Engaging in activism

Last October, about 30 Williams students and staff from various student activist groups and campus offices gathered at The Log to discuss the state of activism on our campus. Issues discussed included the lack of interest in activism at Williams, the unwillingness to discuss controversial issues, the fragmented nature of student activist organizations and the obstacles to collaborative social and political action. This meeting evolved into the Williams Activist Coalition (WAC), a group of students interested in promoting activism on campus and providing a support network for various student activist efforts.

WAC seeks to expose students to the problems facing the world outside the Berkshires, both nationally and internationally. We want to provide students with opportunities to engage with issues beyond the purple bubble and to empower them to act on their beliefs. We want to encourage them to tackle the issues that they explore intellectually in their classes and to better understand these issues through action. We want to urge them to think big and to recognize that service efforts will only get us so far. Tutoring and helping at soup kitchens are wonderful ways to help people, but we also need to think critically about what we can do to affect systemic change and help to create a world where such efforts are not needed.

At Williams, we rightly hold our community in extremely high regard, but Williams is not the only community that we are part of. We are also part of our home communities, the American community and the international community. We need to expand our horizons beyond tonight’s paper and tomorrow’s exam and consider the serious challenges that face our generation. We need to be able to discuss these issues without fear of offending our peers simply by disagreeing.

We understand that students are busy with the never-ending stream of academic, athletic and personal commitments that make up life at Williams, but there are ways that everyone can engage with the wider world without sacrificing too much sleep. We are privileged to have some of the best faculty in the country on our campus. They have a remarkable wealth of knowledge regarding the social problems facing our society. We can talk to them. We have an unbelievable amount of money at our disposal to bring in speakers, organize events and go to conferences. We can use it. We have an incredibly diverse student body: Every student at Williams truly does have a unique perspective. We can embrace that diversity and allow it to contribute to our understanding of the problems that face our world. We can read the newspapers, watch the news and discuss and act upon issues that do not have immediate consequences for our own lives. We can step up and take responsibility for engaging in “both the broad public realm and community life,” an integral part of the College’s goal for us as expressed in its mission statement.

The people that are involved in WAC represent a very wide spectrum of issues and interests. From Students for Social Justice to Thursday Night Grassroots and from Vista to the Center for Community Engagement, these students and staff members are actively engaging with the world around them and are seeking collective solutions to our problems. Everyone is always welcome at any of these groups’ meetings and events. We want students to give themselves the chance to find a sense of purpose that’s larger and more meaningful than finishing their reading and problem sets. We want them to grow as citizens as well as scholars, and to graduate having experienced the issues that they read about. This is WAC’s vision for Williams, and we hope everyone – students, faculty and staff – will choose to be part of it.