CC faces student criticism at contentious town hall

Irene Loewenson and Samuel Wolf

Adam Jones ’21, among other students, took issue with College Council at its Oct. 22 town hall. (Photo Courtesy of Landon Marhant).

College Council (CC) held a town hall in the Dodd House dining room on the evening of Oct. 22 as part of an internal review in the wake of a contentious spring semester. Last spring, CC faced criticism for its hesitance to fund Black Previews, its decision not to recognize the Williams Initiative for Israel and its low-engagement election in which Papa Smurf was elected as a representative for the Class of 2021. The organization also faced a one-semester drop in approval from 22 percent to 7 percent, according to a May 2019 Record survey.

At the town hall, students proposed various approaches for reforming CC – including eliminating the Council altogether.

Adam Jones ’21 advocated for dissolving CC and reallocating its functions to the Office of Student Life (OSL). “Disband yourself,” he said. “Apply your efforts and your talents to things that matter on this campus. Force this institution to pay for the labor that you provide. And form an organization that serves as a forum – a forum – a place for ideas to be discussed, not decided on. An organization of 40 will never have the mandate to decide the issues of a campus of 2200. So don’t kid yourself.”

Many students, however, expressed skepticism toward the possibility of handing over CC’s funding authority to an administrative body. “Whatever we work for should be with the goal of increasing student autonomy, rather than ceding it,” Minority Coalition (MinCo) Co-Chair Suiyi Tang ’20 said. 

Other students concurred, adding that recent campus controversies demonstrated the importance of student input. “It looks like any potential reform of CC that takes the shape of more involvement by admin is going to deepen our lack of autonomy and make it even harder to resist the administration,” Joseph Moore ’20 said. 

Longstanding concerns over CC’s level of racial inclusion and tolerance also played a prominent role in the discussion. In the spring of 2019, after CC faced criticism for its lengthy approval process for Black Previews, a Record investigation found that funding requests from Black students and groups were accepted without discussion far less often than other requests (“CC pressed on racial bias in funding,” April 17, 2019). Former Vice President for Student Organizations Maria Heredia ’20 said she felt that CC’s outreach to people of color was deeply lacking. “My question has always been for CC, as a person of color who served for three years, is how do get other people of color to serve?” she asked. “CC looks the way it does not because people of color are not winning elections, but because people of color are not showing up.”

Such concerns also factored into debates over greater administration control. “My fear is about turning over things like the budget to the administration,” Emmanuelle Copeland ’23 said. “We already know that most of the admin are white and male, and that doesn’t fix the problem of CC being white and male. You’re just giving it to white male middle-aged people.” In a later communication with the Record, Copeland noted that she had fact-checked her statement and found that the administration has a fairly balanced ratio of women and men but that “the administration aren’t racially diverse at all.”

As an alternative to greater administrative power, several students suggested compensating CC or Financial Committee members. “There’s a lot of unpaid student labor on campus,” Morgan Whaley ’20 said. “For the administration to see institutions like CC or JAs [Junior Advisors] or housing as such integral parts of the tradition of this college, but then also not [care] about the students who actually run those, I think is problematic.”

“If CC decides to dissolve itslef into a single funding body, as some have suggested, the student body at-large faces the question of what financial autonomy might mean – that is to say, what kind of control would our elected body have over the designated Student Activity Fund? How much logistical or decision making control do we leave to administration? How do we conceptualize the labor our elected representatives do for us?” Tang added in an email to the Record.

Debates over the new campus protest policy closed out the town hall. Several students expressed anger at the new policies, which they saw as overly vague and potentially restrictive. “It takes an incredibly broad number of activities and then ends saying that violating them in any way will result in a disciplinary process,” Moore said. 

Tang noted her concern about the lack of student input in the creation of these policies. “Why was it that CC wasn’t consulted about this?” she asked. 

Other students noted the need to take into account community safety in the protest policy. “If somebody’s protests are going to interrupt my ability to have a safe, stable life, both at Williams and afterwards, I actually do have a problem with that,” Landon Marchant ’20 said. “I respect your free speech. I have a very big problem with you removing my ability to function as a human who also believes in the same rights and dignities that you deserve.”

In an email to the Record, CC Co-President Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí ’20 noted that he was glad the protest policy had come up during the town hall.

“Not enough people know about the protest policy, and what actions are allowed because of it – and what is not,” he wrote. “We hope this conversation continues to grow and that more students read the policy, so that the process of forming community norms on what exercising our rights to protest, picket, and occupy is more transparent, collaborative, and most importantly, empowering to students.”

Cabrera-Lomelí made clear that the process of reforming CC would not end with the town hall. Next steps may include “forming an independent commission of students that will research, design, and present a series of concrete reforms and/or a future alternative to CC to present to the Council and the student body by Winter Study,” holding smaller forums with groups of clubs and meeting with MinCo. “And of course, digesting all the input we have received these past few weeks with Council members so to form new channels of communications between CC and the student body,” he wrote.