To the Editor:
This past Saturday, VISTA held an event to honor the alumni who participated in the 1993 hunger strike at Williams College. It is, to date, the best event with a speaker that I’ve been to at Williams.
One of the alumni referenced Stokely Carmichael in describing the events and sentiments that led to the hunger strike and said, “It is far better to speak forcefully and truthfully” than to be silent or silenced. These Williams alumni accomplished both. After being inspired by the panel, many of us stayed late into the night talking to them, discussing the parallels and differences between our Williams experiences. The hunger strike was not a publicity stunt. It was the culmination of years of high attrition rates among Latino/a students, years of Latino/a students being told that there were no acceptable Latino/a studies professors who could be employed and several years of administrative indifference. Building upon the momentum of the 1991 hunger strike that demanded a tenure-track position, the 1993 hunger strike was the last resort after all other options had been exhausted.
After their demands were deemed unreasonable by the administration, the students implemented drastic measures. Twenty-two students began the hunger strike and held firm – even when the Garfield Republicans ate pizza in front of them, even when the deans locked their doors against them to prevent a sit-in, even when professors later wrote them bad recommendations, even when certain faculty refused to look them in the eye. Despite their hardships, the alumni thanked Williams for providing them with the very tools that the students would later use to counteract the institution’s apathy – their liberal arts education. The alumni emphasized that nothing is more powerful than “an idea whose time has come,” and how this philosophy helped them stand in front of a hostile room of faculty in Griffin Hall and passionately defend their beliefs, even when some of them were either physically or mentally fatigued from the hunger strike.
These students eventually won their first battle and their efforts led to the 2001 Latino/a studies initiative. They told us that they couldn’t have done it without the collaboration from fellow students, faculty and coalitions who supported them, naming the Black Student Union, Queer Student Union, Koreans of Williams and the Williams College Jewish Association, among many others. Likewise, the spirit of collaboration continues today with Minority Coalition and the Multicultural Center. The 38 current Latino/a studies concentrators, including myself, are a testament to how much Latino/a studies has aided us in expressing ideas that we grew up feeling but until these courses, could not articulate. I’d like to thank Latino/a studies and allies of these programs for being my mentors and role models. VISTA hopes to continue in this direction by starting a Latino/a mentoring program with incoming first-years next year.
Because of the amazing friends, professors and faculty who I’ve met, the tense climate of the early ’90s can seem almost unfathomable. And yet, the striking parallels between their experiences and mine have only reinforced how much work still needs to be done and how much Williams needs to change. Mark Twain allegedly said, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes an awful lot.
Thank you Maria Agosto ’95, Leonora Dodge ’95, Teresa Maturino ’93, Charlotte Neuhaus ’93, Tanya Nuñez-de Leon ’93, Teresa Rodriguez ’95 and Frank Rosado ’96 for sharing your stories, so we could be comforted from your wisdom and encouraged by your bravery. Thank you to all the participants and allies of the 1991 and 1993 hunger strikes for making the road easier for the next generation. We will not forget.
-Monica Torres ’13