On Friday evening, the Board of Trustees held an open reception with students at the Faculty House. The reception gave students the opportunity to talk with trustees both individually and in small groups.
“I think the reception is a chance to interact with more students, which is always a great opportunity,” trustee Kate Queeney ’92 said. “We definitely talk to students, but we certainly would like to talk to more.”
Many students, like Natalie Wilkinson ’19, came to the reception to discuss issues with trustees that they felt were of high importance. Wilkinson sought to discuss topics ranging from divestment and financial aid to undocumented students and the lack of an Asian American studies program. One of her questions was whether the trustees had ever been in contact with fund managers about divestment to which she recieved a negative answer.
“I think it is problematic that the trustees never contacted the College’s fund managers about divestment,” Wilkinson said. “The fund managers could have looked into divestment, but they did not, because they did not know it was something the College was considering.”
Da Young Lee ’16 attended to voice concerns about representation in the faculty. “I came because I believe the College should hire more faculty of color and more queer faculty,” Lee said.
About halfway through the reception, some students quieted the room to give a toast that discussed a number of burning issues on campus, including financial aid, psychological counseling services, undocumented students, sexual assault reporting, Asian American studies and the hazy, secretive nature of the Board of Trustees. The toast was organized in a Minority Coalition GenForum meeting.
“The toast was designed to ensure absolutely every attendee could walk away with an awareness of the issues,” Em Nuckols ’16, one of the toasters, said. “All our organizing efforts intended to balance the importance of respecting the trustees and Dining Services for hosting an excellent event with the dire need to discuss how Williams students are harmed by Williams policy every day.”
According to Nuckols, the toast was also important because of the format of the event, in which there was no open forum and only College Council (CC) members were able to have further conversation with the trustees during a dinner that followed the reception.
“Our goal was to spark a conversation that would carry into spaces where the general body was not invited,” Nuckols said.
Sarah Austin ’16 also critiqued the format of the event.
“I had hoped it would be a space where I could speak frankly to a trustee about the issues that I care about on campus, but the conversation I had ended up focusing more on us getting to know each other,” Austin said. “I think that kind of event can be valuable in building empathy across the student-trustee divide, but it was not the event I wanted it to be.”
However, some students, like Marieme Sall ’16, came to the reception without any particular issues to discuss with the trustees and appreciated the more intimate, mellow format.
“In the past it seemed that trustees were closed off from students,” Sall said. “But now, more than ever, there are opportunities to interact with the trustees. I [went] without any expectations. I wanted to see who I could meet and speak to about my experience at Williams and to see if there is any common ground [between me and the trustees].” She was able to talk to Chairman of the Board of Trustees Michael Eisenson ’77 about her experiences abroad and described the conversation as “casual” and “pleasant.”
According to Michelle Bal ’17, co-president of CC, all feedback from members of CC about the dinner has been positive.
“The trustees I spoke with were quite interested in learning as much as they could about my experience at the College and asked about issues both myself and my peers faced,” Caitlin Buckley ’17, co-president of CC, said. “While thankfully they were aware of, and working on, the majority of the topics I brought up, there were one or two that they were just hearing of and wanted to look into further. Overall, it was a fantastic night and I think both myself and the trustees were able to learn a lot.”
Many students at the reception wore Divest Williams shirts or orange squares on their shirts to indicate their support for fossil fuel divestment. Many students also wore red squares representing student debt.
“Over the past year, we have discussed divestment more than any other issue,” Michael Eisenson ’77, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, said.
The reception followed a forum hosted by the Board of Trustees on Jan. 22, marking a growing effort by the trustees to communicate with students.
“The forum informed a lot of our discussion at our last meeting” Queeney said. “All the topics, like financial aid, that were brought up at the forum have been things we have been talking about for a long time.”
The trustees’ will meet for the next time over the summer. For the next academic year, it appears that communication between students and trustees will remain more open than in the past.
“We feel confident that the increased communication we saw this year will continue and improve going forward,” Bal said.