The first-year orientation program Bridges will be restructured next year into a year-long initiative. Bridges will no longer exist as its own orientation program, but instead will integrate some of its programming into other EphVentures orientation trips for the Class of 2016.
Despite the elimination of its EphVentures programming, the general mission of Bridges will remain the same. “We’re going to bring that same message of getting people to think about diversity issues,” said Taj Smith, assistant director of the Multicultural Center (MCC), who helps lead Bridges along with other staff at the MCC.
“The reason for [Bridges, the EphVentures orientation, being canceled] is partly due to a lot of misconceptions about Bridges being exclusively for students of color who don’t want to go out into the woods. That’s the stereotype,” Smith said. “Students dedicated to the issue of social justice or a few student athletes who get cut from athletics tend to be the ones that sign up.”
“Our challenge was to find a way to make these topics [of diversity] relevant to the entire entering class,” MCC Director Lili Rodriguez ’01 said. “Moreover, we spent so much time training our Bridges leaders to be great facilitators that we felt it was important that their skills be used for more than just First Days [and instead be used] as a resource for [the] campus throughout the year.”
To aid with the transition to a full-year program, Smith and others involved in Bridges have been working with each EphVentures program. “I’ve met with the staff and student coordinators of each of those groups to see how we can incorporate Bridges-type activities for each group,” Smith said. Examples of programming include film screenings and hosting panels of students to address a broad range of diversity issues.
The orientation piece of next year’s Bridges program will naturally be geared toward first-years. “We want first-year students that come from a diverse background to share those experiences over their four years at Williams,” Smith said. “It’s a beginning point. It’s not the only time we expect first-year students to think about diversity.”
“I think it’s an important shift to begin with [incorporating Bridges into all First Days programming], that we’re having those conversations about understanding one another across differences and getting to know different people and facilitating challenging conversations – that we’re emphasizing those conversations for every first-year student throughout orientation,” Dean Bolton said.
With regard to Bridges programming that will take place during the rest of the year, Smith said student Bridges leaders will be going into entries, talking with Junior Advisors (JAs) and having conversations about diversity within the entry system. Smith spoke about his personal experience after the November hate crime, saying that JAs reached out to him asking for help in talking to their entries about the incident. Smith said his experience talking to entries proved helpful, and he said that he wants student leaders to take over this role that he took on in November because “students listen to their peers.”
“Bridges leaders already over the course of this year were sort of beginning some year-long work including outreach to entries,” Bolton said.
Smith said that ideally, Bridges will also try to work with Baxter Fellows in order to incorporate upperclassmen into the program as well.
The MCC staff is looking forward to the expansion of Bridges. “I personally think [the transition to Bridges as a year-long program] is a good thing,” Smith said. “It’s not limiting the conversation to 30 people. The conversation will expand to the whole campus.”
“While I don’t expect it to be a perfect transition, the format change helps address something students have been pointing out all year: the lack of meaningful dialogue about important diversity issues on campus,” Rodriguez said.
Similar to the approach conducted in previous years, there will be an application process to select Bridges leaders. Smith is in charge of training these students and teaching them facilitation tools including how to manage group conversations and deal with issues that may arise.
“Our hope is that Bridges leaders will be seen as key facilitators and conflict mediators for residential groups and student organizations across campus,” Rodriguez said. “Moreover, we hope that Bridges leaders and participants will become the allies that are needed in the community, taking a proactive role in minimizing insensitive comments, preventing bullying or harassment, pointing out inequities and increasing empathy overall.”
The current Bridges model has been in place since fall 2006. “Bridges was created to begin a discussion about community and diversity within the first-year class in hopes of identifying student leaders in those areas and showcasing the [MCC’s] resources,” Rodriguez said.