Logging our history: Why the College should keep and contextualize the Log mural

On Sunday, the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History held a forum in order to receive student input on the currently contentious mural at the Log, which is a constructive step towards determining the fate of the mural. Ultimately, the mural should remain in the Log, but there should be a written contextual element to accompany the mural, enabling viewers to understand its place in history.

While an initial concern about the Committee was that student input would not play a large role in the decisions it makes, the Committee now includes six, rather than three, students (“On committees and community: Examining the College’s response to issues of historical representation,” Dec. 9, 2015). By soliciting the student body’s opinions, the forum allowed students to play an even larger role in the committee’s decision; the students who are most passionate or concerned about the topic could attend and share their concerns with the committee. In part because of its financial exclusivity, the Log can be somewhat unwelcoming to students for reasons in addition to the mural (“Log leaves much to be desired: Examining student accessibility of revamped Log,” Nov. 11, 2015). Accordingly, student involvement in the resolution of this particular issue is critically important. Though a forum may not reveal the majority opinion, it does solicit the opinions of those who attend, which is more valuable in this instance.

While the committee and forum effectively considered the mural overall, and it does take time to research such complicated issues, the Committee should have tried to hold a forum earlier. As a whole, committee often take too long to take action, causing salient issues to be forgotten.

Concerns about the mural revolve around the depiction of the relationship between white settlers and Mohawk Indians. While the mural does depict a historical event with reasonable accuracy, in which Ephraim Williams and his ally Chief Hendrick strategize before the Battle of Lake George, it paints a rosy picture of the relationship between white settlers and Mohawks, despite the fact that the relationship was largely violent. Despite this, the proper way to acknowledge the College’s colonial legacy is not to cover the mural. Instead, written context should be appear alongside the mural. This is analogous to how one should address speech with which one disagrees; it should be combated with more speech, not censorship. In this manner, those who view the mural can gain an understanding of what it does and does not depict. If the College covered the mural permanently, the community would begin to forget the issue, and, more poignantly, doing so would erase an important part of the College’s history. Some may be more hurt or offended by the presence of the mural due to identity markers that make them victims of the College’s or the country’s colonial legacy, and the board is perhaps limited in its ability to speak for these viewpoints. While we are aware of this potential bias, we still believe that contextualizing the mural is more constructive than covering or removing it.

If we were to add context to the mural display, it is important that some comes from a non-institutional source. The mural issue relates to how the College depicts its institutional history. If an institutional source were to provide all the context for the mural, it would be perpetuating the same issue of the College writing its history in a way that fails to encompass valuable and often excluded viewpoints. Simply installing a plaque with objective historical context, though important, would be insufficient. To provide meaningful context, there should be an interactive element, as is found at many museums, so that visitors are able to add their own thoughts when they see the mural.

The Log mural is just one of a number of items that the Committee was created to address and it is important to remember that these other issues still exist. The College should not view the Committee’s decision about the mural, whatever it may be, as having placated those who have raised these concerns. Once the Committee arrives at a decision about the mural, it must not end its work, but rather continue to fulfill its purpose and examine the College’s institutional history. Leaving the mural up and providing some background for Log patrons should be the beginning, not the end, of a continuing process and promise to address and reconcile problematic parts of our history as an institution.

One comment

  1. “The Log mural is just one of a number of items that the Committee was created to address and it is important to remember that these other issues still exist…”

    Native Americans and veterans are underrepresented at Williams College. That’s a part of what makes this piece problematic for the school- something that the students who participated in the forum pointed out. It is not an accident that those underrepresented communities have volunteered to take an active role in this particular discussion. Their voices belong in this kind of discussion. They belong at Williams.

    Who are these people we are looking at on the wall? What is it like now, to be in one of these important groups in our society?

    This is a connection that the college should rekindle.

    You cannot change history- but who is included in admissions in the coming years- is something you can change.

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