing its strengths and weaknesses. The information in the report came directly from more than 50 evaluations completed by students, faculty, directors, field sponsors and alumni of the Program, focusing on recurrent themes but also including more distinct responses.

“SWNY’s goal is to provide a comprehensive look at Williams in New York with as much input from those who had personal experience with the program,” said Liz Kantack ’09, a member of the group.

SWNY compiled the report in response to the report issued by WNY Review Committee last spring, which criticized WNY for a lack of curricular cohesion and its high costs, among other things. Criticisms of the Committee’s report centered around a general sense that the perspective of participants in the Program had not been adequately included. As such, the report emphasizes student feedback. It does not include financial figures.

The report attempts to underscore how WNY offers intellectual and social opportunities that are not available in Williamstown but fit with the structure of a liberal arts education. “By exposing students to alternative networks and teaching its students how to interpret these communities, WNY endows its students with skills that strike SWNY as integral to the liberal arts model,” the report reads.

In particular, it emphasizes how participants benefit through tutorials that stress interaction with an urban environment, fieldwork that inspires self-reflection, faculty flexible to adapting to student needs and relationships with alumni, faculty and board members. According to SWNY, these opportunities stimulate improvement of participants’ sociological and analytical capacities and encourage personal growth.

SWNY believes that the program’s benefits are not limited to participating students. “[WNY] forms a strong Williams community that extends to the alumni in New York and students [back at the College],” said Anouk Dey ’09, coordinator of the 19 students and alumni in SWNY. “Students come back to Williams endowed with broader narratives and expose students who haven’t had that experience how to see, hear and use their abilities to interpret information. [WNY] goes beyond the interests of individual students.”

Before the faculty votes on Nov. 12 about whether or not to continue WNY, the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) will discuss the new report with SWNY. “The SWNY report is a welcome addition to the discussion about the pros and cons of the WNY program,” Monique Deveaux, chair of the CEP, said. “Members of the Review Committee have read the report and find it to be a thoughtful and well-written report that will certainly contribute to the important debate about the future of the WNY program that we are now holding,” Chris Waters, professor of history and head of the WNY Review Committee, said.

Currently, CEP members, both student and faculty, are divided on the issue but hesitant to speak publicly. “The important thing is to try to have as inclusive a discussion as possible about the relative strengths and weakness of the program, and to take care to consider all of the relevant issues, evidence, and arguments,” Deveaux said.

As the CEP is still undecided, SWNY is working hard to garner support for the program before November’s vote. A petition to institutionalize WNY has been circulating campus and already has almost 1000 signatures, mostly from students. “[The petition] shows the fundamental support the student body has for the program, which is why the faculty should listen to the students. Only one person told me they didn’t agree with the program, which is amazing because students at Williams usually have strong opinions,” Dey said.

In addition, College Council recently voted to endorse the idea of a forum for SWNY to present their findings and officially endorsed the continuation of WNY last spring. After reading the faculty committee’s report and hearing a presentation from WNY alumni, “CC’s general consensus was that the program had real pedagogical value and provided an excellent opportunity for Williams students,” said Peter Nurnberg, CC co-president, emphasizing the unique value of WNY’s fieldwork opportunities. “We also recognized that many of the concerns raised in the committee report were valid. [However], we thought that many of the negatives were related to the program’s pilot status,” Nurnberg said.

The evaluations are posted on the SWNY website, www.swnyonline.com, along with the report, which can be downloaded with the password “robertmoses.”