Claiming Williams debriefs gauge possible next steps

In the interest of evaluating and moving forward from Claiming Williams, the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity planned three discussion sessions to solicit ideas and opinions from campus and community members. Held at 4 and 7:30 p.m. yesterday, as well as at 12 p.m. today, the sessions were scheduled in order to reach out to the greatest number of people possible.

The hope of the organizers was that the so-called “debriefing sessions” would help to achieve “clarity around what the community expects and wants from this Claiming Williams experience,” said Mike Reed, vice president for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity. “It’s important that this is a community experience. There were a lot of questions being asked, and no one was proposing a way of answering them.”
Reed noted that the sessions were planned so that they would center around two questions: how to move forward with all that was learned during Claiming Williams and what to do with the day itself. “Many of us have shared anecdotally about conversations that Claiming Williams has generated,” Reed said in the 4 p.m. session at Griffin yesterday. “We have to decide whether anything we’ve taken away from Claiming Williams is worth pursuing, and figure out how to move forward.”

The planners of Claiming Williams expressed hope that the community would be open to sharing opinions. Claire Schwartz ’10, student co-chair of the Claiming Williams Steering Committee, said she hoped the sessions would allow for “better communication between groups already involved and those willing to become more involved.” She added, “I want to emphasize that I hope the people who are [at the debriefing sessions] are willing to offer their services in the long term.”

Reed echoed Schwartz’s sentiment, saying, “I hope there is a cross-section of our community that takes up the mantle.” At the same time, Reed emphasized the importance of a variety of voices being present at the meetings. “I hope that some of the voices are folks who did not participate in Claiming Williams this year. Ultimately, if we don’t have everyone engaged in a decision process, it’ll fail anyway,” said Reed.

Looking to the future, Reed noted the ambiguity of Claiming Williams itself. “I don’t want to see [Claiming Williams] dissolve,” he said. “We need to either end it definitively or clearly define the future.” He added, “It’s unrealistic to expect the Steering Committee to carry the burden [of organizing Claiming Williams projects] next year. There is no place where Claiming Williams literally resides. It’s just an idea that exists out there.”

Schwartz said that the future of Claiming Williams may come in the form of an “annual reiteration of Claiming Williams Day,” or it may mean that the day “could be a one-shot deal,” as Reed said.

Some of the people who took part in the sessions voiced concern that making Claiming Williams an annual event could cause the day to lose its introspective meaning. “It’s not so much meant to be a day of celebrating diversity as much as it is about asking questions about privilege and power,” said Gail Bouknight-Davis, director of the Multicultural Center, at the 4 p.m. session.

Concrete suggestions that came from some of the sessions included having fewer big-name speakers and more discussion to creating a schedule that had fewer overlaps in events. The potential benefits and drawbacks of these suggestions remain unclear, but others wondered if the planning would be less labor-intensive the second time around.

While initial voiced opinions have been mixed, Reed and his associates will follow the debriefing forums with discussion of their own before moving forward with any decision. “I’m open to letting the process run its course. I hope this community will say loud and clear what it wants to do,” Reed said.