Claiming Williams schedule set

With Feb. 4 approaching fast, the schedule for the second Claiming Williams Day has taken shape, albeit with a budget less than half of last year’s. Though many ideas and popular events from last year have been retained, the Claiming Williams Steering Committee has worked to ensure that certain aspects differ from Claiming Williams 2009.

The focus of the program has been tightened to more clearly “emphasize the original premise of Claiming Williams,” according to Wendy Raymond, associate dean for institutional diversity and professor of biology, who serves as coordinator of the steering committee. The steering committee has included more College-specific events, as well as tailored the programming to more closely adhere to the mission statement.

The Claiming Williams 2010 schedule of events currently includes keynote presentations by Steven Fein, professor of psychology, and acclaimed performance artist Lenelle Möise; showings of two documentary films, In Our Own Words: Williams Student Experiences and Philosopher Kings; a community dinner planned by the Lehman Council and dining services; and a number of interactive community forums, will be spread throughout the day. The forums include “Let me tell you a (really fast) story,” “Queer(in[g]) Communities,” “Alcohol Culture at Williams,” “Be the change: How to be an Ally” and a town hall-style discussion of diversity and inclusion at Williams. Much like last year, the activities and events of the day are aimed at encouraging open conversation and helping create a more inclusive community.

However, the steering committee approached the organization of this year’s Claiming Williams Day with several additional goals in mind. Raymond explained that the threefold goals were: first, the creation of a “fresh and different” program of events “in order to continue to appeal to the community”; second, the extension of the ideas behind Claiming Williams beyond simply the events of the day; and finally, the development of a program consistent with the Claiming Williams mission statement.

“The clarity of the Claiming Williams mission statement, which was completed in the fall of 2009, has helped us stick to the goals that Claiming Williams was developed to meet,” Raymond said. “In 2009, many people felt that the Claiming Williams programming was a bit too broad in that some events did not directly address issues of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion.”

“A lot of programming at Williams speaks to issues of community and inclusion really generally without talking about the more uncomfortable realities of multiculturalism and diversity,” said Tony Coleman ’10, a member of the Claiming Williams steering committee. “I think that the people on the committee wanted to be very sure that each proposal, or each event, each speaker, could in some way help our community understand the realities of racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance and classicism, so that we had programming that wasn’t just all fluff,” Coleman added.

Feedback received from the first Claiming Williams Day has played a major role in shaping not only the events of the day, but the schedule of events itself. “It was perceived that there were too many events last year … this year, we’ve streamlined the schedule,” Raymond said. “[We’ve decided] to offer fewer events, more time between events, and some events more than once so that people could more readily get from one event to the next and not miss so many excellent, overlapping events.”

The steering committee also has required that every event this year have an interactive component as a result of the highly positive response to such events last year.

“Just judging by the number of proposals that [the steering committee has] gotten from students and from all over the campus, I would say that people realize that this is an important event for our campus,” Coleman said.

The Lehman Council Dinner will again have student (and some faculty and staff) volunteers helping out in order to allow dining services staff to participate in the day’s events. “Because students will be working, there will [still] be a limited menu, but no fear – it is much improved compared to last year’s,” said Janna Gordon ’11, a member of the Lehman Council.

The menu, revised in response to the negative reactions many students had to last year’s menu, will include vegetarian and meat lasagna, vegan and meat chili with bread bowls, tossed salad, fruit salad, knock-u-naked bars and apple crisp. In addition, everyone attending the dinner this year will select a ticket corresponding with a random section of the dining hall in which they will eat and, ideally, partake in conversation with their table-mates. Although, faculty and staff who come with their families or students will not be split up. Icebreaker questions and discussion points will be available on all of the tables to facilitate conversation.

“We’re really hoping that people will be able to go into this with an open mind and come out from it with a bunch of new friends and maybe a new perspective or two,” Gordon said. “Respect comes out of knowing who somebody is and where somebody comes from, and hopefully this can help with that.”

According to Raymond, the budget restrictions have not posed a major constraint. “It has not interfered with our planning because we knew about the budget cut from the start,” Raymond said. “It did, however, mean that we were unable to reach agreements with several wonderful outside speakers and performers because their fees were considerably higher than our budget allowed.”

The steering committee has also concentrated its efforts this year upon encouraging more members of the College community to attend the day’s events, paying particular attention to first-year students. “Since first-year students have never experienced [Claiming Williams], that’s an audience that we worked hard to connect with,” Raymond said.

Though the Committee has publicized Claiming Williams in a variety of ways – including posters, messages on Williams Students Online (WSO), conversations with staff members, visits to entries and an informational open house in Paresky last Thursday – uncertainty about the day’s events and aims still linger among the student body.

“There have been zero discussions of the logistics of the day … a quarter of the student body has no idea what they’re talking about,” Benjamin Seiler ’13 said. “All I know is that there are problems at Williams [with respect to individual differences] and that they want to address them.”

Raymond noted the importance of asking why some members of the College opt not to participate in the day. “I think that anyone who decides to stay away will really miss an incredible opportunity for meeting some interesting Williams people and for expanding his or her horizons,” she said.