Over the course of winter break, I realized that the days that followed the Nov. 12 hate crime in Prospect not only shaped the end of my semester, but also forced upon me an experience I had trouble describing. While I was home, I had a tough time converting the experience of that weekend and the following Monday’s events into words for the people who weren’t on campus. Relaying how it felt to stand in Paresky, listening to my peers tell their stories of victimhood and survivorship, discrimination they faced and discrimination they propagated, seemed futile. It was both a thoroughly communal experience and a deeply personal one; navigating how to communicate that double-sided aspect to people outside the community has been a largely unsuccessful venture.
Of course we want to be able to take our education about diversity and discrimination into the greater world. But that task is something separate, something much more achievable than capturing the emotive power of our campus response. It’s okay that we can’t explain what it felt like to be on campus that week in mid-November. But despite this difficulty, it is possible to convert the experience of that week into action on campus. We don’t have to explain what the experience meant to other people in order to effect change. Converting the experience into words is perhaps inevitably fruitless, but converting the experience into action doesn’t have to be.
And so while one of the first challenges that cropped up for me was this issue of communication, the more lasting, important challenge is one that I know many people have considered: How can we convert this experience into something productive for the campus?
There is now an action plan in place for the Students Against Silence (SAS) movement. A Logistics Committee for the movement has begun meeting this Winter Study, and it is now working to organize eight task forces to address the pitfalls that the hate crime and ensuing breaking of the silence exposed in our community.
However, there is a stigma on campus surrounding committees and task forces. Committees are plentiful on campus, and it’s easy to think that something so mundane and run-of-the-mill as a committee isn’t adequate to capture the energy of the campus hate crime response and make the real, substantial changes everyone was excited about in November and December. At the end of last semester, many students were caught up in the rhetoric of the SAS “movement” and were concerned with the way we throw around activist terms like “the opposition.” It is important that we don’t treat the terms “committee” and “task force” with the same trepidation. These don’t have to be scary concepts, and they don’t have to be weak ones either.
Taking a moment to think creatively about the work that task forces could achieve would be useful for our community: We have every reason we need to set our sights high for these task forces. Institutional support for these task forces is already a reality, as Dean Bolton’s presence at the brainstorming forum on Saturday indicates. First-years, who have taken the fall semester to adjust to college life and Williams culture, are now well-positioned to get involved. Professors have already contacted the Logistics Committee about how to engage with the movement. One of the central functions of the Logistics Committee will be to check in with the task forces and set reasonable goals for their productivity over the course of the semester.
I hope the eight task forces slated to effect change on this campus will come up with concrete proposals worthy of the atmosphere I could not put into words when I tried to tell people about November’s events. I hope that large numbers of students, faculty and staff will volunteer to serve on these task forces. I hope that they will take the time to think about their respective issues carefully, but that they will also focus on specific and ambitious plans for our community. Thoughtfulness and action do not have to be mutually exclusive. And most of all, I hope the community will support these task forces by giving feedback – solicited and unsolicited – throughout this spring.
I recognize, however, that the task force process is a tricky one. Carrying the goals of the SAS mission statement to fruition will be time-consuming and an organizational challenge. Criticism of the Logistics Committee’s and the task forces’ progress is also a necessary part of the process, and it will be a boon to our campus’s efforts if that criticism is constructive rather than destructive. The campus response to the hate crime that week was improbably powerful and happened with great credit to the organizers of those events. Improbable things happen on campus, and making the mental leap to have enough confidence in our students, faculty and staff to make differences will be crucial going forward.
“Maintaining momentum” is an easy goal to throw out for the SAS movement, and one that sounds daunting to many people on campus. But if we break down what it means to maintain momentum, I think that keeping an open and imaginative mind about what task forces and committees can achieve is one manageable task. Even if it’s an abstract assignment, it’s a manageable task that everyone on campus can subscribe to, whether they are involved in the movement or not.
Katy Gathright ’12 is an English and history double major from Bethesda, Md. She lives in Wood.