Thursday’s Claiming Williams Day, themed “Our Stories, Our Responsibilities, Our Community,” has left us moved, even a week later, by the often difficult life narratives our fellow community members shared. The day’s third iteration saw a new focus on dialogue-driven events, bringing to light topics ranging from the experience of first-generation and non-traditional students to socioeconomic class and the role of athletics at the College. These events are laudable for their inclusivity of many walks of life on campus, as well as for the candid conversations they have fostered among the student body. It’s refreshing to see that our community members are more complex than they may seem upon first glance.
While the celebratory aspect of this year’s Claiming Williams was empowering, we also respect and appreciate the fact that the day does not exist to make everyone feel comfortable; it challenges us to grow and improve as a community. This year is the last for which Stand With Us, which inspired the original Claiming Williams, will exist in students’ immediate memories. It is important to understand that not everything at the College is perfect, and racial incidents like the one which prompted Stand With Us still happen today, even if they often go unreported. Therefore, listening to and respecting one another’s stories is paramount, as it allows the purpose of Stand With Us to live on without a direct connection to the initial movement.
Not only was the student turnout commendable, but the effort on the part of students, staff and faculty to put the day together also deserves praise. This year more than ever, the schedule was dominated by forums, lectures and presentations run by College community members, students in particular, a movement which should continue with future Claiming Williams Days.
While it is now a permanent fixture on the College calendar, Claiming Williams must continue to strive to hear all voices. The Claiming Williams Steering Committee is right in soliciting feedback and continuing to hold Claiming Williams-related events going into the spring. We urge the Steering Committee to harness students’ post-Claiming Williams enthusiasm by making the committee accessible to those who are interested in getting involved, while still welcoming opinions from those who have never attended a Claiming Williams event or see little value in it. Involving more of the community will not only perpetuate the grassroots feeling of this year, but will also ensure that Claiming Williams annually addresses the College’s most pressing issues.