Dear friends, community members and loved ones,
We are writing to you from various parts of the country, together while apart. We are writing as peers, your fellow students and classmates, but as we are writing, unity and camaraderie have proven to be nearly impossible. In the time of this pandemic, the differences which previously separated us are now chasmic — between us no longer lays the promise of education, the great equalizer, but a treacherous terrain of life and death across which many of us will tread lightly, and many more will sink.
It feels trite to wax poetic about the ways that we are all under tremendous strain. “We” are not. Yet it would be in bad faith to suggest that we are all somehow shielded from the “worst of it” because of the relative privileges of our education and our association with the College. Again, the ambiguous, inclusive “we” fails us. As it has become (or always been) exceedingly clear, privileges of association are only accoutrements to wealth — their value is symbolic and highly specific. And in times of emergency, decorative symbols of elite acceptance do not stretch very far; this is true for too many of “us.”
This virus is, in many ways, a secondary infection to our body politic: it feeds off the structural inequities fostered by the older and more insistent infection of white supremacy, an infection to which we are all inheritors. This virus feeds off the systems and select cruelties of racial capitalism, and it does not take its toll equally. From the Oxford English Dictionary: a toll is a charge payable to use a road or bridge. We are standing across a chasm unsure if we have enough to afford the toll back into the Purple Valley.
In their April 21 email to us, the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion noted the disproportionate impact this virus has had on communities of color and the necessity of “eliminat[ing] discrimination and troubling disparities across all our communities.” We agree; we are gratefulfor this recognition. But we must ask: How far can this recognition stretch? When we need money — for food, for clothes, for books, for care and for family members working amidst the risk — will our recognition by Williams College save us?
We have been heartened to see the myriad of grassroots and peer-to-peer support networks springing to the fore. But we know that such efforts are not ubiquitously spread out, making access a problem. Moreover, we cannot help but turn toward the key players of our gilded age: corporations, personal billionaires and billion-dollar institutions, whose capacity for action and availability of cash overshadows the most earnest grassroots actor. We are thinking specifically, of course, about our multi-billion-dollar endowed school, whose recent hiring freezes and ratcheted calls for donations have not gone unnoticed. We want to ask: Aside from an emergency fund for financial aid students, what structural networks of financial support will you offer to our students, faculty, staff and community members in need?
The Minority Coalition would like to divide the remainder of its budget, around $10,000, into grants for members of the community, with a priority made for low-income; international; and Black, Asian, Indigenous and Latinx students as well as staff members. We propose that these grants be made available in $300 VISA gift cards and offered through a sign-up basis.
In truth, we have been attempting to do this for some time now. The idea first emerged in March, but as many of you know, the shuttering of the Davis Center and the firing and only partial replacement of its full staff under the newly appointed Interim Director Carmen Whalen has taken a significant toll on the operational management of the Minority Coalition groups, including those of the Board itself. We have been unable to get a hold of the staff to distribute our funds, and our emails asking about the possibility of such a grant schema went unanswered. It becomes clear to us, as we reevaluate the landscape, that we must go forth ourselves. We are inviting the Williams Student Union and all MinCo affinity groups to stand with us and imagine similar alternatives for their budget.
As the Minority Coalition looks toward the election of a new board for this coming school year, the departing board would like to take this moment to remember the Minority Coalition’s integrity as a student-formed and run organization. We hope that this campus, as well as the boards of years to come, never stop fighting for the autonomy with which MinCo was endowed. We are not an administratively-run body, but part of a legacy of Black-led student organizing which dared to imagine another kind of community to survive the racism, xenophobia and corruption of Williams and this world. As the pandemic — COVID-19 and otherwise — continues, we must expand our political imagination, taking pains to avow and actupon the possibility for justice, or what love looks like in public.
MinCo Board 2019-20