Steering Committee selects final programs for Claiming Williams Day

As the College’s third annual Claiming Williams Day approaches, faculty and students from the Claiming Williams Steering Committee have finalized the programs and set a tentative schedule for the event on Feb. 3. From the program proposals solicited and received from the student body, the committee selected those that best fit this year’s theme of “Our Stories, Our Responsibilities, Our Community.”

Claiming Williams Day was first proposed and created in 2009 by Stand With Us, a movement that arose after a group of students scrawled a racially derogatory word across the door of a first-year dorm room. The event was initiated in the hopes of conducting discussion to face the consequences of the College’s history of attracting a relatively homogeneous student body.

The 2011 theme was chosen with the greater purpose of Claiming Williams Day in mind: to improve our understanding of one another and create a community of respect and coexistence. The day will encourage students to share their own stories and personal experiences with the campus community and to use those stories as an impetus for moving forward with those goals.

“Claiming Williams is a good time for people to share their experiences and how they think that could help others here,” said Johannes Wilson ’11, a student member of the Claiming Williams Steering Committee. “People tell these stories because they think change can happen, and it is important to use this knowledge to change Williams for the better. We all live together, so we have to take into consideration how our stories affect others’ stories and how everything we do affects one another.”

The committee looks to fit the day’s programming to the diverse needs of the student body through the selection of Claiming Williams events. Although the Steering Committee decides which events should take place and plays a major role in coordinating the logistics of each event, most, if not all events are proposed by students and members of the Williams community and thus directly answer issues put forth by the community.
“We rely on students, staff and faculty to come up with events that they think will be beneficial to the student body,” Wilson said. “Each event has its own goals, but Claiming Williams as a whole is about raising awareness and empowering people who feel passionate about issues that happen here to take action.”

The event will be divided into blocks of time throughout the day, with each block featuring up to seven different programs such as discussions, workshops and film viewings. The programs for this year’s Claiming Williams Day cover several aspects of diversity present in the Williams student body, including race, socioeconomic class, the concepts of privilege and power, the social significance of athleticism at Williams and gender and sexual identity. This year, however, Claiming Williams will deviate from prior years by orienting its programs towards active dialogue and discussion rather than lecture.

“We focused on discussion for two reasons: First, polls showed that most people preferred events with discussion, but second, emphasizing personal experiences keeps Claiming Williams Day focused on the community of Williams itself,” Wilson explained. “Lectures allow one person to speak, but discussions allow many people to speak to each other.”

Highlights of this year’s activities will include a question and answer session with Williams alumni who are now faculty and staff at the school, a special exhibition titled The Art of Dialogue at the Williams College Museum of Art, which is otherwise closed to the public for renovation, and a performance by Herstory, a collection of artists and poets from all different backgrounds who speak about their lives as women of color, with a Q-and-A session to follow.

“Hopefully Claiming Williams will help people become more aware of problems when they see them and be more vigilant, not just at Williams but also in the outside world,” said Wilson. “We hope it will inspire a desire for self-improvement and bring people together.”

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