Introduction to ADRF and Dr. W. Allison Davis

The Pathways for Inclusive Excellence Office (P.I.E.) administers the Williams College Allison Davis Research Fellowship (ADRF). Students should feel free to approach either the director or the program coordinator of P.I.E. at any time. We ask that throughout your time as a fellow you keep in touch with our office and that you participate fully in the meetings, workshops, conferences, and other events we sponsor.

The Allison Davis Research Fellowship was established by the College in 1999 (initially as the Williams College Undergraduate Research Fellowship) to provide opportunities for students from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education to pursue advanced research under the guidance of faculty mentors and to learn about graduate school and academic careers. The program evolved from the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, a US Department of Education program funded at Williams from 1995-99. Groups traditionally underrepresented include the following: first generation college students; African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American; and non-U.S. citizens of African, Hispanic, or Asian descent. In addition to research opportunities, the program provides its participants with support in the graduate school application process, with the long-term goal of positively impacting the representation of diverse groups in higher education.

The fundamental objective of the ADRF is to increase diversity in graduate programs and on the faculties colleges and universities. The program serves the related goals of contributing to the campus intellectual environment and of helping the College become a place where all students can excel academically. The ADRF aims to achieve its mission by identifying and supporting students of great promise and helping them to become accomplished scholars by providing them with the opportunity to develop their own research projects, work with faculty mentors, present their work to the broader campus community, and learn about graduate school and academic careers. The ADRF is run alongside the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship to serve a cohort of ten new fellows each year, who will share their work with and learn from each other.

“Although we seemed trapped in an age of anger and despair, the alternatives remain the same as in all other ages – we can scuttle or we can sail the seas … One must chart his course and sail.” — W. Allison Davis

Dr. W. Allison Davis ’24

W. Allison DavisAllison Davis, notable social anthropologist and psychologist, graduated valedictorian from the historic Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., in 1920 and from Williams College in 1924. He went on to earn two master’s degrees – in English and anthropology – from Harvard and a PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

Davis had a long and distinguished teaching career, beginning at the Hampton Institute in Virginia and including positions at Dillard University and ultimately, at the University of Chicago, where he was the first African American to receive tenure. As a teacher, Davis worked rigorously to inspire rural black students to think and write critically. Naturally reflective and deeply concerned about his students, he acknowledged the shortcomings of standard teaching practices prevalent at the time. As a scholar, Davis published work that would alter the way that we think about race, class, and education. His co-authored book Children of Bondage: The Personality Development of Negro Youth in the Urban South (1940) studied black adolescents in both New Orleans and Natchez, Mississippi and highlights the role of class in education and acculturation. Another book, Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class (1941), a cooperative effort by a team of social anthropologists to document the economic, racial, and cultural character of the Jim Crow South, was groundbreaking in its application of anthropological techniques to the American landscape and to critically analyze the roots of racism.

Allison Davis is perhaps most widely known for his social science research on the relationship between academic performance and child development, as well as for his persistent criticism of intelligence testing, which challenged the assumption that children from low-income from the success of his research in this area. “This study has had the most practical effect of any of my work,” he said. “It led to the abolition of the use of intelligence tests in New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, and other cities. This was one time I got what I wanted: a direct effect on society from social science research.”

Davis earned many distinctions. In 1967, he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to serve on the Civil Rights Commission. In 1970, he became the first John Dewey Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. Two years later, in 1972, he became the first scholar of education to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Likely one of the most significant distinctions of all was conferred in 1974 when, to commemorate Davis’s national influence, Williams College bestowed an honorary degree upon him—nearly 50 years after the institution denied him a teaching position because of his color. Though still somewhat disillusioned by that early experience, especially at the hand of his alma mater, Davis appreciated the many progressive changes Williams had instituted over the decennia with respect to diversity of demographics and curriculum; though, as ever, there is still much work to be done.

Allison Davis was honored with a commemorative postage stamp in 1994. The announcement issued by the United States Postal Service read, in part: Davis “challenged the cultural bias of standardized intelligence tests and fought for the understanding of the human potential beyond racial class and caste. His work helped end legalized racial segregation and contributed to contemporary thought on valuing the capabilities of youth from diverse backgrounds.”  Indeed, Allison Davis’s commitment to increasing access to quality education for low-income children revolutionized policy and paved the way for compensatory education programs such as Head Start and affirmative action. These programs have changed the face of educational institutions across the country, particularly at Williams College, which is currently among the most diverse institutions of higher learning in the United States.