Can Storied Williams College Be Saved From Itself?

Michael Poliakoff:

For $73,000 per year, top students with SAT scores well north of 1,500 count themselves lucky to be accepted by Williams College. There, however, despite the chilly Massachusetts climate, they are in danger of melting with their fellow snowflakes. 

Last year, the school canceled a play for alleged racial insensitivity, notwithstanding its African American authorship, minority casting and gay Bengali director. Students protested and disrupted a faculty meeting, apoplectic at the thought of the university strengthening its free speech bylaws, and an online petition against free speech garnered 363 signatures, roughly one-sixth of the campus. The student council denied recognitionto a pro-Israel student club, while recognizing a pro-Palestine student club. Now, the zealous student activists have reached a new low, organizing a boycott of “all English classes that do not take seriously the matter of race—that is, those classes which do not include more than a token discussion of race and more than a token number of writers of color.” 

An online manifesto, running to 26 pages (don’t they have homework?), elaborates on students’ grievances related to the perceived lack of diversity in course offerings and faculty. They do not feel that enough courses “engage substantially with issues of race.” They refer, presumably, to current offerings on Dante, Shakespeare and 19th-century British literature. (Apparently, current offerings such as “Black Queer Looks,” “Black Literature Matters,” “Blackness, Writing, Prison,” and “U.S. Literature and Postcolonial Studies” do not suffice to meet their expectations of due representation.) They cite examples of minority English professors being denied tenure. They cite an op-ed in The Feminist Wire by two former faculty members who left Williams because the college did not create a safe space for “Black radical thinkers.”