This Week in Williams History: Frat reforms, library flasher, Forbert concert, Noam Chomsky

Bellamy Richardson

“This Week in Williams History” is a column dedicated to looking back at memorable moments in the College’s past through articles in the Record. This week in history, Phi Delta Theta became the last fraternity on campus to end overtly racist and antisemitic fraternity rushing rules, an alleged flasher was chased by police outside Sawyer library, and Noam Chomsky visited the College.

Sept. 25, 1954: ‘Phi Delta Theta resigns from national fraternity; move ends controversy over ‘restrictive’ clause’

It is widely known today that the College does not have any form of official Greek life on campus. But before College fraternities were officially phased out in the 1960s (aside from some of the secret fraternities that persisted until only a few years ago, and perhaps longer), many of them had racist and antisemitic rushing practices, including quotas on whom they would accept. 

On Friday, Sept. 24, 1954, Phi Delta Theta resigned from the national organization and became a local fraternity to avoid having to use the national charter’s rule that banned students of the Jewish faith from becoming members. This change came two years after the fraternity pledged a Jewish student.

“This resignation climaxes two years of controversy which began in September 1952 when the Phi Delts pledged a Jewish freshman in defiance of the restrictive clause in their national charter,” the Record reported at the time.

Phi Delta Theta, which renamed itself the Order of Phi Delta, was the last of the 15 fraternities on campus to have a charter that had a restrictive clause based on race or religion. 

Sept. 23, 1980: ‘Forbert rocks 950’

On Thursday, Sept. 18, 1980, American pop music singer-songwriter Steve Forbert performed in Chapin Hall for an audience of 950 people, including more than 800 students from the College. Mike Rosenfelder ’82 described the concert as “the best concert this college will ever have.”

At the time, the concert was statistically the most successful one in recent College history. It grossed over $4,300, which was more than twice the amount of money grossed by 1979’s top-drawing campus concert. The largest previous crowd at a concert at the College was the 600 people who went to see the Pousette Dart Band.

One reason for the large crowd was a special plan offered to first-year students, which gave a discount if tickets were bought in groups of five. The Class of 1984, then first-year students, purchased more than 300 tickets for the concert.

Beyond the numbers, also contributing to the concert’s success were the helpful security and crowd control measures, since audiences tended to get rowdy and ended up doing damage at previous College concerts. “We broke the string of bad concerts,” Chairman of the Student Activities Board Tom Lynch ’81 said. “We’ve shown that people can have a good time in Chapin without doing damage. We’ve shown that concerts are viable at Williams.”

Sept. 21, 1993: ‘Alleged flasher nabbed by cops: Man apprehended during mad rush from library’

On a serene Monday evening in mid-September 1993, security officers chased a man who allegedly exposed himself to students in the old Sawyer library. Students called security about a man who was “acting very strangely,” Director of Security Ransom Jenks reported.

After overhearing a call from Security on his scanner, Officer Paul Thompson of the Williamstown Police Department drove to the College and parked in front of Chapin just in time to see the man running out of the west doors of the library. “He didn’t look like the college crowd and was at a dead run,” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, who stopped the man and obtained identification, the man was recognizable as a suspect in previous similar incidents over the past few years.

Williamstown Police connected this incident to another that happened just a few days prior, also in Sawyer library. “A few days before, a student complained that a white male had exposed himself in the men’s room in Sawyer,” Jenks said. “Security couldn’t find him.”

At the time of publication, Thompson was still in the process of investigating these reports.

Sept. 21, 2011: ‘Chomsky lectures to sold out crowd’

Political critic and linguistic scholar Noam Chomsky visited the College on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011, and spoke about human rights and global aid for humanitarian issues to a sold-out crowd of students and community members in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. The lecture was the first in a semester-long series dedicated to humanitarian intervention formed by the Lecture Commmittee.

Chomsky’s lecture focused on the resurgence of humanitarian intervention since the 1990s, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). He argued that placing more money towards humanitarian intervention could save millions of lives but that the concept is rarely put into action without ulterior motives.

To explain the rise in global discourse about humanitarian intervention, Chomsky cited humanitarian disasters of the 1990s in Rwanda and Kosovo.

Students asked many questions during the lecture on topics, including the definition of terrorism and his views on Israeli and American foreign policy. “Any powerful nation will have rotten foreign policy,” Chomsky said in response to one question.