Doing more than reacting

To the administration:

This fall, our community has grown and changed in many ways. Thank you for encouraging students and allowing that to happen. 

In my mind, there are two events that have been particularly important to that growth: You Are Not Alone and the open mic response to the hate crime perpetrated on Nov. 12. Anyone who attended these events saw people who clearly felt that for the first time, they were being given the chance to talk about things that had greatly affected them, whether mental health, homophobia, racism or many other experiences. These are all issues that need to be addressed, and given the success of these events, it seems as though having them every year would be worthwhile. Although we currently have Claiming Williams Day to address prejudices on campus, I do not think the event addresses the ideas of race effectively.  At the open mic we heard raw feelings from a wide variety of people instead of scripted words from a smaller group.

Knowing College Council has decided to make the Mental Health Committee permanent and other students are starting a committee to address racial issues, I think this goal of future events seems like a definite possibility. I hope the administration will work actively with students to make these events happen.

As meaningful as You Are Not Alone and the campus response to the hate crime were, there are a number of questions I struggle with:  Why did we wait so long to start these discussions?  Was there a way for the administration to play a more active role in their creation? While it is important for students to take initiative in addressing these issues, I wonder if administrators could have been more proactive.

The answer to these questions seems both clear and sad. Both events were student responses to horrible things involving members of our community. You Are Not Alone came out of the initiative of two students who saw their friends struggle enormously to the point of tragedy and realized that others needed help as well. The number of students suffering from mental health issues on college campuses continues to rise, and unfortunately, I don’t think the College is an exception. People need to feel comfortable discussing these issues. We could have given them this opportunity long ago. Talking about mental health will not necessarily eliminate the underlying problem, but even helping one person would make the event worthwhile. During You Are Not Alone, many people commented that nobody was there to listen to them as they struggled. As a community, we should have been there.

With regards to the discussion of racism, it was not until someone put words of hatred on our walls that we could take time out of our busy schedules to talk about the prejudice that plagues this campus. If we had addressed this problem before it became so extreme, we may have had a better idea of how to respond as a community. Maybe such extreme events would not have occurred if we had actively tried to stop the small acts of hatred along the way; Claiming Williams is clearly not enough. It seemed that you, as administrators, underestimated the importance of this event and did not respond effectively until the outrage of students was evident. While I applaud you for your response to the student movement, all of you should have realized the gravity of the situation and anticipated the student response. We pride ourselves on our sense of community, but clearly some people feel marginalized here. We need to be sure to make this community not only a comfortable one, but a safe one as well.

I also question why there was such a need for a student response.  Where were you all when students decided to fight this? Why did students have to come to you and tell you that our community’s reactions were wrong? With You Are Not Alone, students decided to fight for our collective mental health. You claim to want what is best for our well-being, but you have consistently failed to address our significant challenges with our mental health, eating disorders and depression in an effective way. It took a student response to start the conversation of these issues.

Likewise, it appeared to us that your initial response was to look at racism like an everyday issue. This is Williams; we shouldn’t have everyday issues that involve people being treated differently because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their religion or any differences we may encounter. Even the smallest thought that we did not need to discuss this issue or that it would go away is frustrating and embarrassing.

As college students, we need to be able to advocate for ourselves. Our community is full of people from many different backgrounds and perspectives, and it is wonderful that you all are willing to listen to them. Your job, however, is also to protect us and make sure that this is a safe community for everyone. It shouldn’t be necessary for us to remind of you of that.

While this fall has certainly seen us progress as a community, it is clear from these events. As a community, we need to be proactive, not reactive. We cannot wait for something bad to happen to make progress as a community. Let’s start fighting the problems that we already know are there but have choosen not to address. You never know whom you will help when you take a second to listen. Often, it is the silence that hurts the most. Be an example, and tell us what you are doing. Perhaps if you set the tone and show us how to anticipate the issues and deal them, we will follow suit. Certainly, we will be better for the effort.

 

Ali Piltch ’14 is from Bryn Mawr, Penn. She lives in Thompson.

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