Voices we can believe in

We believe that this last Record issue of the year is an opportunity to review the progress of the formalized efforts to combat bias and to offer some suggestions for the near future. Stand With Us has defined campus politics for the duration of this editorial board’s tenure. It is clear to us that this effort is the expression of a core Williams value of inclusiveness, and the effort’s successful continuation is vital to campus. The Stand With Us movement has made great strides, but the significant skepticism that it faces stands to challenge its future viability.

One example of a good idea that fizzled is the Committee on Community Interactions (CCI). College Council formed the committee to institutionalize the project of discrimination analysis and remedy, but CCI has not established a unique purpose for itself. All the work that the committee claims to make its mission has been taken up elsewhere, and we are left with the deadweight husk of good intentions. Its formation last spring quelled discussion on a social honor code, but its subsequent “investigatory phase,” researching discrimination from senior exit surveys has yielded no progress. The dismal attendance at its meeting open to campus last Wednesday is a harbinger of its obsolescence. There is a real need for concrete action, but so far CCI has not been the committee to get it done.

Claiming Williams, the offshoot group of Stand With Us charged with planning the community day at the start of the spring semester, has shown much more promise. The launch in the Great Hall was an indication that its organizers are on the ball when it comes to planning. It is also heartening to see that they have replaced the occasionally militaristic aftertaste of Stand With Us and the problematic concept of a “culture of hate” with a more inclusive spin. We applaud the three-dimensionality that Claiming Williams has inserted into the discourse – what used to be a limited chorus of minorities reporting oppression is now an open dialogue for the whole campus.

At the kickoff, the expressions of all kinds of discomfort on this campus verified the need for Claiming Williams to counter feelings of not belonging. The lingering problem with the program, however, is its lack of defined goal. We have a sense of Claiming Williams’ commitment to combating bias and promoting mutual understanding, but we have yet to see a coherent articulation of this goal. The administration and the student body believed in the importance of solidifying the ideals of recognizing and combating bias begun by Stand With Us enough to alter the academic calendar for this project – no small feat. The efficacy of Claiming Williams Day would be more poignant if the community had a clear and succinct expression of its mission.

Organizers could also secure the validation of this day’s importance by answering clearly the question: what should students expect to be doing on this day?

One thing we do know is that organizers have already secured a number of visiting speakers. However, if this is to be a day for inspiring core community values, then bringing in numerous speakers from outside of campus might be a distraction from the real meaning of the day. Claiming Williams should be a day about Williams, and we are concerned that a program too preoccupied with professional speakers will be temporarily interesting at the expense of achieving campus applicability. A model for a day of Williams energy is Mountain Day, which succeeds annually due to the fact that it is strictly an effort of the Williams community – students haul apple cider up to Stone Hill and lead hikes over Mt. Greylock. A culminating event that brings students together in a Stony Ledge-esque manner, with an additional message of campus self-improvement, inclusiveness and sensitivity, would channel the energy and goodwill necessary for a successful Claiming Williams.

“Voices,” the student monologue performance during First Days, has been the paragon of mutual understanding on this campus, and Claiming Williams would do well harness its successes. The few stories shared by students in the spotlight perennially stay with their peer audiences, and if Claiming Williams could fill the day with the same energy and empathy of these performances, then the day would help counter students’ feelings of estrangement. Claiming Williams should further emulate the creativity that “Voices” demonstrates in its conception of “diversity”: build from the triumvirate of race, class, gender to include geography, sexuality, marital status, religion. Walking a mile in the shoes of any given Williams student is not only to experience their blackness or their wealth, but the importance of details that are more difficult to categorize: the role of an aunt in raising someone, the way cancer has touched another. The ways in which Williams students are diverse are diverse themselves, and we hope that Claiming Williams celebrates that fact.

We urge students to contribute to the Claiming Williams effort while it is still in the planning stages and in general to keep an open mind about the proceedings. If you’ve made ski trip plans for Feb. 4, cancel them. If this is to be a day for everyone, everyone must give it a chance.

The stakes are incredibly high for this inaugural day. A failure to mobilize the campus to participate will confirm people’s worst skepticism about Williams. That said, we are excited at the amount of potential that a day devoted to building community has. It may not be easy, but together we can make Claiming Williams a day for us all, a vindication of the work begun last February, when the first group of Williams students congregated to say that something needs to change.