Campus unites for Claiming Williams events

Last Thursday, the College held 32 events to discuss issues of diversity and inequity within communities for the seventh annual Claiming Williams Day.

The Steering Committee, composed of students, staff and faculty, received over 30 proposals for events.

The goals of the day change every year depending on relevant campus issues, Claiming Williams co-chair Karen Swann said. A goal of this year’s programming was to continue the conversations of predjudice, priviledge and inequality brought about by events of the past year like the Ferguson riots, the defacement of a Muslim alum’s “I Am Williams” poster and the closing of the North Adams regional hospital.

This year’s events included an opening ceremony modeled after The View, a community forumon the relationship between North Adams and Williamstown, a workshop on anti-Muslim sentiment, a panel with members of Dining Services and the preparation of stone soup.

“We thought a lot about the porousness of Williams, that issues and events, including those that occur outside of our campus, may not affect us all in the same way but can still very much affect us as a community. We wanted to spark conversations about, among other things, our individual and collective responsibilities to community, narrowly and expansively defined,” Swann said.

The first Claiming Williams Day took place in 2009 in response to demands that emerged in Jan. 2008. At that time, students, staff and faculty, offended by racist language found in a student residence, formed Stand with Us. The grassroots organization, with the goal of addressing issues of prejudice on campus, demanded a social honor code, a day of discussions on respect and diversity and the integration of relatively homogenous sub-communities into the larger student body.

Claiming Williams Day is the College’s response to the second of those demands, and is intended, along with work done by the Davis Center and other organizations, to help address the third demand. College Council, in a straw poll, voted to support exploring the possibility of changing the code of conduct to include some form of  a social honor code at their Feb. 4 meeting. Attendance at Claiming Williams Day events has risen every year since its inception according to Swann.

“I don’t think of Claiming Williams Day as a ‘day off,’ or as the one single day when we engage issues that affect our community – I would hope the discussions on the day prove deeply connected to discussions that go on here, in and out of classrooms, all year,” Swann said.

“A way of looking at the structure of the day is that it represents an institutional commitment … to the issues members of the community demanded we grapple with, to us not overlooking our history and our present. I like the fact that, unlike much of our programming here, it takes some of the burden off particular individuals and groups to educate the campus around social justice issues. The day is supported by the College’s and our collective resources.”