Claiming Williams invites the community to acknowledge and understand the uncomfortable reality that not all students, staff, and faculty can equally “claim” Williams. By challenging the effects of the College’s history of inequality that are based on privileges of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion, we will provoke individual, institutional, and cultural change.
Claiming Williams Day was first celebrated on February 5, 2009. Classes were suspended, and the Williams community—students, staff, and faculty—participated in a series of events and discussions to confront challenging issues and to work to build an inclusive community.
In January 2008 a series of incidents in an entry sparked a grassroots student movement that was joined by staff and faculty, and became known as Stand with Us. In a first year entry, the word “nigger” was scrawled on several doors along with pictures of male genitals. For one first year student, it was the escalation of incidents that had been going on for weeks. She was accused by her entry mates of calling security on their party, and then night after night the note board outside her door was defaced, including the bible verse she wrote up daily. The night that the word “nigger” was written on her entry’s doors, “the word ‘fag’ was written over my scriptures,” she recalled, along with vulgar pictures and words.
The community responded. In addition to a letter to the community from College President Morty Shapiro, College Council Co-Presidents Kim Dacres ’08 and Morgan Goodwin ’08 called for open discussions. On two consecutive nights, over a hundred students shared their own experiences and planned communal responses. Stand With Us emerged. A Pact Against Indifference and Hate was written, circulated for signatures, and read publically. An “awareness rally” drew an estimated 600 students, staff and faculty, and was followed by a march through campus that at one moment stretched from Schow Auditorium to the steps of Paresky. In addition to an immediate response to the campus climate that provoked the incidents, Stand With Us had “three central priorities: a social honor code, a day of discussions on respect and diversity, and the integration of relatively homogenous ‘sub-communities’- whether sports teams or ethnic organizations- into the larger student body.”
Claiming Williams Day arose from Stand with Us—from their priorities and the hard work of a sub-committee. Organizers hoped that the community would work pro-actively to prevent hurtful, hateful incidents, rather than just responding afterwards. The second Claiming Williams Day was held on February 4, 2010, and in May of 2010, the faculty voted to add Claiming Williams Day to the regular academic calendar.
*This brief history is drawn from Williams Record articles (written October 2011).