The many sides of Williams: How the College breaks the law of contradiction

Law of contradiction: a principle in logic: a thing cannot at the same time both be and not be of a specified kind (as a table and not a table) or in a specified manner (as red or not red) (Merriam-Webster).

Aristotle said that, without the law of contradiction, we could not know anything that we do know. The College seems to break his cherished law. Now it seems awkward that his name is on our library.

The proof that the College is and is not of a specific kind or in a specified manner can be found in the attitudes towards the school held by its students. Ask one student, “What is Williams?” They could answer, “An institution that was designed by and for wealthy white men and continues to be to this day.” Ask someone else the same question. He or she could answer, “A politically-correct, hyper-liberal safe space more focused on giving minorities handouts than being excellent.” These two viewpoints appear mutually exclusive. How can a place both still be and no longer be for white men? How can it exalt and ignore the marginalized?

A simple answer to this question may be that the College is a complex institution with many moving parts. Certain areas have developed over time and evolved to fit the demands of a 21st century elite college, while others have been slower to progress. It doesn’t mean that the College still functions the way it did before women and minorities were admitted. Surely the Davis Center couldn’t exist as an academic relic of the 1950s. Doesn’t that show how well the College handles diversity and inclusion?

It’s easy to say that the College is a patchwork quilt. Some patches are new and beautiful, while others are old and ugly. They mesh and overlap and every part of the quilt looks a little different. The eye is drawn to the beautiful patches. Some believe they make the quilt beautiful. But the ugly patches are still there. If not removed or improved with some corrective stitching, the quilt will always be ugly, no matter how many pretty patches are sewn on to cover them up.

The College has come a long way in many aspects since its days of Greek life and unbridled misogyny. There are female students. There are minority students. There are open LGBTQ students. These is progress that should be celebrated. But sometimes you get the feeling that the College would rather make a video celebrating its diversity than work to continue to expand and improve it. Presenting yourself as an institution of diversity and inclusion is much easier than having the difficult conversations about how you fail to be those things.

The notion of difficult conversations has caused controversy on campus in various forms. Backlash over disinviting “conservative” speakers brought up the lack of conservative thinking at the College. It’s understandable that someone whose views shift to the right may find themselves feeling isolated in this predominantly liberal environment. Finding conservative speakers who don’t support white supremacy could be a good start to solving this problem. Adding more professors whose conservative economic and social ideas challenge liberal thought without offending personal characteristics of individuals would add intellectual diversity and value to the campus discourse. To some that may sound like a tall order. It shouldn’t be. 

The College is experiencing an identity crisis, just as so many of its students do during their time here. How do you change your form to fit a new era without erasing the traditions of which you are still proud? We are a school that prides itself on its history and traditions. However, certain parts of our history should be cherished while others are examined under a critical eye. Nostalgia is no excuse for stagnation. It’s possible for the College to combine the old and new. It’s possible for the College to be for all people.

In fact, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be.

David Hourin ’18 is an English

major from Austin, Texas. He lives

in Garfield.