President Mandel accepts Institutional Changemaker award at 2023 1vyG conference

Inés Garcia

Williams students attended the conference in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of Chris Flores)

President Maud S. Mandel delivered a speech on educational access at the 2023 Inter-Ivy First-Generation (1vyG) Conference — one of the largest first-generation student conferences in the country — at the University of Pennsylvania on Feb. 25. In addition to speaking, Mandel also accepted the Institutional Changemaker Award for her initiatives at the College and Brown University.

1vyG was founded in 2014 by a group of students at Brown University as a means of connecting first-generation students at the university with their peers across the Ivy League. The following year, 1vyG hosted 250 first-generation students, as well as alumni and administrators, on Brown’s campus at a conference that would later become an annual event.

In an email to the Record, Mandel explained that she had been granted the award as an acknowledgement of her work at both Williams — where she worked to create the nation’s first all-grant financial aid program — and at Brown, where she established a center for first-generation and low-income students during her tenure as Dean of the College.

However, Mandel also credited others at the College for their work in establishing the grant. “The all-grant initiative at Williams was largely the work of our Office of Admission and Financial Aid, which has been committed to expanding access and opportunity for many years and which has been working tirelessly to expand opportunities for our financially aided students,” she wrote. “In that sense, the award was as much an award for them as for me.”

During her speech, Mandel noted that though the College has worked to provide an education accessible to students of varying means, it still has a history of exclusion. “As a historian, I have to note that there was more to this story: we know the founders [of Williams] didn’t believe everyone was equally deserving of equal rights,” she wrote. “They dispossessed so many others or discounted their humanity.”

Mandel discussed the College’s history of working towards accessibility, detailing its welfare program developed in 1822 and the 1914 Memorial Library, founded in 1920, which allowed students to borrow or use textbooks for free. She described how the College became one of the first institutions of its kind to commit to need-blind admission in 1963 and then evolved again, 50 years later, from a need-blind to a need-seeking admissions process. Despite this progress, Mandel emphasized again it is not only the College that needs to become truly accessible, but its fundamental ideals. “Not ‘Williams’ as a college, or as a diploma, but Williams as a learning opportunity, a time of personal and intellectual growth, and a community that [isn’t] yet truly and wholly affordable,” she wrote.

Before ending the speech, Mandel directly addressed audience members, a few of whom were a part of the Williams Firsts community. “I have hope,” she wrote. “You give me hope. Your knowledge and experience is a form of power: A power of perspectives. A power of ideas. A power of belief — profound belief — in the value of the labor to which we’re all committed.”

In an email to the Record, Chris Flores ’26, one of the students who attended the 2023 1vyG Conference, reflected on the all-grant financial aid program at the College. “I think [the program] was a crucial first step to improving the college experience for all, especially the Firsts here at Williams,” he said. “Considering the size and resources of our school, I think we will look back on this as only logical.”

“I do hope that this program does not convince others that the inequalities and barriers Firsts and so many face have now been erased,” he added.