Reflecting on Black Previews: On creating space and receiving students with love

Yasmina Cabrera

Ubuntu: I am because we are.

On Tuesday, as prospective students began to arrive for Previews, they witnessed the beginning of something that they probably hadn’t seen on any other college campus; Black Previews promised them a new way to experience an institution like Williams for the first time. It was an opportunity for current students to reach out to Black pre-frosh specifically and give them the welcoming and advice we felt the Office of Admission has continuously failed to give. 

What began as a conversation on how we could get Black pre-frosh to feel more comfortable on campus, while helping them understand the realities of being Black at a predominantly white institution, turned into a community-wide effort to receive these students with the love, honesty and respect that they deserve. Each event on the Black Previews programming was set with intention and helped us showcase the real and complex experiences that come with being a Black student at Williams; they were created to supplement the limited perspective offered by the regular Previews program. 

My own Previews experience was overshadowed by a gnawing feeling of isolation which fueled my imposter syndrome. There were students walking around with their parents, and others who had been out touring schools for the past year and knew what to expect. I’d met pre-frosh that I got along with, but I’d also hide out in my host’s dorm in fear that if I sat in class everyone else would be able to point me out as the one person who didn’t deserve to be there. What made it worse was that I barely saw any students like me. I didn’t know that there were others out there who felt anxious about the same things, or that there were upperclassmen who could guide me in dealing with feelings of inadequacy. I didn’t interact with many of them because I couldn’t find them. We were not given the space to see, feel and recognize each other. 

Black Previews began with a welcoming dinner in which Black students got to greet each other and their hosts, as well as to meet other upperclassmen. The cookout provided a much-needed sense of community, where we listened to our peers talk about dealing with over-policing by CSS, the school’s failure to protect survivors under Title IX and the resilient ways in which people on campus look after one another. The academic panel was a chance to understand what one might have to deal with as a Black student in the classroom, while the extracurricular discussion gave insight on feeling disconnected from one’s team and how to care for oneself while balancing other activities with classwork. The kickback at Rice House, our way of saying goodbye, was an introduction to our space on campus and a promise that despite the challenges we face here, we still continue to carve out our own place and care for each other.

The issues that we aimed to address during Black Previews are in no way unique to Williams, and every predominantly white institution should be looking to adopt similar programs for prospective students. We made sure that pre-frosh knew no matter what schools they were choosing from, the advice they were being offered could very well apply to an Amherst, Wesleyan or any similar “elite” institution of higher education. 

Pre-frosh of marginalized identities are coming from schools and communities that look drastically different from places like Williams. To ignore those differences and expect incoming students to learn how to navigate on their own a space that can be as traumatizing as it can be rewarding is equal parts careless and naive. Admitted students should not be treated as mere statistics or be lured into an institution through a dishonest sense of security. If someone is going to commit to Williams College for four years of their life, then Williams College should let that be through the sincere merit that the student finds in the institution. Incoming students deserve better, and current students tried our best to provide for them where the institution failed us. 

The Office of Admission did not understand the need for Black Previews, and not once were we asked why we felt so strongly about the insufficiencies of the current Previews program that we needed to create and carry out our own. Instead, we were labeled as exclusive, and they decided to actively fight against us. On Tuesday morning as we tried to prepare for welcoming we were denied our request for arrival times for buses from New York and Boston, and they worked to restrict our funding while stealing ideas from our programming, like the last minute kickback offered at Goodrich as a substitute to the moonlight hike. 

What the Office of Admission didn’t count on was the persistence with which we waited outside for whatever buses arrived throughout the entire day, our resolve in making sure every single Black-identifying student knew what was being planned for them by handing out fliers, the student organizations that came to us in solidarity with funds and the 110 T-shirts we made for volunteers by hand. There were literally blood, sweat, tears, classes, deadlines and sleep schedules sacrificed in making sure that Black Previews succeeded. 

Black Previews wasn’t just an introduction to Williams for future Black students. It also served as a reminder to current students of the many institutional obstacles set up against us. Most importantly, it was a reminder of what we are capable of and the lengths at which we are willing to go to protect each other. They can’t harm us. We’re surrounded.

Yasmina Cabrera ’22 is from the Bronx, N.Y.