Last Thursday and Friday, students bear- ing chalk boards and stickers in Paresky Student Center and Goodrich Coffee Bar asked fellow Ephs questions like, “What does Williams value?”, “What should Williams value?” and “What do you value in a friend?” As part of the Purple Values initiative, a campaign pioneered by College Council (CC) members Michael Rubel ’19 and Chetan Pa- tel ’18 and Gargoyle Society member Tobias Muellers ’18, the boards and stickers aimed to generate dialogue about these questions, collect responses from community members and serve as a foundation for better defining values for the student community.
In response to the question, “What do you value in an education?,” some students said: “Having my mind blown,” “the opportunity to challenge my assumptions” and “knowing a concept well enough to teach it to someone.” In response to “What do you value in a conversation?” some students wrote: “An assumption of good intent,” “expectation of change and improvement” and “inclusivity.”
The chalk and poster boards followed an email from Patel to all students detailing the goals of the initiative and the product: “These values, the Purple Values for our Purple Valley, will be a concise and accessible list of principles to help guide our community.”
According to Rubel, the initiative is the product of parallel thoughts by several different committees and groups. Initially, CC heard of reports brought to the Committee on Educational Affairs that detailed different cases of students being disrespectful in the classroom, an impetus for the initiative.
“We saw a lack of overarching values or mission statement that could guide our community in a productive way,” Rubel said. “Even on CC, we think this sort of thing could be helpful since members often base voting decisions on their discretion, rather than on any other sort of guiding values.”
Muellers joined the conversation after talking with other members of the Gargoyle Society about parallel issues and seeing a message about a new community values discussion on the CC weekly updates sent to the student body.
“I was interested in how Claiming Williams Day provides an outlet for student concern and opinion and how it often feels like the only day to have productive conversations like that,” Muellers said. “We seem to lose that kind of dialogue pretty quickly.”
Although the College does have a mission statement, Muellers, Patel and Rubel said that they find it to be buried pretty deeply and to not reflect current values, as it was created in 2007. The goal of the Purple Values campaign is not to just create something like a better mission statement, but also to gather thoughts from and engage with students, faculty and staff. The process, they said, is just as important as the product.
So far, the group has been happy with their results. “We’ve been very happy with the success we’ve had so far,” Muellers said. “For next steps, we want to have a more open-forum type event for people to provide more input and for more people to have intentional conversations. One thing we’re still working on is how to reach out and engage with faculty and staff about this idea.”
The group is also seeking any and all input and help from community members in defining this initiative. As for what the end product of this initiative might look like, the group is still unsure. Some potential ideas include a new mission statement or something similar, some sort of visual depiction of the values that appear most frequently in these conversations or even a documentary.
The name of the campaign — “Purple Values” — aims to reflect how these values ought to represent those of the community; however, the color purple has recently been brought into question as the color representing institutional problems. For example, Junior Advisors (JAs) bleached their purple JA shirts last week in an effort to create more awareness about the JA and entry systems as ones that has historically failed freshman and JAs of color and low-income.
“In some ways, there’s some parallel be- tween the [bleached JA] shirts and what we have seen so far in responses; people are very willing to critique Williams, and it’s often the first type of response that pops into their heads when we ask these questions,” Muellers said.
“Ultimately, our campaign is about making purple better for people,” Rubel said.