Claiming first-years

The N-word. It stirs deep resentment and controversy for all engaged in conversation about it. As a freshman, removed from the N-word incident that incited Claiming Williams, my first interaction with Claiming Williams was one of struggling to figure out how the day, laden with heavy issues, applied to me. The freshman experience is one often looked over as a trifle to the greater scope of the Purple Valley. And yet, it is the freshman perspective that is often the most inherently honest opinion of the state of affairs in Williams. Unlike upperclassmen who already know the ins and outs of college, freshmen approach the College with an air of inquisitiveness and genuine visceral emotion. Freshmen come in with refreshing perspectives that wash away the grit of tired intolerances and established conventions, eager to learn what Williams holds for them.

To freshmen, Williams seemed to be an inclusive enclave for people who wished to move past the boundaries of typical academia and promote a feeling of small-college brotherhood. In our peaceful, New England town we hoped that the ignorance that proliferated in the rest of the world would be squelched by our elite education. In our academic haven we hoped to form a group of enlightened young adults who strove to form a more perfect fraternity united by a love for scholastic pursuits. However, much to our naïve disappointment, I, and I’m sure many freshmen, made the egregious error of hopelessly believing in such a post-prejudiced utopia. When we learned of last year’s N-word controversy, the purple bubble popped, and we were exposed to the uncomfortable real world.

Having not been present for the events that had inspired Claiming Williams, many freshmen were wary of how much active engagement and response was appropriate. As Williams’ newest inductees, freshmen had to draw on personal engagement and interest to participate in a day that had its origins in Williams before we arrived.

As a result of the lack of direct understanding of last year’s episode, the problem with Claiming Williams is that while students are advocates for the tolerance and understanding it promotes, its actions on campus have driven students to distance themselves from what they may view as hyperbolic, “extremist” positions. Unfortunately, it often seems to be the issue that unless an individual has experienced discrimination, he or she would not be prompted to advocate against prejudices beyond haranguing in a politically correct way. Individuals who haven’t experienced discrimination must face the daunting task of understanding those without their privilege and the sinister dark side of their majoritarian privilege that has alienated all minorities to the point of passion.

Coming from New York City, where minorities are actually the majority, issues such as underrepresentation were new to me. To others, Williams may be their first taste of a diverse community. Williams itself is an experimental control group in response to the rough real world outside of our pleasant purple bubble. As freshmen, we are the newest variable to the mix, and have joined the collective forces on campus to make a difference. To some freshmen (and upperclassmen), Claiming Williams was a day to sleep in. Unfortunately, it is that lethargic action against pertinent issues that started Claiming Williams. All different spectrums of people, opinions and lifestyles were brought together for a reason, and if you believe Claiming Williams is a frustrated vehicle for little change, then it’s your duty to rectify its limitations. Even if you think Claiming Williams is perfect, it’s your duty to further its message. Freshmen must all voice their opinions, politically correct or not, in a productive manner to avoid falling into complacency. Claiming Williams is not the end of the conversation on prejudice but rather a difficult (and rewarding) task to fix the school we share.

What I got from Claiming Williams was a bit of truth. Being new to college, I struggled to understand issues that arise when you place complete strangers in such proximity to each other. Claiming Williams didn’t beat around the bush in addressing that there is still much work to be done on our not-so-perfect union. Williams brought all of our fellow students together because it realized the promise we all hold within ourselves. To the freshmen, and to all who once were, it’s up to us to live up to that promise, honestly and without fear, and move past simply hoping for an egalitarian society and start making progress in making it a reality.

Jennifer Monge ’12 is from New York, N.Y. She lives in Williams.