Faces of Williams captured in college photo campaign

From lax bros and CEOs to aspiring pop stars and gourmet chefs, the faces of Williams are multifaceted, begging the question: Who exactly is Williams? The “I am Williams” project is seeking to answer this query by bringing attention to the individuals who compose this diverse college community. The continuing project consists of white posters displayed in Paresky, each featuring a photo of a student, alum, faculty or staff member and a quote about themselves or Williams.
According to Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for Public Affairs, the project stemmed from dissatisfaction expressed by certain student groups who didn’t feel included in the College’s community. “On average, groups of students experience the College differently,” Kolesar said. “Some still felt that it wasn’t their college. It was somebody else’s college to which they’d been invited. Maybe they were glad to be invited, honored to be guests. But they felt like guests nonetheless. And that’s really troubling.”
In an effort to address these concerns, the College began a two-year effort called the Diversity Initiative in 2004. “People thought it would be nice to have a public art project as part of the initiative – something that would make it real and help it take on life,” Kolesar said. A committee comprised of students, staff members and administrators decided that photographs would be the most effective medium. “The theme was ‘This is my college,’” Kolesar said. “We thought that by allowing people to affirm this in a public way, it would affirm for themselves and help other people to understand as well that it’s not just their college – it’s everyone’s college.”
As the vision for the project crystallized, the tagline “This Is My College” evolved into “I Am Williams.” The committee received – and continues to receive – funding from College Council (CC). “We funded it as a Great Idea because that is what it is – a great idea that highlights the individuality of our community,” said former CC Co-President Emanuel Yekutiel ’11, who served on the committee that planned the “I am Williams” displays currently in Paresky. According to Yekutiel, the project not only provided a forum for Ephs to declare their place in the community, but it also helped the student body claim the newly constructed Paresky as its own. “These posters have made Paresky our student center – not just a student center that happens to be at Williams, but really ours. This is our space now,” Yekutiel said.
Kolesar agreed. “We were originally going to hang them all together in Goodrich,” he said. “But when Paresky opened, it became clear that this was going to be the student magnet on campus. And the clean, white lines of the posters just fit so well with Paresky’s architecture.”
The project is just as much targeted at faculty and staff as it is students. “I personally went to talk to some of the staff members – custodians, dining staff and others and asked them to come out for this,” Kolesar said, who insisted that staff also be well represented in the displays. “Some of our staff may not always feel included in things like this,” he said. “But they are just as much a part of the community as anyone.”
During the project’s organization, student subjects responded to ads placed around campus. “We placed as many flyers as we could get away with asking people to participate,” Kolesar said. “Every student that showed up had their photograph taken and was mounted on a poster.” Photographers also solicited volunteers at class reunions to gather alumni stories and opinions on the College.
In an effort to obtain candid responses about Williams, project managers encouraged subjects to compose a blurb on the spot. “We were really interested to hear what people had to say, uncensored,” Kolesar said. Though those involved in the project anticipated a mixture of criticism and praise for the College, responses were overwhelmingly positive. “It turned into this sort of celebration. Everyone was so upbeat. But what we really wanted to know was, what’s the real sense of this place for you? We didn’t get that in the end,” Kolesar said.
The future of “I Am Williams” is looking bright. “College Council provided for the printing and mounting of 60 more posters,” Yekutiel said. “We wanted it to expand with our community and as we continue to welcome new and exciting people into the purple bubble.”
New posters will likely be displayed in Paresky and changed every so often. “By now, I think the posters have lost a little bit of their impact because students see them every day,” said Kolesar. “But if we rotate them, we hope to generate more interest.”
Kolesar views the project as a long-term effort to encourage acceptance and build community. “Hopefully this is something that the College will continue years from now so that people can look back on it and see if we’ve changed over time,” he said.
Hopefully the project will continue to generate interesting, insightful and even surprising tales from past and present inhabitants of the purple bubble. It seems as though everyone at Williams has a memoir-worthy life story that merits public attention.
“While each poster teaches me something different, they all teach me not to judge people by their appearance. People are more multifaceted than we think!” Yekutiel said.

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