Claiming Williams Day engages the community

The action-oriented think tank Kinetic hosts an event on Claiming Williams Day. (Photo credit Office of Communications)
The action-oriented think tank Kinetic hosts an event on Claiming Williams Day. (Photo credit Office of Communications)

Last Thursday, students from all corners of campus united to learn and talk about issues pertinent to the community in the College’s annual Claiming Williams Day. The theme for this year’s event was “Breaking Ground, Cultivating Change,” and the subjects that were explored ranged from topics of sexuality and race to more unconventional ones.

The program started off in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance with an all-campus breakfast followed by artistic performances embodying activism. Various College groups took the stage, including SpeakFree, the Jazz Ensemble, Opus 3, Ephlats, Kusika, Zambezi, CoDa and the cast of The Vagina Monologues. Special guest Josh Bennett from Strivers Row also made an appearance. The rest of the day’s schedule was divided into blocks of community discussions, community forums and dialogues over meals, and was capped off by a late-night pizza party in the Paresky Center.

Claiming Williams is spearheaded by the Steering Committee, which is comprised of current students, faculty and administrators. According to Max Magaña ’14, member of the Steering Committee, the committee took a different approach to planning the campus event this year. “We envisioned a day where the entire Williams community would come together to talk about issues on their mind,” Magaña said. “Our goal was to have a span of topics wide enough to attract everyone, yet small enough to really make the day’s events meaningful. Working together with the groups and individuals that proposed events, we put great effort into ensuring the topics were something people at [the College] genuinely wanted to talk about.”

It appears that the committee achieved their goal. According to Erica Maker, assistant to the academic program coordinator, this year’s opening event was the most well-attended Claiming Williams opener, with more than 500 members of the College in the audience. Another popular event was the Gargoyle Society’s panel discussion “Failing at Williams: (Mis)conceptions of Failure;” so many students wanted to attend, that Goodrich Hall, where the talk took place, filled to capacity and students beyond the 330-person limit were turned away. “We also had a great lunch turnout at Greylock [Dining Hall]; every room was packed,” Maker said. “Pretty much every event was at capacity or very close to it, so we were thrilled with the turnout.”

This year, proposals for Claiming Williams events were at a record high, according to Academic Program Coordinator Carrie Greene.

“Each year, more members of the community participate in Claiming Williams day – this year we had more proposals than ever from students, faculty and staff, who organized and took part in events,” Greene said.

Members of the Steering Committee welcomed the proposals with open arms and minds. “It’s just as exciting to get a proposal for something completely new as it is to get a proposal for an event on a topic we’ve had every year,” Magaña said. “Sometimes the event proposals are sparked as a reaction to something from the past, and sometimes they preface an issue that might be coming our way soon.”

As it turns out, many of those proposals were creative, not only in their subject matter but also in their structure. Storytime’s event “Let Me Tell You a (Really Fast) Story” adapted the structure used in speed dating to best suit their goal of introducing students to other students, faculty and staff they walk by every day.

Overall, Claiming Williams Day was widely regarded as a success – it stayed true to its mission of provoking change.

“I don’t think of Claiming Williams as producing change at Williams; that work goes on all the time, all year,” Karen Swann, associate dean for institutional diversity, said. “I think of it as more of an occasion – rare, given the pace of our lives here – to pause and take stock, to talk about what we have done as a community, to celebrate our human resources and to raise and begin to confront the issues that still face us. For me, the most wonderful thing about the day is that it brings different people from the community – staff, students, faculty – together in new combinations to talk about issues of mutual concern. I don’t know if this ‘produces change,’ but it shakes up how we see and relate to each other in ways that I hope spill over into the rest of the year.”