This week in Williams history: End of Latin requirement, higher drinking age threatens Log, College Council defines minority representative position

Emily Zas

Minority Coalition members debated the three proposals in 1992. (Erik Jacobsen/The Williams Record)

“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, the College abolished its Latin requirement for admission, administration grappled with enforcing a higher drinking age at The Log, and College Council considered proposals to expand its definition of “minority.”

March 2, 1935: “Students may enter Williams without credit in Latin”

The Record announced in March 1935 that the College would no longer require knowledge of Latin for admission. Students could now present three years’ credit in a modern foreign language in place of the two units of Latin previously mandated for applicants.

The classical language requirement had been in place for students since the College’s founding in 1793. In fact, the ability to translate Cicero’s Orations and Virgil’s Aeneid from their original Latin was once required for admission. 

The removal of the Latin requirement was celebrated as an opportunity to broaden access to the College. “This change will not affect many candidates for admission, but it will enable Williams to accept a few good students to whom it would previously have been impossible to give consideration,” then-Acting Dean and Professor of History Charles Keller said. “It is another step in the administration’s campaign to raise the scholastic standards.”

March 13, 1979: “Williams to go semi-dry with raised age”

In March 1979, the Massachusetts state legislature raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 20, effective from April of that year. The Record reported concern over the future of a beloved Spring Street establishment, The Log, as a result of this news. Then-Dean of the College Daniel O’Connor said that the College might have to close down The Log — a College property — that fall, or the bar would have to be more strict about checking IDs. 

The Log originally opened in 1941 as the Alumni House. When the drinking age was lowered to 18 in 1973 — to mirror the lowered voting age — The Log became a social space and pub open to both alums and students. Then, in 1983, the Faculty House was constructed and The Log became dominated by student gatherings. Evidently, the higher drinking age in 1979 was not the end for The Log. It wasn’t until 1985 — when the drinking age was raised to 21 — that The Log closed as a bar. The restaurant was renovated and reopened in 2015.

March 3, 1992: “College Council to decide fate of minority rep. position”

A March 1992 article in the Record reported that members of College Council (CC) — the student government predecessor of Williams Student Union — were to examine three new proposals from the Minority Coalition for changes to the position of minority representative. All three proposals suggested expanding the definition of “minority” to include non-ethnic minority students, as well as changing the voting process for said position.

The minority representative position was created in 1986, when CC consisted entirely of white students. CC left the definition of the term “minority” open for interpretation in its constitution — however, in 1992, no non-ethnic minorities had ever filled the position. 

All three proposals supported allowing religious minorities, queer students, and women to serve as minority representatives. One proposal suggested that students who were non-ethnic minorities but who were represented by campus identity-based organizations should be included. Another proposed maintaining the minority definition but expanding the voting process beyond the Minority Coalition to include the entire student body. The third suggested that any self-identified minority student should be allowed to run for the position. 

Ultimately, CC favored the last of the three in a 19-9 vote the following week. This was met with mixed reactions — some feared that non-minorities would run for the position, but others were excited about the potential inclusion offered by the newly expansive term. 

“Inherent in the creation of [minority representative] positions was the hope that they would one day become obsolete,” the Record editorial board wrote on March 10, 1992, endorsing the decision. “The recent College Council decision indicates a trend towards the eventual elimination of these positions.”