On Thursday, students convened a meeting in response to troubling comments about workers made by trustee Joey Horn ’87. This was an open space where we discussed the colonial legacy of building names on campus, with Horn Hall as a jumping off point. It was not a space to discuss Horn’s work with the College or the legal specificities of her conviction. Our aim was not to choose the perfect or permanent name for Horn Hall but to explore a new process for naming buildings that is student-centered. About 70 students attended, as well as multiple faculty and staff members.
Students agreed that, in a more just world, buildings would not solely be named after millionaires (who often make much of their money from extractive and harmful industries, like oil). Building names are one way that we bestow institutional honor and demonstrate what we value. The names of the College’s buildings reinforce a sentiment on this campus that affluent white masculinity is valued above all else.
We brainstormed dozens of names that would articulate a different vision of what this community values: buildings names that recognize the Mahican peoples whose land was dispossessed by the founders of this college, buildings named after Professor of History Leslie Brown and Joshua Torres ‘15, or after our professors and therapists and fellow student activists. Students also debated merits and problems of different names, raising concerns such as the need to consult families of the deceased, or in the case of indigenous names, recognizing that there are Mahican descendants alive today and there is a history in this region of depicting indigenous people in way that contributes to their erasure and a myth of ‘the disappearing Indian.’ Through the town hall, we hoped to interrogate the legacies of colonialism and slavery memorialized on the College’s campus through the figures of Ephraim Williams, Amos Lawrence, Samuel J. Mills, as well as other means, such as the Haystack Monument. We ultimately acknowledge the limits of naming, and the central importance of structural changes, not just symbolic ones, which redistribute power and wealth.
Although a few students expressed concern with Horn’s association with this broader legacy and were not excited about a student-centered renaming effort, the majority of students (over 60) who attended the meeting showed up in support of renaming the building.
Thus, toward the end of the meeting, students voted on ’69 and ’93 Hall as a new, temporary name for Horn Hall, in recognition of the 1969 student sit-in that led to the creation of the Africana studies department and the 1993 student hunger strike that led to the creation of the Latina/o studies department at the College. Following the vote, many of us marched to the newly named ’69 and ’93 Hall. We hung a banner from the hall, and other posters that said “justice for all workers,” “students in solidarity” and more. The town hall meeting and subsequent banner drop was a direct action about reclaiming the campus for students, especially students whose families are subordinated by the present economic system.
The town meeting was called after the College refused to discuss Horn’s conviction with the students who uncovered it. President Adam Falk and the Board of Trustees ignored a letter that a coalition of more than 40 students sent two weeks ago regarding the conviction. Horn quietly stepped down from the Board one day after the letter was sent. Would she have stepped down had we not brought her conviction to light? Would the College have been transparent with us about a court case that they knew was going on? We aren’t so sure.
We are troubled that the administration refused to engage with us and thus led us to take matters into our own hands and call this meeting. Yet it is even more troubling and telling how threatened the administration was by fairly tame student activism that fell neatly within institutional organizing processes. The administration rejected our daily message for the town hall meeting and took down many of our banners and posters. Four different security officers, including plain-clothes officers, greeted students as they came into the meeting. The administration used both the Office of Communications and Campus Safety and Security in an attempt to assert what is permissible under an institutional rubric.
To us, this repression of student activism raises questions about who the College protects and who this campus is built for. It is disturbing how far the College will go to protect a millionaire from being criticized. What about protecting the students who walk this campus every single day feeling unsafe and unprotected? What about hiring more therapists for the health center instead of spending hundreds of thousands on flashy marble slabs? What about implementing Asian-American studies and Native studies departments and hiring more faculty of color? What about divesting from fossil fuels and improving our sexual assault policies? Williams College: What about taking actions that actually protect the students you are claiming to serve, instead of the millionaires who give money so that fancy new dorms can be built?
This place, steeped in a long history of white supremacy and violent colonialism, has never been an institution that protects marginalized students unless students demand it. This is why the sit-ins and hunger strikes of 1969 and 1993 were necessary. For decades, students have been taking matters into their own hands and demanding that the College serve them when it refuses to do so, time and time again. Our renaming of Horn Hall to ’69 and ’93 Hall aims to celebrate that.
Claudia Forrester ’18 is a biology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies double-major from Westwood, Mass. She is a JA and lives in Williams Hall. Adrienne Banks ’20 is from Eugene, Ore. She lives in Armstrong.