Exclusive. The word often evokes powerful emotions. It makes people feel better than others. It makes people resentful of others. It is a concept that has incited riot, revolution, progress and stagnation. Moreover, exclusivity is a practice that has transcended time and culture, and its prevalence today, on this very campus, is undeniably relevant to the lives of each and every one of us.
Williams, through its competitive admissions process and coveted international collegiate standing, derives its prestige from a historical practice of merit-based exclusion. I would argue that the College’s aforementioned selectiveness facilitates a community of intelligent, talented and intellectual members and that, in its absence, this institution would be far less of an educational leader and corporate powerhouse. That being said, there seems to be a prevailing distaste for exclusivity among those who make up the College community. This aversion takes on many forms, one of which is universally inclusive student organizations. Now, while the benefit of such a trend is easily and readily admired by its supporters, there seems to me a downside that is more difficult to recognize and, possibly more importantly, more controversial to discuss.
Exclusivity fosters effort, intrigue and intellectual ardor at the expense of the personal ego. At its very core, it is a medium for competition, a quality that, admittedly, the College as an institution tends to shy away from. But competition catalyzes progress! In an effort to win, the individual is driven to be their best self, and at Williams, where the community is, on the whole, honorable and personally motivated, the negative side effects often cited as an unacceptable downside (sabotage of the competition or inflated ego, for instance) would be negligible. Lamentably, this leaves us with the unpleasant situation where some are not accepted: people who, despite their best efforts, are not welcomed into their preferred organization. While this situation is unfortunately inescapable, failure is a natural part of learning and life, and it will rear its ugly head regardless of the existence of exclusive organizations. Moreover, we should not cater to the temporarily wounded pride of those would-be rejects that would so minimally suffer. Furthermore, the benefit to be gained, in my opinion, greatly outweighs these small deficits. People prize their club memberships, they work hard for the missions of their respective organizations and, while reputation should not necessarily be a motivating factor, the names of Williams publications, societies and activist groups come to be given the respect owed to those organizations composed of such meritorious individuals.
The bottom line is that people take for granted those things they do not work for, and no one has to work for an organization membership that is given away for free. Conversely, there are few exclusive organizations on this campus other than sports teams and performance groups for the student population to benefit from. There are a number of factors at play here. First and foremost, Williams has a rather dubious relationship with exclusive, student-run organizations that dates back to the deplorable racism and elitism of pre-1970 fraternities. Additionally, modern funding conventions encourage, with good reason, the allotment of larger sums to organizations with more members. While these circumstances are certainly founded on good reason and intention, their effects could be detrimental to the good of the community.
I watched an NBC production this past weekend and was blown away. The group was well organized, talented and passionate in its craft. Part of me believes that its success is solely a result of strong leadership and committed members, but would either of those warrant the same praise if the group were made up of anything but the best candidates? Would your diploma from Williams College mean nearly as much if you had not striven for acceptance? The cost of inclusivity is often apathy, and that is a steep fine to nurture the pride of so few.
Nevin Bernet ’20 is a computer science major from Topanga, Calif.