On Jan. 22, 100 students attended an open forum with the Board of Trustees of the College in Griffin 3. This meeting was the first of its kind in recent history. Trustees sat interspersed with students, holding signs distributed by students at the door with “I Agree” and “Listen to this” printed on either side.
“[Dean of the College Sarah Bolton and I] were committed to the fact that there would be no other administrators, faculty or staff in the room. It would just be the committee and the students,” Steve Klass, vice president of campus life, said.
College Council president Marcus Christian ’16 and Chair of the Student Experience committee and trustee Kate Queeny ’92 moderated the forum. The forum was open for students to voice their concerns and speak to their experiences at the College.
Students snapped and raised signs to show their support for their peers and used the #WilliamsTrusteeForum to live tweet the forum.
Students spoke about issues ranging from entrepreneurship to financial aid to transparency and accessibility to the Board of Trustees. Several talked about their frustration with the lack of communication between the trustees and students.
“You’re getting snapshots [of life at Williams], and there is a consistent process on the campus that people aren’t getting,” Elias Ramos ’19 said. “I know you [the trustees] want to help us, but we don’t feel like we are able to be helped, because we don’t feel like there are open lines of communication. For all intents and purposes, until now, you all were invisible.”
Several students endorsed the idea of an elected student trustee, following the example of other colleges, such as Duke and Princeton.
“At the end of the day, even though everyone in this room is a stakeholder in Williams, we are the ones right now who live in the dorms, who [are] going to the classes,” Sam Alterman ’18 said. “We feel we deserve a voice in the governance of this institution.”
According to Noah Grumman ’16, having a student trustee on the board would also help to alleviate some of the student body’s apathy for student government.
“This fall, for senior members of College Council, all four members elected were write-ins,” Grumman said. “Only 41 members of the entire senior class actually voted and … the elected candidate with the most votes ended with seven votes in the run-off. I think this [apathy] stems from the fact that students realize that all decisions of consequence are made by the Board of Trustees.”
Another issue brought up was mental health and Psychological Counseling Services (Psych Services).
“There are [fellows at Psych Services] who are here for two years,” Em Nuckols ’16 said. “They are queer people and they are people of color … however, when they are only here for two years and are getting paid substantially less… that’s structural exploitation of queer [people] and people of color.”
“The lack of options for therapists and full-time staff who represent students’ diverse cultures, genders and sexualities in Psych Services impacts many students dealing with stress, burn-out and mental health issues to continue their involvement in student government and committees,” Nuckols said.
“It represents a systematic undermining of student healthcare,” Nuckols said. “If you want students to be participatory, to give you our best and contribute our thoughts and feelings, we need to be well.”
Many students expressed their discontent with a financial aid system that abandoned its no-loan policy and need-blind admissions for international students in 2010.
“It’s unfortunate that we want to love Williams, but going here makes us uncomfortable in a sense that we are making our parents go through lots of struggles,” Austin Vo ’18 said. “Unfortunately, most of us were deceived as freshmen that got generous financial aid packages that did not transfer into sophomore year.”
Marcone Correia ’19 spoke to the struggle of undocumented students, who are labeled as international students at the College for admissions purposes.
“Living up here since I was three, until now, I grew up basically American and with dreams of applying to college,” Correia said. “I don’t see why I am labeled an international student, which drops my acceptance rate to the single digits and makes it so that financial aid is not need-blind. And when you think about the fact that most undocumented students are low-income and first generation, you can see how we are doubly screwed over.”
Trustee Jeff Harleston ’82 described feeling emotional after the event and hearing the experiences of students.
“I had never heard of the plight of undocumented students and that was something that was new to me and no one had presented that particular conundrum,” Harleston said. “I hope that this is the beginning of a more open and sustained dialogue between students and the trustees.”
Students also proposed more scholarships for Native American students, the creation of an Asian American studies program or concentration and better resources for survivors of sexual assault. In addition, students suggested making such a forum a yearly event, a “State of Williams” forum.
“We need better forms of linking and bridging these conversations because if we don’t know about these problems, the trustees don’t know them … then there’s no way we can address them fully,” Tyrone Scafe ’17 said.