A number of important changes to the Minority Coalition (MinCo) structure and campus involvement were instituted at the recent MinCo 2011 retreat on March 6. The retreat began with a call by MinCo co-chairs Johannes Wilson ’11 and Grant Torres ’12 for increased collaboration between MinCo subgroups, which largely stay separate in their different campus activities. The co-chairs proposed a more unified attitude and more MinCo inter-group involvement as well as a critical look at the structuring of the MinCo board and funding.
MinCo subgroups currently include the Asian American Students in Action, the Black Student Union, the Chinese-American Student Organization, the International Club, Koreans of Williams, Muslim Student Union, Queer Student Union, South Asian Students Association, Students Of Caribbean Ancestry, Vista, Williams African Student Organization, Williams College Jewish Association and the Women’s Center.
Changes to meeting formats
As one of the many changes approved during the retreat, MinCo approved an overhaul of the structure of weekly meetings, instituting a monthly cycle in which each gathering would address a different set of issues on the agenda. The creation of separate discussion venues for issues such as funding, campus-wide discussions and leadership development was an important decision to further organize and open up MinCo’s conversations to the campus.
“With this new structure we’re going to be able to continue funding a bulk of the culturally relevant programming at Williams while still having time to open up a dialogue amongst the entire campus about issues that affect us all,” Torres said.
As a part of the new meeting cycle, there will be a scheduled monthly all-campus meeting hosted by MinCo to discuss and take action on a national or global social, political or cultural issue relevant to the College community. This decision stemmed from the heightened efforts by MinCo to engage more fully and frequently with the campus community and to create a gateway towards greater participation within MinCo itself.
“By openly welcoming the entire campus to these broader topical meetings, we hope to draw in people who might consider themselves allies of MinCo groups but do not feel comfortable participating due to, among other reasons, a lack of identification with the MinCo group’s identity,” Wilson said.
Another week in the MinCo schedule will consist of a meeting with the current MinCo co-chairs and subgroup leaders to focus on internal issues within the groups as well as discuss future collaboration efforts. The goal of this gathering of subgroup leaders is to “foster more collaboration and stronger ties between groups,” Torres said.
“Providing space for the co-chairs of MinCo groups will enable them both to develop their skills as leaders as well as to recognize the kinds of problems and concerns they have in common with other MinCo groups and to form the kinds of close working relationships with other leaders that are needed in order to collectively address those problems,” Wilson added.
Bringing the different MinCo groups closer together will help reemphasize the shared values and standards that these groups all have, explained Lili Rodriguez, director of the Multicultural Center (MCC). “I would argue that the very reason these groups have come together as a coalition is ‘for a stronger and more unified voice against prejudice and prejudicial discrimination,’” she said, quoting the MinCo constitution. “They recognize that they can accomplish more as a coalition … and this past weekend, they have proven that to be true once again.”
Restructured MinCo board and election process
One of the biggest changes to MinCo is the new election process for MinCo board positions. Elections will now be open to the student body at large, with all students eligible to vote if they attend the monthly all-campus meeting held in April that will be designated as the MinCo election day.
“We felt that this was a potential initial solution to the problems surrounding group identity and membership which have often interfered with participation within MinCo and its subgroups,” Wilson said.
While the discussion preceding the vote on the changes to the election system hotly debated the merits of a universal election date for all board positions, the motion for this new election system was passed with 69 percent of the vote during the retreat. “This [decision] will make MinCo more accessible to the campus, create a more transparent election process and help others feel more involved in the great things that MinCo stands for,” Torres said.
The MinCo retreat also saw the creation of several new committee representatives, whose positions are designed to take over some of the tasks of which the MinCo board members previously were in charge. “Currently board members meet with the deans’ office, the MCC, College Council (CC), our subgroups and others,” Torres said. “It’s a lot to ask for, so a bigger board [changing from five to eight positions] will help out with the great workload MinCo shoulders.”
New positions include a MinCo communications director who will work with WSO, the Record, alumni and College press releases, and three committee representatives, one each for CC, the Committee on Undergraduate Life and the Committee on Diversity and Community.
The issue of MinCo funding was also addressed at the retreat, though no changes were set in stone. However, MinCo did decide that subgroups should be tracking how they spend their money and will need to send in a report at the end of the year in an effort to allow the MinCo board to devise a more equitable and fair funding system.
Since 2006, there have been 110 distinct MinCo accounts, along with some issues as to how and where money is being spent. Each subgroup has its own budget and a heritage fund, as well as access to a MinCo pool to which anyone can apply. Heritage funds allow for funding allocated specifically to programming in parts of the calendar year dedicated to each group’s cause, such as Queer Pride Week for QSU and Women’s History Month for the Women’s Center. Subgroups are allowed to pull money from other groups’ heritage funds if it is for a specific event related to a heritage month.
Currently MinCo is considering three new budget proposals, all of which were discussed at the retreat. “We serve the whole campus with great events speakers and meaningful programs, but we’re only allocated a small amount of funding,” Torres said. “We have to rethink the way we use our money.” He added that the situation is difficult, as groups already have such tight budgets, so it is significant whenever funds are taken from one group and handed to another. “No groups immediately want to sacrifice some of their funds for other groups, but at the same time, no group thinks it’s fair for newer groups … to have little or no money in their bank accounts,” Torres said.
Addressing these various MinCo issues has been a complicated process, said Wilson. “Trying to effectively address the needs of each individual subgroup is extremely difficult in a setting with limited resources,” he said. “However, many members of MinCo believe that this reorganization of time, space and money should only be a first step into making MinCo into a stronger coalition through which we can collectively argue for more resources from the administration so that no group will ever be asked to give up its resources in the future.”
“The changes to MinCo’s structure resulted from a long series of conversation and ideas that I had been discussing not just with the MinCo board and the MCC this year, but with members of MinCo organizations since the beginning of my time here at Williams,” he continued.
While alluding to the fact that MinCo has been an “incredible resource” for underrepresented and minority groups on campus to have a space to discuss and make aware their issues, Wilson added that “I felt that the active collaboration and solidarity between MinCo groups, for which MinCo was formed, was not happening to the degree that it could. Many of our groups have a common interest in approaching various social, political and cultural issues both on and off campus, but we never have the time to collectively reflect on these common interests.”
“I’m really impressed with the changes [the MinCo board] implemented,” Rodriguez said. “They accomplished all of this through candid discussions, healthy debate and challenging one another to think about the future of MinCo in our community. MinCo is certainly needed at Williams and will always be needed. But they recognize that they remain an unknown for many community members. These structural changes are partly to remedy that and build a stronger foundation for MinCo leadership, membership and allies.”
Rodriguez also praised the way that MinCo’s responsibility to the campus has shifted over time to create not just a haven for underrepresented groups, but to also educate the College community about the issues that such groups face in daily life. “MinCo is here to support, advocate and educate,” Rodriguez said. “They seek to ensure that Williams is graduating students [who] understand the complexity of human relations and make an effort not to abuse their powers and privileges.”
“I only hope that with the help of all MinCo members, these changes will leave behind a legacy that will enable future students to come together in more powerful, meaningful ways in order to create social justice at Williams and in the world beyond,” Wilson said.