In fourth year, Claiming Williams broadens scope, reflects campus concerns

Last Thursday’s Claiming Williams Day saw strong attendance from students, faculty and staff at a broad range of events, many of which emphasized community dialogue. The program, now in its second institutionalized year, included 32 events in the form of community discussions, panels, film screenings and workshops. Although several events were added in response to November’s hate crime, organizers said that programming remained driven by concerns and interests that characterized campus concerns before this fall’s incident.

Attendance statistics provided by Carrie Greene, academic program coordinator at the College and member of the Claiming Williams Steering Committee, said that turnout for many of the day’s events was well above expected estimates. The day’s first event, “Vocalizing Visions for Our Changing Community,” which featured opening remarks from President Falk, filled the ’62 Center’s MainStage to its 400-person capacity. Students also filled “Year by Year: Pursuing Meaning in Your Time at Williams” well beyond the capacity of Goodrich Hall, leaving standing room only for several dozen individuals. The play held that afternoon in the Adams Memorial Theatre, Phallacies: A Masculine Performance, was also overbooked, forcing organizers to turn away nearly 100 hopeful attendees. Even the “Speaking Advice” workshop, an event geared towards faculty and staff, was attended by roughly 80 faculty and students, more than double the expected figure.

“Everything I went to didn’t have enough seats. What a sign of success,” said Steve Klass, vice president for campus life.

The theme of the day, selected by the Steering Committee, was “Vocalizing Visions for Our Changing Community.” According to Carmen Whalen, associate dean for institutional diversity and facilitator of the Claiming Williams Steering Committee, this motif “really came from a lot of different students wanting something that had to do with visions … When we talk about community, what are we really looking forward to?”

This year’s Claiming Williams Day also saw an increase in the number and variety of events, with discussions covering campus issues ranging from socioeconomic disparity to issues of gender, sexuality and religion. “I thought there were some different themes that happened this year than we’d seen before,” Dean Bolton said. “There was a whole theme around sexual assault that was new this year that I thought was really important, so a really interesting mix of things that students were thinking of in terms of what belongs at Claiming Williams.”

Both Whalen and Zach Evans ’12, one of 11 students on the Steering Committee, noted that Claiming Williams programming is driven by proposals submitted by students, faculty and staff to address community interests and concerns. “We are dedicated to providing the support for students to hold events that reflect issues they find relevant to the campus community,” Evans said.

In addition to articulating the subject matter of the day’s discussions, these proposals also guide the structure of the day’s events. “Students were really clear last year that they want more discussion-focused events and fewer outside speakers,” Whalen said. As a result, most of the day’s events were executed as community workshops, forums, lunchtime dialogues or dinner discussions.

Evans also stressed the value of audience involvement during discussion-based activities. “We required all proposals this year to have an interactive component – most events had either a Q&A following a speaker or performer or an opportunity for questions from the audience for panels,” he said.

Several events this year focused on socioeconomic class and employment, including “Working @ Williams 5 to 2: Who Are We?” and “Why Socioeconomic Class Matters at Williams.”

Sherlock Graham-Haynes ’90, transformative education and community building consultant at The Rose Garden Forum Institute, remarked at the outset of “Why Socioeconomic Class Matters at Williams” that the event was so well-attended that running it as a workshop would require some flexibility to allow everyone interested to participate.

The workshop was slated to explore how elite colleges privilege analytic intelligence over other forms of intelligence – specifically social and emotional intelligence. As an alumnus, Graham-Haynes also spoke of his own experiences at the College.

Focusing on the Martin Luther King, Jr. quotation, “Men hate each other because they fear each other, and because they fear each other they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they are often separated from each other,” Graham-Haynes began by discussing the difference between analytic intelligence and others. He introduced the concept of “head to heart” transformation, or changing one’s reference point on any social or cultural issue from an academic or intellectual outlook to an emotional level of understanding.

The workshop discussion, held in Dodd Living Room, loosely followed the socioeconomic thread but lent itself to a discussion of interpersonal understanding and communication in the face of inherent differences.

While the Claiming Williams Steering Committee does not generate its own programming ideas, Evans suggested that the “Speak Up, Be an Ally” event, also held as a workshop in Dodd Living Room, was likely inspired by the hate crime perpetrated in November. The event, facilitated by Multicultural Center Assistant Director Justin Adkins and Philip Horner, an intern with Psychological Counseling Services, was designed to teach participants the skills to “incorporate being an ally in your daily life,” according to the program’s description. “We added [the event] because people were trying to figure out how to support each other and speak out about racial incidents,” Whalen said.

Whalen also stated that events “Speaking Advice” and “Creating Safe Spaces for Uncomfortable Learning,” were inspired by widespread concerns among students expressed in the days following the November hate crime that some faculty were not sensitive enough to issues of race, religion and socioeconomic background in the classroom. The events, moderated by faculty members as well as staff from the Office of Special Academic Programs, were well-attended according to Whalen, with faculty from every academic division in attendance.

Now in its second year as an institutionalized program, Claiming Williams joins a short list of designated annual events on the College’s calendar, including Mountain Day and Winter Carnival. “I love the fact that we’re doing it every year and that it moves and shifts according to what the community wants it to be in any given year. It can take on new issues, and old issues in new ways,” Bolton said.

Although the Steering Committee is still collecting all of the surveys from Thursday’s events, Whalen believes that the Committee’s “biggest challenge was underestimating crowd size, and that’s a really good problem to have.” Whalen suggested that some of the more popular events, including Phallacies, may be “redone” during the spring to accommodate the many community members who were unable to attend during this year’s Claiming Williams Day.

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