This is the second installment in a series on student activism, which will attempt to gauge the current atmosphere and culture of activism on campus by interviewing individual students, administrators and other members of the College community.
“Williams seeks to provide the finest possible liberal arts education by nurturing in students the academic and civic virtues, and their related traits of character,” the College’s statement of Mission and Purposes says. “Civic virtues include commitment to engage both the broad public realm and community life, and the skills to do so effectively. These virtues, in turn, have associated traits of character. For example, free inquiry requires open-mindedness, and commitment to community draws on concern for others.”
Activists hold varying opinions on whether or not the College fulfills this obligation. Senior staff like President Adam Falk and Dean of the College Sarah Bolton recieve praise for being willing to communicate with students, but some suggest that they are not willing to affect real change.
“Senior staff have been amazing about wanting to sit down with students,” justin adkins, Assistant Director of the Davis Center, said. “They might not always agree, but that has never stifled good, open communication. Last year, President Adam Falk sat down in Dodd and had an open forum about [Michael] Bloomberg. He wasn’t going to rescind his invitation to Bloomberg and he did not personally agree with students’ objections, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t listen.”
Isy-Abraham-Raveson ’15 thought senior staff was neither supported, nor opposed student activism.
“Adam Falk and [Dean of the College Sarah] Bolton have jobs to do. As students, we can fill in the rest. There was one protest I did last fall where I emailed a video to President Falk, we specifically asked him to become a feminist. He didn’t respond but he also probably didn’t read it. SAPA [Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Committee] asked him to shave his beard if we got a certain number of responses to the sexual assault survey, but his image people said it would be too hard to retake all his pictures for the website. I feel very on a different plane than him. I can say Dean Bolton has always been appreciative and responsive about sexual assault policy though,” Isy-Abraham-Raveson ’15 said.
Some students feel as though the administration is interested in the appearance of activism and the expression of diverse interests on campus, but unwilling to consider the requests of activists.
“I think the administration has sucked me up to a degree. People in alumni relations and development and Hopkins Hall think of me in certain ways. I wish I wasn’t as big a face to them because I’m actually not, I shouldn’t be. I don’t like the things they’ve done and instead they have me up on a pedestal because they think I’m brave for talking about the things I’ve seen and speaking out about what they’ve done wrong. Which is a detriment to other Williams students who are suffering from policies. Maybe they’ll learn their lesson someday and realize that they should stop giving me the mic. At Claiming Williams Day I said ‘fuck Williams’ on stage,” Susie Paul ’16 said.
Another obstacle to activists might be access to the Board of Trustees, which does not open its meetings to students or publish the minutes from its meetings.
“It’s definitely an uphill battle. We aren’t able to have an audience with the Board of Trustees, so we’re reliant upon these institutional committees to deliver our message and that’s not something I’m entirely comfortable with. It seems to me like students should be able to speak to the Board. It’s a strange thing that there’s no institutional guarantee that students have that access. I think this is important enough that we should have this granted to us rather than have to fight for it,” Vukelich, co-founder of Divest Williams, said.
The College, as a private institution, can regulate student behavior beyond what the restrictions of what is legal and illegal. The administration could require students to surrender privilege, but some activists’ goals might be better achieved by affecting cultural change or educating individual students.
“The College is an intentional community,” adkins said. “Everyone comes together around shared core values, around the idea of education. But there’s a structure of advantages and disadvantages here that can cause people to be harmed. Do we need a costume police or something like that to make sure people respect each other? No, I don’t think so. But we need to be cognizant of these things and think seriously about how we look at Williams and how we communicate with one another.”