Dear future language TAs: Beware of racism and neglect at the College

Sharon Nathan and Margaux Hee

Dear future language TAs,

Do not come to Williams College. We understand that you are eagerly awaiting your departure from a year of COVID towards a better future. We understand that you want to travel to the States, to meet new friends and inspiring mentors, to teach, study, and travel, and of course to enjoy your new life. We understand this because we remember being in the same situation as you some time ago, but we also want you to understand what we as language teaching assistants (TAs) have experienced directly and indirectly over three TA generations (2018-2021) at Williams College and the Center For Foreign Languages, Literatures & Cultures (CFLLC).

Do not come to Williams if you wish to avoid racism. If you are a POC, expect to hear racist remarks even from other fellow language TAs. As literate as they may seem about racism, they are blind towards racism outside of the textbook. We have experienced racism at the College and the failure of designated institutions like the CFLLC and the Davis Center to confront it. We have all experienced inaction against racism, the delay of the reviewing and mediation process, the lack of transparency towards our labor rights, and the College’s minimal efforts against perpetrators. The institutions we sustain may claim Williams; for us POC TAs, Williams remains unclaimed. 

Do not come to Williams if you want to stay physically and mentally healthy. The College will give you a health plan that covers almost nothing. The plan is: “You better not get sick”, “How much pain can you handle?”, or “Get used to it”. Some of us went through long months of physical and mental pain because the CFLLC administration did nothing to protect our basic human needs. Be prepared that this will impact your life long past your stay at Williams College.

Do not come to Williams College unless the administration and the faculty are willing to change. The College, and especially the CFLLC, have to agree upon radically reforming the TA program so that racism, inequality, and other forms of discrimination, as well as physical and psychological harm, will never happen again. With the commitments listed below we hope to change this experience for the next generation of language TAs, and hope to create an environment that is welcoming to all.

We, Sharon as a POC and Margaux as an ally, also write on behalf of two POC TAs from three class years, who were not comfortable signing their names for fear of professional consequences.


  1. An external party must be invited to review and document all incidents of discrimination in the TA program, and make a report. As long as the CFLLC does not know its own history of discrimination, our experiences will be repeated.
  2. In one year’s time, the CFLLC should create a radically reformed TA program and submit it for publication in The Williams Record.
  3. At the moment language TAs are considered as both faculty members and students. This ambiguous status of the language TAs must be reviewed. Currently, we receive the worst deal from both sides.
  4. All future language TAs should be given a better health insurance system and access to the Health Center. It is irresponsible that language TAs have no access to the Health Center during a global pandemic.
  5. We cannot expect the administration nor the faculty to adequately represent us without being unduly influenced by their own interests. In order to find genuine advocates for our interests we see the need to claim our common international identity and ask for support from the International Student Association (ISA). We ask the ISA to adopt us into their community, to represent our interests, and to archive these incidents through means of non-institutional memory.
  6. For the future, we request that all language TAs attend a workshop on discrimination for several days at the beginning of the semester to ensure that the racist comments we experienced are not repeated. We also see the necessity to include sessions on how to engage with discrimination in the weekly pedagogy seminar. Anti-racism must be taught and communicated on all conceivable levels. In addition, we request to speak to the next TA group of 2021-22 on our experiences at Williams College in order to ensure that this situation does not happen again.
  7. The TA job posting process must be radically reformed. TAs must not come through recommendations from befriended professors, nor from self-proclaimed partner universities, but through a job description announced nationwide in the target country. Each language department must have an applicant pool of at least 20 candidates, of which at least 50 percent must be POCs. Half of the TA candidates selected for the academic year through this process must POCs. Currently Black TAs are vastly underrepresented in the TA group.
  8. At the end of the 2021-22 academic year, after consultation with the 2021-22 TAs, we would like to write a follow-up article where racism, the issue of health care, and other grievances, as well as improvements, will be publicly discussed.
  9. The language TA program must continue. We hope that the CFLLC will not take the path of least resistance and suspend the TA program as a consequence of this op-ed. It would be unfair to the TAs of the next generation, whom we do not want to deny a chance to advance their academic careers.
  10. The Davis Center currently only serves as an educational facility and mediation interface. With no autonomy from the College, it fails to fulfill its role as a moral corrective for the Williams community and an active force against racism. It will never be able to combat discrimination on the College campus. We invite the Davis Center to reformulate its mission and its values to the public.
  11. We language TAs belong to the Williams community. Therefore, we especially ask the student body to support us in this matter. We see many of the students here as lifelong friends and have taught them our languages. Now we want to ask them to translate our experience and our needs into sustainable action for Williams College.

Sharon Nathan is a German language teaching assistant from Cologne, Germany. Margaux Hee is a French language teaching assistant from Picardy, France.