From the campus discussion following the second annual Claiming Williams Day, two patterns have emerged. First, a large part of the College community values the honest conversation that the day generates, as well as the College’s commitment to the heterogeneity of the community that the day symbolizes. Second, a large part of the College community feels indifferent about, excluded from or victimized by the rhetoric of the day.
Despite low attendance at some events, numerous other events at this year’s Claiming Williams were a successful combination of careful planning and insightful participation. The planning committee worked with budget constraints to build a lineup of Williams-centric discussions in which groups of students, staff and faculty had far more thoughts to share than time permitted. This sharing of narratives, a departure from both rarified academia and mundane routines, epitomized the value of Claiming Williams Day. These conversations were a privilege.
However, there are still problems inherent in Claiming Williams. While the mission statement serves as a reminder of the structural and subtle inequalities at the College, the mentions of privilege and “historic inequality” in the mission statement still can be seen to poise the historic demographic of the college – namely, the “white male athlete who drinks” – against an amorphous “everyone else.” Many Feb. 4 forums also saw criticism levied against a caricature of that particular cohort, inadvertently reinforcing its alienation from these otherwise constructive conversations.
In order for Claiming Williams to warrant the resources it has been given, it needs to shed the stigma it presently carries. This extraordinary, campus-wide interruption will be most productive when it equally engages all members of the College. Without discounting the marginalization that has occurred in the history of this institution, as well as its persistent repercussions, Claiming Williams should also be a celebration of our community and the individuals that comprise it, without victimizing or villianizing.
Claiming Williams Day has more than enough value to justify a coninuation of its presence in the College calendar. However, any future Claiming Williams Days must continue to strive toward equality and away from alienation. In addition, future Claiming Williams steering committees must find ways to prevent discussions from getting repetitive and stale, which requires keeping a close watch on the pulse of the campus.
Finally, the success of any future Claiming Williams Days requires open-mindedness on the part of critics. Much of the survey data shows that it is those absent from the events who failed to see the value of the day. To the dissenters, we say: “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.”