Grounding diversity in the here and now

The Exploring Diversity Initiative. The Neighborhood System. The Peoples and Cultures Requirement. The Entry System. These programs and initiatives are but a few of the ways that the College’s administration has attempted to institute and strengthen diversity on campus. As the second Claiming Williams Day fast approaches, the College community faces another round of lectures and events that seek to explore diversity at Williams. But what exactly does the phrase “exploring diversity” mean to the administration? How has the College promoted the exploration of diversity? And how can the administration do a better job of remedying the underlying social problems faced by the College’s increasingly diverse student body? Ultimately, the College needs to provide more student-oriented programming and courses that will address the issues of diversity faced by the Williams community.

For students, exploring diversity at Williams means fulfilling a course requirement entitled the “Exploring Diversity Initiative” (EDI), formerly known as the “Peoples and Cultures Requirement.” It means spending your first year at Williams in an entry that, according to admission tours, is meant to be as diverse as the freshman class itself, and in the years thereafter living in a constantly changing and confusing housing system that is meant to promote diversity. It asks but does not require you to move outside your comfort zone and explore what others offer to the Williams community through attendance at events or lectures sponsored by Minority Coalition (MinCo) organizations or Claiming Williams.

But what does “exploring diversity” actually mean to the Williams administration? Does it mean marginalizing the MinCo organizations to the houses of Morley Circle and not requiring tour guides to mention these buildings on admission tours? Does it mean forming a Steering Committee to create Claiming Williams Day in order to bring an end to the highly publicized and controversial “Stand With Us Movement” – to save face after racist and sexist incidents occur on campus? Does it mean paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring speakers from outside the Williams community to talk to students about “Diversity and the Appreciation of Difference in 21st Century Leadership,” when it could just as easily pour that money into organizations that are run by students who understand the needs of other students on campus?

Although the events that will ultimately coalesce into the upcoming Claiming Williams Day have the best intentions, they will not actually fix the underlying social problems that pervade the College community. Events like Claiming Williams are intended to bring the campus together to talk about diversity, but programming like this often fails to provide students with the necessary tools to face the challenges they are confronted with on a regular basis. Events like Claiming Williams should focus more on helping students to address positively issues that stem from diversity on campus. Furthermore, if students and student-run organizations were asked to take a larger role in the creation and hosting of the events and workshops, the programming would be more likely to target issues inside the Williams community. A common criticism of the Claiming Williams events has been that the programming explored diversity on a larger level, rather than focusing on diversity as specific to the College.

Similarly, requiring students to take a class on “Multiculturalism and Political Theory” or “Latinas and the Global Economy” through the EDI will not automatically prompt them to consider the effects of diversity on a personal level. Requirements like the EDI are in place to push students outside their comfort zones intellectually, but by approaching issues of diversity that lie outside the context of the Purple Bubble, many of the courses inherently, if inadvertently, position those of a different gender, racial, sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion as the foreign “other.” Rarely do such courses ask students to engage with the diversity that they face on a daily basis at Williams or to find solutions to the issues faced by numerous members of the campus community. More courses need to be implemented that address diversity on campus or the social and political concerns that students of our generation have, rather than focusing on course material that falls outside the scope of many students’ lived experiences.

The College needs to redirect its resources towards students, student organizations and departments, such as the Chaplain’s Office or the Multicultural Center, that have the knowledge and the tools to create programming that will educate and support a student body that is obviously facing the effects of increasing diversity on campus. The administration can start moving in this direction by asking those most affected by diversity on campus – the students – about what problems they face in terms of racial, sexual, religious and economic diversity and how such issues can be addressed and remedied. Taking the time to research such issues and to create a more comprehensive system that would promote and support diversity at Williams would be more productive than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside lecturers and expensive events or forcing students to take a course that does not address the personal difficulties faced by students of diverse communities. Ultimately, such efforts only confront diversity through a narrow, impersonal scope.

Tracey Vitchers ’10 is an English and women’s and gender studies major from Milford, Pa.

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