Conceived last winter, the idea for Claiming Williams will reach fruition on Feb. 5, a day declared for “taking ownership of and accountability for our campus climate.” The Claiming Williams Steering Committee composed of students, faculty and staff has organized a day of workshops, speakers, performers and community discussion to address issues of privilege and identity on campus.
Despite the effort that has gone into planning this day, publicity problems have left some members of the campus community unsure about what exactly Claiming Williams is. Some of the posters and advertising buttons have caused more confusion than clarification. “The idea was that the kinds of publicity we used would start conversations, but that didn’t happen,” said Claire Schwartz ’10, student co-chair of the Steering Committee.
Shayla Williams ’09, the other student co-chair, cited inexperience as a publicity issue. “When you’re doing something in such a short time frame for the first time, it’s difficult to work all the kinks out, especially in a community where we sometimes have a hard time discussing difficult things,” she said.
Nonetheless, both student co-chairs were confident that the remaining weeks could be used for increasing publicity and awareness. “We’ve discovered that face-to-face contact is the best publicity method,” Williams said. “People will be going to entries, staff meetings, sports teams, everything.”
Begun with the momentum from last year’s Stand With Us movement, the Committee has envisioned a day dedicated to “examining privilege, building community,” as its mission statement explains. “The day is about looking at how each individual has privileges and disadvantages, and how they work on campus,” Williams said. Schwartz added that the day is designed as an interruption of the normal Williams schedule: “A day without class, without other activities, so that everyone is able to participate.”
Whether or not every person on campus is in support of Claiming Williams, the Steering Committee members feel strongly that it is important and necessary. “There are a lot of ways that we don’t understand how we can build an inclusive community,” said Wendy Raymond, associate dean for Institutional Diversity and Steering Committee member. “This is a great opportunity for those who want to learn more.”
In the interest of learning more, the Committee has arranged a number of speakers and performers, including Dorothy Allison, Tim Wise, Peggy McIntosh and Lenelle Moise, who visited the College’s campus during the fall semester. “We’ve been looking for people who could bring expertise as well as feeling and excitement – people we can learn from,” said Ruth Harrison, director of the Health Center and the staff co-chair of the Steering Committee. “We want to make sure we balance areas on campus in which we’ve heard about problems.”
In addition to speakers and performers, the day will include a number of workshops designed and run by Williams community members. “The day is designed to address each kind of intersection we may have on campus: race, gender, sexuality, family background, socioeconomic status – there is something that applies to everyone,” Raymond said.
Raymond elaborated on some of the included workshops, noting one designed by the Williams International Relations Council that focuses on the difficulty of being aware of problems going on around the world. Another workshop addresses classroom dynamics, which, according to Raymond, provides “the opportunity for students to feel what it’s like to be in classrooms addressing privilege and disadvantage, bringing to light both problematic dynamics and great experiences.” Other workshops address feelings of invisibility, alcohol culture and the way residents of Williamstown interact with the College.
The Committee believes that the activities and events of the day have the potential to appeal to everyone. “We tried hard to have events that would be a little bit of everything,” Williams said. “There are different types of discussions that address different types of identities and work in different ways. There are forums with people from outside the community and from people within. We’re more likely to pique interest with a lot of different things.”
The hope of the Committee is that even skeptics will give the day a chance. “I think that there are members of the faculty who are taking a wait-and-see approach,” Raymond said. “They want us to prove to them that this day is worth their time, and I think that’s a legitimate concern.”
Schwartz stressed that she believes the day may be most important for those who don’t see its importance. “If people think there aren’t issues, they owe it to others to at least listen,” she said. Williams agreed, saying “If we love this college, we should love the people here. If there’s a problem, it’s a problem for everyone.”
After Claiming Williams Day, the Committee will continue its work by way of planning additional events for the spring, and also by reevaluating. “It’s important to us to get feedback,” Williams said. “This is about the community and we want to know how to make it work for everyone.”
Committee members expressed hope that the day would result in continuing discussion and introspection and the possibility for setting a precedent for collaboration.
“There is a need for us to keep talking, whether in discussion groups, new programs or coalitions,” Harrison said. “Faculty, staff and students working together can become more a part of life at Williams.”