Faculty to vote on future of Claiming Williams Day

The College’s first Claiming Williams Day, held on Feb. 5, was considered a success by many, but not without room for improvement. On May 13, the faculty will vote on whether Claiming Williams Day should continue next year.

Wendy Raymond, co-chair of the 2009 Claiming Williams Steering Committee, has spearheaded an effort to repeat the day next year and ultimately institutionalize it as an event that will build upon constructive criticism and responses. A new Steering Committee for 2010 is currently being formed, with 16 students already having expressed interest in response to an advertisement on WSO. Raymond is working to recruit additional faculty and staff to the Committee.

“Claiming Williams Day was a great success in 2009 by any objective measure,” Raymond said. “Some constructive suggestions include holding more and longer discussions, with fewer presentations by outside speakers and performers, and associating most events with Williams-directed discussions.”

Claire Schwartz ’10, a member of the 2009 Steering Committee who will also serve on next year’s Committee, added, “We would like to see this as a more grassroots effort that resists abstraction.”
While Raymond is a strong advocate of institutionalizing Claiming Williams Day, some criticism was voiced at the April 22 faculty meeting. Raymond noted one counter-argument, which was that similar events should be spread across the year. She said, “Those events already are [spaced throughout the year], but it’s important to have a day, too.” In addition, Raymond said, “Many faculty don’t like disruptions to the academic year.”

According to Raymond, “Having a day for Claiming Williams during the week and during the regular semester is the best, and perhaps only, way we can fully include staff, faculty – who will not be here on weekends or evenings, when so many Claiming-Williams-type events occur – and students.” She added, “We also learned from Claiming Williams 2009 that interrupting the academic calendar with a full day of events was a way to overcome a common criticism that such events only bring ‘the usual suspects’ into the room.”

Lawrence Raab, a professor of English who was present at last week’s faculty meeting, said that he feels that Claiming Williams Day was a “singular effort.” “I would worry that repetition might dull its impact. If it is institutionalized I suspect that its force would be diminished, its edge dulled,” he said. Raab did add, however, “I would not vote against continuing it; a lot of people have worked very hard to establish it, and I would be happy to see it build on its success.”

Some members of the 2009 Steering Committee have already begun thinking about the potential future of Claiming Williams Day. Schwartz explained that they had discussed holding Claiming Williams every other year as a way of making sure the event remained an interruption and not just institutionalized regularity. “We want to make sure that Claiming Williams marks an institutional commitment to issues of systematic privilege rather than becoming an attempted band-aid solution to entrenched issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc. on this campus,” she said.

Raymond cited a suggestion made at the faculty meeting by Steve Zottoli, professor of biology, which was that the College “still have a day but use it as mechanism for planning events for the forthcoming year.” Raymond felt that this was “an excellent suggestion.”

Schwartz commented on the successes and shortcomings of last year’s Claiming Williams Day. “Since last year was the first Claiming Williams Day, we had no model for what we were trying to accomplish,” she said. “This had both advantages and shortcomings, but one of the major shortcomings was that we were so bogged down in logistics that we didn’t reach out in all the ways that we should have in the planning process.”
She added, “The debriefing sessions were very helpful in that they allowed us to hear a number of perspectives about the successes and failures of Claiming Williams 2009.” The 2010 Steering Committee will use suggestions from both the open forums and a Web-based questionnaire to form its plans for the future of the event. However, no specifics can be outlined until the faculty vote in May.