I have not been at Williams for a long time. My Williams College experience consists only of the past three weeks. While I have enjoyed many aspects of Williams, I was very disappointed by the messages the College administration is either endorsing or sending to the student body on race and sex, and I believe many students share my grievances.
I know Williams is a hot bed of liberalism in western Massachusetts, and I have no problem with the student body being predominantly liberal, but I have a problem with the ideas the College is sending on race and sex. During freshman orientation, the Class of 2014 was required to sit through two talks that had a strong liberal bias. The first talk was on Claiming Williams and instructed the freshman class to go against the status quo and set out on our own. The second talk, by Jaclyn Friedman, had the basic message that all Williams students should have frequent enjoyable sexual experiences.
Before coming to Williams I had read about Claiming Williams on EphBlog, but I did not really understand what the concept was so I was unsure why people supported or criticized it. I now understand the opposition to Claiming Williams as it is nothing but an exercise in political correctness, appealing to students who feel disenfranchised by general society. Making everyone hear about the troubles of those students and how they are different from other students does nothing to improve campus unity.
Williams students are smart, but like many smart students we can easily fall into the trap of self-doubt. Claiming Williams made me question myself and made me nervous to talk about certain issues in case I came across as racist. After the Claiming Williams talk, I was discussing politics over dinner, and I had to convince non-Jewish students that engaging me in a debate over Israeli policy would not make me consider them racist. Claiming Williams has made many overly sensitive to racism, looking for it everywhere and choosing to keep their ideas to themselves lest they be thought of as racist. If Williams wished to advance the student body’s dialogue on racial and global issues, the talk the freshman class was mandated to attend failed, and we took a step backwards. We are all aware there are differences between people, but hitting us over the head with the messages that there are differences and we don’t understand others is not helpful. There are definite racial divides on this campus, and while those racial divisions should not occur, Williams and the Multicultural Center are not going about this in an effective manner.
The other talk simply told Williams students to have large amounts of sex as sex makes us happy. Ms. Friedman, the speaker, made it clear she did not value virginity, as it was nothing but a Judeo-Christian value that has no worth and should not constrict our lives. Her attack on Judeo-Christian values was baseless, and while I respect her perspective on sexual activity, she crossed a line when she attacked traditional morals and thought.
The Bible and its messages have worth in the world, and while Ms. Friedman does not accept that, she must know there are people who do. Her self-described pro-sex stance was guaranteed to offend people’s sensibilities. Ms. Friedman should have made an effort to take that into consideration, but she seemed to rejoice in taking as extreme a position on sex as possible. She refused to listen to students when they questioned her and gave no ground to those of a different mindset, an approach in conflict with the previous day’s talk about understanding those different from you. While I may be old-fashioned or outdated, I hold Judeo-Christian values in high esteem and try to live my life in accordance to them – including the value of virginity. Ms. Friedman can feel however she wants, but to try to convince college students that the traditional morals they hold are wrong seems irresponsible and rude. She did not accord her audience the level of respect we gave her, and while I disagree with her message on sex, I have a much greater problem with her refusal to consider any other perspective on sex.
I hope Williams won’t require future classes to sit through similar lectures unless different speakers are chosen. Forcing students to spend their first two nights at Williams being scared to debate and being insulted is not the orientation experience students should have. There are valuable parts of First Days, such as Voices and the RASAN-led discussion on sexual violence among the student body. I hope Williams will continue those practices as they helped me understand my classmates and the issues of sexual assault and racial differences far better.
Williams is meant to be a place that challenges us and intellectually stimulates us, as former College President Hopkins talked about the mind as a flame Williams will feed. These lectures struck me as un-Williams as they only served to divide the campus into factions based on our backgrounds and, while the lectures were on important topics, student debate following them did not materialize due to the nature of the talks. I can only hope Williams will give next year’s first-years an introduction to Williams that allows them to experience the college they wanted to go to, a place of questioning, debate and self-growth.